By now, you’re probably tired of pumpkins. Each autumn, pumpkin seems to be an ingredient in everything—especially craft beer. Pumpkin spice ales are readily available during summer months but by September and October they just about take at bars and restaurants. By November, we’re pretty much over it. Long Island beer lovers and pumpkin defectors can rest easy because there’s a whole new crop of seasonals in town, without the gourds.
Blind Bat Brewery in Centerport is one of Long Island's oldest and smallest nanobreweries. Owner and brewer Paul Dlugokencky has made a name for himself brewing unique nontraditional beers. Dlugokencky aims to showcase local crops in his beer, which makes sense since his wife Regina is an organic farmer. He has used everything from Long Island basil and hops to honey in his brew, but his Sweet Potato Saison is a fall seasonal that gives pumpkin spice a run for its money.
Contrary to what the name suggests, Blind Bat Sweet Potato Saison is on the tart side. Far from being sweet and spiced, this saison highlights the earthy, vegetal notes of the potatoes. A bright citrus flavor rounds out the beer for a light, easy drinking fall brew. The beer is made using all organic, locally-grown sweet potatoes, so its release date depends on the harvest.
Blind Bat also produces a series of wood-smoked brews. Each one is made using malt that Dlugokencky smokes by hand right at the brewery. Hellsmoke Porter, a rich dark beer, is smoked over apple and alder wood. The roasty brew has a subtle sweetness and campfire feel that makes it perfect for chilly fall nights. Blind Bat bottles their beers and fittingly sells them at Long Island farmers markets as well as beer distributors.
Another craft beer farmer’s market favorite is Saint James Brewery of Holbrook. Owner and brewer Jamie Adams has developed a lineup of Belgian-inspired ales that all feature his house-cultivated yeast strain. Though Saint James’ recipes pay homage to European brewing, Adams sources his ingredients locally whenever possible. His fall Dubbel, The Krak Des Chevaliers, features New York State barley as well as Long Island hops. It’s full of complex dark fruit flavors and the body is rich, malty and slightly spiced.
Barrage Brewing in Farmingdale is a family business, owned by Steve Pominski who also acts as the head brewer. His wife Diana is frequently found manning the tasting room while son Adam assists with brewing. Before Pominski was heading up a brewery, he homebrewed and turned his garage into a bar—complete with two taps. Friends and neighbors started referring to his bar/garage hybrid as “The Barrage” and that eventually morphed into his commercial brewery, which still has a homey feel to it.
On deck for Barrage is their new Coffee Milk Porter, made using Sail Away cold brew. The collaboration came about after the owner of Sail Away stopped by Barrage and the wheels started turning. “He came back with samples and the stuff was awesome,” says Pominski. So he tweaked Barrage’s porter recipe, added some lactose for a milk-like sweetness and used the cold brew to add roasted, smooth notes. The beer debuted at the New York City Craft Beer Festival, but it will also be making a limited appearance in the Barrage tasting room.
If you’re looking for a go-to Barrage beer that will be readily available well into winter, look no further than Famous Last Words. It’s certainly not a session beer, clocking in at 10% ABV, but the molasses and honey used during the brewing process mask any strong alcohol flavors. Famous Last Words also features coffee, this time from a local Farmingdale company. A cask or two will be released—possibly flavored with oak and vanilla beans.
The Brewers Collective is exactly what it sounds like—a group of brewers who all have equal ownership in their brewery. The Collective started out as a homebrew club and after receiving positive feedback at craft beer festivals across the island they decided to take it to the next level. The Collective recently left their first professional location at A Taste of Long Island in Farmingdale to move to Holbrook and scale up their operation.
One of the group’s most popular beers, Loot Gruit, is made with lemon balm, sage and hibiscus. It’s a lightly hopped ale that is fruity, refreshing and perfect on a warm day. Come fall, Witchbinder—another gruit bittered with herbs instead of hops—replaces it. The use of smoked sage gives it an earthy, warming feel that’s only highlighted by the use of Long Island cheese pumpkin. Despite containing the “p word,” it’s the furthest thing from a sweet, spiced beer. Since gruits rely on herbs and spices instead of hops, they often appeal to people who may not typically like beer.
The largest and most well known brewery on the island is Blue Point. And for good reason. They’ve been brewing in Patchogue for almost 20 years and last year they were acquired by Anheuser Busch. Despite the behind the scenes shake up, very little has changed in the tasting room—other than a small makeover. You’ll still see the same friendly faces behind the bar and their staples are always on tap. Blue Point’s lineup includes everything from fruit beers to super hoppy IPA’s, so there’s bound to be a beer for every taste.
If you’re looking for something on the bold side, Blue Point Sour Cherry Imperial Stout is rich, chocolaty and available every fall on tap and in 22 oz. bottles. Don’t let the sweet description fool you—this beer is almost 10% alcohol by volume. If you’re not typically a beer fan but love coffee, give this one a try. Dark, roasted notes combine with real sour cherries to create a complex, espresso-like brew. Because of the high alcohol content, Sour Cherry Imperial Stout ages very well and the flavors will continue to mature and develop. Tuck one away for the winter and try it again next year alongside the fresh, 2016 version.
Blue Point also has a rotating cask in their tasting room. Cask ale is unfiltered and served at room temperature, with less carbonation than a typical beer. During the cold weather months expect to find year round favorites like Oatmeal Stout and Hoptical Illusion, often with flavor additions such as lavender, vanilla and fresh hops.
Photo: Rob Seifert