Riverhead Expands as a Hotspot for New Breweries

By Rena Thomas and Jessica Opatich

The fifth Riverhead based microbrewery in just five years signed a lease in July, and will make the town home to more than 20 percent of small breweries on Long Island by 2016.

Long Beard Brewing Company, is one step closer to opening after receiving benefits from the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency in July and according to information from the “LI Beer Guide” website, the brewery will join Long Ireland, Crooked Ladder, Moustache, and Twin Fork breweries. Benefits included sales tax exemptions and property tax abatements.

“It makes it easier for the businesses to get started,” Long Beard co-owner Paul Carlin said.

Long Island, along with the Finger Lakes region is a center of craft beer growth in the state, Paul Leone,
executive director of the New York State Brewers Association said. “We’re opening one brewery every 10 days in New York.”

To be considered a microbrewery, a company must produce less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year, according to the national Brewers Association, and sell about 75 percent of its product off site.

“When more breweries open up in an area they really feed off of each other,” Leone said. The breweries proximity to the East End wine country, said Leone, is also another advantage.

National popularization of microbreweries goes back thirty years, Director of the Innovation Center at Stony Brook University Dr. Gerrit Wolf said. Sam Adams took off in the 1980’s when the brand transformed from a microbrewery to a commercial beer distribution company. Previously, Sam Adams was being brewed in Boston by a mere staff of two.

The rise of the small craft breweries stems from a number of trends, one being the demand for local products, Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, said.

“It’s been a challenge for the larger brewers,” Watson said.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, which owns Budweiser along with other leading brands like Corona and Stella Artois, lost about 13 million barrels in the U.S. last year, Watson said. “In a 200 million barrel beer market, that’s a huge chunk of volume.” A representative from InBev declined to comment.

New York is the fourth largest craft beer producer in the nation, with the most output sales in the market, according to the Brewer’s Association, with $2.9 billion in output sales last year. It trails only California, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Local brewers are also fighting for more local ingredients in their beers, founder of Subversive Malting and Brewing Max Ocean, said. A law signed in 2012 by Gov. Cuomo would raise the required amount of locally grown farm products over time, from 20 percent until the end of 2018 to 90 percent by 2024.

“Local brewers lobbying for the law is an example of the small guy lobbying against all odds,” Ocean said. “This is from the ground up.”