By Desiree D’Iorio and Kian McKoy
Willie Cole hawks beer like an auctioneer.
“Everyone’s got different tastes but let me pour you some of this pumpkin ale,” Cole says as he pulls down on a tap hooked up to a large red cooler with ‘Jamesport Farm Brewery’ stickers plastered on front. He pours a perfect two ounce taste into a miniature pint glass and hands it off to the next woman in line.
Cole is a volunteer at the 10th annual Long Island Great Beer Expo, where brewers from the region and around the world gathered at the Coliseum in Uniondale on Saturday, Nov. 10 to showcase their craft beers to hundreds of visitors. For the first time, this year’s festival included an expanded wine-tasting menu.
“You can get more of a diverse crowd [with wine-tasting],” Cole said. But beer is still the main event.
This year’s expo features nationally-known brands like Brooklyn Brewery, and hyperlocal beers from the Great South Bay Brewery in Bay Shore, all the way to Germany.
“We had over 50 breweries this year,” Andy Calimano, owner of Starfish Junction which produced this year’s event, says. “Our festival is all about driving traffic back to the tasting rooms.”
A portion of the event’s proceeds are donated to a selected charity every year. The 2018 charity partner, Suffolk County Homefront, is a volunteer group that purchases care packages for active-duty military members as well as local veterans. Homefront was created in memory of Marine Cpl. Matthew V. Dillon.
“It’s great to do something that’s both fun and helps our military,” Tom Maurer, Port Washington resident, said.
Suffolk County Homefront did not respond to requests for comment.
Long Island-based craft breweries, also called microbreweries, have seen a rapid increase since 2012, with the second most wineries in the state at 79. The region also added over 50 new craft businesses since 2012, bolstering the total number of manufacturers to 131, and reflecting an overall statewide trend.
There are two reasons for Long Island’s craft brewery boom, experts say.
One is legislation. New York offers financial incentives like low fees and tax exemptions for breweries.
“It’s our favorable legislation, and there’s also a healthy demand,” Paul Leone, executive director of the New York State Brewers Association, says. “The laws in New York really favor brewers, and millennials are still the driving force, with Gen-X-ers right behind them. People want to know where their food comes from and the same goes for their beer.”
Long Island’s alcohol manufacturing industry has traditionally been known for its east end wineries which began popping up in the 1970’s. Leone says that the industries have worked well together despite the increase in microbreweries.
“Wine has obviously led the way but in general, we get along great,” Leone says.
In addition to picking up new fans, brewers view the expo as a networking opportunity within the industry.
“We’re experimenting with a lot of things, like wine barrels, so it’s good to have the wine people around,” Bill Hoppe, co-owner of Hopwins Brewery in Bay Shore, said about his first time at the event. “It’s definitely a networking opportunity as well as getting our name out there.” Hopwins’ grand opening is set for January.