By JIMMY MCCUNE //
Several years after opening A Taste of Long Island, a shared commercial kitchen and local-specialty food market, home brewer and foodpreneur Jim Thompson and his daughter Courtney have launched New York State’s first co-working brewery, an incubator located on Main Street in downtown Farmingdale.
The brewing incubator is accessible to all aspiring brewers and fosters the development of local craft breweries by providing a pilot brewing facility, business consultation, storage, tap room, support network and audience.
And the new model seems to be working: In addition to Taste’s own line of handcrafted beers and ciders, the facility has helped launch a half dozen new breweries, including 1940s, The Brewer’s Collective, Po’ Boy, Lithology, Flying Belgian and Bellport, all taking the local craft beer scene by storm.
The taproom, food market, kitchen and brewery combine as a single storefront, a uniquely collaborative space that caters directly to the growing number of “locavores,” those who buy as much handcrafted, local products as possible.
“I had the epiphany while thinking of new ways to grow the food side of the business,” Thompson explained. “I imagined, ‘What if during all those years of home brewing with my brother-in-law, we’d had an option to rent a brewery with the equipment?’ So I chased the dream.”
The result is a N.Y. State Farm Host Brewer license, which allows Thompson to nurture brewer tenants.
“Our mission is to provide brewers a new option to build their own brewery, an option with relatively small startup costs, and one that provides an opportunity to capture a foothold in the marketplace while developing their recipes,” Thompson said.
“And, quite frankly, to brew shoulder-to-shoulder with each other.”
Thompson’s daughter, Taste co-owner Courtney Citko: “These brewers are challenged with simultaneously developing their ability to brew professionally and to sell their beer. We help them through these challenges with business consultations based on our own experiences. We also provide multiple sales channels for their brand, like our storefront tasting room and our farmer’s markets, as well as local collaborations with bars and restaurants.
“We help them until they’re ready to go out and launch their own brewery,” she added. “It takes two to three years in our opinion, but when they graduate, as The Brewer’s Collective recently did, they have the tools and experience needed to succeed.”
On a recent visit, the signs of success were obvious, with the brewing operation expanded into any and all space available. Offices have been converted into dry and cold storage, the basement turned into neatly compartmentalized storage and fermentation areas shared by the brewers. The smell of beer and the sound of cracking grains, humming equipment and brewer chatter filled the cellar air.
An intoxicating aroma led me to Taste’s so-called “incubation laboratory,” where Marc Jackson and Lee Kaplan, owners of Lithology Brewing, were cooking up a limited-edition, wet-hopped beer with hops from a Brooklyn rooftop farm.
The pair met Thompson at a local craft beer festival.
“It was serendipitous how the pieces came together,” Jackson said. “A Taste of Long Island has provided us an opportunity to get things moving and become part of the fabric of Long Island’s craft beer scene. We’re learning about scaling our recipes up, ordering supplies and overall learning the business of brewing.
Lithology Brewing partner Lee Kaplan continued: “It’s amazing to see our beers in locations from South Hampton to Brooklyn to Manhattan – and people are buying it. We try to brew with as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. Our new Lafayette Farmhouse Saison is brewed with honey from a local farm’s beehives, for example, and there’s local butternut squash in our Water Mill Imperial Pumpkin Ale. It distinguishes us from others doing the same thing, because the product is more rewarding to make – and enjoy.”
While Taste’s food sales are doing fine, thank you, the beer side of the incubation kitchen business is on a tear.
“We’re seeing more and more inquiries from that side every day,” Thompson said. “I suspect this trend will continue, because beer doesn’t seem to be affected by the seasonal slumps the food clients face.”
Kevin Connelly, the owner of Flying Belgian – a Taste newbie – said he spent years trying to figure out how to build his own brewery.
“Then I met Jim and he told me what he was doing, and here we are, less than a year later. A Taste of Long Island, and all the brewers here, helped me turn my home-brewing passion, my love for making the best possible Belgian-style beers, into a real brewing business. It opened up the door, and carved us a path, and I’m thankful forever.”
More kudos come from Brian Baker, owner of Bellport Brewing and the newest addition to the Taste incubator: “What’s great about brewing at A Taste of Long Island is that if you use this facility the way it’s intended, you will succeed. It’s a stepping stone for breweries to get their name out there, and to decide if brewing is really what they want to do for a living.”
Exactly right, adds Billy Powell, Taste’s head brewer.
“This place is a totally new way of doing it,” he said. “It’s very progressive.
It runs on camaraderie, fellow brewers collaborating on recipes. We give each other our honest, professional opinions. Sometimes we pour it down the drain and start over, because we’re here to make the best possible beer.”
Learn more about A Taste of Long Island Kitchen and Brewery Incubator by visiting atasteoflongislandny.com or untapped.com, or visit the tasting room at 211 Main Street in Farmingdale. Plenty of parking in back, BTW. Reach them at 516-694-2859.
McCune is director of the Craft Beverage Division of Melville-based EGC Group. Contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org or at 516.935.4944.