By JIM McCUNE //
For years, best friends Greg Martin and Dan Burke worked together as mechanical technicians for a local home-heating oil company, often getting through their grueling days by imagining their dream jobs.
Rock star, ice-cream taster and even firefighter didn’t seem realistic. But they also talked a lot about brewing beer.
In 2004, Greg and Dan brewed their first beer on Dan’s kitchen stove in Shoreham – an IPA, Burke recalls.
“It wasn’t great,” he said. “But we drank it anyway. We knew at this moment we were going to keep brewing together.”
Things got serious when the duo was fortunate enough to score an apprenticeship with Rob Leonard of the New England Brewing Co. in Connecticut – a “crash course in the serious dedication and hard physical labor it takes to brew beer,” according to Martin.
“We learned how to operate a commercial brewing system,” he added. “We learned about the importance of fresh ingredients. We also perfected and scaled our own recipes.
“Rob is a veteran, and the time we spent with him was invaluable.”
While interning, Burke and Martin secured their New York State brewing license. Now their dream was becoming a reality, and – recalling their Celtic heritage – Long Ireland Beer Co. was born.
In 2009, Long Ireland Beer “gypsy brewed” their first release, a malty, coppery Irish-inspired amber they appropriately named Celtic Ale. Gypsy brewing – when a brand rents time on third-party equipment but supplies its own ingredients, recipes and labor – allowed Long Ireland to generate equity in their brand and build a customer base before building their own brewery.
It also served as some liquid encouragement.
“Our beers were selling quick,” Martin noted.
Finally, in 2010, the duo procured their own pre-owned brewhouse from a defunct New Hampshire brewery. They also found the perfect spot for a brewery in Riverhead, an “amazingly beautiful waterfront town,” according to Martin, “with a historic main street, full of visitor attractions and great places to eat.
“We could see the town was right on the cusp of a major revitalization,” he added. “And it didn’t even have a brewery yet. Riverhead wanted Long Ireland Beer. The town went out of their way to court us.
“We knew we were home.”
For nearly a year, the entrepreneurs worked full-time converting the dilapidated, 8,800-square-foot former Agway Supply into a modern, 20-barrel brewhouse with a bottling line and large tasting room.
“The structure was nothing but a wood-timber frame with a front door and a back wall,” Burke said. “It had no running water and the sewer system was completely outdated.
“If it wasn’t for our testicular fortitude and mechanical skills, we would’ve never been able to finish the brewery build-out.”
Long Ireland Beer officially opened its doors in July 2011, with four beers on the menu: Celtic Ale, Breakfast Stout, Pale Ale and Raspberry Wheat.
“We handcraft our beers with heart and passion, using only the best, all-natural ingredients,” Burke noted. “Real beer. ‘No Bullshit’ is our motto.”
The partners delivered their brews to retailers for the first few years, then in 2012 partnered with East Yaphank-based Clare Rose Distributors. Now Long Ireland Beer needed to ramp-up production fast, so the partners doubled their capacity by acquiring three additional 50-barrel fermenters.
Today, New York State has more breweries than at any time in its history. Since Long Ireland Beer opened its doors, the industry has more than doubled: In 2011, Long Ireland Beer was one of 95 statewide breweries. Today, there are more than 400.
The growth has come primarily from farm brewery licenses. Farm breweries agree, in perpetuity, to use locally grown ingredients like hops and barley in their beers, increasing their percentages annual until they top-off at the mandatory 90 percent usage of local ingredients.
In 2013, Long Ireland Beer became Long Island’s first farm brewery. They paved the path for many other farm breweries across the Island, although Martin and Burke eventually had to give up their farm-brewery license.
“It was challenging for a brewery of our size to meet the increasing annual threshold,” Burke said. “We already use a tremendous amount of local ingredients in our beer, but it was more about the logistical difficulties that come with locking in local suppliers with the stuff we need, when we needed it.
“It just wasn’t sustainable for us any longer.”
The startup has also recently begun shifting away from bottling its beer, instead installing a new canning line. Long Ireland Beer now runs up to 50 cases of canned beer an hour (12- or 16-ounce sizes) and is currently canning its Celtic Ale, Hooligan Irish Dry Stout, Summer Ale, Raspberry Wheat, Winter Ale, Balor IPA, Mos Def IPA, Oktoberfest, Phil’s Blonde Golden Ale and more.
“The canning line gives us the flexibility to do innovative, limited-edition beers that we can sell in our tasting room, and at some local craft beer shops that have supported us through the years,” Martin noted. “Polymer-lined aluminum cans are the beer-drinking vessel of the future, and we’re all about it.”
Long Ireland Beer is proud to have hired Stevie Czelatka, a well-known local brewer, and has also brought aboard longtime craft-beer veteran Scott Plfug as sales director.
The company recently bested 11 other entries to win the 2018 Long Island Craft Classic Brew’d Competition (featuring one fan-chosen ingredient) with its Moku Loa Pineapple IPA.
And Long Ireland Beer is well-known for its super-fun events, including the Long Ireland Beer Mug Club (become a Hooligan, own your own mug and qualify for other member benefits); Vinyl Night (Mondays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.), when the brewery teams up with Riverhead-based Sunday Records, which provide crates of classic vinyl albums to listen to as you enjoy a pint (feel free to bring your own favorite records to listen to or trade); the Long Ireland Running Club (weather-permitting local runs, followed by reduced-price pints, flights and growlers); and Retro Video Game Night (Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.), presented in partnership with Eastport-based East End Gaming.
There are a host of other fun events – from Comedy Night to the Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day celebration – to be found on the Long Ireland Beer Co.’s events page.