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Brewing Success in Long Island’s Wine Country

11/30/-1

Brewing Success in Long Island’s Wine Country

by Alan Talman (Brewing Techniques - Vol. 7, No.2)

Supported by savvy restaurateurs, a brewer creates unusual beers that are making beer lovers out of wine drinkers in Long Island’s tony Hamptons.

In New York City, everybody who is anybody spends their summer weekends in the Hamptons on Long Island. The Hamptons’ waterfront houses and trendy beach clubs attract successful young city people who can afford the steep summer rental prices. The famous Hamptons summer parties, traditionally designed as charity functions (possibly to justify their tremendous excesses), showcase the region’s palatial mansions.

Until recently, despite the cosmopolitan nature of the community and the area’s reputation for winemaking, thirsty New Yorkers fleeing the city’s sweltering summers could not find any interesting beer in the whole East End of Long Island.

But thanks to Southampton Publick House’s three-year-old brewery, Southampton now has beer. Serious beer. Beer so special that when actors Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger hosted President Bill Clinton’s fundraising dinner in their Southampton home last summer, Southampton Publick House’s beers were the only ones served. Head brewer Phil Markowski’s renderings of unusual styles and brewpub standards are making beer fans out of Southampton’s wine-sipping population.

Creating a Thirst for Good Beer

“When we first opened, I was surprised to see how little people in Southampton knew about good beer,” Markowski told me. “I figured that a lot of the people were coming out from the city and were familiar with, if nothing else, good imported beers. But that didn’t seem to be the case. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said, ‘Hey, before you guys opened I just drank Budweiser.’”

Southampton Publick House is located in a 100-year-old building, a few paces from the downtown streets of Southampton. Formerly a rural inn, then a speakeasy, then a restaurant, the building is ideally located and designed for the restaurant business. Known as the Hampton Inn from 1900 until 1920, the inn became Mrs. Cavanaugh’s Speakeasy with the passing of the Volstead Act. The tavern operated with bootleg liquor and beer supplied from local and imported sources. Three years after Prohibition ended, the speakeasy was turned into a successful restaurant, which operated continuously for the next 50 years.

When brothers Donald, Kevin, and Jim Sullivan bought the restaurant in 1996, they decided to add a brewery. The dining areas inside the historic building now overlook the mash tun and kettle. The wide front porch allows lunch and dinner to be served outside during the summer. Two separate bars accommodate the late-night crowds, who enjoy live musical entertainment five nights a week. Patrons in the front bar can get a peek at the four small fermentors through the glass wall behind the bartender.

The Sullivans advertise the Publick House in local and regional weekly papers as a “microbrewery restaurant,” suggesting something a cut above a brewpub while emphasizing a focus on beer. The restaurant serves food and beer at local festivals and gatherings. Menu items such as mussels steamed in beer also increase the diners’ awareness of beer.

Now, as the Publick House begins its fourth year of business, it appears that this exposure to good beer has begun to educate its customers about what can be expected from a creative brewer. “They love the seasonal aspect of different beers,” says Markowski. “People are anticipating out Oktoberfest, out Pumpkin Ale, and our Christmas Ale. It’s very encouraging.” Further evidence of Markowski’s success is that wine sales are falling against beer sales in the restaurant.

Brewing in Tight Quarters

In addition to the task of educating a novice but apparently willing clientele, the brewer faces challenges created by the building’s physical layout. With the 250-seat restaurant and two spacious bars taking up all the prime floor space, the brewery itself had to be hung around, over, and under the restaurant. The gleaming brewhouse, designed by DME Brewing Services (Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada), was installed before the Publick House hired a brewer. The equipment is of high quality, but because of the space limitations, it is fragmented and scattered about the building in a chaotic labyrinth of pipes and pumps. Crammed into only 300 square feet are the mash tun, boiling kettle, grain mill, heat exchanger, and the largest (30-bbl) fermentor. Separate areas in, under, and behind the main building house the remaining four fermentors, the filtering and kegging stations, the cask-conditioning space, the serving tanks, and the grain storage. Phil jokingly likens the environment to “brewing in a submarine.”

Despite these inconveniences, Markowski turns out a remarkable 30 different beers each year. He and his assistant, Mark Ton, keep the restaurant supplied at all times with five core beers, three specialty or seasonal brews, and one cask-conditioned British ale for hand pumping. The brewers make a new specialty beer every two weeks.

The Southampton Publick House also sells its kegged beers through two distributors to bars and restaurants in Manhattan and on Long Island. Markowski estimates that there are 50 to 60 tap handles scattered around the New York metropolitan area serving his beer.

No Pain, No Gain — Plenty of Grain

Ton begins the arduous brew day by carrying the grain sacks up the stainless steel brewers’ platform, opening the sacks, and pouring the grain over the railing and into the malt mill’s hopper, located a few feet below. While the Hefeweizen rakes only 880 lb of grain, on Maibock brewing day, Ton carries 1300 lb up the stairs to the hopper. Though he looks athletic, Ton must be happy that they brew only two or three days a week, and Markowski is certainly glad to have an assistant to help with the heavy work.

As the grain is ground, the motorized auger mounted over the mash tun pulls the grain about 15 ft up and into the 19.5-bbl mash tun. To facilitate mashing, Markowski stands over the mash tun with his paddle and mixes the grain and strike water together while Ton feeds the grain mill. Mashing-in takes 30 minutes or more of continuous hand-paddling. Most beers are made with a single-infusion mash, because the mash tun is not heated, but Markowski does ramp the temperature of the mash upward with hot water additions when the recipe demands. Medium-bodied beers like the Hefeweizen are mashed in at 149 °F (65 °C). Markowski tests the mash with iodine for starch conversion after about 90 minutes, then runs the wort off to the 600-gallon, steam-fired, whirlpool-equipped kettle. Of course, all that grain has to be removed, too — another challenge for the Southampton brewers. The grain gets plopped into barrels and dragged across the basement floor and up the steps to the outside. Much of the spent grain goes to the nearby Deep Hollow Ranch, said to be the oldest working ranch in the United States, where it is used for animal feed.

During the mash and boil, Markowski works on his other chores in the basement. Stifling hot in the summer and cold in the winter, Markowski’s work area is underneath the restaurant; the low-ceilinged maze of small rooms and cubbyholes seems barely suitable for an operation this ambitious. Pipes along the basement walls carry wort from the brew kettle to the four glycol-jacketed, 15-bbl fermentors, located behind one of the bars on the main floor. Except for Hefeweizen, most of the brewery’s beers are filtered; after fermentation, the beer is piped back downstairs to the Delia Toffola filtering station (imported from Italy by Prospero Equipment Corporation, Pleasantville, New York). The beer is then moved to one of the six serving tanks inside a large walk-in cooler, or to the kegging station for packaging. Keeping all of these small work rooms clean is a challenge; Friday is house-cleaning day.

Six of the beers served in-house are poured directly from the serving tanks, three from standard ½-bbl kegs. The upstairs bars each have seven standard taps, plus one with a sparkler head and one Homark hand pump for the cask-conditioned offering.

Home Brewer Makes Good

The brewery’s inconveniences don’t seem to dampen Markowski’s enthusiasm for brewing. He was introduced to good beer and home brewing while a student at Northeastern University in Boston. Later he earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of New Haven in Connecticut. Meanwhile, his homebrew began to win awards. A couple of years later, he took the plunge into professional brewing, becoming head brewer for the New England Brewing Company in Norwalk, Connecticut, at its startup in 1989. After a brewing course at UC–Davis in California, he attended Siebel Institute of Technology for both the microbiology and microscopy course and the Brewing Technology program. Markowski went on to develop New England Brewing’s flagship beers and was awarded a gold medal at the 1993 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) for their Atlantic Amber. To gain first-hand knowledge of European brewery practices, Markowski has visited breweries in Belgium, England, Germany, and the Czech Republic. And he still does whip up a batch at home on occasion. The current batch of homebrew at his house is similar to Rochefort 10.

Core Beers Offer an International Mix

The brewery’s core beers are microbrew standards that reflect Markowski’s international influences. Southampton Golden Lager (O.G. 11.8 °P, alcohol 4.8% [v/v]) is a Munich Helles made from German Pilsener malt, Vienna malt, and German Hallertau Tradition and Hersbrucker hops. To style, this lager’s signature flavor is malt; the long hop finish is soft and pleasing, but in no way masks the malts’ contribution, which is obviously carefully accentuated. Southampton Golden Lager is served at the brewpub from serving tanks and is kegged for sale in local bars and restaurants. It is the brewery’s best-selling beer off-premise, and the number two seller in-house. This authentic German lager is outsold at the restaurant only by its lighter cousin, Montauk Light (8.3 °P, 3.5% alcohol [v/v]), made from German two-row malt with a small amount of corn to lighten the body. Montauk Light (named for the landmark Montauk Lighthouse) is soft and light, but maintains a decided German hop character. The Publick House promotes this as a lighter, lower-calorie brew, responding to the great demand for lighter beer without compromising flavor.

The heartier palates appreciate Markowski’s experience gained from visiting German breweries. Markowski’s award-winning Alt recipe received a makeover after his visit to Düsseldorf and won another medal this past year. (See award summary on page 42.) Popular on- and off-premise, the Altbier is sold as Southampton Secret Ale. Markowski’s “secret” is a recipe combining German Munich and Vienna malt with wheat and coloring malts, hopped with German Perle and Hallertau hops. An O.G. of 13.2 °P puts Secret Ale on the high end of the brewery’s core offerings, with an alcohol content of 5.3% (v/v). This outstanding example of traditional style brewing is aromatic and malty up front, with a long hop flavor finish.

In a nod to British styles, Markowski brews a very satisfying IPA called East End India Pale Ale (O.G. 13 °P, 5.2% alcohol [v/v]). East End IPA starts with a straightforward grain bill of British two-row and crystal and is hopped with UK East Kent Goldings and Styrian Goldings. Markowski is especially proud of the hop character in this brew, and he attributes its unique sweet floral aroma to the Styrian Goldings. Though some point out that there is little chemical difference between Styrian Goldings and Fuggles, Markowski maintains that the Styrians do contribute unique sensory qualities, particularly when interacted with other hops.

The fifth core beer is another past medal winner: the Publick House Potter. This beer is intensely aromatic and complex; English two-row, crystal, domestic Munich, black, and chocolate malts are combined with some malted wheat (for head retention) and Northern Brewer and East Kent Golding hops. With the highest O.G. (13.5 °P) of all the brewery’s core beers, the beer finishes at 5.0% alcohol (v/v). This porter is not just another muddy brown beer; the aroma is hoppy with bitter chocolate and sweet crystal notes, and the multiple malt flavors are distinct layers that peel apart slowly in the finish, exposing a sophisticated hop palette at the end.

Seasonal Inspirations

Markowski’s seasonal beers are ambitious. Inspired by the Saison Silly and Saison Regal he experienced firsthand in Belgium, Markowski makes small batches of very complex beers like his Southampton Saison, which is aged in oak barrels and spiced with Curaçao orange and grains of Paradise. Southampton Saison won a silver medal in the “Experimental Beers” category at the 1998 Great American Beer Festival. Markowski cultured the yeast for this firm, earthy beer from bottles of his favorite Belgian saisons. The success of this summer brew encouraged Markowski to brew a Saison Cuvée this year, which he kettled with candi sugar and flavored with edible flowers and spices. Most of the 10-bbl saison batches get kegged and sold in New York City.

Southampton Double Eisbock (18% alcohol [v/v]) was one of the beers Michael Jackson brought to the television show Late Night with Conan O’Brian on 9 December 1998. Though Jackson lauded other Southampton beers in his latest book Ultimate Beer (DK Publishing, New York), viewers never got to find out what he thought of the Double Eisbock, as O’Brian spent the segment clowning around instead of letting Jackson make his presentation.

Southampton’s Belgian Abbey Single, based on the abbey style Enkel (which just means “single” in Flemish), is a rare and exciting treat. Clean and mild up front, it has a long-finishing, mild hop bitterness and faint sugary sweetness. This is another “city beer,” made by Markowski for distribution to New York City’s beer bars. (A 5-gallon recipe for this beer appears above.)

Seasonals sold in-house include Summer Session Bitter (served on hand-pump; O.G. 9.8 °P, 3.7% alcohol [v/v]), Double White (a double-strength Belgian white ale), Raspberry Wheat Ale, Pumpkin Ale, Sullivan’s Irish (red) Ale, Imperial Baltic Porter (8.2% alcohol [v/v]), and McSuIley’s Dry Stout. One of Markowski’s fall seasonals, Southampton Vienna Lager, is also on the medal list. The Publick House sells this beer in the fall as its Oktoberfest.

One of the current specialty offerings is a cask-conditioned Southampton Burton Ale. For this firm and dry British-style ale, Markowski uses British pale and crystal malt and East Kent Goldings and Styrian Goldings hops. Sugar makes up 8% of the fermentables. Markowski treats his naturally soft water with calcium salts to add that dry, minerally, Burton-on-Trent hardness. Markowski’s axiom when making a British beer is, “Think like a British brewer,” so he is not afraid to use sugar or adjuncts if the style demands it. In fact, Markowski believes that traditional British brewing ingredients, such as white sugar and invert sugar, are wrongly frowned upon by some other craft brewers and are necessary for the faithful reproduction of many British styles. Though light on the palate, Southampton Burton Ale is not thin or cidery, and the sugar has certainly done this beer no harm.

Flexibility, and no shortcuts: Markowski takes no shortcuts in making challenging recipes. When he makes his 15 bbl of Raspberry Wheat Ale, Markowski crushes 240 lb of fresh fruit and puree, then pasteurizes them in the brewery. For fun and experimentation’s sake, Markowski has 60 gallons of lambic-style beer happily aging in oak in the brewery’s basement.

Markowski’s most unusual seasonal beer is the Peconic County Reserve Ale, which makes use of the locally grown Chardonnay grapes. Markowski starts by brewing a wheat beer to be ready a little earlier than grape harvest time. Then he buys grapes from Sagpond Vineyards in nearby Sagaponack. Markowski has Sagpond pick his grapes earlier than their normal harvest time, yielding grapes that are slightly more acidic than a vintner would use. He adds a combination of these crushed grapes and grape juice to the fermented beer to cause a second fermentation. After aging in oak for about 10 weeks, the finished beer is primed and hand-bottled, and the bottles are labeled and vintage-dated. The finished beer has a perceptible wine grape character and, like a good Chardonnay, a chewy oak flavor. Made in very limited quantities — just over 700 bottles per batch — this unique beer gets the brewery a lot of media coverage upon its “release” two months after bottling. Clearly this type of specialty brewing is not likely to directly make money for the brewery, but what better way to gain exposure for a brewery in wine country than to capitalize on the interest generated by combining two local products? The brewery has just released its second batch of Peconic County Reserve Ale.

Multiple strains: Markowski is not afraid to experiment with yeast, either. He uses as many as 15 different yeast strains in a year. For variety, he buys specialty yeasts from Saccharomyces Supply (Norwood, Massachusetts), Brewers Resource (Camarillo, California), and Wyeast Laboratories (Mount Hood, Oregon). He also cultures his own yeasts, sometimes starting from slants, sometimes from favorite beer bottles.

Despite the presence of so many yeast strains on the premises, Markowski has had no contamination problems. He cites the small, manageable size of his brewery and his relentless attention to cleaning and sanitizing details as the main reasons for his lack of problems. He believes that any brewpub can use multiple strains without cross-contamination as long as the brewers are careful with cleaning common pieces of equipment, particularly fermentors, door gaskets, valves, and hoses. He also believes that keeping the heat exchanger clean and taking it apart periodically is one of the most important cleaning jobs in a well-run brewery.

Success in a Seasonal Market

One challenge for the owners, who have worked full-time at the restaurant since it opened, is that the wealthy population of Southampton is largely migratory. When the weather is nice and the beaches are beautiful, the summer people swarm the Hamptons. But from September to May, the many summer homes in the Hamptons are empty and shuttered against the elements. So, in addition to adding the brewery, the Sullivans have done much to try to increase business and smooth out the seasonal lows. Live piano music, DJ night, prix fixe night, a twofer night, and a late-night menu on weekends have encouraged the East End’s slowly growing year-round population to embrace the Southampton Publick House as a destination for dining and nightclubbing.

Encouraged by the Publick House’s overall growth, the Sullivans and Markowski are expanding their brewing operation. The brewery just signed with a second distributor to increase the off-premise sale of beer. Distribution to New York City’s bars helps even out seasonal demand. The city’s bars are busy in the winter, but slow in the summer, perfectly complementing the Hamptons’ rhythm for Markowski and the Publick House. With expansion of the bar trade, Markowski hopes to see the winter demand increase and flatten out the peaks of seasonal popularity.

To encourage repeat business and attract more beer aficionados, Markowski has created a “beer cellar” of hand-bottled specialty beers. He is accumulating a hoard of the brewery’s big beers — Imperial Baltic Porter, Eisbock, Cuvée, and others — for the new cellar. Also, the front porch area is being enclosed to accommodate the large winter weekend crowd, and a new porch will be added further out on the lawn. The brewery now makes about 1,000 bbl of beer per year, and Markowski is confident that the brewhouse will be able to turn out as much as 2,000 bbl as demand increases.

A Sense of Community

Markowski and the owners are committed to more than just selling beer, however; participation in the craft brewing and home brewing community is also important to them. Markowski has judged at the GABF the last two years and, since 1985, has judged too many homebrew competitions to count. Markowski goes further by inviting serious beer lovers and home brewers to come and help brew (be careful, brewing here is hard work), and a couple of local home brewers have taken him up on it and participate on a regular basis.

When he advises new brewers, Markowski encourages them to plunge headlong into brewing and let the controversy follow. “I think there is a healthy balance between being traditional and being progressive,” he explains. “So-called doctrines like Reinheitsgebot or Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) rules can be limiting. I know some brewers who won’t use Irish moss or other processing aids out of respect for Reinheitsgebot. But if something is going to improve the beer or make the process easier, why let a 500-year-old law stand in the way?

“I think America is the most exciting place to be a brewer,” Markowski says. “We are not held back by centuries of tradition. We can pick the best aspects of the classic brewing nations and do something that is uniquely our own without feeling guilty about it. We Americans also tend toward irreverence, and irreverence feeds creativity.”

And Markowski has abundant creativity. Perhaps most important, however, he is backed up by restaurateurs who are eager to do whatever it takes to build their brewery’s reputation. The Southampton Publick House is creating an interest in good beer where none existed a few years ago. Beautiful beaches, beautiful people, and now beautiful beer — finally, the Hamptons have everything.

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