The skies were threatening as Great South Bay Brewery’s Bay Fest neared its opening moment. Crowds waiting for admission were herded inside the vast brewery in Bay Shore, Long Island, as a cast of 18 brewers beneath a white tent in Great South Bay’s back lot hung their banners and prepared their taps.
Inside the vast 39,000-square-foot brewery— two-thirds the size of a football field — live music from Tradewinds, a 12-person cover band with a powerful horn section, made the day more festive. So did the bits of sun that peaked through the grey clouds of May 11. At 1 p.m. yellow-shirted security personnel gave the okay and within minutes the tent was wall-to-wall with fest goers. More than 1,000 tickets had been sold for the event, certainly the largest event of Long Island Craft Beer Week, a regional celebration of mostly local brews that continues through May 19.
And, it seemed as if all 1,000 attendees, many of them beer devotees, some not, had arrived at the same time. The professional brewers inside the tent were besieged for tastes of the more than 40 ales, lagers and stouts available.
The host brewery’s beers, not surprisingly, were ubiquitous throughout the fest. Under the tent and inside the brewery, Great South Bay’s Blood Orange Pale Ale, a refreshing summer brew, could be found on tap or on cask. The cask version was especially enjoyable.
Other brewers offered staples from their respective repertoires and a few experimental, one-off special brews. For me, tasting new and unusual beers is the whole point of attending a beer festival.
Port Jeff Brewing, its tap-truck parked adjacent to the tent, offered attendees two variations on India Pale Ale, its citrusy Hop Star, which is brewed exclusively for Superstar Discount Beverage stores, and its more aggressively hopped sibling, Party Boat IPA.
Just steps away, Paul Dlugokencky, the owner-brewer of Blind Bat Brewery in Centerport, offered samples of a staple, Long Island Potato Stout, and its sweetish Spring Folly, an as-yet-unreleased beer in the Belgian ale style flavored with coriander. Though billed as a springtime brew it will undoubtedly give as much refreshment come the summer.
Across the tent, brewer Joe Hayes of Black Forest Brew Haus in Farmingdale poured a beer called Fritz, a full-flavored, albeit somewhat murky, brew made with rye in the style of Steam Beer. The beer, Hayes said, isn’t yet available at the brewpub.
Meanwhile inside the brewery, hungry attendees lined up 30 deep for a chance to chow down on pulled pork sandwiches, smoked turkey legs or pretzel from Bobbique of Patchogue.
A less frenetic atmosphere and, for sure, the most interesting beers of the day, could be found in the brewery’s tasting room, where home brewer groups and brewery wannabes poured their wares.
Alas, despite good intentions, I did not get to sample Peaches and Scream, a brew made with scorpion chili peppers, among the world’s hottest, by homebrewer Mike Napolitano of Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts. Warned that it would kill my taste buds, I had waited. By the time I was ready, however, the keg had been kicked.
But I did get the opportunity to sample the exemplary Irish-style gruit made by Tim Dougherty of the Brewers Collective, a homebrew group that has plans to brew commercially. The gruit, a style of beer brewed before in the days hops became a necessary ingredient, offered up a fruity, floral aroma followed by balanced sweet and savory notes on the palate from the inclusion of barley, oats, elderflower, yarrow root and juniper berries.
A different flower, camomile, made an appearance in a light wheat ale poured by Matthew Titmus of newcomer Outer Lands Brewing Co. Outer Lands’ name stems from the geological nomenclature for Long Island, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island. The brewery, as yet unlicensed and with no home, also poured its mouth-filling, bitterish Good Mojo IPA and a stellar, if understated, espresso stout.
Regrettably, by 3:30 p.m. with 90 minutes remaining in the fest, many brewers were out of beer and had packed it in.
While some attendees might have faulted the wall-towall crowd and the early finish to some kegs, Great South Bay Brewery’s first Bay Fest nevertheless was a good time event. With better planning and more beer (or smaller pours), it can only get better if the brewery chooses to repeat it next year.