Pints on Long Island's North Fork with Greenport Harbor
John Liegey & Rich Vandenburg, Co-Founders of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, gave us the story of their roots, a tour of their new brewery and a sneak peek of what's to come.
Where did the name for Greenport Harbor come from?
Our name comes from the harbor town where our original 15 barrel brewery resides. We love Greenport because despite the fact that it has become very popular with second homeowners and tourists, at its heart it is still a pretty badass boat building and fishing village.
How did you each get your start in craft beer?
Rich and I met in college and drank a boatload of bad beer. Basically what we could afford. As we began to make money we directed a healthy portion of it to drinking better beer. Home brewing followed and then conversations of opening a brewery, for selfish reasons centered around the idea that we would have access to a never-ending supply of much better beer to drink.
What was the start-up phase like at Greenport Harbor?
Brutal. We both were working our day jobs and doing all our own renovation work on weekends and vacation time. Replacing the roof, jack-hammering drains, loading in the brewhouse and tanks kept us honest about our plans and what we wanted the brewery to be. Add in the world-wide financial collapse and the picture is complete.
Our next challenge occurred when we realized we were going to outgrow our original brewery. As a brewery we are fundamentally against contract brewing and the important principle to us that we wanted to be totally in control of every ounce of beer we brewed. The reality of having to expand our brick and mortar capacity was brought on a few years ago when we maxed out our capacity at the original location and were faced with stagnant growth, as we struggled to fund and renovate the second brewery location in Peconic.
You guys recently opened that new location in Peconic. What sort of impact will this have on the brewery as a whole?
It gives us a tremendous amount of freedom to make any type of beer we want. From brewing the smaller batch "O G" or "Original Greenport" brewery beer to our larger core beers and embracing bottles and someday cans, it is really fun to have options. It also allows us to expand the experience our fans and customers have at the brewery with a large lawn area and soon to open pub that is offers a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere to enjoy the vistas of surrounding vineyards, farmscapes or open sky.
What was your first successful batch of beer?
The beer we got called out for the most was our Black Duck Porter. And it was no mistake. It was definitely our brewer at the time's favorite child. Beyond that our Otherside IPA and Fall seasonal Leaf Pile were also popular with Leaf Pile having a mythical following.
Where do you draw inspiration for Greenport Harbor?
We draw a great deal of inspiration from the east end of Long Island where we brew beer. From the vineyards whose barrels and grapes we use for our select beers to the local farms that grow hops as well as barley, rye and wheat for us. The authenticity and honesty of generations of local and hardworking people who have farmed, worked and lived on the East End is remarkable and impossible not to appreciate and admire. We also are constantly challenged and inspired by the other breweries across the country who are brewing equally great beer.
What does the brewing process look like at Greenport Harbor?
We are lucky enough to brew out of 2 locations. Our original 15 barrel brewhouse in Greenport and our new larger production space 6 miles west in Peconic. We do smaller batch, more esoteric beers, at the Greenport location, while we do our core beers and bottling at our newer location. While we designed the Peconic facility to allow us to grow even larger, we are not racing to expand for the sake of expansion. The quality of our beer is always first.
What’s your favorite Greenport Harbor craft beer?
(John) I would have to say for me it is one of our "O G" beers, Fork and Beans: a coffee stout using locally roasted coffee beans that we added post kettle as a cold brew addition. The cold brew holds down the acidity but adds a delicious deep coffee flavor.
For me (Rich) it is always the more hop forward styles we brew. I have a deep love for Otherside IPA, but I am also really enjoying our Sesh Who and Second Round KO IPAs.
Are there any new beers we should look forward to from Greenport Harbor?
Oy hell yeah... We are at a really exciting time for Greenport Harbor. Our new facility is able to handle the demand of our core and bottled beer and the Greenport location is kicking out barrel aged farmhouse ales, unfiltered IPA's, and sours. Beer we have never had the space to create in the past, that is now coming on line under the guidance of our team of young talent with great ideas.
What are your top 3 craft beers at the moment?
(John) Stone Ruination sentimentally is always going to be on this list, and then I really enjoy Three's Vliet and last Avery's Liliko'i Kepolo.
For me (Rich) was Terrapin's Rye Pale, Sierra Nevada Torpedo and Russian River's Pliny the Elder.
Breweries are important parts of their community. How does Greenport Harbor give back?
Like any brewery we get requests to help out charities all the time. And unfortunately we cannot help everyone out. For that reason, we established a giving campaign called The Giving Tank. It’s based on 3 charity pillars that for John and I are the things we identify most. They are: Kids (we have kids ourselves), Cancer (both our mothers passed away due to breast cancer) and the local area. We always try to support these causes whenever possible and nearly 100% of the time. Some of our favorites are the "Run the River" 5K that funds activities and a place to play for inner city kids on Randall's Island, “Fuck Cancer” (which is pretty self-explanatory), and Cornell Cooperative's “Back to the Bays” project that protects Eastern Long Island waterways and bays. We also support the local Seaport Museum, East End Shelters, our Local Hospitals, American Legion and other veterans organizations, and children’s' programs and charter schools that make a difference. It is one of the better feelings in your day, when you get to feel like you are helping to make a difference in the right direction.
What does the future of Greenport Harbor look like?
Certainly there are many challenges ahead and the idea of following the path of an independent, authentic and honest craft is what motivates us to try and make the best beer we can. The larger players can certainly play hard, but we intend to stay focused on our local market, making the experience the best it can be. The greatest part is that at the end of a good day or a bad day, there is a beer waiting.