What was a fledgling brewing company that started last year among friends spitballing and experimenting at Bellport Beer & Soda has since turned into a fledgling farm brewery in Moriches.
Brian Baker, a brewer and the owner of Bellport Brewing Company, recently signed a lease to build a brewery and tasting room on the very same farm from which Bellport Brewing’s hops will be harvested.
The ultimate goal is to provide an agricultural experience that would attract people from across the region who are looking to sip craft beer and chat or play games under the sun and among the hop bines.
“Our vision, at the end of the day, is we want this to be a winery for beer,” Baker said.
“There’s nothing like that on Long Island.”
Bellport Brewing Company received its farm brewery license from New York State in November.
The Veith Avenue farm itself — owned and operated by Ryan Andoos and Andoos’s uncle, Mark Carroll — totals 13 acres. Two of those acres are being used to grow hops that were planted about 18 months ago (in a German V-trellis style, to produce a greater yield.) Another three acres have already been cleared for more hops at the farm, now called Route 27 Hops.
The farm, formerly GB Schenone Nursery, had not been active for about a decade. That was until Andoos — who has two degrees related to landscaping — convinced longtime landowner Bob Schenone to let him grow hops there.
“The craft beer industry is booming,” Andoos said. “I had wanted to do something in farming. And growing hops is really innovative and, before recently, had never been done in the Northeast since Prohibition.
“Before Prohibition, 7/8th’s of the country’s hops came from New York State,” he continued, noting the crop from a century ago suffered from a one-two punch of blight, and later, Prohibition. “Now the hops are mostly all coming from the Yakima Valley.”
About 300 acres in NYS are being used to grow hops currently, Andoos said.
But that number could swell under state legislation that requires companies holding farm brewery licenses to use more and more locally grown products. (A full 90 percent NYS-grown products will be required by 2024.)
In return, farm breweries enjoy tax benefits and other economic incentives. The legislation, passed in 2012, is modeled after the 1976 Farm Winery Act, which has since tripled the number of farm wineries in the state to 249, reads a press release that was issued by Governor Andew Cuomo’s office in 2012.
As for Baker and Andoos, they met each other one random night last March, just as the farmer was wrapping up his day.
Baker, who lives in the immediate neighborhood, had wandered onto the property.
“I was driving home from dinner with my wife,” Baker recalled. “And she saw all these poles going up from the road and said, ‘Oh, look, they’re probably growing tomatoes or grapes.’
‘And I’m like, no, they’re going to grow hops; we have to stop.'”
The new neighbors hit it off.
“When I saw how dedicated [Andoos] was I knew this was where I wanted to put my investment,” Baker said.
Then, earlier this year, Brookhaven Town Councilman Daniel Panico sponsored agricultural code changes that now allow for breweries and distilleries on farms within the town.
Panico has since been an enthusiastic supporter of Bellport Brewing’s project.
“Farming is such a part of the history of this town, and there’s so much potential for the future, when we re-imagine not only farming but agri-tourism,” Panico said. “And that’s really where this [legislation] was born; I knew Brookhaven could capture a piece of a growing industry and all this excitement.
“And, for the residents of Brookhaven, who often travel out east to enjoy the wineries — and now the new breweries — this gives them an opportunity to do so right in our own backyard,” he added.
One obstacle for the somewhat remote farm brewery is establishing a means of ingress and egress from the two-lane Barnes Road to the east, Panico said, noting a paper road already exists.
“We’re gong to look at the maps and work to make this work for everyone,” he said.
“This has become a part of the culture,” he continued. “What’s more American than having a beer and a cheeseburger, listening to music and paying Kan Jam? It’s something people want.”
Baker, who had been brewing at an incubator in Farmingdale, is waiting for his licenses to be amended with the Moriches address. Then he’ll look to start building in the not-so-distant future.
And, of course, he wants to start brewing again. “Right now we’re not brewing anything,” he said.
Since his farm license allows the company to operate multiple tasting rooms (another incentive under the new law) Baker said he’s confident of realizing his initial goal of building a tasting room in the company’s namesake Bellport, where he hatched the idea for a brewery with Bellport Beer & Soda owner Dave Schultzer.
Baker had eyed a space on Station Road in the village, next to the closed Basil restaurant, for a tasting room, but said it became apparent the location would not have worked out — mostly due to its small size.
“It was very tough for me to walk away from Bellport,” said Baker, the sole owner of the company, which now employs a general manager and a financial officer. “Once I’m established, I”ll be back in Bellport.”
Photo: Farmer Ryan Andoos of Rockville Centre, Bellport Brewing GM Andrew van Bark, also of Rockville Centre, and Bellport Brewing owner and brewer Brian Baker of Moriches at the farm Monday. (Michael White)