When Patrick McHale first arrived as a freshman at St. Joseph’s Long Island Campus in 2006, the Island was home to only two craft breweries: Southampton Publick House and Patchogue’s own Blue Point Brewing Company.
By the time he graduated in 2010, there were five.
When SJCNY spoke with him in 2013, there were 13 breweries and four brew pubs scattered between the Queens-Nassau border and the Montauk Point lighthouse, with at least two more awaiting licensure. That’s to say nothing of the burgeoning microbrew scene in Brooklyn, geographically on Long Island, but culturally in its own world.
As for McHale, you can find him grinding malted barley and raising a glass with other local beer appreciators at Hoptron Brewtique, an up-and-coming hub of the craft beer community, which opened its doors at 22 West Main Street in Patchogue in November 2012.
A combination bar/craft-beer retailer/homebrew supply store with an emphasis on super-local brews, Hoptron is a virtual oasis for beer geeks in a beverage landscape which, though constantly changing, is still dominated by mass-produced, low-quality offerings.
It was his dissatisfaction with the bland, generic beers of the world that led McHale, a former mathematics major, to discover homebrewing, a hobby turned passion that he parlayed into a career through some simple networking.
“I joined a club called Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts,” McHale explained. “The first meeting I went to was at Bobbique [at 70 West Main Street in Patchogue] and I met Mike Philbrick, who’s the owner of Port Jeff Brewing Company, before they were open. I kept in touch with him, and when they opened I started working in the tasting room.”
It was there he met Amanda Danielson, Hoptron’s co-owner (along with Sue Lara), who shared her plans to open a growler bar in Patchogue. McHale, who recently moved into town, was thrilled by the prospect.
“I said ‘I’m a homebrewer. I would love to open up a homebrew supply shop in Patchogue.’” He even went so far as to scout out possible locations, but didn’t have the money to make it happen.
“And she said ‘We would love to sell homebrewing equipment but we don’t know anything about homebrewing.’”
The meeting proved beneficial for everyone involved. What was initially intended to be a consulting gig would ultimately lead to McHale working as a manager at the newly opened store. For the first few months, he was a fixture behind the bar, offering samples and pints from 16 taps while espousing the virtues of craft beer to aficionados and curious passersby alike.
When Hoptron expanded to create a stand-alone homebrew shop last May, he jumped at the opportunity to turn his hobby into a full-time job. In addition to advising customers of all levels of experience, McHale teaches beginners’ homebrewing classes, and has even been seen from time to time providing musical entertainment at the bar. SJCNY spotted him singing and playing guitar during one of Patchogue’s Alive After Five summer street festivals, performing such classics as “Let My Love Open the Door” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” the latter complete with an impressive whistling solo.
McHale estimates that he has brewed 20-25 different varieties of beer over the years, producing a new one about once a month early on, but his all-time favorite was a collaboration with a friend.
“Me and my buddy that I used to brew with, we twice brewed around Christmastime our holiday seasonal — we called it Brewdolph — it was just kind of a strong, malty and sweet brew with honey, cinnamon and ginger … that was the fourth beer we had made together, and it was the first one we were really proud of. We made it again the next year, and it came out even better.
It proved fortuitous for McHale that his interest in homebrewing would be piqued while Long Island and New York City were in the midst of a craft beer renaissance. The last five years have produced about half a dozen successful breweries on the Island, including Port Jeff, Greenport Harbor Brewing, Long Ireland Beer Company in Riverhead and Great South Bay Brewery in Bay Shore, to name just a few.
Still, despite the recent explosion, the region is still playing catch-up with other areas of the country.
“I think we’re noticing it more now, because we’re kind of going through our big surge, and I think different areas go through it at different times,” he said. “We’re easily 15 years behind the West Coast — Colorado, California, Oregon.
“New York has a rich brewing history that just didn’t recover after Prohibition,” McHale explains. “Nowhere did, but I guess it was just slower to get back into the craft movement.”
“One good thing,” he says of Long Island, “is the diversity of people, and we are seeing a diversity of styles. You see it in Long Ireland, which is Irish themed; and then you have Black Forest Brew Haus [in Farmingdale], which is German themed. You have the guys at Rocky Point — one of them is Austrian — so they do some kind of interesting European styles. Southampton does more of the Belgian styles: saisons and tripels.”
It’s also becoming easier, in many ways, to get a new brewery off the ground now that it was 10 to 15 years ago, thanks to more industry-friendly attitudes in local government.
“I’m sure Blue Point had to work a lot harder to get licensed [in 1997], McHale says. “Now towns have kind of caught onto this, and the state is making it a little bit easier by giving more tax breaks … because they realize it’s good for the industry.
“There’s definitely room for breweries to keep coming out. At the turn of the century, 1900, there were 46 or 47 breweries in Brooklyn alone. It seems like a lot to have 15 or 20 on Long Island, but it’s just because we were used to not having them here. It seems like a lot of growth. But as long as people are supporting their local breweries, and especially if the state is making it easier for breweries to open, then I think there is room for growth.”
That’s something we can all drink to.