Island spirits: Beer, please

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This week, I’m going to devote this space to beers, which have been welcome guests at Island barbecues and beach picnics over the past holiday weekend. There are times when a beer is the perfect drink, especially with grilled foods or cold seafood on a summer day. I knew for this topic I should not trust my limited knowledge, but turn to my brother-in-law Hank McManus, who has a more extensive batch of brain cells dedicated to brews than anyone I’ve ever met. In fact, for several years Hank wrote his own column on beer, for the newspaper “AM New York.”

He’s truly a beer maven, bordering on beer snob (and I mean that in the nicest way). My beer palate is less refined than Hank’s. I love a cold Heineken on a hot day, but to Hank, that’s the swill the Dutch export to America and they keep the good stuff for themselves. He’s gone to the Netherlands to pursue his research, so I have to believe him.

I asked Hank what he thought about two beers being brewed on the East End, Greenport and Montauk. His verdict was that they are “decent, if not exactly cutting edge.” He said that each seems to have carved out a niche for themselves, “Montauk has a hit with IPA, while Greenport is focused on ale.” 

“I like to focus on a style of beer,” he said, “before getting into specific brands. There is a style called kolsch that is particular to Cologne. It’s light but has a kick. Unfortunately a lot of the flavored summer ales just taste like fruit juices with a kick.”

Kolsch is like a cross between a lager and an ale, I learned, which a lot of craft breweries are making now. Hank said Sam Adams and Brooklyn Brewery produce good ones. “On a hot day, I really like a pilsener,” he said. “It’s like kolsch and lighter than lager and has a snap to it.”

In the course of my own research, I visited a number of taverns to see what people are consuming. No matter what the experts say, you’re going to spend your money to drink what you like.

At SALT, the preferred beer on tap is usually Montauk IPA, but in the summer there’s more demand for Montauk Summer Ale. Out at the Shipwreck, their bar/former sailboat, the only beer on tap is Stella Artois. “We sell way more Summer Ale in the summertime, said staffer Chandler Olinkiewicz. “Then the company figured out how to keep sales from falling off sharply after summer,” he said, “and they’re now calling it Seasonal Ale.” Up at the Ram’s Head Inn, Blue Point Toasted Lager on tap is the top seller.

The Dory sold out of Land Shark and Narragansett on tap the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, according to staff, who report that Narragansett is the “Bud of Shelter Island locals.” They do have a pilsener on tap, called Radeberger, a premium beer from Germany. 

I consulted with the crew holding down one end of the bar at the Flying Goat, who told me almost as much about beer as Hank. Did you know, for example, that in the 1970s the Center market, when it was Fedi’s before it was Schmidt’s before it was empty, received more beer deliveries than any other store on the East End? Did you know that if you put Coors Light and other beers in a freezer, the Coors Light will freeze first? (One fellow said he had witnessed the experiment himself once at The Dory). Although the group, Bud drinkers, turned up their noses at Coors, Bob Mullins was behind the bar with a fact-based report. He orders four to six cases a week, he said, of Coors Light, Bud Light and Michelob Ultra.

On tap, the preferences are Greenport IPA, Blue Point, Stella Artois and Blue Moon, in that order. “I order a barrel a week of each of them,” he said. 

At the Shelter Island Craft Brewery, James Hull and Melissa Paller offer several flavors ranging from a pilsener to a lemon-grapefruit shandy. “There’s something of Shelter Island in every flavor,” Ms. Paller said. The craft beers come in a range of strengths as well as flavors and the brewery has hot dogs, pretzels and other beer-friendly foods on the menu.

I had to stop by the bar at The Pridwin, which I recalled over the years had a reputation for having the coldest beer on Shelter Island. “It still does,” said manager J.P. Torrealba. “It’s the same refrigerator that’s been behind the bar for decades. We sometimes have to keep opening the door from time to time so the beer doesn’t freeze.” He reported that their customers have a couple of strong preferences, including Stella and Corona. Also, he said a new beer called Beach Please is selling well. Made in Riverhead at a brewery called Long Ireland by Islander Billy Martin, it certainly sounds like something that belongs in your beach cooler.

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