James Hull, owner of the Shelter Island Craft Brewery, likes to say that when people visits his brewery they are “tasting Shelter Island.”
By that he means every beer on tap is created from ingredients grown on the island, each with a different taste to offer.
The brewery is now entering its third summer and Hull said he’s excited about the progress he’s made, continuing to build his business and do what he loves.
“I’m not really a beer drinker myself,” he admitted. “But I was blessed with a very good palate.”
For Hull, 66, beer making is something relatively new, which may come as a surprise to the people who packed his tasting room last Saturday afternoon.
He began making beer in his garage about six years ago and he said he doesn’t learn from other craft brewers or through research. Instead, he approaches his product as if he’s cooking, and starts by finding the right ingredients to represent Shelter Island, like local honey or beach plums. He said his beers have many different levels of flavors.
Hull once dreamed of becoming an executive chef at his own restaurant, but said he thinks it’s too late for that. Now, creating craft beer fills that void.
“This suits the bill,” he said. “I can do my culinary thing with the beer.”
The brewery has eight beers on tap at all times and most are seasonal, like the honey ale, which uses acacia honey from local beekeepers, or the apple beer he makes in the fall.
The tasting room also offers seating at large outdoor picnic tables with games available for guests to play, like Jenga.
Although it’s a brewery, it’s also a place where families can come to play a game, spend time together and eat food like large soft pretzels or pizza.
“Great beer, great people, fun games and a family vibe,” said Lee Richstone, a part-time Shelter Island resident. He was at the brewery last Saturday afternoon drinking beer with some friends while their kids were occupied playing games.
“Shelter Island’s a small place so there’s only so many places and it really adds a lot to the island,” Richstone said.
As Saturday progressed, the bike racks outside the brewery slowly began to fill up and large and small groups sat together drinking flights.
While a lot of its business is from people visiting the island, the Shelter Island Craft Brewery also serves as a community hub for locals, especially during the winter, when it stays open on weekends.
Hull has lived on Shelter Island for 27 years. After he stopped working as a jeweler in Manhattan, he became a charter boat captain. While he said the island is not the ideal place for a brewery due to the travel time and effort it takes to get there, it is his home.
“It’s tough in that respect but not really, because I like it. I don’t really want to be an industrial giant, just [want to] make people happy, that’s all,” he said.
This year, in response to customer demand, the brewery will release its new pilsner.
Hull said he doesn’t mind offering a ubiquitous beer, because he knows that once people try the other brews he has to offer, they usually leave “surprised and happy.”
He said the best part of his job is when a customer tells him one of his beers is the best they’ve ever tasted.
“That’s my reward,” he said.