Care to try a little Liquid Sunshine? Or how about a beer made with wild beach rugosa?
Shelter Island Craft Brewery, which has been open for less than two months, has become so popular it can barely keep up with demand.
“Weekends we do really, really well,” says brewer Peter Douma. “We pretty much sell out as fast as we can make it. I’m brewing almost every night.”
Not bad for a craft brewery that just opened its doors for the first time on July 3.
Since then, proprietor and brew master James Hull and Douma have been hard at work creating small batches of carefully crafted brews, using as many local ingrediants as possible.
“If we find something locally, we’re going to use it, especially whatever is in season,” Douma said.
A recent visit to the brewery was a chance to sample its summer brews and learn a little about the brewing style.
Douma is casual and instructive, as he pours a tasting flight for me at the bar. With my inexperienced palate, he starts me off with their current best-seller, “Liquid Sunshine.”
Light, crisp and citrusy with a touch of sweetness, it is very refreshing. Douma calls it a wheat beer, which includes lemon peel and lemon verbena grown from Hull’s own garden.
Up next is “Nude Beach,” a fruited variation of Liquid Sunshine. This time the local ingrediant is beach plums, which grow on the island. I can taste the fruitiness, but it is still light and not overwhelming.
The third beer, “Dune Cottage,” is a Belgian-style Saison. A Saison, which is French for “Season,” is a pale ale brewed during the cooler months, to be saved for summer. Each farmer brewed his own saison, using ingrediants that made his distinctive. Today the beer is brewed year-round.
Wild beach rugosa, lemon thyme and peppercorns are some of the distinctive ingrediants that go into Dune Cottage.
I take a sip, but am having trouble diciphering the beer’s aroma in the tasting glass. Hull hands me a gigantic glass, nearly the size of a small fish bowl. It appears to be a wine glass, but is large enough for me to place my entire face into. The rim of the glass is tilted to allow the drinker to place their face against the glass rim and inhale the drink’s aroma.
“This is my personal glass and that’s the saison, put your face in there and take a big sniff,” Hull instructs. “Part of the experience of saison is the scent.”
I place my face against the glass, close my eyes and inhale. Waves of herbs, flowers and beer fill my nose. I pull my head back from the glass, my head spinning from the different smells. “I’ve got to get one of these,” I think to myself, as I take another sip. The ability to smell the different aromas in the larger glass makes the tasting experience completely different. Now I do taste the herbs in the beer, which come in much stronger.
Next up is “Twin Forks Harvest.” This beer is darker and heartier then the first three. Douma describes it as a multi-grain beer, because it is made with wheat, barley, rye and oats. Orange peels and star anise are also part of the recipe, giving it many layers of flavor.
This beer is heartier and maltier than the others, but not very hoppy. Hoppy to me is the bitter quality that appears in many IPA beers. You can taste the hops, but these beers do not have that intense bitter quality.
The last beer is a “Uflaffen IPA.” Douma describes it as leaning more toward an east coast IPA. “West coast tends to be all hops and east coast tends to have more of a balance,” Douma explains. “It’s still going to be more hop-dominant, but you pick up more malt and more tropical flavors.”
The uflaffen is rich and hoppy, but not by too much. It takes me a few minutes to taste the citrus, but eventually that comes through as well.
“When I do a tasting I always leave the real hoppy, aggressive stuff to the way end,” Douma said.” Hops do hurt your palate temporarily. If you drank Liquid Sunshine after this you would get a totally different experience.”
Don Steinmetz from Nyack wanders in during my tasting to sample both the Nude Beach and Twin Forks Harvest. “I liked them both. It was really nice and it smells great in here.”
While open full time now, Shelter Island Craft Brewery will cut down to just four days a week after Labor Day, Thursday through Sunday.
“We need more time to brew without the summer crowd here,” Douma said. “We have a strong local group who live on the island. A lot of those people we expect to have all year round. We’re working on a stout that we’re going to bring out for the first time this week, then we’re going to look more towards seasonal ingrediants towards the fall, maybe something with apples. Our focus right now is on small batches and getting as much local stuff as we can get in there.”
Shelter Island Craft Brewery is located at 55 North Ferry Road on Shelter Island. A tasting of five beers costs $6. Growlers are also available for purchase. Contact them at 631-749-5977.