For those who may not have known me before I was the Beer Babe, I have a dirty secret. Though I’ve lived in New England since 2000, there’s something that you all should probably know…I’m a New Yorker.

While I am half kidding about it being a “dirty” secret, that hasn’t stopped me from buying a Subaru, drinking Moxie and working for a Maine University. But every once and a while I get to explore places I used to know well as a kid, and those old New York vibes come right back. This past weekend I went to Long Island New York to visit my mom, and had the pleasure of being able to bring my family to the North Fork Craft Beer, Wine & BBQ Festival in Jamesport, NY.

For those of you who don’t know much about New York geography, the “North Fork” is the part of long island that branches out farthest away from New York City. Typically it’s a winery area – in fact, the festival itself was hosted at a winery – and is in general rural with the occasional farm stand or sod field. I drove in during a stream of steady traffic – there are very few roads leading out to Jamesport, so whether people were catching the ferry or going to the festival, I couldn’t tell. After parking in a field next to rows of grapes shining in the sun, I was raring and ready to go.

The festival was setup in a horseshoe ring of tents – with a large tent and several smaller tents spread out, and some tables and seating in the middle of the yard. I decided to bear left and enter the largest tent first. though lines were reasonably short, because it was early, there was not yet the “flow” that develops in these festivals. E.g., You need to know when to drink, when to stand, and when to move so that peopl don’t think you’re in line. People eventually got the hang of it. My goal for attending the festival was not to try everything, but to seek out any breweries that I hadn’t tried, especially the little ones that I knew I wouldn’t be able to get off the island. Some of the highlights are below. My blog has a detailed (brief) tasting list of what I had that day, if you’re interested in the details.

Fire Island Beer Company – When I talked to these guys they said that they were brewing small test batches out of a shed on Fire Island, and then contracting the bottling out to a company in Saratoga (upstate), NY. While my hopes of visiting this brewery later in the weekend were dashed, I did get to try the “Red Wagon” IPA. I could see myself drinking several of the malty, yet light Red Wagons while hanging out during the summer, and I think that it has the potential to become a staple in the Long Island beer scene. By the way, if you’re into bizarre websites, check theirs out. There’s some funky stuff goin’ on there.

Barrier Brewing Company – A highlight of this brewry was their Rye IPA. It was punchy and bright with an awesome spicy aroma. The taste is malty and a little bitter, but really high quality. From what I can tell, this brewery does not go beyond being on tap on Long Island, but it’s a treat if you find it.

Rocky Point Artisan Brewery – My favorite “brewery” of the entire event was one that broke the mold of Long Island craft brewers right off the bat, even before being licensed (which they still not yet). Co-founded by craft beer writer Donovan Hall, he and his two friends started something interesting. I had their black lager and a few others they had on tap, and I was surprised and delighted to find that the black lager was on par with any of the others of the same style that I’d tried. They’re working on perfecting their brews before they are ready to go big, but plan to investigate a community-supported model of beer distribution, similar to a CSA. How fun would it be at the whim of whatever a brewer is brewing that particular week? Their attitude as a brewerey was differtent than many others I’ve met.  A quote from Donovan himself (from their blog) sums this up very well:

“The best beer is made in small quantities by artisans. And that’s why we felt it was essential to put the word “artisan” in the name of our company… The point is that human beings, with their hands, their muscles, and their brains, make beer, not the machines. We are Rocky Point Artisan Brewers. We use machines, they don’t use us.”

Though I was initially skeptical of an event put on by a winery, this was well organized. The food (most of whilch was included in the ticket price) was excellent – the barbeque pulled pork was memorably good. There were also beer education seminars throughtout the day, which I think kept the discussions about the beer, and not about getting drunk – always a good tactic to take. I also appreciated the presence of home brewing clubs (and the fact that I got to taste others’ homebrews at a beer festival – that was really cool!) such as the Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts, and down to the smallest nanos on the Island, such as Blind Bat Brewing. Overall, this event surpassed my expectations. Despite the presence of a rumored 6,000 attendees, the crowd was well distributed and well managed. It was a little difficult getting in and out of tents, but not nearly as bad as some other fests I’ve attended. The hosting winery seemed to have everything together, and I hope that I can attend next year as well.

North Fork Craft Beer Festival photo gallery on facebook.