Paul Dlugokencky, owner of Blind Bat Brewery, spends summer weekends waking early to get his farmers market table ready. But he’s not selling fresh produce or homemade baked goods, he’s there with bottles of beer. Dlugokencky embraces Long Island agriculture with a little help from his farmer wife, Regina, and often showcases locally grown ingredients in Blind Bat beers.
Dlugokencky’s microbrewery, in the detached garage of his Centerport home for the past eight years, allows him to use local produce and experiment with his recipes. (There are plans to open a larger tasting room in Smithtown.)
Regina Dlugokencky’s organic produce has been a part of the Long Island farmers market scene for years. In 2011, she encouraged Dlugokencky to try selling Blind Bat at the Northport Farmers Market and he hasn’t looked back.
“You expose yourself to a population that isn’t coming to your brewery,” he says. “They’re already open-minded enough to try something local. Variety is something people respond to; they don’t necessarily want to buy the same thing every week.” This gives him the freedom to brew smaller, more whimsical batches of beer like his Long Island Oyster Stout.
The market also allows Dlugokencky to work with local vendors and growers. When he needs coffee for his Brown Joe brown ale, he looks to Gentle Brew of Long Beach. And it goes both ways; his beer is often used by Ridgewood Pork Store in their sausages.
Dlugokencky doesn’t get all his offbeat ingredients at farmers markets; he often looks to Regina for guidance and fresh crops. “She’s currently growing Thai basil and lemon basil for a Thai-inspired pale ale and IPA,” says Dlugokencky. Her yield also makes its way into the Honey & Basil Ale, along with New York State honey. But it’s not just fresh herbs and spices that wind up in his beer.
Blind Bat Long Island Potato Stout is brewed with—you guessed it—Long Island potatoes. Depending on availability, locally and organically grown Yukon or Keuka Gold potatoes add sugar to the brewing process, which results in a dry, roasted stout with a low alcohol percentage and rich, bold flavors.
Keeping with the potato theme, Blind Bat Sweet Potato Saison uses sweets from Ty Llwyd and is their “beer for the harvest season.” The potatoes are first roasted to bring out their sweetness and are then added to the mash during brewing. A healthy dose of spices rounds out the ingredient list.
The DIY doesn’t stop. The base of several of his beers—including the popular Hellsmoke Porter—uses malt that’s hand smoked at the brewery. While still a homebrewer, Dlugokencky read about a smoked porter from Alaska but couldn’t get his hands on smoked malt. Not one to give up, he thought, “Well, I can’t find any so I’ll try making some.” The first attempt involved a window screen and barbecue and did not go exactly as planned; he wound up burning a hole in the screen. Dlugokencky now has two large smokers that “have never seen a piece of meat” and are solely used for malt.
Also spotted at Long Island farmers markets this season is the Brewers Collective, a group of nine homebrewers recently turned pro. In fact, they alternate weeks with Blind Bat at the Babylon market. A slight departure from Dlugokencky, who sells only bottles, the Collective—as they are sometimes known—brings kegs and fills growlers on the spot. They have been pushing the envelope with unique local ingredients since in 2007.
Their Loot Gruit, a lightly hopped ale brewed with hibiscus flowers, sage and lemon balm, uses New York–grown hops. The Collective had an extensive tasting session where they made teas from each herbal ingredient and added them to commercially brewed beer in order to perfect their recipe. The result is a fresh, brightly colored beverage that tastes more like a harvest bounty than a typical beer.
Come fall, the summery, light gruit gives way to their fall version, Witchbinder. Brewed with herbs and Long Island cheese pumpkin, the ale is a dark, earthy brew that is very sage forward. “Once we have a building, I want to start growing this type of stuff myself,” says brewer Tim Dougherty, whose wife, Sarah, is also a part of the Collective.
“You get into brewing because you enjoy the process, not just the end product,” says Blind Bat’s Dlugokencky. These two local breweries are exploring new avenues in beer by going back to Long Island farms.