It’s a sunny day with the unmistakable chill of September in the air when we arrive at Moustache Brewing Company, three blocks from the Peconic River in Riverhead. The owners, married couple Matthew and Lauri Spitz, and head brewer Rob Raffa have visitors.
Indian Ladder Farms Cidery and Brewery co-owners Dietrich Gehring and Stuart Morris and manager Lisa Stewart, from Altamont, New York, have hand-delivered unmalted oats, pale barley malt and freshly picked, kilned whole cone hops.
The group met at “yeast camp,” at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, two years ago. “I consider these fun days,” said Morris. “We get to share information and talk about recipes and ideas.”
No Farms, No Beer
Gehring, wearing a “No Farms No Beer” T-shirt, and his wife, Laurie Ten Eyck, have taken the reins of her family’s 101-year-old 320-acre farm. What started as a dairy farm had grown into an apple farm by the 1960s and continues to grow every year.
Two years ago, they dedicated two acres to growing hops and started making hard cider, and plans for a huge oast house are in the works.
“We do everything,” Gehring said, from cranking out cider donuts to hosting weddings. “It’s an institution in the area. Families have come here for generations to pick apples.” Visitors can snack in the Yellow Rock Café, drink in the beer garden or shop the farmers market in season.
Gehring met Morris, his business partner, at Beacon Hill Wine and Spirits in Boston where both held part-time jobs in 1984. “It was the frontier of changing beer taste,” said Gehring. “We had anything and everything available, beer wise.”
The college kids learned life was more than Michelob and St. Pauli. “We started to see Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada,” said Gehring. “We were knowledgeable in our products.”
“We were very inquisitive,” added Morris.
Hopping to It
Today, Moustache is brewing Forgotten Oats IPA with Indian Ladder’s harvest. India Pale Ale, the hoppier version of pale ale, originated in England and migrated to India to satisfy thirsty troops in the mid-1800s. “Hops are antibacterial,” said Matthew Spitz, the man with the moustache. “The beer doesn’t spoil. It’s more stable for the trip.”
Those first IPAs were very mild. The stronger they get, the more popular they become. “People’s tastes have changed,” Spitz said. “People cannot get enough hops.”
“The cool thing about hops is, it depends on when you add them,” said Raffa. Traditionally, hops were added at the beginning of the process. Moustache adds it later in the boil so that the oils are trapped.
The range of floral and citrus aromatics are preserved at the end, when otherwise they would evaporate in the boil. “Fresh hops won’t be cooked away,” Raffa said. “We use a tremendous amount of hops.” Good if you’re a hop grower, still not quite a cash cow.
A false bottom separates liquid wort from the solids, which are given away to local fishermen and farmers. “It makes great animal feed, dog treats and benefits the local community,” said Raffa.
Four Years in the Making
The brewery’s garage doors will roll up soon, and their neighbor, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, will offer a nature talk on the lawn, like “Air Traffic Control for Hangry Birds.”
Maple Tree BBQ, available for hangry people, will be washed down with flights of DJ Night IPA, Wanderlust and Terre Au Verre, a New York State Saison, brewed with honey lavender and verbena.
Come April, Moustache will celebrate four years in business and you can bet there will be a lot of rocking and rolling on the river. The Indian Ladder folks may have to make another trip.