Rob Johnson's picture

Fresh Memories of a Trip to Southampton

Southampton Publick House

At the eastern end of Long Island in New York sits a little known brew pub, the Southampton Publick House.  I use the words “little known” loosely because the long list of beers that the award-winning pub has been creating for the past 13 years are actually very well known in the craft beer industry.  But should you ask someone from a neighboring town like Shinnecock Hills what they think of the Southampton Publick House, chances are your reply may be a blank stare. No matter. In spite of its relative anonymity in the area Southampton has built a strong, loyal following among craft beer lovers and has garnered more than its share of national and international acclaim. It is now one of the most successful brew pubs in the entire United States.

Along with Donald and Charlie Sullivan, Southampton’s owners, much of the credit for the brew pub’s success goes to Phil Markowski, who has been overseeing the brewing there since Southampton opened in 1996, helping it rack up 15 awards at the Great American Beer Festival and four at the World Beer Cup over the years.  Recently, to increase distribution and introduce their brand to a wider group of beer fans, Southampton formed an alliance with the Pabst Brewing Company.  It is still independently owned, but because of Pabst’s distribution network Southampton beers are now available in 10 states along the Eastern Seaboard, with plans to be in many more soon.

In early August I jumped at the chance to visit Southampton and take part in their annual hop harvest, a ritual typically reserved for the Pacific Northwest. Hop harvest events have recently become all the rage in beer circles throughout the United States, as breweries have begun creating “fresh hop” beers to celebrate each year’s harvest.  Rather than using dried and processed hops in these ceremonial beers they are acquiring hops just off the vine, still wet and oozing with their sought-after oils. The hops won’t last long if they are not dried, and due to the volatility of large quantities most hop suppliers refuse to ship them directly after harvesting. But luckily for Southampton, locals John and Vivian Mangieri plant a few rows of hop vines specifically for the brewery’s annual harvest, after which the Southampton Long Island Fresh Hop ale is produced.      

I arrived at the MacArthur Airport in Islip, N.Y., on a hot, sunny day.  On the drive out to the East End I found myself marveling over the way that trees and farmland began to replace the traffic and bustle typically associated with suburban New York.  After stopping by the quaint, tree-shaded Publick House, whose interior was covered in brick and wood that gave it the feel of a traditional Irish pub, I made my way to the Southampton Inn, where I would be staying for the next couple of days, to relax before for the second annual Hops Picking Dinner that would be held at the brew pub later that night.

After a short rest I walked from the inn down narrow streets back toward Southampton, passing 200-year-old buildings filled with cafes, shops, galleries, coffee houses and an old movie theater.  Soon I found myself at the front of the beautifully landscaped and inviting Publick House patio.  I grabbed a helles to quench my thirst from the walk and was soon directed to a private room in the back where the dinner was being held.  

The  room was equipped with its own taps and had direct access to the kitchen. I met some of the event’s other attendees, including Dave and Iris Brodrick from the famed Blind Tiger Ale House in Manhattan and the Mangieris, who provided the hops for the event. Markowski served as steward, and Spencer Niebuhr, Southampton’s Brand Specialist and former lead brewer, talked a bit about food and beer pairing.  The meal that the chef, Carl Holfelder, presented that night was full of delicious offerings, including a dish of roasted Long Island duck breast with poached local apples, whipped sweet potatoes and braised endive, which was paired with Southampton’s 2007 Grand Cru.  Also served were chocolate mousse with local raspberries, paired with the brew pub’s Imperial Porter, and a cheese course that was presented along with the 2009 Cuvee des Fleurs, a farmhouse-style ale brewed with six different botanicals and weighing in at 8 percent ABV.   

The next morning the group met for breakfast before heading out to harvest the hops.  We arrived at the Mangieris’ shortly after 9 a.m., the August sun already beating down from above.  Unfortunately, heavy rains in June and a cooler-than-average summer to that point had made for a poor hop growing season on eastern Long Island.  But despite the bad weather we managed to find a row of Cascade hops that had grown quite well.  After a short tutorial from Markowski and John Mangieri we jumped right in and began hand picking hops.  Years of professional brewing had exposed me to dried flower hops and pellets, but it was a completely new experience to be plucking fresh, wet Cascade hops straight from the vine.      
The aroma that filled the air and the oils that covered my hands were much more pungent than I could have imagined.  I found myself staring at the glowing, fluorescent green hops and sticking my entire face into my harvested bag of goods.  Once we had scoured the vines for all the harvestable humulus lupulus buds we immediately headed back to Southampton to brew.

Upon our arrival back at the Publick House we were met by the head brewer, Evan Addario, who had already begun mashing-in so as to expedite the addition of our wet hops in the brewing process as quickly as possible.  After the grain was mashed and the wet hops were weighed, we had a ceremonial dunking of the first hop addition, which went in only four hours after the hops were picked. 

Soon it was ready to head home, but about five weeks later the fruits of my labor arrived on my doorstep – bottles of this year’s Long Island Fresh Hop. I popped one open, and this is what I found…

Southampton Long Island
Fresh Hop 2009     

The color of this ESB-style fresh hop ale is amber, and the beer has a nice, sturdy, bone-colored head.  Wonderful fruity and floral hop aromas dominate the forefront of the nose and are accented by underlying bready malt characteristics in the back.  This fresh hop ale hits the palate bright and hop-forward.  The hops continue to build with big fruit and citrus flavors while the malt backbone continues to support their climb and provide a solid foundation.  As the malt coats the inside of the mouth and dissipates slowly, the hops continue their ascent, building bitterness and intense fruit flavors.  The oily slick that results from the addition of the wet hops replaces the malt as the beer finishes, leaving a pleasant, citrus bitterness clinging to the palate. Overall, Long Island Fresh Hop Ale has a long, crisp, very dry finish. Simply stated, it’s truly delicious.