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LARGE CRAFT BREWERY: Blue Point Brewing Co.

Long Islandís largest craft brewery, Blue Point Brewing, celebrated 10 years of phenomenal growth in 2009 with an anniversary bash at the brewery in Patchogue. The party featured everything that events at Blue Point have become renowned for: great Blue Point beer, good local food, fun crowds and high-energy live music. Now in its 13th year of operation, Blue Point continues to lead the craft beer movement on Long Island while making a name for itself up and down the East Coast.

Blue Point has many accomplishments to be proud of since its founding in December 1998 by two Long Island natives, Mark Burford and Pete Cotter. Great beer brought Mark and Pete together in the first place, as they met in the 1980s while enjoying German beers at Fadeley's Pub on West Main Street in Patchogue. Both were avid homebrewers, and Mark went on to found New York Homebrew in Franklin Square in the early 1990s before becoming brewmaster at one of Long Islandís first brewpubs, the long-departed Long Island Brewing Co. in Jericho. Pete worked as a hand tool salesman and also traveled extensively overseas, which helped deepen his appreciation for finer beers. Fate brought them together again when they worked together briefly at Cobblestone Winery & Brewery in Huntington before it closed in early 1998.

The two friends decided to strike out on their own, because as Mark said, ďwe wanted to have our own brewery for a long time and thought the time was right." Pete said, "Mark and I thought there were people out there like us who wanted fresh, unpasteurized, high quality beer. Other parts of the country had local microbreweries and we saw an opportunity for a microbrewery to meet the demand in the market between Montauk and Manhattan.Ē

The new Blue Point Brewing Co. opened in a 5,000 square foot building on River Avenue that was originally a factory for Penguin Ice in the 1970s. Mark and Pete cobbled together a 25-bbl brewing system mostly by bidding on equipment at auctions, which is how they found their signature direct-fire brick brew kettle at the Wild Goose Brewery in Maryland. From the beginning, they focused on making full-flavored beers using the highest quality ingredients. Toasted Lager, which was the first beer brewed by Blue Point and remains its flagship, is a good example of their willingness to spare no expense in pursuit of flavor. Mark and Pete used six different malts -- English Pale, crystal, Munich, carapils, wheat and Belgian caravienna -- to give the beer a complex character, copper color and slight caramel flavor. The hot flames from the direct-fire brew kettle gave the brew its light smokiness, or toasted flavor.

Bernie with Pete and Mark in 1999, toasting the launch of the brewery

In 1999, its first full year of operations, Blue Point brewed 1,200 bbls of beer that was mostly distributed personally in kegs by Mark and Pete to local bars. Toasted Lager was followed by a full range of beers including Pale Ale, Hefeweizen and Oatmeal Stout, and various seasonal beers including Winter Ale, Summer Ale, Double Blond and Oktoberfest. The brewery also created tremendous local buzz by opening up a tasting room, serving free beer and selling growlers from a bar built with bricks from a local lace mill built in the 1800s. The tasting room became the site of frequent parties to introduce new beers, including the first vintage of now-legendary Old Howling Bastard barleywine in December 2000.

Mark and Pete always planned to distribute their beer in retail outlets, and selected Clipper City Brewing in Baltimore to contract brew the first six-packs of Toasted Lager. Helped by the colorful labels and packaging designed by friend Jim McCune, Toasted Lager six-pack sales took off on Long Island after the launch in fall 2000. This was quickly followed by the launch of Winter Ale in six-packs in fall 2001, followed by six-packs of Summer Ale and Pale Ale in 2002. Distribution was expanded that year to the five boroughs and upstate, and Blue Point was well on its way to fulfilling Mark and Peteís dream of becoming Long Islandís premier microbrewery. In 2003, they strengthened the brewing team with the naming of Alan Brady, formerly with Harpoon, as head brewer. Alan continues to lead a talented team of assistant brewers including Chris Amcher and Jim Richards.

Some of the crew at Blue Point's tasting room

Blue Pointís growth accelerated even more in 2004 after the introduction of Blue Pointís second flagship beer in six-packs, Hoptical Illusion, an imperial pale ale which earned an immediate loyal following with its bold flavor and way-cool label and packaging. Blue Point also attracted attention with a winning streak in competitions at the Great American Beer Festival and the prestigious World Beer Cup, where Toasted Lager won a Silver Medal in 2004 and a Gold Medal in 2006. Blue Point hit another home run in 2006 with the launch in six-packs of Blueberry Ale, which was a runaway success on tap when it was first introduced in 2004 and continues to be one of Blue Pointís top sellers.

Blue Point beers sold in six-packs are now all contract brewed by High Falls Brewery in Rochester. Long Island-based Clare Rose and Brooklyn-based Union Beer handle distribution to over 500 bars and restaurants on Long Island, in the five boroughs and upstate New York. Blue Point is also distributed throughout the Eastern Seaboard in New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.

Despite its rapid growth and expansion to other states, one of the secrets to Blue Pointís success is its deep involvement in its local community, starting with the camaraderie built at the tasting room and the many festivals held at the brewery. Blue Point has held annual summer musical festivals at the brewery since 2002, and in a middle of a blizzard in January 2005 held its first annual Cask Ale Festival, which has become one of the most popular beerfests on Long Island. In late 2002, Blue Point began supervising the brewing operations at its neighbor in Patchogue, BrickHouse Brewery, which is Long Islandís oldest brewpub. Together with BrickHouse, it is a major supporter of Patchogue events including the annual Sea Fair Festival in June and the Alive After Five summer music festival. The brewery is also sensitive to environmental issues and in 2010 created a special beer in response to the gulf oil spill, BP Toxic Sludge Black IPA, with all proceeds going to Tri-State Bird Rescue.

Blue Point ramped up production capacity in Patchogue in 2009 and added a new bottling line for 22 ounce bottles, with regular seasonal releases including Old Howling Bastard and RastafaRye Ale. In 2012, the brewery came out with its first ever six-packs in cans, with Toasted Lager, Summer Ale and the new White IPA debuting in attractively designed cans perfect for the beach or a picnic. With its six-pack production included, Blue Point is primed to pass 50,000 bbls in annual production this year. Not bad for a couple of guys from Long Island who just wanted to make great beer!

Blue Point Brewing Co.
161 River Avenue
Patchogue, NY
(631) 475-6944

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