Friday, August 18, 2017

Bike and Brew: Shelter Island Craft Brewery and Greenport Harbor Brewing Company

I'm not complaining, but it's getting to the point where the opening of new breweries in southeastern Connecticut is outpacing my ability to do this Bike and Brew series for them. I do want to mix up the personal blog entries with some other topics, after all, and there's that whole other political scandal blog I try to do as well.

Two new breweries have opened since my visit to Fox Farm Brewery, one in Mystic and one in Norwich. Another one is making good progress in East Lyme, with a separate brewpub that might open soon as well. And according to the lovely Connecticut travel/beer site CTMQ, another brewery is in the works for Stonington.

As I was thinking about the future trips I could take, including the likelihood of consolidating visits breweries that were close together, it hit me that I was overlooking another destination. I plan to visit Grey Sail Brewing at some point, even though it's just over the state line in Rhode Island. So it seemed only fair that I should see what Long Island has to over.

New London is a terminus for several ferry lines. A high-speed ferry heads out to Block Island, while slower ferries visit Fishers Island and Orient Point on Long Island. They all offer the option of taking bicycles on board, easily expanding the travel options for cycling.

Block Island is a lovely place, but doesn't exactly work for Bike and Brew purposes. The only brewing operation out there is a small brewpub which had some rather unsatisfying, watery, and under-carbonated options last time I checked it out. Fishers Island has a popular and very boozy whiskey/lemonade concoction, which doesn't quite fall into the beer tasting category; they also seem to despise cyclists since it costs nearly as much to bring a bike over as it does to take a car.

The last line, Cross Sound Ferry, heads to the tip of Long Island and has very reasonable ticket prices; they'll also take a bike on for only $5 extra each way. And a quick search of Google Maps pulled up two breweries within an easy day trip. Orient Point it was!

Cross Sound Ferry uses some jolly old tubs for regular service between New London and Orient Point. One of them was even used to land tanks at Normandy during the D-Day invasion. It's a slow trip across, but there's plenty of scenery to enjoy along the way.

Orient Point is one of several hamlets and villages located within the sprawling town of Southold, and there isn't much in the way of population. There's the ferry landing and a highway, Route 25, leading to bigger and better things.

In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised at how windy it was at this point in Long Island. It's flat fairly open, with the highway following a fairly narrow strip of land between bodies of water. Still, I got plenty of resistance on the nine-mile journey toward the turnoff for the village of Greenport.

This part of Long Island is very well-suited for farming. You pass several agricultural operations, including a lavender farm, and the "North Fork" is also a popular destination for vineyards and wineries.

Shelter Island was my first destination, so I cruised right through Greenport to get to the dock for the North Ferry. The island apparently has no qualms with cyclists (ahem, Fishers Island) since a round trip with a bike on the ferry will only put you out $5.

The island has a couple of thousand regular residents, and several small clusters of shops and restaurants. But about one-third of the island is taken up by the Mashomack Preserve, which I intended to visit before hitting the brewery.

The Nature Conservancy runs this preserve, which is just over 2,000 acres of varying ecosystems including forest, prairie, and marshland. There's a nice visitors center on site, as well as a short wheelchair accessible interpretive trail.

Much of the Mashomack Preserve is wild, but there's also a fairly extensive trail system running through it (as well as a marine map for those interested in touring the coast by boat). I didn't have time to try out the "Blue Trail," which is 10 miles long and takes an estimated four hours to finish. Still, I found an enjoyable route that took me by the coastal bluffs and through an expansive field. I also have to give the Nature Conservancy credit for allowing cross-country skiing here, since it seems like this would be an absolutely wonderful place to do this activity after a fresh snowfall.

Heading back to the center of the island, I arrived at the Shelter Island Craft Brewery in time for lunch. The brewery opened in 2015, with the goal of featuring Shelter Island ingredients in everything on tap. For example, the Nude Beach beer advertised on the sign in the photo above is brewed with wild beach plums.

The cozy brewery space is also quite welcoming, with a bucket of games inviting you to stay awhile. But there are also several picnic tables to enjoy your beer outside, so I opted for that.

No, I wasn't shirking my organ-transporting duties to quaff some beer; it's a gift I got for my wife, a nurse, and borrowed to store my lunch for the outing. I opted for a flight of Shelter Island beers, which came in these stylish glasses.

Most online reviews for the Shelter Island Craft Brewery are positive, although there are also several that criticize the taste of the beers. Indeed, the range of flavors is enough that you'll likely find beers that you both like and dislike. I was underwhelmed by the 114 IPA, but found both the Uflaffen Double IPA and Nude Beach to be particularly tasty.

Greenport is a lovely little community with a nice selection of restaurants, touristy shops, and a century-old carousel near the waterfront. There are a couple of museums in town, including one on the maritime history of the area and another on Long Island's railroad history, but I didn't have time to check them out. One of the more nondescript attractions is the National Scrabble Association, which oversees the North American tournaments for the word tile game.

A fireboat festooned with water cannons was prominently visible from the ferry to Shelter Island, and I was surprised to see that it was open for tours. The simply named Fire Fighter was in service for more than 70 years, helping put out major blazes along the New York City waterfront and providing water for the response to the 9/11 attacks. The boat has been berthed in Greenport since its retirement, and one of the volunteers on board was kind enough to take me through the engine room and other interior compartments.

The Greenport Harbor Brewing Company is fairly well-known in my neck of the woods in Connecticut, since it's just a ferry ride away for distribution. They opened a larger production space and taproom in Peconic in 2014, but still maintain some brewing operations and a taproom in their original location just off the main drag in downtown Greenport. It's located next door to the former village jail, which is now a museum on Greenport's defunct police department.

There's a decent tasting deal at the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company where you can try a selection of five beers for $12, then keep the four-ounce tasting glass afterward. A lot of people in the taproom were digging the Apricot OGB, but I'm not much of a sour fan ("like drinking a Warhead," according to my Untappd check-in). I was much more impressed by the Fine Detail IPA and the Black Duck Porter, getting a full pour of the latter.

The crewman who gave me the tour on the Fire Fighter recommended that I check out Village Lane in Orient on my way back, saying there were some lovely mansions there. Maybe I've been too spoiled by checking out the Gilded Age homes in Newport, but the houses on the street seemed fairly modest. I did check out Poquatuck Park, however, a beautiful village green that offered some nice views of sunbeams coming through the encroaching clouds.

I've gotten used to being blasted by headwinds on most of my bike rides, and didn't expect much relief during the return journey along Route 25. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the wind was at my back the whole way back, allowing me to cover the route much faster.

The Fire Fighter crewman also recommended that I check out Orient Beach State Park. This is located near the ferry landing, where the address numbers inexplicably ramp up into five digits, and boasts several miles of beaches. Unfortunately, it required me to head back west, directly into the punishing headwind. Plus I could see that my ride home was pulling in nearby, so I didn't want to miss it.

From there, it was simply a matter of enjoying the relaxing ride back to New London as the sun set over the city.

Distance traveled (bike only): 27.3 miles
Hiking distance: About four miles

Previous Bike and Brew Outings:
Outer Light Brewing Company
Beer'd Brewing Company
Fox Farm Brewery