Shamrock-green beer will be poured Tuesday at T.J. Finley's Public House in Bay Shore and several other area bars thanks to Great South Bay Brewery, said its senior vice president, Phil Ebel. The microbrewery, founded five years ago by fourth-generation brewer Rick Sobotka, will color its popular apricot summertime Blonde Ambition for the special day, Ebel said.
The brewery has come a long way, expanding in Bay Shore from a 3,300-square-foot location to a 39,000-square-foot building with a tasting room and production facility, and distributing in the metro region and upstate. Its Blood Orange Pale Ale won "best new local brew of 2012" at Long Island's Golden Tap Awards.
"We've invested a lot of money into making it work here, but with a big building come big bills," said Ebel, 31. The microbrewery, which offered only draft beer, began bottling in 2013 and since then has put about 800,000 bottles through its line. Its outdoor Bay Fest is set this year for May 16.
Does St. Paddy's Day increase sales?
It's definitely a little bit of a bump: 20 to 30 extra kegs.
Does something about Long Island give your beer a distinct flavor?
We're very happy with the water here on Long Island, since water does make up the bulk of the beer. And there's definitely a freshness factor. A San Diego beer is going to be on a truck for five days, whereas our beer could be on tap at your bar in 24 hours.
How do you work with a distributor to get your beer into restaurants?
The distributor might have a hundred different brands. You need to figure out the best way of getting them to work with you to grow your brand so you don't get buried. We make sure that our reps are in daily communication with our Clare Rose rep . . . We want them to know they're not alone and it's a team effort.
How do you stay on people's minds?
People are constantly wanting the new exciting thing. That's one of the reasons we come out with a different beer every month. This year we'll put out 20 beers for distribution. We'll probably brew another five or so just to be served in our tasting room to give people a reason to come here.
Has New York legislation helped you?
When we started almost five years ago, breweries were not allowed to sell beer directly to consumers. Now we can. It's a good revenue stream for a craft brewer because the margins are so small.
What are your biggest challenges?
Changing people's perceptions about local beer: Fifty percent of the beer consumed in Portland, Oregon, is made in Oregon, and we are not even close to touching that number in New York. And there are a lot more brands out there. Five years ago there were only 1,500 breweries in the country; there will probably be 4,000 open by the end of the year.
How fast are craft beers sales growing?
When we started, craft breweries made up about 5 percent of the total beer sold in the United States, and now we are upward of 11, 12 percent. But it's still an uphill battle. Sam Adams produces about 6 million barrels of beer a year. So some people are asking, "Is a company like Sam Adams still considered a craft brewer?" I would say yes, because your next jump up is MillerCoors at something like 75 million barrels and Anheuser-Busch at over 100 million barrels.
WHO: Phil Ebel, senior vice president and chief operations officer, Great South Bay Brewery in Bay Shore
WHAT IT DOES: Produces and sells microbrewed craft beer
REVENUE: $1.5 million