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A turning-point year for Long Island breweries

A pair of ales at North Fork Brewing

A pair of ales at North Fork Brewing Co., which opened in Riverhead this summer. Credit: Newsday/Corin Hirsch

When I covered the Vermont brewing scene for a Burlington newspaper, there came a juncture when the state seemed to morph, almost overnight, from an emerging beer region to an established destination.

Though the exact moment was hard to pinpoint, it felt like the shift happened around 2013 or 2014 — when new craft breweries were perpetually in planning, and one opened every week or so, and beer tourists descended on the state for new releases at Greensboro's Hill Farmstead Brewery or chased down the delivery truck for silver cans of Heady Topper, the mythic IPA from The Alchemist. Vermont came to be oft-cited as having the most microbreweries per capita — a title it will probably long hold by dint of its small population.

Even so, it feels like the beer ecosystem here on Long Island is reaching a similar turning point. Newsday's recent brewery map, now online in interactive form with 28 of those breweries, is a work in progress, because the beerscape is constantly swelling with new names. So far this year, we've gained a handful of breweries, from Six Harbors Brewing Company in Huntington to Small Craft Brewing Company in Amityville. The can releases of Northport's Sand City Brewing Co. were so sought after, that the lines that formed outside led to a brief closure of the brewery by the village. Westhampton Beach Brewing Co. joined the scene this spring, as did North Fork Brewing Co. in Riverhead, which is doing innovative things with wild yeast and local fruit inside a former Riverhead firehouse.

And then there are those with larger breweries or tasting rooms set to debut soon, such as South Shore Craft Brewery in southwest Nassau, the Patchogue Beer Project, Centerport's Blind Bat Brewery, and Blue Point Brewing Company's new home, also in Patchogue.

Craft beer sales grew by 5 percent in 2017, according to the Brewers Association. It sounds like a tiny number, but it is five times the growth of overall beer sales, and belies the fact that our craft-beer scene is extraordinarily kinetic. For a place where real estate can be so expensive, Suffolk nonetheless has the most breweries of any county in the state. Based on breweries in the pipeline, that stat won't be eclipsed any time soon.

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