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Saint James Brewery opens tasting room days before coronavirus shutdowns

Saint James Brewery opened its new St. James

Saint James Brewery opened its new St. James tasting room on Saturday, March 14, days before bars and restaurants had to suspend on-premises sales. Credit: Craig Cooper Productions

It's quiet inside the four-day-old tasting room of Saint James Brewery on a recent afternoon, but Rachel Adams was dutifully perched behind the bar. An amused look passed over her face when I asked if she had time to catch up. “I dunno…” she said, sweeping her hand left and right across the polished quartz bartop and row of empty wooden stools.

Only a few days prior, the scene here had been much different — Saturday, March 14, marked the tasting room’s opening day, and customers poured in to welcome Rachel and her husband (and brewer) Jamie Adams to the neighborhood.

The IPA and witbier flowed, as did the good will. “[The customers] had open arms, and we were overwhelmed by kindness,” said Rachel. Sunday was much the same, with a steady flow of people. “We were lucky to have a few days to meet the community and meet our future customers.”

That all changed days later, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated that restaurant and bars should suspend on-premises service due to coronavirus concerns. Since to-go alcohol sales would still permitted, though, breweries could continue to sell bottles and growler fills, and the couple fielded occasional customers from the weekend who had returned for growler fills.

Still, it’s not exactly how they envisioned the opening of a tasting room they had poured their sweat, tears and equity into for close to a year. “It’s disappointing, but we’re taking it in stride. Something bigger than us is going on,” Rachel said.

Eight years ago, the couple were working in New York City — she in fashion, he in finance — when they founded the brewery, eventually opening a brewhouse in a Holbrook industrial park in 2013. Saint James Brewery is a New York state farm-brewery, meaning they must use at least 60 percent of state-grown ingredients in their beers. Jamie Adams exceeds that ratio, using barley entirely grown and malted upstate, as well as hops and fruit (including honey, peaches, blueberries and apricots from the East End) from farms on the East End. These, combined with their own proprietary yeast, made for beers and ales that had a depth and roundness that might appeal to lovers of Belgian styles.

That year, the Adamses also turned a small anteroom for the brewery into a tasting room, but always had their sights set on a tasting room, said Rachel; while a few other breweries operated in the same industrial park — creating a brewery destination of sorts — the setting didn’t offer much visibility. 

They had also long known they wanted a presence in St. James and looked at scores of spaces along Lake Avenue and elsewhere in town. Rachel became a familiar face at a few area farmers markets — such Northport, Setauket and St. James — selling 750-milliliter bottles of Rachelle Blanche (a witbier made with Long Island hops), Fleur De Lees (an IPA made in part with yeast cultured from an 1886 shipwreck off of Fire Island) and other ales.

Along the way, as more and different kinds of hops became available, Jamie added more IPAs into the oeuvre. "We were starting to see [farmers] grow varieties that were more hop forward, in terms of the floral aromas associate with IPAs, and we started to adopt those," said Jamie.

Last year, the couple finally settled on a former Chinese takeout place in the same plaza that holds Del Fuego, SeaQua Deli and a few other businesses. “We had to gut the place,” said Rachel, “and really look beyond what was here at the time.”

The process took from May until this month, with the usual speed bumps and delays — and as their planned launch pushed into spring, they eyed March 14, as it coincided with the hamlet’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. Even that ended up being postponed — but the Adamses forged ahead and the turnout was strong.

Their tasting room has 12 taps (one of them pours local sauvignon blanc) and a modern, minimalist feel. During the quiet time, Rachel said she is contemplating how to add elements — whether murals and chalkboard art — that reinforce to visitors how much the brewery relies on locally grown ingredients.

As we talked, a few singletons wandered in for growlers — including Jesse Conlon, a manager at SeaQua Deli next door, who said he was busy fielding 150 orders from the new coronavirus testing facility in Stony Brook.

“When people say we’re a new brewery, we kind of chuckle," Rachel said, before turning to her customers. "We’ve been up against adversity for years, there’s not too much that can phase us.”

For now, the tasting room is open 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily for bottles and growler fills, with hours expanding once the state allows. Within a few weeks, Jamie Adams said he plans to release another in the series of beers made with yeast from the shipwreck — a brown ale called The Unfinished Journey.

Saint James Brewery, 430-13 N. Country Rd., St. James. 631-250-9545.

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