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LI International Beer Expo brings a world of brews to Belmont Park

Members of the Long Island Beer and Malt

Members of the Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts John Brengel, 35, of Huntington, and Craig Brekne, 59, of Selden, show off some of the group's experimental craft beers on Nov. 8, 2014, during the Long Island International Beer Expo at Belmont Park in Elmont. Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

Well-equipped with their two-ounce tasting glasses and necklaces made of pretzels and apple slices, Tom Carruba, 37, and his fiancee Sarah Mitchell, 27, of Lindenhurst, were ready Saturday to take on the Long Island International Beer Expo. The two consider themselves craft beer fanatics and stark supporters of the Great South Bay Brewery in Bay Shore. They’re even planning to have their engagement party at the venue later this month.

“Every time there’s a craft beer event, we’re there,” Carruba said. “Every new beer, every blend, we’re there to taste them. And having our party at the brewery? It’s just so . . . us.”

Great South Bay Brewery was only one of about 100 craft breweries from around the world to tap their kegs and get their best beers flowing at Saturday’s expo, held beneath the stands at the Belmont Park racetrack in Elmont.  The expo showcased an array of American craft and international beers, and Long Island had a strong presence with 12 local breweries.

Glen Cove Home Brew owner Bobby Janosick, 25, was a newcomer to the expo this year, demonstrating his company’s array of home-brew starter kits with samples of some of his homemade pale ales. Janosick started the company in June 2013.

“I just sort of fell in love with brewing. It was the only hobby I could keep, and I turned it into a business,” Janosick said. “We’re still small now, but I want to see where I can go with this, and events like this one really help get our name out there.”

The expo is put on by Starfish Junction Productions, a Bay Shore-based events company specializing in specialty foods and beverage services. This is the seventh  International Beer Expo, and the third time the event has been hosted at  Belmont Park. Previously it was at Nassau Coliseum. The group also hosts an annual spring beer festival at the Coliseum, which features exclusively domestic and local craft breweries.

“People’s palates are expanding – they’re looking for something more than the standard beers they’ve been drinking for years,” Joe Chierchie, events manager for Starfish Junction Productions, said. “Now brewers all over the world are taking the conventional beer, the typical hard cider, turning them on their heads and experimenting -- redefining the idea of craft beer altogether.”

For home brewer Craig Brekne, 59, of Selden, “experimental” was the only way he could describe the eclectic array of offerings from the Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts. Since the group is not a brewery, but rather a gathering of home-brew hobbyists, events like the expo are the only places to exhibit their creations. And their offerings were certainly eclectic, including a sweet butter pecan beer, and a  smoked jalapeño blonde ale – a light beer with a peppery flavor and a whole lot of heat.

“We like to spice things up here,” Brekne said, with a laugh. “When we get together, we share our resources, try different things and come up with new creations. We can’t sell our stuff, but we have the flexibility to be creative. Here is where we can give what we got to the public.”

The expo welcomed about 2,000 thirsty tasters to each of the two sessions. Part of the proceeds from the event will go to benefit the Long Island chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Beers for Brains Foundation, an Arizona-based nonprofit that raises money for brain cancer research.

While the expo gave visitors a chance to sample beers from across the globe, keeping it local is what was most important to Chierchie.

“We like to support our own,” Chierchie said. “Long Island is the home team, and throughout the years, we watch these small breweries grow, become big. They’re not just brewers, they become our friends, too.”

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