Within the Harbor Square Mall at 134 Main Street, amid artisan hot sauce boutiques and beachcomber-vibed gift shops, of Port Jeff provides more than handcrafted, small-batch beer bottles and home brew supplies; the space, which opened in March of 2011, and its objective, the exposure of alternative options, is indicative of a discernible shift in Port Jefferson: craft beer is now accessible.
"It felt like Bud Light was the only option in Port Jefferson two years ago," said Mark Romano, manager of Brewtopia of Port Jeff. "But it's different now. People have more options."
Romano, with owner Carol Coddington, established Brewtopia of Port Jeff after operating The Loyal Dog Ale House in Lindenhurst. The proprietory duo sold the pub, which transitioned from "Budweiser to Delirium Tremens" during their four-year tenure, citing "safety concerns," and "the desire for a different life."
"We wanted to stay in the industry, but didn't want to be serving drinks until 4 a.m.," said Romano. "The safest place to consume an 18 percent ABV beer is to bring it home, so we figured a beer store could work."
Though Coddington and Romano aspired to include domestic and import craft bottles within Brewtopia of Port Jeff's inventory in March, delays with license procurement prevented retail sale of beer until November. During the interim, only home brew kits and ingredients, such as specialty malts and hops, were offered.
"Thankfully grain isn't considered an alcohol product," joked Romano.
While Brewtopia of Port Jeff continues to sell home brew products—two equipment kits and more than 30 different ingredients are available, with an option for bulk orders—it has now accumulated 95 craft beer bottles (e.g., Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops, Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales 120 Minute IPA, Green Flash Brewing Company Grand Cru, and The Bruery Mischief) since obtaining proper government consent.
Each bottle, which vary in size, style, and brewery, is hand-selected by Romano via product research on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer, websites that designate numerical values (out of 100) for beers using compiled member ratings, and feedback from The Brewtopian Society of Better Beer Drinkers, a club enabling customers access to rare inventory prior to its store release. (Since its inception in October, The Brewtopian Society of Better Beer Drinkers includes over 30 members.)
"However we can do it, we just want to give the people of Port Jefferson great beer," said Romano. "People deserve to have a choice."
Brewtopia of Port Jeff is not alone in its quest to provide an alternative for community beer enthusiasts. Port Jeff Brewing Company, a brewery operated by Michael Philbrick, and C'est Cheese, a French-style cheese boutique pouring eight drafts (including Port Jeff Brewing Company's Port Jeff Porter), have joined longer-tenured Port Jefferson Beverage Center, The Fifth Season, and Ruvo Restaurant & Bar, to create an influx of quality beer in Port Jefferson.
Philbrick, who established Port Jeff Brewing Company at 22 Mill Creek Road in October of 2011, and has already initiated expansion plans for 2012, believes any business' success helps the entire community.
"We've experienced a large number of people who are visiting Port Jefferson as a craft beer destination," said Philbrick. "Once they visit the brewery, they typically shop in the village and grab something to eat at a nearby restaurant. It's all drawing more dollars for the village."