North-Forks would like to introduce you to Matthew and Lauri Spitz, the magic behind the Moustache at Moustache Brewing Company in Riverhead.
For those of you who haven’t experienced Moustache, or haven’t been to one of the local craft breweries on the North Fork, or don’t know what craft beer is, Moustache is a special treat. It’s located at 400 Hallet Street in Riverhead, slightly off Main Street. To call it a true “mom and pop” shop isn’t far from the truth. Until recently, the only people working there were Matthew and Lauri, diligently making beers that appealed to them. Rather than making beer that the market suggests is popular, Matthew and Lauri believe in making beer that if they really liked it, other people would as well.
Their story is a bit of a fairy tale, albeit one about beer. They started brewing as a hobby but after much encouragement and a successful Kickstarter campaign, their dream of making beer for a living became reality.
North-Forks sat down with Matthew and Lauri and we spoke about beer, the process, and them. Whether you are already a fan of craft beer, aren’t sure what craft beer is, or haven’t even visited a brewery yet, Moustache is worth your visit and your time.
When you find a beer you enjoy, be sure to tell them how much you actually like it. But please, try every sample they pour you. To quote everyone’s mother, “How do you know if you haven’t tried?”
What was your first experience with beer that made you see it as something more than just a beverage?
Lauri – When we started making beer at home in 2005 was probably the point when we realized that there was more to this than just drinking it. Before understanding the process, people point to the tanks and ask if that’s where we mix the beer, as though we’re making lemonade. There’s definitely an appreciation when we explain the process, how it doesn’t happen overnight, and we can’t just make more beer today because we ran out. Once you learn what goes into making the beer you can see the endless ways that you can change and manipulate it.
Matthew – We were hanging out at a bar one evening, talking with a friend of a friend who was an assistant brewer at Blue Point. We learned what he did for a living and thought “how cool is that, you make beer, that’s awesome”. He said, “You can make beer in your kitchen,” and he told us how. He wrote a bunch of ingredients on a bar napkin and we went
What made you first want to brew your own beer, and what about that experience made you want to brew beer for others? What inspires you to do it, keep doing it, and do it on this level?
L – Pretty much from batch one we were like, “We should open a brewery. That would be fun!” We were never really realistic about it.
M – It was just a daydream.
L – We didn’t even remotely think we’d do it, it was just an addition to that list of things that you want to do but are crazy. Several years later, we got involved with Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts (LIBME), which is a homebrew group, and they have a table at beer shows where we could pour our beers for the show. Our first show was at Martha Clara in 2010. It was the first time people who weren’t our friends tried our beer. Even though people kept telling us how good it was, we chalked it up to being at a beer festival. That was a cool experience, so we continued to do more festivals and people started asking where they could buy it. They thought that LIBME was a brewery, when in fact we were people brewing beer on our stoves or backyards. That was a catalyst to get more serious about it.
M – Definitely the constant positive feedback from people who weren’t our friends.
L – The judges at these events aren’t going to tell you it’s great if it’s not, but your friends might. I had a job where I worked at a hospital and it was all life and death that I just realized one day that I didn’t want to do this for the rest of my life. Having those experiences collide certainly helped us make the leap.
What is your favorite part of being a brewer, both from a personal and from a procedural standpoint?
M – For me it’s when I’m in the tasting room, I hand someone a beer and they say, “This is really good.”
L – Actually.
M – “This is actually good”.
L – We have a joke about “actually” in the tasting room.
M – When people say it’s actually good.
L – Because they expect it to taste like death but are surprised it doesn’t: that’s the joke.
M – It comes from people’s expectations of what a dark beer or an IPA is. When we hand someone a porter, which is a dark beer that’s lighter bodied, some people say they don’t like dark beers. I ask them to just try it and they end up liking it. It has aromas and flavors of roast coffee and dark chocolate.
L – That is the one thing people should never let us hear them say: that they won’t taste a beer because they think they don’t like it. When people say that we push them to try everything, even if we just give them a smaller taste; we won’t let them not try. More often than not, they end up liking it, and then they Actually like it.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a brewer, personal and procedural?
M – Right now it is consistency and quality control: Making sure our porter comes out the same every single time. For a small production brewery like ours – we’re a young and budget-minded brewery – it’s hard to do. We don’t have a lab here. We don’t have the instruments and the staff with the experience to fulfill the level of quality control and consistency that we’d like. We make it work, but that’s definitely something we’re working on. We just hired an assistant brewer who has an extensive background in chemistry and science, and we’re working with a friend of mine who is a microbiologist, but it’s a long process. Personally, for a long time I’ve been the only brewer, and it’s just been me brewing all the time. I’m not just the brewer here. It’s just the two of us running the entire operation; it’s not just a brewery-owner thing but a business-owner thing, and that gets very fatiguing.
L – It can seem never-ending sometimes. There is so much to do there’s little time for anything else. That said, I wouldn’t give it up.
When people come to taste your beer, what would you like them to know, look for, understand, before they walk through the door?
L – It’s not a bar. We don’t serve Bud Light or anything that equates to it.
M – I’d say to be open to experiencing craft beer, just to try it. Put aside your preconceived notion of what beer is. This is wine country out here – I’m not putting down the wine industry – but often people who visit the wineries and come to us haven’t experienced craft beer. It can be challenging to get them to think about beer in a different light.
L – You have to throw out your preconceived notions of what you think craft beer is. Don’t try to judge a beer without trying it, especially by color. People regularly ask to try our lightest beer, and although I know what they mean, I play with them and ask if they mean lightest in alcohol content or body. I list all these characteristics to get them to think about more than the color of the beer. Take a Belgium Pale Strong Ale for example. That’s a light colored beer but if you were expecting the taste of a light beer, it might not go over well.
M – Our lightest beer right now is really hoppy, it’s not a beer people wanting a Bud Light are going to expect.
How do you address that – when people come into your tasting room, where you’re sampling 4-5 beers, and they try to drink only what they think they’ll like?
L – We want people to get something out of the experience besides just tasting. We want them to learn about what we do and about the beer we make. We think that is very important because there’s a lot of craft beer on the market and a lot of imposter craft beer. When the big three make enough beer to sell nationwide it’s technically not craft anymore. People just have preconceived notions and we like to let them know about real craft beer.
As you said, this is wine country and people have a general idea how to taste wine. How would you recommend that people “taste” beer?
M – It’s really no different than tasting wine. Smell it first. Look at the color. Hold it in your mouth and taste it. I see so many people pick up the beer and just swallow it. It doesn’t even touch their tongue. How do you experience the flavor of the beer that way?
L – It makes me cry inside a little. Smell it, hold it up to the light and look at it. A great example is our Brown Ale. It’s dark as hell, but hold it up to the light and it’s a dark garnet color. All these little things take two seconds to appreciate.
M – A lot of work has gone into making this beer. We made it to be appreciated, enjoyed, and experienced. When people just chug it, they are intentionally missing everything we set out to do.
L – When I see people do that I try to tell them to taste the beer first. How do you taste it if it doesn’t linger on your tongue?
M – Yes. Please slow down.
What should we be looking from you in the coming year?
L – Everything in those barrels!
M – We have some barrel-aged beer that we’re hoping will be ready by the end of the winter.
L – It’s just a matter of the beer telling us when it’s ready. We have two Bordeaux barrels and there are dark rum barrels that are waiting to be filled.
M – One of the red wine barrels has a barley wine in it. It’s been aging for about a month. I tasted it and it has some more time to go. Another red wine barrel contains an old ale, which is a British style. A stronger style ale, we threw cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom, raisons, orange and lemon into the barrel: mulling spices.
L – At the end of every summer we make a big batch of Glug. It’s port wine and rye. We heat them together with cinnamon so the alcohol doesn’t cook off, adding nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom. Then we strain it over sugar cubes and then light them on fire. That caramelizes nicely. Then we let it sit for a couple of months. When it gets cold outside it’ll keep your insides warm.
M – It was a family tradition in my house when I was young. For years, I wanted to make a beer that was inspired by that, which is why we’re aging it in a wine barrel to get the red wine characteristics. Those will be hand bottled and labeled in small batches in 20 ounce bottles.
When you’re not brewing, how do you have fun on the North Fork?
L – We’re still trying to adjust because brewing was our hobby and now it’s our job 80 hours a week, so it’s not something you want to go home and do.
M – We don’t have time to do it at home.
L – We like to go to Greenport a lot. We live around the corner so we don’t have a commute. There is no time to decompress after work, it’s just boom, you’re home. We go to Greenport; I like it now that the season is over. It’s just quiet.
If you weren’t brew masters, what would you want to be doing – your non-beer dream job?
M – In my previous life, I was a base player. I’ve played in bands, done a bit of touring, so I’d do that, touring.
L – I was a floral designer. I started when I was 14 and did it until the economy soured and we got married. I would go back to that. I did some work for a friend who needed help in her shop. I still do weddings when friends are getting married, but I do miss that. I’d do that again.
What do you want to see happen to the North Fork beer industry in the coming decade?
L – We would like to see craft beer bars, places exclusively focused on the craft beer scene. Restaurants are fine and they do a nice job with craft programs, but I’d like to see a craft beer focused bar. The North Fork has nothing like that. Sometimes you don’t want to go to a restaurant, you want to go to a bar and have a few drinks, to see what other industry people are trying. To have a place where other craft brewers can go to unwind and hang out and talk and share would really help the industry. I’d really like to see that happen out here.
Photographs by Matt Furman Photography