Root + Branch to Open Brick-and-Mortar Brewery in Copiague

Photo by Matt Furman

It was only a little over a year ago that Anthony Sorice and Ryan Mauban, two friends who met while bartending at Tørst in Brooklyn, started a brewing business called Root + Branch. In that short time, they have released a number of lovely beers, fresh and expressive, with bright, juicy flavors that linger in the mouth and much longer in the mind. These are immensely drinkable beers, made with a high level of quality and in small quantities. But soon, you’ll be seeing more of them.

You can never have enough IPA. At least, that’s what I believe. Like many of today’s buzzworthy brewers, Root + Branch, which is named for a libertarian-socialist journal once published by a former philosophy professor of Sorice’s at Adelphi University, hangs its hat on hops, focusing largely on hazy IPAs, a newfangled category of cloudy ales that continues to grow in popularity, having gone from cult following to industrywide credibility, even hitting the brewing mainstream. Also known as New England-style IPAs, these beers are seemingly formed for accessibility at every angle, from an eye-catching appearance—in part thanks to their primary packaging form, the 16-ounce can—to a focus on amplifying hop flavors and aromas, while also dialing back bitterness to barely there. To keep costs low, Sorice, a Wantagh native, and Mauban produce and package hazy IPAs like One-Dimensional Man and Growing Up Absurd using an established brewery, Great South Bay in Bay Shore. This way of working is known as gypsy, or nomadic, brewing.

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This Sunday (2/17), we will be releasing the first in a series of experimental Double IPAs, Life and Fate. Although each release will bear the same title, these beers will be brewed with raw material that is extremely difficult to source; and/or processes that I have yet explore. As an attempt to prevent bias and invoke genuine critique, I will not be disclosing certain ingredients used in each batch. These beers are intended to be singular expressions of exploration and will therefore not be repeated. Life and Fate I is built upon our sturdy multi-oat/wheat foundation and is brewed and dry hopped with American and South African hops. This beer is showing dense notes of mango and pineapple. Gentle carbonation. Medium-full creamy body. 8% abv. $20/4pk – one case per person. Limit subject to change. Taproom opens at 10am / can sales begin at 11am via @greatsouthbay (25 Drexel Drive / Bay Shore, NY). As usual, we will distribute numbered tickets to all waiting in line. The last release brought out a side in people that we will not tolerate at this release. Those with tickets will be asked to form a queue in numerical order prior to the sale, and we will do a walk through to check that everyone is in order to alleviate the line cutting issue. If you do not have a ticket, you will not be serviced until all of those with tickets receive their beer. Thus, if you show after all of the tickets are distributed, we kindly ask for you to hang tight until we announce that all tickets have been processed. Remaining cans will be sold on a first come first served basis. Be kind. Be civilized. _________ #vsco #vscocam #craftbeer #beer #brewing #longisland #newyork

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Popularized by thriving international brands like Mikkeller and Evil Twin Brewing of Copenhagen and Stillwater Artisanal of Baltimore, all of which have leveraged the business model into existing or soon-to-be-built physical locations, gypsy brewing requires no expensive infrastructure. Rather than immediately invest in a facility, a risky endeavor that can cost close to a million dollars, these beer makers realize their recipes rootless in borrowed plants, building their brand and reputation before their brick and mortar. Another local gypsy brewer, Billy Powell, also uses Great South Bay, for his Nightmare Brewing label.

Without a physical location, Root + Branch has earned a devoted following of beer enthusiasts, who arrive earlier and earlier with each new release, held monthly at Great South Bay, to snap up as many cans as they can. Typically, cans don’t last past the weekend, though a small amount is sent to select local retailers. But it’s not just fans filling glasses and Instagram feeds with the foggy, fragrant IPAs. Beer media is also praising the promising producer—most recently Hop Culture, which named it one of the best new breweries of 2018.

Now comes some exciting news for 2019. Root + Branch plans to plant roots this year, opening a brewery and taproom on the South Shore.

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today, we brewed the first of three upcoming collaborations with @eviltwinbrewingnyc. This past summer, I joined the Evil Twin family as a part-time consultant to help them set up their production space and commission their brewhouse. That part-time role soon transformed into a full-time brewing/production management gig. Jeppe and the rest of the ET family are now stuck with me and my oat forward mashed until our brewery is near completion. the nomadic approach to reinventing the wheel, edition 2. milk sugar dipa with Citra, Galaxy and Wai-iti, and a large portion of coconut flakes. __________ #vscocam #vsco #newyork #queens #ridgewood #longisland #craftbeer #brewing #meaningfulcollaboration

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Consumers are increasingly seeking beer at the source, visiting breweries with taprooms for pints at their freshest and rare releases of cans and bottles that aren’t sold elsewhere. This is one among several reasons why Sorice and Mauban are following the footsteps of other itinerant beer makers recently, like Brooklyn’s Grimm Artisanal Ales, and dropping anchor, building a brewery and taproom in a former warehouse in Copiague. The 4,000-square-foot space sits underneath the town’s Long Island Rail Road station and specs include a 10-barrel three-vessel brewhouse plus several wine and spirits barrels for sour and barrel-aged beers.

For the friends and business partners, opening a local brewery has always been the ultimate goal. And with the chaotic, evanescent nature of can releases, there’s also the desire to connect with customers in a more sustainable way. “We’ve been working toward finding and building out a space for about three years now, even before we started brewing beer,” Sorice, whose resume includes Threes Brewing in Brooklyn and LIC Beer Project in Queens, told me one chilly morning last week. (Interestingly, he is currently working full-time for one of the early practitioners of gypsy brewing, Evil Twin, which recently opened its first brewery in Ridgewood, Queens.) “We’re almost to the light at the end of the tunnel.”

I met up with Sorice a few days before the release of Life and Fate I, a new beer and the first in a series of double IPAs made with difficult-to-source ingredients that will mostly remain undisclosed to the public, as a way to “invoke genuine critique,” according to its Instagram page. After we took two stools in Great South Bay’s taproom, he cracked open a few cans of the IPA—it was brewed with an abundance of South African hop varieties that lent dense mango and pineapple flavors, which popped atop a silky base of unmalted wheat and oats—and spoke thoughtfully about plans for the brewery, including when he hopes to start producing beer and whether all of the brewing after that will be in-house. He also commented on a racially charged social media post about himself and Mauban recently made by a local beer store. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

Edible Long Island: In the current landscape of craft beer, we have never seen a time where more brewers are making exceptionally tasty beer, making it that much more difficult to stand out. Yet you came out of the chute to nearly unanimous adulation. What do you attribute that to?
Anthony Sorice: I think the genuine nature of our “brand” and the standards that we strive to achieve with each release play equal roles in the high praise we’ve achieved early on. Root + Branch is in many ways a true extension of myself. I devoted a large portion of my life to academic work; I virtually shut myself out from the outside world to focus on my research. Then beer happened, and I found myself in a similar position. I was striving to find ways to challenge my palate and that led to brewing. Every batch of beer that I brew is immensely thought out from material selection to the processes implemented. I’m after something that I’ll most likely never achieve, which has created a peculiar meticulousness in the way I brew and look at beer. I don’t always succeed, and when I don’t I’m fully transparent about it.

ELI: Similar to the above, the vast majority of those that start out as gypsy brewers often require several years before they are able to open their own production plant. In some unfortunate circumstances, they don’t make it at all, even when the liquid is great. You announced your physical location less than a year after you released your first cans. How were things able to come together so quickly for you in Copiague?
AS: We were working with a couple of real estate brokers prior to the brewing opportunity that was presented to us by Twelve Percent Beer Project. Prior to the real-estate search, maybe three years ago now, we met with various local government officials from various towns and villages across Nassau and Suffolk County. It was important for us to work with people who were excited about the project and wanted to see it happen within their jurisdiction.

ELI: When do you hope to be producing beer in the space, and when do you expect the taproom will be open?
AS: This is pure speculation, but late fall? We’re hoping to start construction by May. Our equipment is slated for delivery mid-July.

ELI: Once you’re open, do you plan to continue brewing at Great South Bay?
AS: We will most likely cease production at GSB to focus on brewing at our space. However, if demand dictates that we need more beer down the line, I would absolutely brew more batches there given the opportunity.

ELI: Your beer names are scholarly and erudite, your label art minimalist and stark. How will the new space convey your brand’s messaging?
AS: It will all flow. The interior and exterior will be an extension of branding. We’re working with a very talented architect, Chuck Lembo, and architect-designer, Michael Yarinsky.

ELI: You’ve clearly made a name for yourself as a purveyor of superb hoppy ales. Can fans expect that to be the focus in the taproom? For example, if you have 10 beers on tap, will more than half be in the soft, juicy IPA category? Or are you hoping for wider stylistic variation with increased production and a dedicated space to serve your beer in?
AS: I will certainly continue to brew IPA and double IPA. Our tank sizes dictate that half of our production will be focused on those, whereas the remaining tanks will see Belgian-style wit, Berliner weisse, bière de garde, barleywine, imperial stout, and saison that will contain local microflora, the wild yeasts and bacteria cultured on Long Island.

ELI: What’s the plan for canning? Will you have your own canning line at the outset, or will you utilize a mobile-canning line? Will your drops become more frequent, to the point that a customer could walk in and find cans available to-go at any given time?
AS: It was either purchase a canning line or have room for oak. I chose oak. Until we expand, we will utilize mobile canning. The can drops will probably be twice a month instead of once.

ELI: Will cans continue to be sold at select retail locations, or do you plan to sell them only on the premises?
AS: On-site only.

ELI: Late last year, you rightly called out Lake Ronkonkoma Beverage for illegally reselling your cans at a steep markup. In response, the store posted childish, racially charged Stories on its Instagram about you and Ryan. What was your initial reaction to the posts, and the ensuing support from the beer community? I know you contacted the State Liquor Authority (SLA). Was the store ever fined? It still seems to be shamelessly reselling cans from several coveted brewers illegally.
AS: I’m not sure if the SLA acknowledged the complaints we filed. They attempted to purchase cans at the release that succeeded their display of immaturity and lack of human decency on Instagram. I politely asked them to leave.

ELI: Ending on a lighter note, can you tease any upcoming collaborations?
AS: We’ve got three planned with Evil Twin and Jeppe [Jarnit-Bjergso, owner and founder] at his new facility in Ridgewood: double IPA, imperial stout and kettle sour. They’ll be released throughout March. I’m actually overseeing brewery operations at Evil Twin NYC until our facility is ready. It was inevitable that we’d work together collaboratively during my tenure. We’ve also been discussing brewing a second batch of An Outstanding Contribution to the Historical Process with Hudson Valley Brewery.