Hops, Malt, and a Whole Lot of Imagination

A brewmaster with long experience and a track record of success
With a new brewmaster in charge since the spring, Don Sullivan’s Southampton Publick House is ready for the future. Morgan McGivern

   As winter descends on the South Fork, locals and visitors alike can take comfort in the knowledge that the Southampton Publick House brand of craft beers is in the capable hands of a brewmaster with long experience and a track record of success. With the spring departure of Phil Markowski, the longtime brewmaster at Southampton Publick House, came the ascension of Evan Addario, who had served as assistant brewer for several years.
    The move is a significant one in the now-crowded field of craft beer, said Don Sullivan, the Southampton Publick House proprietor. “I really liked the idea of a younger pair of eyes, a younger personality, looking at what we will do in the next 10, 15 years,” Mr. Sullivan said. “Sometimes — myself included — you’re in the same spot, doing the same thing, and your perspective may not be on the leading edge anymore.” The promotion of Mr. Addario, who was effectively the brewer of operations for the last few years, Mr. Sullivan said, “makes me be much more aware of what the newer brewers are doing.”
    None of which is to minimize Mr. Markowski’s contribution to the brand. “My first hire was my best hire, Phil Markowski,” said Mr. Sullivan. Already an experienced and well-regarded brewer when he signed on at Southampton Publick House’s inception, “the idea was that our mission was to brew small-batch, eclectic styles of beer. Phil was very enthusiastic about that. Before we started, we had a clear vision of the types of beer we wanted to brew and become known for. We were very fortunate that, very quickly, our beers were well received.”
    Southampton’s cosmopolitan, international mix of residents and visitors, Mr. Sullivan said, is reflected in the Publick House’s brews. These, he explained, are characteristic of small-batch, “farmhouse” ales inspired by the saison and Trappist brews found in Belgium, France, and southern Germany, strong in flavor and alcohol content. Beers, Mr. Sullivan said, that were not found in the United States prior to 1996, when the Publick House began brewing.
    The early success to which Mr. Sullivan referred includes high honors at the Great American Beer Festival, the annual event in which thousands of beers by hundreds of U.S. breweries are sampled and judged. Southampton Publick House owns three gold, four silver, and two bronze medals from the festival, which puts it in the top 20 breweries in the country. BeerAdvocate magazine named Publick House Top Brewpub in 2003, and the Web site ratebeer.com ranked it the number 8 specialty brewery worldwide in 2004.
    It’s been a wild but challenging ride for Mr. Sullivan, who launched the restaurant and brewery with two brothers (he acquired their shares in the business six years ago). Brewing became a focus by happenstance, he recalled. His successful business designing and consulting for back-of-house restaurant needs led him to three New York-area brewpub projects in the early 1990s, during an early surge of small breweries. At the time, Mr. Sullivan owned Riptide, a restaurant on the Shinnecock Canal that is now known as Tide Runners.
    “It was apparent to me that if you could find the right location, you had a chance of success,” he said, although “you would need to be sure you had pretty damn good beer. I saw in one of the trade papers that the restaurant company that owned this property filed bankruptcy.” One week later, he was attending bankruptcy proceedings in a Dallas courtroom, and a few days after that he was ordering brewery infrastructure in Canada. “I think my wife was more shocked than anything else,” Mr. Sullivan remembered.
    An early, singularly important hurdle was to convince a nation of Budweiser drinkers to try something different, more complex. The challenge was taken as an opportunity, Mr. Sullivan said. “I would always tell any new employee, ‘Whatever they say they want, let’s pair what we have most similar in style to what they like.’ If they’re a Bass Ale drinker, our I.P.A. is perfect. If they’re a Budweiser drinker, our lager or Pilsner. If they’re a light beer drinker, Montauk Light, our own light beer. If they’re a Guinness drinker, we would recommend whatever dark beer we have. Then people really get it.”
    The American craft brew movement did not arise in a vacuum, he said, citing the farm-to-table, local-food movement. Southampton Publick House is also attuned to the seasons, offering its restaurant patrons and consumers Oktoberfest Lager and Pumpkin Ale in the autumn, or Imperial Porter, a winning, flavorful dark beer, in the winter. An appropriate brew can be paired with offerings from the restaurant’s menu for a satisfying fireside dining experience at the Publick House.
    The brand is now available in 22 states, spanning the East Coast and across the Ohio Valley, and its reach continues to expand. “We have year-round beers available in a six pack, and every season there’s a rotating beer,” Mr. Sullivan said. The brand’s specialty brews, he added, are available in specialty beverage stores and reflect the brewer’s creativity and willingness to go beyond traditional ideas of purity. “The American craft beer movement really did push the envelope of what would be acceptable, if you will. When you look at what brewers can do, there’s really no limit. It’s just a little bit of imagination.” At the Publick House, eight of its beers are on tap daily, among them Burton India Pale Ale, Keller Pils, Southampton Double White, Montauk Light, and Southampton Altbier.
    Future plans include renovations to the building to allow small-batch bottling onsite, so that some of the brand’s more eclectic offerings can be packaged in 750-milliliter bottles. In the meantime, Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Addario are charged with maintaining the brand’s position at the vanguard of the craft beer field. “Today, a lot of breweries are producing like-minded beers,” Mr. Sullivan observed. “There’s an explosion of new product, both imported as well as domestic. But we’re known as one of the leading proponents of farmhouse ales. We’ve had terrific continuity here, at all levels, from our management to our front-of-house people, and Evan has earned the opportunity to take over the lead brewer position.”
    Mr. Sullivan, who has served on the board of the Parrish Art Museum for more than a decade, also maintains strong ties to the community. “The Parrish was and still is a big part of Southampton Village and Southampton Town. As a business that’s really dependent on visitor traffic to the village, a healthy village is good for me, and especially for a public house. We chose the name to be a member of the community: public house means a meeting place, a point of destination, open to all, private to none.”
    “Sometimes,” he concluded, “you take a leap of faith, and this was a hell of a leap. But at the end of the day, anything for a beer, right?”