Barley, hops, yeast and water are the four basic ingredients in beer.
The true artistry in craft brewing, however, comes from a brewer’s experimentation with other ingredients.
So when staff members from Cornell Cooperative Extension’s marine program showed up at Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. with a bag full of sugar kelp Friday morning, the brewers were wide-eyed and eager to see what could become of this special ingredient.
The beer, which was brewed in a small batch producing about 8 1/2 barrels, is part of a limited release timed to coincide with the Kelp Art + Awareness event at Greenport Harbor’s Peconic tasting room, set for Friday, Jan. 12. There, the brewery will display work from area artists that incorporates grains and images of sugar kelp blades.
The brewery is hoping to raise awareness of Cornell’s pilot program growing kelp in the bays.
“We take the word ‘harbor’ in our name very seriously,” said brewery co-owner Rich Vandenburgh. “For us, this is an easy fit.”
The Peconic Estuary Kelp Feasibility Study was started with the goal of developing best practices for growing the crop in local bays. Kelp was raised at six sites between Flanders and Gardiners Bay. Due to its cooler waters and close proximity to Long Island Sound, the latter yielded the highest production. CCE officials said.
Experts say growth of this aquaculture industry would have the potential to improve water quality through bioextraction of nitrogen and carbon.
It also could be an economic boon for the region, providing baymen with a new crop to raise in the winter months, rotating with the oyster and mussel growing seasons. Kelp is typically harvested in May.
Farming kelp in Long Island Sound waters has the potential to produce annual sales of $47 million, according to past statistics provided by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office. Kelp can also be used in pharmaceutical and cosmetic products.
Several sugar kelp farms are already operating in Connecticut. In order for the crop to be farmed in Peconic Bay and Long Island Sound — where many of the state’s aquaculture farms are located — New York State lawmakers need to make regulatory changes to allow it.
Cornell Cooperative Extension harvested its kelp, which was permitted as part of the feasibility study, this past June. The project armed the marine program with knowledge it didn’t have before.
“Where we can now come in is to supply future farms and to educate them, teaching them how to do it themselves once they put in the investment,” said project manager Steve Schott.
Mr. Schott and marine program director Chris Pickerell were on hand Friday to watch the beer in production. They’d each tried a Scottish kelp beer, appropriately titled Kelpie Seaweed Ale and produced by Williams Brothers Brewing Company in Alloa, Clackmannanshire.
Brewer Pat Alfred said the Greenport Harbor team modified its popular Black Duck Porter recipe to make the as-yet unnamed kelp beer. The recipe includes Mediterranean sea salt and caramelized sugar. The kelp itself is both salty and sweet, a combination of the natural flavor from its leaves and the water it’s grown in. The brewers specifically asked for the leaves to not be rinsed.
“We definitely wanted it to have a salted caramel flavor,” Mr. Alfred said. “It’s essentially a robust porter with kelp.”
Cornell Cooperative Extension donated about 3 1/2 pounds of dried kelp to be used in the beer. Mr. Schott said the crop contracts when dehydrated, with about 10 pounds of kelp shrinking to just a pound. Wild seaweed harvested off Fishers Island was included in Friday’s batch to supplement the kelp from the pilot program.
The brewers quickly learned Friday that kelp expands significantly when rehydrated, not exactly impacting flavor but making for a more challenging cleanup after it’s transferred for fermentation.
The beer will ferment for about 10 days and be ready in time for the Jan. 12 artists’ reception, Mr. Alfred said.
Mr. Pickerell enjoyed a small sample of the beer before fermentation Friday.
“This is right up my alley,” he remarked. “It’s a good time of year for it, too.”
There’s also still time left for local artists interested in creating projects for the show. All you have to do is stop by the Peconic tasting room by Monday, Jan. 1 to pick up grain sacks to use in your work. Submissions must then be brought back to the brewery by Jan. 7. The art will be displayed until Feb. 1.
The Jan. 12 reception is scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m. Other kelp products will also be showcased at the event.