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Greenport Harbor Brewery founders to lead Maritime Festival parade

09/18/2019 6:00 AM |

The 2019 East End Maritime Festival grand marshals have been announced and longtime North Fork residents Rich Vandenburgh and John Liegey of Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. will be at the helm.

The two fathers, husbands and brewers were selected by a nominating committee at East End Seaport Museum for their extensive community involvement and maritime heritage.

Related Article: A guide to this weekend’s Maritime Festival in Greenport

“Besides Greenport Harbor being involved in our nautical community, they’ve been huge supporters of the East End Seaport Museum, all of our programs and our success,” said Linda Kessler, EESM and Marine Foundation board treasurer and Maritime Festival chair.

Mr. Vandenburgh and Mr. Liegey have attended the festival for 15 to 20 years and have sponsored the museum since the brewery opened. As Mr. Liegey tells it, they met at Ohio-Wesleyan University in 1982 and drank beer, but “not very good beer.” They noted that there was never a shortage and ultimately took to it.

“Rich was from Boston, I’m from here,” Mr. Liegey said. “He actually helped build my grandmother’s house in Southold and met his wife as a result of that and ended up staying here. We would just kind of hang out in the backyard, drink better beers, we had more money in our pocket[s] and started home brewing and then kind of started thinking about what a great place this would be to open a brewery.”

Roughly 15 years were spent mulling over the idea and 12 actively pursuing its inception. The original brewery has been open since 2009 and remains in full operation on Carpenter Street in Greenport.

Over the years, the business developed, with staff and craft varieties growing in number. The two men were distributing their ale to local restaurants and pubs out of the backs of their cars. A year in, they partnered with Union Beer, a Brooklyn-based distribution company, and began shipping cases to Manhattan. Since then, they’ve expanded into Nassau County and opened a second facility in Peconic.

“Since we began 10 years ago, we’ve always been represented at Maritime and made sure that we really did a good job with it,” said Mr. Liegey, who, along with his wife, Betsy, splits his time between East Marion and Port Washington.

Mr. Liegey has spent much of the last 40 years on the North Fork. While the brewery has created custom beers for the festival in years past, he said that this year they plan to go “above and beyond” given their grand marshal status.

“We will be showing up in some interesting attire,” he said, laughing.

“It’s going to be, hopefully not too comical, but definitely whimsical,” added Mr. Vandenburgh.

Mr. Vandenburgh and his wife, Ann, have lived in Southold for 27 years.

“[The Maritime Festival] was just a very authentic North Fork thing to do,” he said. “I think that’s the reason we started going as a family and certainly, that matured once we started the brewery.”

He said it was “extremely flattering” and “humbling” to be asked to fill the grand marshal position, adding that he and Mr. Liegey have built their business on pillars that embrace and support local activities, charities and organizations. As the Greenport Business Improvement District’s president for nearly seven years, Mr. Vandenburgh said that for him, the work he and Mr. Liegey are doing serves the purpose of keeping Greenport “as real and honest as possible while respecting neighbors and trying to help businesses and other organizations.”

He said he felt 27 years ago that Greenport was on the cusp of becoming a highly sought-after, recognizable place — and even a Hamptons alternative.

“The thing that brought John and I to wanting to invest in the brewery more than it was, was because there was a real authenticity to what Greenport was: the character of it, the saltiness of it,” said Mr. Vandenburgh.

Mr. Liegey recalled his younger years, which he and his family spent on the water and visiting staple establishments like Alice’s Fish Market and Southold Fish Market.

“I really just always felt this connection to the water and have a lot of friends that are, whether oystermen or dock builders … It’s the name of our company, Greenport Harbor. It’s just so synonymous with what Greenport’s all about. I couldn’t think of it any other way.”

In practice, the co-founders do integrative work through the marine program at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, helping with replantings and watershed awareness projects. They have also collaborated with the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation , and other organizations on beach cleanups. As a brewery, Mr. Vandenburgh said Greenport Harbor has reduced its plastic use as much as possible.

“I think our mission for the future is to continue to heighten focus on sustainability and really protect our waterways,” he said.

The two men will lead the Maritime Festival parade through the village Saturday.

Caption: John Liegey, left, and Rich Vandenburgh at the brewery’s Peconic grand opening in 2015. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

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