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Digger's Owner Climbing into Microbrew Ring This Fall

Stephen Wirth, owner of downtown restaurant, launching Crooked Ladder Brewery in adjoining space in upcoming months.

For Stephen Wirth, owner of on West Main Street, the only suitable way to ascend the American craft beer market is via Crooked Ladder.

Employed at the Irish-style craft beer pub and restaurant since 1994 and owner for the last six years, Wirth has selected Crooked Ladder Brewery as the name for his new microbrewery set to operate in the adjoining unoccupied 1,600-square foot space west of Digger's, site of the former Crystal Bar. The moniker refers to Wirth's business partners, both of whom work in construction. 

After an —a pub and/or restaurant that brews and serves beer on the premises —was deemed by the trio as limiting, due to government restrictions on off-site distribution, it was decided that the venture should function as a separate business.

"We can sell more barrels out the door as a microbrewery," said Wirth, who estimates future production at 2,000 gallons of beer annually. "We felt too restricted as just a brew pub. Now there is room to expand."

This growth potentialbottling and interstate distribution are two hopefuls—can occur with time, business acuity and patience, he realizes. For now, the focus lies on equipment purchase and obtaining construction permits so Crooked Ladder Brewery can start to brew. 

"It will be exciting when the town gives us the permits to redo the floors and put the equipment down, probably a 10-barrel system," he said. "We're ready to go."

With financing now in place, Wirth said he hopes to start selling beer by October as he awaits state permits and gets the construction process under way.

Once open, Wirth said Crooked Ladder's initial portfolio will consist of eight house drafts, available by pint and take-home growler - all of which will be available at Digger's.

Duffy Griffiths, owner of Duffy's Deli's on Route 58 in Riverhead and Route 25 in Jamesport, will serve as brewmaster. Griffiths is a former brewer at local brew haus John Harvard's in Lake Grove and an old friend of Wirth's. 

Style examples should include an American Pale Ale, American IPA, Belgian Golden Ale, Red Ale, Brown Ale, Porter and Stout. An additional selection will be offered only during certain seasons of the year, such as Pumpkin Ales and Dunkels in the fall, and Hefeweizens in the spring.

With the introduction of Crooked Ladder's microbrews, Wirth intends to alter Digger's current menu to feature dishes that are pair-friendly and able to correspond with the release of any new or seasonal selections. This involves the elimination of "roughly half" the existing menu, based on sales and customer popularity, and the addition of an always-rotating selection of food exclusive for that time period's draft list.

"Every beer will have at least one paired dish," said Wirth of the new menu, which will offer customers about 80 items in total. "I want the food to compliment the beers, and vice versa."

Further modifications to Digger's will include the installation of multiple windows between both rooms, enabling customers to view the microbrewery's production process while eating and drinking.

Though Wirth said he expects "about 9,000 things to happen between now and the first pint," Riverhead town officials are more than willing to offer support to assist the new microbrewery with its opening. 

"I'm absolutely excited to have Steve's project coming to downtown Riverhead," said Town Supervisor Sean Walter. "I can't wait. Anything the town can do to expedite the process, we want to do."

Even competitors within the same industry as Wirth have voiced their support of his current endeavor to provide Riverhead with another option for local hand-crafted beer. 

"It will only generate further interest in people wanting to come to Riverhead," believes Dan Burke of Long Ireland Beer Company, who, with partner Greg Martin are at 817 Pulaski St. in mid-May. 

"Since we are a production brewery and do not serve food," Burke continued, "I hope that after people stop and visit us, they stay a little longer and check out some of the other restaurants in the area."

Wirth agrees with the concept of furthering community for individual benefit.

"Like the wineries, we'll be able to get people to come out here. Keeping everyone together is the best way to do it."

Charles Schumer May 04, 2011 at 07:46 PM
Awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!! About time something like this comes to Riverhead. Can't wait for a tasting!

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