Laurel Lake:  A Festive Day          September 23, 2017

http://www.llwines.com/

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The winery building is quite pretty.

We had been to the Greenport Maritime Festival, where we watched pint-size mermaids parade and cruised past booths offering art, food, lavender, and more.  Now it was time to continue the festive mood by bringing our guests to a winery, and we decided on Laurel Lake, which we had not been to in more than a year.  One reason we hadn’t been there sooner was that the last time we tried to go they were about to close for a wedding.  This time they were also going to close for a wedding, but we had more than an hour for our tasting, so in we went.

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The tent was being prepared for a wedding party.

The tasting room is pleasant, with an antique bar at one end and plenty of tables, all of which were empty.  We opined that everyone on the North Fork was probably at the Greenport Festival or apple picking at Harbes.  Then the server behind the bar suggested we seat ourselves near the outside bar, where we had never been.  Out we went, to find long tables in the shade, a few more customers, and a very genial server who timed his visits to our table perfectly.  A look at the attractively rustic setting made it clear why people favor Laurel Lake as a wedding venue.  A food truck run by CJ’s restaurant was parked near us, but we had already had lunch in Greenport.

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There is a food truck on the premises, so they request that you not bring your own food.

Laurel Lake offers an extensive menu, of seven whites and nine reds, and a tasting consists of four tastes for $15.  By some judicious selecting and sharing, our group of six was able to taste many of the offerings.  Each couple shared a tasting, and then we gave each other sips.  Overall, we tended to prefer the whites to the reds, but the reds do have the advantage, rare on the North Fork, of being mostly reasonably priced.  One nice touch—our server brought us clean glasses for each taste.  That’s such a great idea.  So often they either pour the next taste right into your glass, where it may be affected by the previous wine, or they rinse it with water, which runs the risk of wine that tastes like chlorine.  One other clever method is when they rinse your glass with a few drops of the next taste, though that seems a tad wasteful to me.  I hate to see wine being poured into a dump bucket!

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The tasting room.

  1. 2016 Pinot Gris              $22.99

We hadn’t yet settled on a sharing method, so two of us ordered this.  I tend to like pinot gris (a.k.a. pinot grigio), and this one was no exception.  It smells a bit like pineapple juice, and tastes a bit like it, too. It is tart, with notes of mineral and salt.  Our daughter-in-law, who is good at thinking about wine and food pairings, thought it would go well with something made with capers.  How about smoked salmon with capers, we asked.  Yes.  Very buyable.

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They give you a good-sized pour, so all six of us could share tastes.

  1. 2014 Chardonnay Estate Reserve $23.99

Their oak aged chard, this has the expected aromas of vanilla and wood or caramel, with some citrus flavors.  Interestingly, this one also tasted of pineapple, but in this case of very ripe pineapple.  Food pairing?  How about pork with pineapple.

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The outside bar.

  1. 2016 Sauvignon Blanc $22.99

This new release is light, crisp, and lemony, with some tastes of grilled peaches.  A nice summer wine, it might pair well with a salad with grilled peaches.

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  1. 2014 Gewürztraminer $22.99

Our server informed us that this is their “third sweetest white.”  Though I am not a fan of sweet wines, this one is well-balanced enough that, with, let us say, spicy Thai food, it would be fine.  I smell flowers and something metallic, and taste oranges.

  1. Moscato Sparkling $24.99

One member of our group prefers sweet wines to dry, and he was very pleased with this sparkler.  It is sweet, with strawberry and melon tastes and a candy-like aroma.  Perhaps one could drink it with a chocolate soufflé?

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  1. Wind Song Red $17.99

Fair warning—we are told this is their sweetest red.  Our server explains that they make it by blending all the leftovers from other wines, and it has no vintage because it could contain juice from various years.  I would say this was not a successful blend, as it has a somewhat medicinal taste, like Cheracol cough syrup.

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  1. 2013 Pinot Noir Reserve $29.99

Another newly bottled release, this was aged in used oak barrels, so it does not have the flavors you get from oak.  Some say the nice aspect of this is you get the pure taste of the grape.  We find it rather flat and one-dimensional, though not unpleasant.  Perhaps one could drink this with molé, as it is a light red.  Not caring for this or the previous red, our guests try their own blend, mixing the two.  Not a success.

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My favorite of these was the Syrah.

  1. 2012 Merlot Estate $19.99

Better.  Whew.  A pretty typical oak-aged merlot, with cherry aromas and taste and some tannins.

  1. 2013 Syrah $19.99

Two-thirds of us agree that we like this one.  It has tastes of plums, pepper, and nutmeg, plus some nice tannins.  Someone suggested pairing it with moussaka.  Sounds good to me.

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  1. 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon $19.99

Interestingly, this is aged in steel.  It is an easy to drink, fresh-tasting pizza wine, with soft tannins, and fruity aromas and tastes.

  1. 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $25.99

As the afternoon progressed, our server became more and more chatty, and he described the interesting method used to make this wine.  They take two-thirds of the cab sauv to make rosé, and they take the skins from that plus the rest of the grapes to make this wine, which is then aged in used oak.  It has a “dark richness,” said someone, not sure who.  It is dry, not as fruity as you might expect given how it is made, with some nice tannins.  I wonder how it would age.

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They have a small selection of wine-related gift items.

Reasons to visit:  pretty setting, inside and out; the Pinot Gris, the Sauvignon Blanc, the Syrah, the Cabernet Sauvignon; reasonably priced wines for Long Island, especially the reds; food truck.

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Our server did a good job of explaining each wine.

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The top floor of the two-level outdoor area.

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Mermaids on parade!

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Lieb Cellars: A Beautiful Setting                September 12, 2017

http://liebcellars.com/history/

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The Lieb Cellars tasting room is located on bucolic Oregon Road.

In many ways, September is the best month on the North Fork, and our guests agreed.  We had gone for a walk to Love Lane and a swim in the Peconic Bay, and now we were seated on the attractive patio of Lieb Cellars on Oregon Road, gazing out at beautiful farm fields.  Later we planned to barbeque chicken from 8 Hands, plus eggplant and zucchini and corn from a farm stand.  Perhaps we could cap off that menu with a bottle of wine from Lieb.  However, we didn’t find any wine that we wanted to take home for that meal.

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It was a warm day, so we appreciated the bottle of cool water we were given.

On the other hand, we enjoyed our tasting, if not so much the wines themselves, which was brought to us on trays so we could sit and sip and discuss and enjoy the lovely setting.  The very enthusiastic and well-informed server, a young man who is really studying wine, gave us a quick (maybe too quick!) rundown on the wines we had ordered, and then left us to ourselves, just checking back periodically to see if we had any questions.

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The menu includes snacks, plus drinks for your designated driver.

The menu offers three options:  four whites plus the rosé for $16, five reds for $18, or six Reserve wines for $20.  You can also get cheese and charcuterie plates, but we knew we had a lovely selection of cheeses from the Love Lane Cheese Shop waiting for us at home, so we opted not to get anything.  They don’t allow you to bring your own food, but they do permit dogs on the outside patio.  We decided to share one white flight and one red flight.  The good-sized servings came out in attractive round-bottomed glasses, and we also were given a bottle of chilled water plus glasses for the water.  Some of the wines are labeled Bridge Lane and others Lieb Reserve, which I abbreviate BL and LR.

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The whites and the rose. Each glass sits on a coaster which identifies the wine and the order in which to drink them.

  1. 2016 BL White Merlot   $18

This is a white wine made from merlot grapes by not giving them any time on the skins.  The aroma was nice—sweet, spicy, a bit minerally—but we found the wine itself lacked character.

  1. 2015 LR Pinot Blanc $22

They are very proud of their Pinot Blanc, but we were underwhelmed.  It is very citrusy and tart, with not much fruit and a slightly chemical aroma.

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We liked the patio, which we had to ourselves on this mid-week day. One time we arrived on a weekend and had to leave, as it was full.

  1. 2016 BL Unoaked Chardonnay $16

We like this the best of the whites, finding it had a better balance than the others, with some richness.  I liked it.  It has a honeysuckle aroma and nice lemony notes.  It would go well with food, though we felt it would not stand up to the spicy barbeque sauce we planned.

  1. 2016 BL Sauvignon Blanc $18

Our server cautioned us that this was not like a New Zealand sauvignon blanc.  It was not at all floral, and my brother pronounced it “tame.”  It smells almost like candy, with some minerality, and the taste is very light, almost evanescent.

  1. 2016 BL Rosé $18

Pink?  Not so much.  Another very light wine, this had no strawberry aroma.  It is available in an eight gallon box.

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  1. 2016 BL Red Blend $20

Our server was very proud that he could inform us this was like a right bank Bordeaux, a blend of 44% merlot, 22% cabernet franc, 13% petit verdot, 12% malbec, and 9% cabernet sauvignon.  You can sense in the taste that this spent a little time in oak—six months.  It’s very soft, with a taste in which cherry predominates.  I said it was okay for casual drinking, but my brother opined it was “completely uninteresting, like a person without a face.”  Ouch.

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Note the dogs in the background.

  1. 2015 LR Merlot $24

As we sipped this somewhat classic merlot, we got into a humorous discussion of the movie Sideways, and the damage it did to merlot sales.  Nothing wrong with a good merlot, I said, but my brother felt this was a “Kool-Aid version of merlot.”  Well, it would be fine with a burger.

  1. 2015 LR Cabernet Franc $30

I thought this cabernet franc was not bad, with dark fruit tastes of blackberry and plum, dry, with some tannins though overall rather soft.  But I had to agree with my brother that it had no depth.

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The Petit Verdot looks as good as it tastes.

  1. 2014 LR Petit Verdot $35

Finally, a wine we could agree on.  We all liked the petit verdot, made of 98% petit verdot and 2% “mystery grapes,” according to our server.   2014 was a hot season, so it was a good year for ripe red grapes.  This wine is interesting, with a distinctive earthy, piney aroma and layers of flavor.  We speculated that another brother would like it, since he favors “odd duck” wines.  Long finish.  If I were to sit and have a glass of wine here, this is the one I would get.

  1. 2015 LR Meritage $35

And here is their left bank Bordeaux style:  47% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 17% cabernet franc, 4% petit verdot, and 2% malbec.  We made our server check the math!  It worked out.  The aroma is fruity, the taste less so.  Given the tannins, it may age into something better, but for the moment it is a bit disappointing for the price.  It would be okay as a $12 wine, opined my brother.  Well, that’s a problem with North Fork wineries in general—because of the small size of their production, they can’t achieve the economies of scale from other places.  Nevertheless, we like to support the local wineries.

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The inside room is attractive and comfortable.

Reasons to visit:  beautiful setting on a back road, surrounded by farm fields; the Unoaked Chardonnay, the Lieb Reserve Petit Verdot; you can bring your dog.

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Clovis Point: Good Things Come in Small Packages            September 3, 2017

http://www.clovispointwines.com/

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“We’re small,” said our very well-informed multi-tasking server, “only 3,500 cases per year.”  She added that they have just eight acres of vines, and we discussed the issues Croteaux is having with Southold town over how many acres you need to have in order to do a tasting room.  But Clovis Point is in the town of Riverhead, so no problem.  Small also describes the one-ounce pour (which she warned us about in advance), but not the reputation of this boutique winery, which has garnered a number of high ratings from wine judges.

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One view of the pleasant tasting room

The tasting room, a former potato barn, is a nice size, and there is also a covered porch to one side.  The walls are adorned with a display of art for sale, so the space functions as a gallery as well.  The flower garden leading to the door is also esthetically pleasing!

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The art on the walls is for sale.

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Some of the pretty flowers by the entrance

The menu offers two flights:  a Cold Flight of four wines for $13 and a Red Flight of four reds for $15, plus a few premium wines at $5 per taste.  We were with friends, and decided each couple would do all eight wines, given that the pour is so small.  We also bought a generous tray of Spanish cheeses and baguette slices for $12, plus an eight-dollar jar of delicious fig spread, much of which we took home.  While we often don’t order food with our tastings, it is true that having wine with food enhances the experience.

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We had pretty much decimated the cheese plate before I thought to take a picture. It was very good.

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Some nice options on the snack menu

  1. 2016 Sauvignon Blanc $28

“This is a seasonal wine,” our server informed us, “and we usually sell out of it by winter.”  I can see why, as it is a light, easy to drink summery wine, with a floral and mineral aroma and peach taste.  Steel fermented, it is tart and dry.

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  1. 2015 Chardonnay $25

Another steel-fermented wine, this chardonnay is mixed with 3% gewürztraminer, which might account for a touch of pineapple taste.  The aroma is mineral, earth, and pine, and our friend says it tastes like a Granny Smith apple to her.  We agree.  Our server explains that because it is steel fermented it does not undergo malolactic fermentation, and therefore gives you the “pure expression” of the grape.

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The arrowhead on the label is a Clovis point, a type of prehistoric arrowhead.

  1. 2015 Black Label Chardonnay $28

A nice touch—before each new taste, the server rinses the glass with a bit of the next wine.  This is better than when they rinse the glasses with water, as a little water always is left behind and can influence the taste of the wine.  And when they don’t rinse the glasses at all, you may get a bit of the previous wine mixing with your next taste.  In any event, this chardonnay is a mixture of steel and oak fermented wine, so it is not heavily oaked.  Not being fans of oaky chards, we are pleased with this one, which has lots of citrus taste and only a touch of vanilla.  It’s not fruity.

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You can see how small the pour is.

  1. Rosé $22.50

Also seasonal, according to our server, the rosé tends to sell out by the end of summer.  It is composed of 100% cabernet franc, and is made by the saignée method, where the grapes sit on the skins for three days.  This is such a light rosé that we agree one might, if tasting it with eyes closed, not know it was a rosé.  It’s steel fermented and quite dry, with only a faint strawberry aroma and a taste more like raspberry than strawberry.

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  1. 2014 Merlot $29

All the reds are aged in either French or Hungarian oak, we are told, as our server puts out fresh glasses for the red tasting.  A blend of 85% merlot, 8% cabernet franc, 2% syrah, 2% malbec, 2% petit verdot, and 1% cabernet sauvignon, this is not as complex or deep as one would think given all the ingredients.  However, it is a good merlot, dry and pleasant to drink.  “It’s my after work wine,” notes our server.  Yes, it would be relaxing to sit and sip a glass of this, perhaps with some cheese.

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They have two bars for when the room gets busy.

  1. 2014 Cabernet Franc $35

Yum.  This time I agree with Robert Parker, who has given this wine a score of 90%.  A blend of 96% cabernet franc with 3% cabernet sauvignon and 1% petit verdot, this has fascinating aromas of mushroom, forest, and smoke, plus what our friend describes as “really ripe plums.”  It is delicious, dry at the end with some nice tannins, tasting of over-ripe cherries.  Nicely complex.  If I were here for a music event, this is the wine I would get by the glass.

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You can see how small the bottle is for the Syrah and the Malbec.

  1. 2014 Syrah $34

Syrah is usually blended with other wines, but Clovis Point decided to try bottling it by itself.  Since they didn’t have that much of it, they also decided to use 500 ml. bottles, so that price is quite high.  I insist that it smells like black olives, and my friend adds that it actually smells meaty.  It is dry, tannic, and spicy.  I like it.

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  1. 2014 Malbec $34

Meh.  Another 500ml. bottle, this is a blend of 94% malbec, plus 4% merlot, 1% cabernet sauvignon, and 1% syrah.  It has a nice fruity aroma, but the wine itself is rather light, with no depth.  “Flat,” says my friend.  I add that it lacks body.

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A view of the porch

Reasons to visit:  small winery with a nice room and some good choices; the 2015 chardonnay, the Black Label chardonnay, the 2014 Cabernet Franc; you are the designated driver but you want to taste the wines where the pour is small.

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The grapes are starting to ripen.

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Jamesport Farm Brewery: Playing It Safe                            September 2, 2017

https://www.jfbrewery.com/

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We’d been watching the sign on Sound Avenue as it kept reading “Coming Soon,” so when we saw that Jamesport Farm Brewery, the newest brewery in town, was open for tastings, we wanted to check it out.  Then when visitors arrived at our house who appreciate both wine and beer, we knew it was time.  So off we went, up the bumpy road and past a somewhat misleading sign that seems to send you left when the tasting room is on the right.  The parking lot and surrounding area is still a work in progress, but the tasting room is quite ready for guests, and so is the expansive lawn outside, where children romped and groups clustered around umbrella tables with pints of beer.  A food truck offered lunch items, but we headed into the large room and sauntered up to the bar.  We were glad we had arrived early, since by the time we left there was a line for the bar.

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The menu on a large chalkboard offers seven different beers, plus a couple of ciders from Riverhead Cider House and a Palmer chardonnay.  A tasting of four is $10; pints are $6 each, and you can also refill your growler for $15 ($5 for the bottle).  We decided to get two tastings so we could try all the beers, with one member of the group preferring Captain Cook’s Razzmatazz for his choice.  That’s a raspberry-flavored cider that he liked but tastes to me like flavored children’s medicine.  In general, we liked the beers, but felt that they were somewhat ordinary.  A small brewery could take more chances with at least some of their brews.

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Our server was enthusiastic and friendly, offering her opinions on our choices and suggesting an order in which to taste them which was not exactly the order on the board, and we felt she did a good job.  The beers list the alcohol content, which can vary quite a bit.  Each serving fills a small glass.  By the way, the word “farm” in the name of the brewery is not just for decoration:  many of the ingredients for the beers—and in some cases all the ingredients—are grown on the premises.  they grow hops and barley, among other ingredients.  You can take a tractor-drawn tour to check out the farm, $15 with a pint and $10 without one, and we saw a group heading out for one as we left.  Even the bar is built using locally sourced recycled materials!

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  1. Haybaler           5.4

An American pale ale made from 90% homegrown ingredients, this first choice was a not complex, light, slightly citrusy ale.  Our friend said she could see drinking it on the beach, as it would be a pleasant hot weather quaff.

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One of the offerings in the gift shop.

  1. Sound Avenue Summer              5.5

With this blonde ale we had a difference of opinion.  Our friend said if she had a pint of this she wouldn’t finish it, while I liked its yeasty, honey, bready taste.  I opined that it would make “a good breakfast beer,” while she said it was not “beery” enough.

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  1. Rows ‘n Hoes 6.6

When we inquired as to the name, our server chuckled and said it fit with “the farm theme,” adding that this was a “smooth” IPA than the Northville, which we tasted next to it.  It uses all New York State-sourced ingredients.  We detected tastes of smoke and tobacco, and found it not as hoppy as one would expect from an IPA, and more like an ale.  Again, we had a difference of opinion, as I liked it more than my friend did.  However, she said she could see drinking it with braised beef, where its bitterness would complement the richness of the dish.

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Food truck menu

  1. Northville IPA 5.2

“Beer,” opined my friend, “should have a beery taste.”  And this one did, meeting with general approval as having a hoppy, grassy, citrusy taste.  She also said it reminded her of a Session ale.  Because it was brewed specially for the grand opening, it may not always be available.  Breweries do tend to vary their offerings by the season, and our server told us that their pumpkin ale would be arriving soon.  Of course.

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Our favorite local pickles: try “Dill Death do us Part.”

  1. Ribbit Red Ale 6.3

This is made by a different brewery which shares the premises with Jamesport, called Tweaking Frog.  We had a discussion over whether New York State would allow Tweaking Frog to use the word tweaking, since you’re not allowed to use names for alcoholic products which imply that they will affect your take on reality (or something like that).  In any event, this American Amber/Red ale is heavy on the yeast, with a slightly caramelized flavor, almost malty.  I like it and my friend didn’t dislike it.

  1. Ex-Wife 5.8

Apparently, the ex-wife is bitter, because this is an “Extra Special Bitter,” also made by Tweaking Frog.  It does leave a bitter taste, but is surprisingly light for a bitter.  Our friend who is drinking the raspberry cider likes this one.

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  1. Barnswallow Brown 5.3

My favorite of the day, this is a Brown Ale that is sweet and dark, with a burnt toast aroma and chocolate flavor.  I prefer a heavier dark beer, like Guinness, but this would do.  If I were getting a pint, this is what I would choose.

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The cider

  1. Captain Cook’s Razzmatazz

Raspberry flavored cider that tastes like flavored children’s medicine, from the Riverhead Cider House.

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Reasons to visit:  you want to check out the new brewery in town; tractor tours; a pleasant place to hoist a pint, especially the outside area; you have dogs or children in tow; Greenport Harbor is full; the Northville IPA and the Barnswallow Brown, plus the Haybaler if it is a hot day; a nice gift shop where you can buy the equipment to make your own beer.

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You can buy a kit and learn to make your own beer, but beware–many owners of breweries started this way!

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