Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. celebrates 15 years

It’s hard to imagine that Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. is celebrating its 15th anniversary. The popular craft brewery, led by Rich Vandenburgh and John Liegey and featuring tasting rooms in Peconic and Greenport, feels like it’s been around forever.

“I’ve had people take notice of the number [of years] since one of the first T-shirts we had was ‘Making quality beer since yesterday,’ ” Mr. Liegey said. “And — boom — 15 years go by.”

Mr. Liegey and Mr. Vandenburgh met in college and have been close friends ever since. On July 12, 2009, the partners — Mr. Liegey an advertising expert and Mr. Vandenburgh an attorney — launched their passion project in the old firehouse on Carpenter Street. The undertaking proved so successful the two old friends were eventually able to pursue the business full-time.

But even though they knew they had a hit on their hands, they didn’t have the benefit of any prior brewing experience. The early years, Mr. Liegey said, provided the steepest learning curve.

“We used to keep two separate phone [lines] in our early conversations when we were planning out the brewery, because we really did not have the answers to half the questions we were being asked,” Mr. Liegey recalls. “So we would go to our cellphones and say, ‘What are they asking for exactly?’ and discuss it, and then return to the phone call and [answer the client or supplier’s question with], ‘Well, what do you think we should do?’ ” 

Mr. Vandenburgh notes that while they both appreciated and respected quality brewing, they quickly realized they had to enlist some experienced talent.

“We knew that we had to secure quality people, starting with DJ Swanson, our first brewer,” he said. “But everything else — if the toilet was clogged or if something had to be rebuilt — we were doing that.”

The first year of business was huge for the brand. Within the first two months, “every major distributor from New York City came out to meet with us,” Mr. Liegey said. “It was the buzz of what was happening that got us there. Within eight months, we were in New York City in Whole Foods. It was pretty quick, awesome growth early on.”

Looking back, the partners say they truly knew the business was going to succeed long-term when they acquired the Peconic location, which opened in 2014

But it wasn’t an easy launch, and included being rejected for financing, which proved difficult for the company. The Peconic building was opened, in part, thanks to private fundraising. 

“Once we removed the banks as a barrier and pushed through it, we [got over] the wall … People were very supportive,” Mr. Vandenburgh said. “At that point, it was like, okay, this is no longer a 1,200-square-foot firehouse, this is now a much bigger enterprise.”

The risks paid off. The Peconic tasting room, a 13,000-square-foot complex on Main Road, has become the brewery’s flagship location, with beers on tap, cases and cans available for purchase and even a full restaurant. 

During the company’s 15-year journey, the industry has certainly changed. When it opened, Greenport’s brews were still considered “local” even in places as far afield as Albany. 

“We started with 120 breweries in New York State,” Mr. Vandenburgh said. “Now there’s 532 [in New York} and over 10,000 nationwide.”

Thankfully, getting on the craft brewery bandwagon early has made Greenport Harbor Brewing a successful and respected brand that is now known all over the country. 

But the company still looks to foster new talent. Current brewer Sean Galligan didn’t initially pursue a career in beer. After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Stony Brook University and planning to pursue a career in pharmacy, he discovered home brewing. He started working for Greenport Harbor Brewing in 2022 and is now the head brewer in charge of quality control.

“It was really fun,” Mr. Galligan said. “I was making beer in my garage and sharing it with my friends. And I was like, ‘Hmm … would I be crazy enough to see if the brewery down the street is willing to hire a home brewer looking to go professional with a scientific background?’ The answer was ‘yes’ and it’s been super-rewarding ever since.” 

One consistent goal for both Mr. Vandenburgh and Mr. Liegey has always been to keep the business fun for both of them. 

“I’ve always said that once it becomes no fun anymore, it’s time to move on,” Mr. Vandenburgh said. “But at the heart of it, John and I enjoy socializing with other people, offering a space for people that’s fun and inviting and optimistic and introducing people that may not otherwise have understood what good craft beer should taste like.”

“The payoff is that you drink a beer and it’s freaking awesome, and you’re feeling good about it,” Mr. Liegey added. “Rich and I try to live that mantra of, ‘If we’re not having fun, why are we doing this?’ ”

And now, it’s time to raise a glass and celebrate.

On Friday, July 12, and Saturday, July 13, Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. will celebrate its 15th anniversary with a two-day party at its Peconic and Greenport tasting rooms. On Friday at the Greenport firehouse (234 Carpenter St.), artist Kate Mancini will showcase her work in the upstairs room from 4 to 7 p.m. and Port Side Hustle will perform downstairs from 5 to 8 p.m.

On Saturday, the Peconic tasting room (42155 Main Road) will host a huge celebration from noon on, with more live music, artwork from Ms. Mancini, jewelry on sale from Joanne Stoecker, body art by Stay Salted and more, including oysters from Little Ram.

As for the beer, revelers can expect a staggering 15 new releases at the Peconic party, ranging from entirely new brews to special variations and small batch experiments.

“We want to thank the community and everyone that supported us,” Mr. Vandenburgh said. “We very much appreciate everyone that’s helped us along the way.”

Mr. Liegey singled out the staff.

“We have a crazy good staff,” he said. “At this point, we’re two old guys and we have a lot of people that know what they’re doing. We’re looking to be in lawn chairs drinking beer in the field. That’s probably our next 15 years.”

Visit for more information on the 15th anniversary celebration.

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