If you live on the East Coast, or if you’re going to be visiting the Greater New York City area, you might spend a pleasant afternoon visiting the Captain Lawrence Brewery outside the Village of Elmsford just north of the city (In Westchester County).
I first encountered Captain Lawrence several years ago at a local gastro-pub that had the brewery’s Brown Bird Brown Ale on tap. In ordering a pint, I was greeted with something truly delicious. It was smooth and delicately hopped, unlike the vast majority of American microbrews, which allowed the complex malt profile to really come through. Sweet, but not overly so, with just a hint of bitterness on the finish to round the experience, it was simply the best pint of brown ale I have ever tasted — and one of the best North American beers I have ever had, period.
Since then I have tried many of the other beers this small company makes. They make a number of ales with country-specific styles, including their Freshchester Pale Ale (American style), Liquid Gold (Belgian style), and Captain’s Kolsch (German style). They also offer a range of seasonal and specialty beers that are not to be missed — in particular their Nor’ Easter Winter Warmer.
Brewery founder Scott Vaccaro, many of us will be encouraged to know, actually got his start as a home brewer. And, as many of us also know, this turned into an obsession from which he has (happily) yet to recover:
Like the majority of brewers today, my brewing journey began humbly, with five- gallon batches of beer brewed on a kitchen stovetop. However, unlike the majority of brewers, I wasn’t looking for an escape from a boring job—I was looking for an escape, at least momentarily, from doing my high school homework. It began as a simple twist of fate in the winter of 1995, my senior year at John lay High School, when I went to visit a friend.
Looking back, I cannot imagine another way of life, but it mas a fluke that inspired my brewing career. On that Saturday afternoon, my friend’s father just happened to be brewing a batch of home brew with his long-time brew partner. I was absolutely blown away by the idea that beer, the stuff that was the objective of many a covert mission to the local convenience store, could be brewed at home. Was it possible to dream up a flavor and then transform a few simple ingredients on the stovetop into a drinkable version of that dream? I had to find out.
After studying accounting for a short while, Scott decided that number-crunching wasn’t for him. So, he did what most 18-year-olds would do under the circumstance and tried to convince his parents that he wanted to leave Villanova and go to, uh, brewery school (I can imagine that conversation). Thankfully, they relented and Vaccaro was eventually able to attend UC Davis, where he earned a degree in fermentation science.
Now, Vaccaro is producing some of the best beers you are likely to find here in the U.S. And I do not say this lightly. I am a purist when it comes to style. When I order a porter on a chilly fall evening, I don’t want to drown in the flavor of hops; I’m after something malty, sweet and seasonal. Yet most American micro-brewers eschew tradition and instead create these Frankenstein concoctions that in no way resemble (except for color, perhaps) the style they allege to be.
This is not what Captain Lawrence does. Every one of their beers, to me, have shown that this is a traditional brewery worthy of continuing the beer discussion at a world-class level.
Now the bad news: Captain Lawrence, due to New York state’s goofy blue laws, cannot ship beer directly to customers. They do, however, have a cool gift basket available from their online store, And there are retailers out there that sell beer online, so with a little digging you might be able to find some of Captain Lawrence’s miraculous libations if you live outside the Northeast.
They also offer tours, and there is a taproom that is open in the afternoons Tuesday through Saturday — if you happen to be in the neighborhood.
Either way, beer connoisseurs should bookmark their website. I believe that this is a brewery from which we will hear a lot more in the coming years.