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Notes From the Captain Lawrence Tasting Room – THE CAPTAIN’S LOG: Benches, Bocce, Beer…Beverage Tax???
THE CAPTAIN’S LOG: Benches, Bocce, Beer…Beverage Tax???
Big things are happening at Captain Lawrence Brewing, says owner Scott Vaccaro, most of them quite good. The four-month-old facility in Elmsford features an expanse of green space (well, greenish, at least), and plans call for benches, tables, and even a bocce court to be set up to enhance your beer sampling. (Bocce, involving heavy wooden balls, an asphalt court and, typically, older Italian men, is an even better partner to beer sampling than softball.)
The building permit for the outdoor space should be in hand this week. Captain Lawrence is also applying for a permit to serve beer outside.
And as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been in a beer distributor or grocery store or Whole Foods recently, bottles are rolling out of the brewery, and into a retailer near you. Freshchester Pale Ale, Liquid Gold and the Captain’s Kolsch are currently out in six pack form, and Captain Lawrence Brown Ale hits the 12-ounce bottles for the first time this week.
“The bottles have been selling well,” says Scott. “We’re seeing enormous amounts of orders.”
This week should finally see some action in the new facility’s much ballyhooed experimental brewhouse. Finishing touches to the electricity and plumbing are being applied, the new vent stack will break through the roof, and the first brew should be underway this week. “It’s taken longer than expected,” says Scott, “as all good things do.”
The beer blogging community has been abuzz about what Captain Lawrence might stir up in the 15-keg experimental space. Scott isn’t quite sure yet, but says the short list includes offshoots of the Imperial Pale Ale-inspired Drew’s Brew, the black ale Five Years Later and a white or wheat IPA. It’s a game-time decision for the brewery. “Maybe we’ll do all three,” says Scott.
So it’s all smooth sailing for Captain Lawrence? Not so fast. Some onerous legislation has been passed down to craft breweries from Albany. The New York State Supreme Court, ruling on the Shelton vs. NYS Liquor Authority, has lifted a longstanding tax exemption for small brewers. (Shelton Brothers, a Massachusetts beer importer, is no stranger to litigation. It had previously sued the NY State Liquor Authority over some off-color Christmas beers, including a winter porter called Santa’s Butt, that the Liquor Authority sought to keep off New York shelves, believing Santa’s Butt was being marketed to minors.)
The short of it is, unless the lobbyists and lawyers representing New York’s growing craft brewing community can pull off a Hail Mary, it will be a lot more expensive for small breweries—those brewing 6.2 million gallons or less per year, such as Captain Lawrence–to brew and distribute their beers, and probably more expensive for people to enjoy these beers too.
Scott says the new law would mean close to $100,000 in extra fees for Captain Lawrence per year. “The New York State brewing industry is doing really well,” he says. “This is a great way to stop it.”
So if you happen to be chatting up your local elected official, you might mention this egregious new legislation to them.
You might also invite them down to the brewery for a locally brewed Pale Ale, Family Meal or Smoked Porter—as well as a game of bocce.
Captain Lawrence Brewing, at 444 Saw Mill River Parkway in Elmsford, is open Tuesday through Friday (retail 2-7 p.m., and samples 4-7 p.m.); and Saturday, with retail and samples 12-6 p.m., and brewery tours at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. The author is paid by Captain Lawrence, partially in beer, for “Notes From the Tasting Room.”
Beers That Defy Description
Enjoying a beer is easy. Describing exactly whyyou enjoy it? Not so much. Sure, it’s good, and it’s bubbly, and it’s a pleasant color. But what does it taste like?
Those stuffy wine reviews, with their “oaky” and “jammy” and “gamey,” show just how ridiculous descriptions of potent potables can get. Reviews for cigars (“earthy,” “toasty”) and scotch (“tastes like an old leather boot”) aren’t much better.
The guys at the brewery admit that, even as professionals, it’s tough coming up with meaningful descriptions for the beers. So we asked the good, creative folks in the tasting room to pitch in on this front. There are no wrong answers, they were told. Just have a sip, and spit out the first descriptive words that come to mind.
It’s a cloudless Friday and the mood in the Captain Lawrence tasting room is, as usual, upbeat. There’s a hulking man in a kilt, a handsome black lab, and some sunburned Yankee fans riding high after an Opening Day shutout at the Stadium. The Allman Brothers are on the stereo. There’s Captain’s Kolsch and Imperial IPA and Liquid Gold, among others, on tap. Vinnie Crodelle and Kurt Gabel are fresh off a day’s work for the Department of Environmental Protection in Valhalla. Crodelle clearly has a knack for slinging it around, describing his Freshchester Pale Ale as an “austere and sinister explosion,” leading to a feeling of “general well being.”
Gabel laughs—he too is experiencing the general well being—before toning it down a few notches. His Kolsch is “crisp–like a nice fall afternoon.”
Nearby, Sophia Ressler of White Plains sounds as though she’s auditioning for a DEP job with Vinnie and Kurt, tapping an array of flora and fauna for adjectives. Her Liquid Gold is “piney and citrusy,” with a “definite hops taste.” (Not bad—this very site goes environmental as well in describing the Gold: “Aromas of orange, spice, and green grass.”)
To Ressler, the Liquid Gold–a mix of German malts and American hops–is a “spring walk in the woods.”
Speaking of heady German-American mixes, Zoltan Gall says the Captain’s Kolsch is the only American beer he’ll drink. (Before settling in Pleasantville, Gall lived in Hungary, Cologne and Transylvania. “At midnight, my fangs start to come out,” he says of his time in the latter.) A recently retired research scientist (“Not beer,” he laments), Gall quaffs his beloved Kolsch and ruminates.
“It has body,” the stone-faced sipper says. “It is as bitter as I like it. Very refreshing. A clean aftertaste that cleanses your palate.”
His son, an aspiring lawyer named Ian Sebastian, shakes his head and smiles. “The fact that he likes an American beer, period,” says Ian. “It’s surprising.”
Ian samples an Imperial Pale Ale (“Intense,” he says. The Captain Lawrence site says “citrus and pine,” with “some hoppy bitterness.”) His law school pal Ryan Nolan–no relation to Nolan Ryan, if you’re scoring at home–has just walked in, and Ian says Ryan is as savvy a beer connoisseur as one might hope to meet.
Yet pressed for some winning adjectives to describe his Liquid Gold, Ryan, visiting from Rye, fairly freezes up.
Moments later, he paints a picture like his inverted namesake painting the outside corner of the plate. “Yeasty, a little floral, a little tingly,” he says. “Some spice on the back of the throat.”
At another barrel, Michelle Tuzzio and Art Bartosch, easily the best dressed couple in the tasting room, enjoy their glasses of Kolsch. Michelle, of West Milford, New Jersey, offers up “freshness.” Art, from Yorktown, does her one…two…three… better. “The beginning of the weekend, how better to start off than with a fresh, cold tantalizing beer that stimulates the palate and gets the endorphins rocking and rolling. Gears you up for the weekend, makes you look forward to the next glass.”
Michelle laughs. Art catches his breath.
OK, maybe the Kolsch-loving Transylvanian had it right.
“A great beer, you love it, you enjoy it,” says Zoltan. “You don’t describe it.”
Captain Lawrence is open Tuesday through Friday (retail 2-7 p.m., and samples 4-7 p.m.); and Saturdays, with retail and samples 12-6 p.m., and brewery tours at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. The author is paid, partially in beer, by Captain Lawrence for “Notes From the Tasting Room.”
Thefirst organized baseball game is believed to have been played in Hoboken onJune 1, 1846, so it stands to reason that the first beer enjoyed at a ballgamehappened right around June 1, 1846 as well.
Indeed,baseball and beer—bad hops and good hops–have a long and loving relationship.My earliest memory of the two intermingled was at Shea Stadium, when I was eyelevel to the turnstile. Seconds before measuring myself against that steely foe,I saw a feat of ingenuity that has stayed with me for decades: A few cases ofbeer, trussed up like a shipwreck diver’s booty, hoisted from one scraggly guyat street level to his friends, who pulled the rope while hanging over thoseold Shea ramps, a hundred feet above. Based on the way the Mets played thatday, the cases of Meister Brau may have been for the players.
Baseballis on the brain in the Captain Lawrence tasting room a few days before OpeningDay proper. There are scores of Yankee fans, of course, expecting nothing lessthan the annual late October showdown, while appreciating what might be MarianoRivera’s last hurrah. There are some diehard Met fans, hoping for a pleasantsurprise. “Madoff’s gone,” says Kevin Raum of Valhalla. “I’m optimistic.”
There’sa Phillie fan, and even a few Red Sox rooters. (Keep in mind, the Red Sox’historic collapse last fall was a rare example of beer and baseball not going together well.) Jessica Young,a Vermont native visiting the tasting room from her home in Harlem, has the Bostonbaseball mindset pegged. “They’ll make us think they’re doing well,” she says.“They won’t.”
The wetweather has brought Kevin Raum and his buddies to the tasting room. Theirsoftball team—it’s called the Amazin’s, if you’re scoring at home—was topractice in Hawthorne, but ended up hitting the batting cages at Sportime USA.As they could practically smell the hops wafting up Rte. 9A from the brewery, theAmazin’s’ spring training was cut short.
MikeForde of Valhalla sheds a little light on why baseball and beer go so damn welltogether. “You’re outside for three or four hours, it’s a 70 degree day,” hesays. “It’s like a barbecue and beer—baseball and beer just go hand in hand.”
Othersoffer up a variety of reasons. The peanuts and Cracker Jacks, as immortalizedin our national pastime’s national anthem, practically beg for a tasty brew. Thepace–or lack thereof, to those who simply don’t get baseball–of the game. Andas baseball is a kissing cousin of softball, the rare sport you can actuallyplay with a beer in your hand, softball’s social tendencies carry over to its morehardcore sibling.
Jessica,husband Tim and baby Riley are enjoying, respectively, a Kolsh, a Family Meal,and milk. She offers a novel reason for ordering up a ballpark brew: “It’s somuch fun to hail the beer vendor.”
RyanCollins of Valhalla and Chris Pozzi of Yorktown Heights had the routine downfor years—at least until advanced adulthood kicked in: Stock up on CaptainLawrence growlers at the old Pleasantville site on Saturday, and show up earlyat Yankee Stadium Sunday. They’d enjoy burgers, marinated steak, and barbecuechicken, along with Freshchester Pale Ale and Brown Ale (“It’s a long day ifyou start with Imperial IPA,” says Collins), with 30 of their best buds.
“We’d savethe crappy domestic beer for after the game,” says Collins.
Whilefew in the room disputed the baseball-beer bond, some felt that excellent beergoes well with most any activity. “There’s no event that beer can’t participatein,” says Kerry Walsh of Pearl River with a smile.
“Ifthere’s beer there,” Walsh quips, “I’d probably go.”
Captain Lawrence isopen Tuesday through Friday (retail 2-7 p.m., and samples 4-7 p.m.); andSaturday, with retail and samples 12-6 p.m., and brewery tours at 1, 2 and 3p.m.
The author is paid byCaptain Lawrence, partially in beer, for “Notes From the Tasting Room.”