Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Visit to Captain Lawrence

We sent D.G. Dunford, our sometime freelance correspondent, to check out this very intriguing New York State brewery that recently celebrated its first anniversary. He's a good man, and thorough. Plus, we got this sweet pint glass out of it.

I wish I could clearly recall the circumstances under which I was introduced to the wares of the Captain Lawrence Brewing Company. I'm mostly sure that I had my first pint of their delicious Smoked Porter at downtown Albany's Lionheart Tavern, and I can say with near-certainty that I was introduced to their Liquid Gold Belgian-style at the Troy tavern known as Holmes & Watson. Regardless of my introduction to the beer, I was quickly able to decide immediately that this was a brewery that does good work. As the fates would have it, I was able to squeeze in a visit to Captain Lawrence's brewery towards the beginning of a weekend-long jaunt up and down the Northeastern corridor of these United States. The brewery only opens for tasting twice a week, three hours on Friday afternoons and six hours on Saturdays. Through divine intervention and/or Google Maps, I was able to get to the Friday tasting, accompanied by my surly, Keystone-loving younger brother.

Captain Lawrence's headquarters are far from fancy. They're located in the pretty posh Westchester County town of Pleasantville (for the sake of comparison, it should be noted that the Clinton family lives just down the road). However, their headquarters are in an industrial section of town, adjacent to some facilties management offices of Pace University. It's pretty unobtrusive, you pretty much have to know about it to get there.

The owner and brewer of Captain Lawrence is Scott Vaccaro, an area resident who graduated from the beer making program at the University of California at Davis and worked for 6 years at Sierra Nevada before returning east to pursue other opportunities, which led to eventually deciding to start Captain Lawrence (a brewery which is named after the street on which he grew up in nearby South Salem, NY). Also, and this was astounding to me, Vaccaro has yet to reach his 29th birthday. He's a young'un.

The tasting room at Captain Lawrence is intimate without being cramped or cozy. There is not an abundance of seating, three tables at best, and the room is painted the same shade of light green which can be found on their label. There is an open space in the wall, a windowless window, as it were, which looks out onto their spacious brewing area. (There were tours available, but we weren't able to partake this visit). Posters on the wall and a beautiful, well-lit tasting bar made this a very appealing place to enjoy some samples.And enjoy some samples we did. They had four beers on tap (FreshchesterPale Ale, Captain's Reserve Imperial IPA, and the aforementioned Liquid Gold and Smoked Porter). The sample sizes were generous, about 4 ounces each, and I began to taste.

First up was the Captain's Reserve Imperial IPA, and holy cow, this might have been one of the best "strong beers" that I've had ever. The initial taste of hops - a dominant one - was soon followed by a smooth malt taste. The hops were extremely pleasant, but didn't linger on the palate by the time I was finished with a sip. This was really, really interesting, and the 1-2 punch of hops and malt made every sip refreshing and flavorful. Next up was the Liquid Gold [it's a Belgian Pale - Ed.]. This could be described as a "light beer," with a slight citrus hint and a taste not particularly dominated by hops or malt. That doesn't sound like much, really, but holy cow, this was really, really good too. Even my younger brother, who doesn't generally drink anything without mountains on the can, agreed, this and the Double IPA were really, really good beers. The Freshchester Pale was a solid, understated pour, nowhere near as spectacular as the first couple of beers. It was extremely reminiscent of Sierra Nevada, which makes a lot of sense when you consider Vaccaro's background. My last sample was the Pleasantville Smoked Porter, which I cannot say enough about. The smoked flavoring does not seem remotely artificial to the process, and compliments the natural roasted taste of what tasted like coffee and malt quite nicely. I walked away with a growler of Liquid Gold for $12, and purchased a couple of pint glasses as well. Other merchandise was available. I cannot recommend this brewery enough. When 3 of the 4 beers are as good as the the Double IPA, Smoked Porter, and Liquid Gold are, you can tell that there is a bright, bright future ahead for Captain Lawrence.

Editor's Note: Captain Lawrence won the Matthew Vassar Brewer's Cup for Best Craft Brewery in the Hudson Valley, and their Imperial IPA won the Gold Medal as best individual craft beer in New York State, at TAP New York in 2006. Pretty impressive, especially for a first year brewery. TAP is one of the biggest (and probably the best) beer festivals in NYS. We've liked everything we have heard and tried from this place. It just might be a visit we need to make in person. The brewery is open for tours, tastings and sales on Fridays from 4 - 7, and Saturdays from 12 - 6.

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