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Westchester's Beer Scene Is 'Hopping:' Captain Lawrence Founder Tells Why

Scott Vaccarro of Captain Lawrence Brewing Company. Photo Credit: Enormous Creative
Brews from Captain Lawrence Brewing Company. Photo Credit: Enormous Creative

Since hitting the scene in 2006, first in Pleasantville and now in Elmsford, Captain Lawrence Brewing Co . has become the "granddaddy," if you will, of Westchester brewers.

The company headed by Founder & Brewmaster Scott Vaccaro, an elder craft beer statesman at the ripe "old age" of 39, churns out approximately 25,000 barrels of beer each year, much of which is sold throughout New York and the Mid-Atlantic.

Since starting his company 12 years ago, other breweries have tapped into the county's thirst for more innovative suds, among them Broken Bow in Tuckahoe, Peekskill Brewery, and Yonkers Brewery. This past December Vaccaro, along with partners Louis Lanza (of Hudson Hospitality Group) and John Sharp (of Peekskill's Gleason's and Birdsall House), opened River Outpost Brewing, a new brewery house supplying beer for the 60,000-square-foot Factoria entertainment complex in Peekskill.

The goal: To bring more artisanal beers -- think India Pale Ales, seasonal brews, and Belgians -- to the market, as well as unfiltered and drinkable lagers to accompany the food at Factoria from both Fin & Brew and River Outpost.

With the addition of Sing Sing Kill Brewery in Ossining (opening this winter) as well as smaller production Westchester spots like Chicken Island Beer (coming to Yonkers in February-ish), Decadent Ales in Mamaroneck and Duncan Abbey in Tarrytown, we wanted to hear from the top (i.e. Vaccaro) on the why (and how) behind this craft beer explosion.

Daily Voice: What are your predictions for the upcoming year? Any trends to look for?

Scott Vaccaro: I think the craft beer movement and momentum will not stop anytime soon. I'm sure we'll see more breweries open up and hopefully more restaurants embrace local craft beer.

DV: What about styles of beer?

SV: IPAs are still king and I don’t think that trend will end anytime soon. It seems like brewers are finding ways to get even more hoppy flavor and aroma in beers and IPAs are the recipients of those innovations.

I think that lighter more nuanced lagers will continue to gain momentum as craft brewers tackle styles that have been more typically brewed by the multinational giants.

DV: How has the beer scene changed since you first started?

SV: When we first started going door to door 12 years ago, the idea of a local brewery was something very few people embraced.

At the time people still considered small craft brewers to be a fad, something that would eventually go away. They still were looking to the multinational players to pay for lines.

Today, the mindset of the majority of pub owners has changed and they are embracing us craft brewers as the wave of the future, taste-makers and local businesses like their own.

DV: Is there something native to New York or Westchester that makes a craft brew different than others?

SV: New York and Westchester have the best water in the world for making bread, pizza, bagels and beer. That is our edge. New York was the hop growing capital of the country, but that industry has moved out west.

Brewing is like cooking. We all have access to the same ingredients; it's how we manipulate them throughout the brewing process that ultimately makes our beers stand out.

DV: How does a brewery decide to create new beers?

SV: We're constantly on the lookout for new hop varieties and unique ideas from the culinary world. We really don’t have too many restraints when deciding on new flavors or ideas.

We brewed close to 100 unique brews on our pilot system last year, most of which were served directly out of our tasting room. Those included everything from Imperial Stouts with chocolate and espresso to Berlinerweiss and Gose using sea salt and lactic acid, as well as a host of IPAs.

We try to do at least one new brew every week, so you need to stop in to see what's up next.

DV : Speaking of what's next, what's the update on RIver Outpost?

SV: River Outpost has begin brewing and will begin to serve beer brewer on premise by the end of January. River Outpost has (relative to Captain Lawrence) a small 7.5 barrel brewhouse (7.5 Barrels is approximaltey 210 gallons per batch = 15 kegs), capable of creating approximately 15 kegs per brew.

We plan on creating unique brews, to be served on-site only. We're going to run the gambit from light lagers to imperial stouts with a focus on seasonally appropriate beers and lager. But rest assured we will not be holding anything back and plan on brewing some exciting varieties.

DV: While some breweries don’t serve food, you do. Why is that important?

SV: Man cannot live on beer alone! Since moving to Elmsford in 2011and opening the beer garden in 2012 we've always offered food, but it was never our own. It was hard to control the consistency and quality when we did not control the production.

So, we decided to put in a kitchen and start our own food program. We are just over a year in and have had some bumps along the way, but are now poised to do some really exciting things. We just hired a seasoned chef with a ton of experience and we are looking forward to what he will be creating in the very near future.

The food in Peekskill will be its own monster. The facility is truly spectacular and I've partnered with two very able and knowledgeable restaurateurs from Peekskill – John Sharp and Louie Lanza. The beer will be available throughout the property, both at the brewery bar and Fin & Brew, the restaurant located upstairs.

DV: So, dare we ask? if you're not drinking Captain Lawrence, what are you drinking?

SV: I'm always drinking fresh IPAs from all the local brewers. Anything I can get my hands on that is fresh and pushing the limits of flavors…..but I will never turn down a well-made Pilsner and luckily there are a few well-made ones from neighboring brewers.

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