Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Notes From the Captain Lawrence Tasting Room: The Bewitching Power of Sour

They came from near and far—some venturing across many states to taste something sour, something tart, something they relish more than just about anything in the craft beer universe. Sour’d in September brought 20 breweries—Nantucket’s Cisco, San Diego’s Ballast Point, Pennsylvania’s Weyerbacher--to Captain Lawrence to showcase the best of their sour ales; all everyone needed was some decent weather, and the day would be a dandy.

And then the rain came.

“We paid for good weather,” quipped Captain Lawrence founder Scott Vaccaro, “and this is what we got.”

In fact, the rain could not damper the good mood. There was a giant tent for everyone to huddle under; the mood underneath was festive, and the precip meant there was zero line, at least for a spell, for special Captain Lawrence sours such as the peachy Flaming Fury, the plummy Viola, sour standards like Rosso e Marrone and Hops N’ Roses, and the first ever release of Barrel Select Pomegranate.

“Snow would not have kept us away,” says Paul Ascher of Mount Kisco.

Sour beers, rendered funky by wild yeast strains or bacteria in the brew, are not for everyone. But that distinctive taste—tart, fruity, acidic—is what hardcore connoisseurs will travel many miles for. 
Megan Couillard (“It’s French for testicles,” she says of her surname) and Holly Gore schlepped from central New Jersey. “I thought it was a great chance to learn about sour beer,” says Holly, who prides herself on her taste for offbeat brews.

Both are raving about the American Sour with Cherries from Sloop Brewing up in Poughkeepsie; sampling involves sipping, biting the cherry, and sipping again. “It’s interactive!” says Holly. “It’s bananas!” says Megan.

The sour beer lot is perhaps more like a wine crowd than a typical beer crowd; Jared Garcin, pouring Sour Wench on behalf of Ballast Point, calls them “seasoned vets.”

“Their palates are nuanced and they can pinpoint distinctive flavors a lot more than beerheads,” says Jared. “Seeing this community build and grow is awesome. “

Speaking of funky, Sam Magdovitz of Philadelphia’s only regret on the day is that the rain jacket weather means he can’t sport his Funky Buddha Brewery bowling shirt. He and Paul Ascher have sampled beer all over the world—Belgium, Alaska--and made a point to trek to Elmsford for the day. Captain Lawrence’s Flaming Fury, he says, “is as good as any sour I’ve ever had.”

Sam offers a detailed description of sours’ allure, noting the veritable bouquet of distinct flavors. Paul takes it down a notch or two. “I don’t have too much to say,” he says. “I just like them.”

You hear the word “complex” an awful lot when people describe the beers. Mike Rinaldi of Kew Gardens calls Captain Lawrence’s Rosso e Marrone his favorite U.S. sour ale for range of flavors. “A lot of people are doing sours now, but Captain Lawrence is still above the rest,” he says.

Rinaldi says he’s always been drawn to the sour end of the taste spectrum. “You should meet his wife,” quips pal Tom Schmid, also of Philly.

People sample brews from Single Cut and Finback out in Queens and Great South Bay Brewing from a little further out on the Island; Smuttynose from New Hampshire, and Peekskill Brewery and Evan Watson’s Plan Bee just up the road a bit. Andrew Said Thomas of Brooklyn is a “huge fan” of sours, and has fallen in love with the Lady of the Woods sour from Cisco. So has his pal Bridget Brown, who mentions the “more artisanal” charm of the sour crowd.

The rain lightens up; Andrew and Bridget venture out of the tent. “Sour people want to drink and taste and enjoy,” he says. “It’s not, drink as many beers as possible.”

Allagash of Maine. The Bruery of Orange County, California. Carton Brewing from the Jersey Shore. Grub from a wide range of vendors, including Walter’s of Mamaroneck and regional grocery chain DeCicco’s. Cigars.

The rain stops. The band plays on. People step out of the tent and catch up with old friends from past Captain Lawrence special releases, or other beer festivals.

“Good breweries, good beer, good people,” says Scott Vaccaro. “Sour never tasted so sweet.” 

Captain Lawrence Brewing, at 444 Saw Mill River Road in Elmsford, is open Wednesday through Friday (4-8 p.m.), Saturday (12-6 p.m.) and Sunday (12-5). The author is paid by Captain Lawrence, partially in India Pale Ale.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Running the Hudson Valley Wine Competition and the Results

For the past 6 or so years I've been behind the Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition.  When I took the realm of this competition it was just wine.  The past two years with the explosion of distilleries in the Hudson Valley we opened up to spirits. This year we had 91 wine entries, 4 cider entries and 10 spirit entries.  I hope in the future to expand on the cider and spirits categories.

I am the chief cook and bottle uncorker for this competition.  I have to rally the troups to enter. I catalog everything in a spreadsheet.  My son has taught me Excel so the results and score keep have gotten much easier.

Once everything is cataloged labels for the bottles and tuits are printed and labeled.

Usually a few days before the competition I sort through all the wine, label them and put them in boxes by flights and panels

Then the day before the competition I head up to the Hudson Valley Wine Festival and set up.  It is usually a one truck load trip.  This year it was a truck and car load.  Good thing my son Michael was around to help me.

Once at the fairground we set up for the first few flights. I want to make it easy on my back room staff, as 8:30am arrival on a Saturday can be difficult.

And then it's competition day.  I do want to thank all the judges and back room staff who volunteer their Saturday to learn about Hudson Valley wine, cider and distilled spirits!  I couldn't do it without the support of my husband Paul and son Michael. Thank you!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Notes From the Captain Lawrence Tasting Room Blood, Sweat and Beers

When we think of football, we think of frozen tundras and puffy, frigid vapors spilling from the quarterback’s mouth. If not that, at least some nippy autumnal temps to go with our pigskin, wings and, of course, beer.

So it’s a little tough to get into the spirit when it’s 90 degrees out, the humidity around 110% and climbing fast.

Kevin Duignan of Bronxville and Jim Lillis of Mount Vernon caught their sons’ high school games—Xavier and Fordham Prep—earlier on this impossibly steamy Saturday, and are stocking up on Captain Lawrence for the NFL Sunday opener.

But first, an impassioned game of bocce on the brewery’s expanded patio.

“We like beer and we like bocce, and we talked about coming for a long time,” says Jim. “I said, where are we going today? When he said, Captain Lawrence, I was like, can you pick me up in five minutes?”

The skies threaten heavy rain and worse. The air is so thick it feels like it could stop a bocce ball in mid flight. But the men soldier on. “We are a tough bunch of players,” quips Kevin. “Even the threat of rain does not keep us down.”

They are leaning towards the India Pale Ale for the Jet game on Sunday. Asked how the Jets look this season, Jim laughs the sarcastic laugh of a seasoned Gang Green fan.

“I’m cautiously pessimistic,” he says.

The only place hotter than the patio, other than Satan’s sauna, is anywhere near the Gleason’s pizza oven. “We’re drinking a lot of Kolsch,” pizza man Andrew explains to a customer of his preferred coping mechanism.

The AC is whirring away inside. John Lul of Riverhead and Danielle Dunne of Babylon are enjoying a few Liquid Golds over a barrel. John is the assistant baseball coach at SUNY Purchase, where Danielle is a student. John helped put the players through their paces earlier in the day. “It was pretty hot,” he says. “A few kids dropped.”

He too is a Jets fan. “We’ll see,” John says, showing a similar cautious pessimism as Jim Lillis. “Hopefully we’ll be a little better than last year.”

Danielle is having none of it. “Don’t count on it,” she says.

Back out on the patio, the clouds continue to thicken, and the humidity approaches 120%. Kevin and Jim’s epic game plods along. Mark Batchie of Mahopac, his fiancĂ©e Jackie, and their pal Brian Bellantoni of White Plains are combating the heat with cold beer samples. Mark is a good guy to know around these parts—he did the plumbing at Captain Lawrence. He and Jackie will, in fact, marry at the brewery later this month.

“Why not?” says Jackie.

They’ll serve their Batch of Love red IPA at the wedding—brewed with extra love from Justin Sturges and Justin Perrone.

Mark roots for the Dolphins, which dates back to Dan Marino’s playing days. Jackie likes the Giants—at least most of them. “Get rid of Eli!” she says.

One can only take the outdoor temps in small doses. Back inside, beertender Jack Reilly gets on the mic and announces an illegally parked Prius and the 4 p.m. tour. A woman yells for him to put on some dance music. “No dance music!” Jack shoots back.

But it’s Stevie Wonder coming out of the speakers, and it sounds great. “Sir Duke” cranks; Mike Horton’s right leg bops in time. He can, indeed, feel it all over. “Good vibe music,” the Bronx resident explains.

Mike and Bryant Srour of Goldens Bridge (“My family can’t even say it,” Bryant says of his tricky last name) are old pals from Mount Kisco, reconnecting over locally brewed ales. It was Mike’s idea; he buys the Liquid Gold in the grocery store, and wanted to try it at the source. “I’d heard a lot about the brewery,” he says. “It’s lived up to the standard.”

Bryant sounds the virtues of “home beer”—not home brew, but beer brewed close to home. “There’s just something about it,” he says.

The guys are pondering which beers to bring home for Sunday’s action. “Football, beer and wings,” Mike says. “Just lazy Sunday stuff.”

Bryant calls this beloved custom “an innate guy thing.” “I think it’s something you’re just born with,” he adds.
But across the room, Danielle Dunne suggests football-and-beer transcends gender.
“It’s just so…American,” she says.

Red, white and brews. We’ll drink to that!

Captain Lawrence Brewing, at 444 Saw Mill River Road in Elmsford, is open Wednesday through Friday (4-8 p.m.), Saturday (12-6 p.m.) and Sunday (12-5). The author is paid by Captain Lawrence, partially in India Pale Ale. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Enjoying the Hudson Valley Wine Festival

This weekend is the annual Hudson Valley Wine Festival.  Many will be tasting the various wines, spirits and beer of the Hudson Valley and New York State.

I will be at the festival early Saturday for the Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition.  Saturday afternoon I will be hosting a seminar with the winning wines from the competition.  Then Sunday you'll find me right back there with Debbie the Cheese Lady from Adams as  for a Hudson Valley wine and cheese tasting.

To help you enjoy your time at the wine festival or any wine festival here is a brief article on how to survive your day.  Remember, bring water and an umbrella.  You need to keep hydrated and it never fails to rain on Saturday at 3pm.   Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Notes From the Captain Lawrence Tasting Room: The Dog Days of Summer

Seemingly half the universe was busting out of town for the long weekend, but everyone’s got a different take on just what busting out of town is. For numerous city residents, a day at Captain Lawrence was as good as any day at the beach or in the country—especially with some brutally muggy weather afoot. It was a chance to change the scenery, sample some craft beers, and in many cases give the dog some room to roam.

Ralph and Karla Crespo schlepped from the Upper East Side with their painfully cute terrier/Chihuahua (terrihuahua?) Ginger on tow. “I was thirsty,” explains Ralph, a growing smile above his shrinking cup of India Pale Ale.

Karla has the IPA too. “We like hops,” she explains.

Captain Lawrence is an easy hop from upper Manhattan, they say. “It’s a short drive from the city, but at the same time, it’s away from the city,” Karla says.

The Crespos have no problem with the stifling heat. Karla, for one, is happy to squeeze one more scorcher out of the fading summer. “I wish there’d been more hot days,” she says. “We got out of church today and were wondering what to do. I said, I just want to be outdoors…let’s go to Captain Lawrence.”

Ginger too likes the fresh air, they say. Not making the trip is the Crespos’ other dog, a 14-year-old golden retriever named Lucky, but Ginger has a few rambunctious playmates in a teeny-tiny Australian shepherd named Penguin and a French Brittany named Huck. As his Manhattan mates toss cornhole bags and fetch fresh beers, Sean Smith chases the two-month-old pups around the yard. “They’re a handful right now,” he says. “But they’re fun.”

Elsewhere on the patio, another crew of city folk has had their exercise for the day. Duni Fernandez, Kristen Baek and Ray Fung rode their bikes from Queens, across the Queensboro Bridge, and north until they hit Captain Lawrence. “Too long,” Duni says of the three hour, 31-mile trip.

Motivating Duni throughout the trip was the Pumpkin Ale, he says.

Same goes for Ray, who describes the voyage as “brutal”, “miserable” and “overwhelming”—particularly with the weather being “soupy”, he says. Fortunately, they’re putting their bikes on Metro-North for the return trip. Ray is enjoying his Pumpkin Ale, brewed with natural pumpkin puree and spices, in that way one does after a beer is really and truly earned. “It might be the best beer I’ve ever had—right now,” he says.

Dark clouds roll in and a few raindrops fall. Most everyone heads inside, while Sean Smith’s foursome, and their puppies, wait it out and continue with a pitched cornhole game.

Inside, Sean Sullivan of aptly named Stormville, New York and pal Lea Deluca of Yonkers are enjoying their first time at Captain Lawrence. He’s got the India Pale Ale and she’s got the Pumpkin.

It wasn’t the heat or the rain that drove them inside—they were simply seeking the full brewery experience. “I wanted the ambience,” says Lea. “This is what a brewery is—it’s why we came here. Plus, you can sit outside anywhere.”

Sean nods. “We’ve got barrels, we’ve got food, we’ve got beer,” he adds.

The storm clouds pass before you could drain a sample of Freshchester Pale Ale, and the patio fills again. Huck and Penguin have found their perfect playpen—an unused bocce court. Watching them frolic is like watching one of those cuter-than-cute puppy videos on YouTube, only live.

Sean says he and his city friends love checking out breweries. “We knew Captain Lawrence was here and we just wanted to get out, relax, let the dogs run around,” he says, gesturing around the expanse of patio and smiling. “We just wanted to do this.”  

Captain Lawrence Brewing, at 444 Saw Mill River Road in Elmsford, is open Wednesday through Friday (4-8 p.m.), Saturday (12-6 p.m.) and Sunday (12-5). The author is paid by Captain Lawrence, partially in India Pale Ale. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Notes From the Captain Lawrence Tasting Room: May Prohibition Be Perpetually Prohibited

“This next song is appropriate for a brewery,” says the bow-tied singer. “It’s about Prohibition.”

The Dixieland band—upright bass, banjo, clarinet, trumpet, drums, lots of bow ties—kicks into a ragtime number on the Captain Lawrence patio that features the frightful phrase “No more beer.”

In fact, there’s plenty of beer in the garden—summer favorites like the Kolsch and the Liquid Gold, good-any-timers like the India Pale Ale, special small batches like Scott Tobin’s Whole Hop imperial IPA, brewed with whole warrior hops.

Curt and Sally Schade of Irvington popped in after a stop at ANS Seafood in Elmsford. Curt is from Dusseldorf, Germany—“where dark beer comes from,” he says proudly, and Sally is from England. She’s not a big beer drinker, but finds the India Pale Ale “quite tasty.”

Curt, on the other hand, is all in. He flashes a stash of chips that a Vegas gambler would envy. “There’s more in the car,” he says. “I could have a party.”

They’re enjoying a few beers, and the timeless tones of the aptly named band, Bottoms Up. “It’s nice to see so many families here,” says Sally.

Singer Buddy Griffith, of Carmel, introduces a new tune while leaning on his upright bass. “That’s a huge guitar!” comments a young girl.

“Here’s another beer song,” says Buddy. “We like the beer songs.”

The band kicks in. It’s Mumford meets O Brother Where Art Thou? It’s the perfect accompaniment to an otherwise gray Saturday.

Jamie Scheurich and Sean McDermott of Tarrytown have their hound Pip in tow. Elmsford will always hold a special place in their hearts; they adopted Pip, and all the great expectations that come from rescue dogs, from Pets Alive down the road on Rte 9A. They already had a rescue cat named Oliver, and stuck with the Dickensian theme for the name.

“We come here pretty frequently,” says Sean. “First off, it’s the quality of the beer.”

“And it’s dog-friendly,” adds Jamie as Pip nods.

They also came for the music. Turns out Sean’s sister is married to Buddy Griffith, who’s a fan of local Westchester beer. “All of his Christmas gifts are Captain Lawrence-related,” says Sean.

The expanded patio fills up as the sun tries to break through the clouds. The 2 p.m. tour starts. Pizzas fly out of the oven. Bocce balls buzz by. The band plays on.

Curt Schade goes inside to fill up his growler; the choice is the Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA, weighing in at a big and bold 9% ABV. “The one with the good stuff in it,” he says happily.

For Kate and Allen Beers of Rye, the good stuff is pumpkin. “I’m absolutely happy about it being available,” says Kate of the Pumpkin Ale.

Some bemoan the presence of Pumpkin Ale, brewed with natural pumpkin puree and spices, with a chunk of summer still remaining. But Kate notes that the fickle east coast weather—there’s a peculiarly autumnal bite to the air today—makes the Pumpkin right for most any season.

Plus, Allen notes, the Captain Lawrence Pumpkin isn’t quite as pumpkin-y as other pumpkin brews.
The Beers’s dig their beers’s—and the offbeat music. “It’s a lot better than a singer-songwriter playing the same old covers,” says Allen.

As the song chugs to a close, it’s time for Bottoms Up to take a break; all these songs about beer presumably have made the musicians thirsty for one. Buddy says much of the band met at SUNY Fredonia, where he studied classical bass. “I was introduced to people playing this style of music,” he says. “I got into it, and just love playing it.”

His Captain Lawrence brew of choice is the crisp, German-style Kolsch, which he describes as “nice, easy, can’t go wrong.”

Sort of sums up a lazy Saturday at the brewery.

Captain Lawrence Brewing, at 444 Saw Mill River Road in Elmsford, is open Wednesday through Friday (4-8 p.m.), Saturday (12-6 p.m.) and Sunday (12-5). The author is paid by Captain Lawrence, partially in India Pale Ale.

The “Notes From the Tasting Room” book is available at the brewery and on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Notes-Captain-Lawrence-Tasting-Room/dp/0985632844/

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Farm-To-Table Dinner on Bannerman's Island with Chefs' Consortium

Bannerman's Island (as I know it) is a tiny island in the Hudson River just off  Route 9D outside Cold Spring, NY.  Driving by the island as a child it looked scary but I always wanted to know what the history of it was and why it was vacant and falling apart.

The island's actual name is Pollepel Island.  Legend has it that young girl named Polly Pell was rescued from the river landed on the shores of the island and the island was named after her.

There have been 5 owners of the island before it was donated to the people of the State of New York.  The third owner Francis Bannerman is where the real story begins of the castle and what the island was used for.

The Bannerman's purchased the island from the Taft family in 1900 as a storage facility for their weapon supply business. They were a munitions dealer and the weapons were brought to the island until sold.
Being Scottish they built the Scottish castle in 1901 as their residence.

In 1969 there was a huge fire on the island which left it in ruins. Today they are trying to restore the island and offer tours on selected dates via boat or kayak.  You can check the website for specific tour information

The Chefs' Consortium is hosting a fundraising Farm-To-Table dinner for Bannerman's Island on the island Saturday, September 13, 2014.  Consortium chefs will be preparing you a five course farm to table dinner with locally and regionally sourced ingredients in the Helen Bannerman's garden.

Since the chefs don't like to commit to a dish when dealing with locally sourced ingredients as they want to wait to see what is in the height of the season, I can tell you the following chefs will be responsible for creating these wonderful courses.

Chilled summer soup course - Robert Turner – Omega Institute for Holistic Studies
Brazilian inspired salad course - Ellie Markovitch – Story Cooking
Main course - Michael Lapi – SUNY Cobleskill
Local cheese course - Josh Coletto – Local 111
Historic artisanal molasses beer tasting and dessert pairing - Tyler LaCorata and Justin Markham – Devil’s Run Brewing Company 
Locally inspired beverages - Jillian Naveh – 9 Miles East Farm

In it's 5th year, the dinner will have two seatings and cost is $125.  To purchase tickets and more info on the dinner visit http://www.chefsconsortium.com/event/dinner-bannermans-island

The Chefs' Consortium is comprised of New York chefs who are committed to promoting locally grown farm fresh food. They bring farm products to audiences through out the Hudson Valley and Capital Region of Albany.  As Consortium chefs, they travel around New York State and share their love of local food and farm fresh cooking.

Here's a video of previous Chefs' Consortium dinner in Bannerman's Castle.  Looks like a amazing experience.