Notes From the Captain Lawrence Tasting Room: The Craft Behind Brewing, and Filmmaking
The usual buzz of beery conversation out on the Captain Lawrence patio is hushed for a night, all eyes and ears focused on a movie screen as filmmaker/beermaker Craig Noble’s craft brewing documentary Craft (CraftBeerMovie.com) prepares to air. While most documentarians are merely observers, the Canadian movie man fully jumped into the microbrew craze, and became an avid brewer and cicerone (essentially a sommelier of beer) in the process.
It is a muggy night with a threat of rain. The dull glow of the Snapple trucks across Clearbrook Road cuts through the haze. The Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers isn’t the only place to enjoy a fine brew with your movie, at least for tonight; the screening attendees grab a beer in the tasting room and find a seat outside.
While Captain Lawrence’s India Pale Ale, Kolsch and Sun Block are always grand selections, the Scripted Saison is the choice for tonight. Matt Levy brewed a small batch from Craig Noble’s recipe; Noble sends the recipe to the various breweries where his film tour stops, and each puts his own spin, and regional ingredients, into the beer. Matt has produced a citrus saison whose fruity notes come, in large part, from six pounds of orange peel in the batch.
Dan Fisher, a multimedia journalist who documents his craft beer endeavors at LifeOnTap.com, has ventured up from Manhattan via the rails and a pricey taxi. It’s important to support those doing bold new things in the craft beer community, he says. And he’s psyched for a peek at the various American breweries depicted in the film. “I haven’t had a chance to go to all the places,” he says. “So it’s good to get the bird’s eye view; every brewery has its own personality.”
Dan’s connection to Captain Lawrence began years ago when he tried Ginger Man Ale at the eponymous bar and restaurant in Manhattan. As coincidence would have it, the Belgian-style amber ale is on tap at the brewery tonight. Dan likens Captain Lawrence to a favorite sweatshirt: you feel more comfortable soon as you bust it out.
Craig starts things off with a pair of two-minute shorts, the first about wine making, the second about oyster harvesting—and a lot more sexual than one might reasonably expect–before Craft rolls. The film documents beer’s booming days pre-Prohibition, when more than 4,000 breweries dotted the U.S. landscape, before slipping to all of 40 in the late 1970s, and of course exploding once again to usher in what the film calls the “golden age” of locally brewed beer.
The affable director visits over a dozen regional breweries, including Lagunitas in the Bay Area, Allagash in Portland (ME), Enlightenment Ales in Massachusetts, the Evil Twin guys in Brooklyn, Hops and Grains in Austin, Funkwerks in Fort Collins and, yes, Captain Lawrence in our own Elmsford, New York. Owner Scott Vaccaro speaks about the importance of starting at the grass roots, of culinary-savvy Westchester’s key role in accepting a locally brewed beer, and the extraordinary camaraderie in the tasting room—both in Pleasantville in Captain Lawrence’s early years, and these days in Elmsford.
Amidst a punky backdrop of horn music from Slavic Soul Party, Noble examines craft beer’s role in modern culture and its place in the fine dining world. Craft is eminently enjoyable, even if it treats Big Beer a bit dismissively, and does not reflect the many females who love craft beer too.
But there’s enough tasty B-roll—grains poured, hops tossed, bearded brewers stirring up the heady concoction, pints poured to perfection—to keep you salivating until your next beer.
Equally entertaining is Noble’s own adventures in brewing—apprenticing at a farm brewery as, in his words, a lowly “spent-grain bitch,” and making some inauspicious beers before finally nailing his Farmhouse Ale.
“That was inspiring,” one viewer says as the credits roll. “Now I want to go home and brew beer.”
“Scott is doing something really, really crafty, that’s specifically local to here,” says the crafty director. “That’s what the film tries to convey.”Noble, whose film tour moves onto Portland, Maine; Chicago; Montreal and Toronto before he heads home to his restaurant and brewing operation in Vancouver, takes questions from the crowd, such as how he ended up including Captain Lawrence in his film.