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.


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