Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Notes From the Captain Lawrence Tasting Room: The Spice of Life

The Arctic Monkeys are cranking from the tasting room speakers, but everything else is hazy, hot, and very definitely summer: samples of Captain Lawrence’s crisp wheat ale Sun Block going down way too easily, the smell of meat on the barbecue, the thwack of cornhole bags slapping the boards.

Wait. That’s not true. There’s Pumpkin Ale on the menu!

While some say it’s way too early in the season for pumpkin anything, most at the brewery believe that a good pumpkin-flavored beer can be enjoyed just about any time. Christina Triarsi of Yonkers is on the patio with friends Julissa Eliza of the Bronx and Andrea Alesso of Burlington, New Jersey. Christina was at the brewery in October for the wedding of Caitlin Doody and Joe Mordus (“Awesome”, she says, as if a brewery wedding could be anything but) and had been itching to come back ever since.

Finding Pumpkin Ale, brewed with natural pumpkin puree and spices and weighing in at 5% alcohol by volume, was a “pleasant surprise,” says Christina. “The first thing I said was, is it too early for pumpkin?” she adds. “But it’s never too early for pumpkin.”

One downside of Pumpkin Ale: like those evil back-to-school ads from your childhood, they’re a reminder that summer is not, in fact, endless. Andrea’s summer highlight was a vacation in Arizona. Ever the optimist, Christina’s is “still yet to come.” “I may take my husband to Disney World,” she says.

Inside the brewery, Elizabeth Aloia of Pleasantville and J.R. Viglione of Watertown, Connecticut enjoy a few samples around a barrel. With Elizabeth’s P-ville roots, you might expect it was her idea to visit Captain Lawrence. Not true.

“He’s obsessed with going to breweries,” says Elizabeth as she nods toward J.R., who nods back happily. They’ve been to Brooklyn Brewery, to Thomas Hooker and Two Roads in Connecticut, and several others. J.R. says Captain Lawrence’s outdoor space stands out among the many he’s visited. “It’s the first time I’ve seen that kind of thing,” he says.

J.R. samples the Sun Block. Elizabeth has the Pumpkin. “If people want it, they shouldn’t have to wait until fall,” she says.

It’s a sentiment shared by Ismael Martin of Pittsburgh. He’s enjoying a few brews with his old Stanford University pal Jason Torres of Yonkers. “I like beer, but I’d never been to a brewery,” he says.

Ismael, a southern California native, is bonding fast with a glass of Pumpkin Ale. “I love pumpkin--anything pumpkin,” he says. “Jack in the Box pumpkin milkshakes…”

Jason, who represents Captain Lawrence as part of its Brew Crew beer-tastings team, is going for the funky wild rice beer known as Sake Bomb. Brewed with white wine yeast, it’s very much an experimental brew. “I have to give it a few more tries,” he says.

For Ismael, Pumpkin Ale—or pumpkin milkshakes, for that matter—are like stuffing: too good to limit to Thanksgiving season. “You rave about stuffing for one day, then you don’t eat it for the rest of the year,” he says.

Jason’s summer highlight was watching the World Cup—particularly those noon kickoffs that went so well with lunch in Manhattan pubs. Asked about his highlight, Ismael simply raises his glass and smiles. “I’m done with Jack in the Box milkshakes,” he adds. “I have pumpkin beer.”

Back outside, the sun is shining. Abigail and Paris Hall, and their adorable baby, are relaxing with friend Julia Moran; all live in Tarrytown. Julia was here once before, when she was pregnant. She’s in full-sample mode today: The trio is enjoying the summer lager Mellow Gold, the amber Ginger Man Ale, the Sake Bomb.

Like Ismael, Paris’s summer highlight is, well, taking place right now. “Days like these, where you don’t have responsibilities, you don’t have to be somewhere,” he says. “It’s nice to leave your apartment and be here in five minutes.”

Abigail nods. Baby Hall giggles. Julia smiles.

“I totally agree,” says Julia.

Me too.  

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. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Taste of the Hudson Valley: Cider, Wine & Beer

I was at an event last weekend pouring my wines, but that doesn't stop me from trying the other libations being poured.

There was a new cider producer at the event, Yankee Folly Cidery. Bottled in a wine bottle, they just released their first cider with an 8.5% alcohol content.  I think that is on the high side for cider, but I am not the alcohol police. Let's get down to the taste.

I am not a big cider fan, but when I taste a cider that is on the dry side, I am sold.  This cider isn't to sweet and isn't to dry. It has nice soft flavors of apple with a nice effervescence.  It wasn't overly carbonated and left a nice finish in your mouth.

You can find more information on the cidery at http://www.yankeefollycidery.com/ 

Glorie Farm Winery has one of the best growing sites in the Hudson Valley on Mountain Road in Marlboro.  I was excited to taste his 2012 Cab Franc. Nice black cherry flavors and a soft spice on the finish. This wine was aged for 14 months in American oak.  It retails for $19

After the event I went out to dinner with a friend at the Mountain Brauhaus. If you are ever in the Hudson Valley and have a craving for good German food, this is the place!  I was deciding on my beer selection when I spotted Yard Owl Grisette Ale made by Hudson Valley winemaker Kristop Brown.  Kristop is a great winemaker and lives up to the mark of a great brewmaster as well.

His Grisette Ale is light and refreshing.  Not hoppy. I got citrus aromas in the glass with a hint of apples and pears. It's not to heavy as some beers can be.  I tasted some soft orange flavors with a slight spice.  It didn't leave a strong aftertaste in your mouth.  I really enjoyed it! It paired very well with our Bavarian Pretzel and the cheese mustard dip that accompanied it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cairdean Estate - Your Friends In Wine Country

 Many times when I begin the podcasts there are some great conversations that don't make it to the final cut. One of these conversations was about Rhode Island and what Stacia really wanted to do when she graduated high school. Wine making wasn't even in her vocabulary. So I begin these show notes with a little background on Stacia Williams that we spoke in detail about after podcast.


Stacia grew up in Rhode Island and wanted to go to college at Johnson & Wales and major in Hotel & Restaurant Management. Her family talked her out of it, they said they are all engineers and scientist she should follow in those steps so she went into computer science. Once in the real world she entered into the software industry where she found herself drinking lots of wine, attending wine tastings, then she wanted to make wine. Stacia and Edwin met at a party where she took him down to taste her the wine that she was making in her basement and the rest is history! 
They moved to Fresno, CA so Stacia could study enology and viticulture at Fresno State and worked in the vineyard and winery on campus. After she was finished with her studies they looked all over the world for their place to settled and decided on Napa. Why? Because out of all the places they looked, they realized the wines that are made in Napa are the wines they like to drink the most. 

They found a 50 acre parcel in St. Helena. Their goal was to have a small winery with a small vineyard out front and make enough wine to support the vineyard and house. That would take a while since it takes 3 years after you plant vines to harvest your first crop to crush. They began to look at other vineyards and they purchased a vineyard in the Coombsville AVA, just east of Napa and began farming on it right away. This vineyard, Acquaintance is home to mostly Cabernet Sauvignon but all 5 Bordeaux reds are planted there.

The following year they looked at a vineyard in Sonoma County which was planted with Pinot Noir and Syrah. The cool weather Syrah is dark and rich, not jammy, very expressive of Syrah character and the Pinot Noir is very cherry and bright fruit. Sold. They purchased this vineyard and began farming it as well. This vineyard they named Confidant Vineyard. Confidant, because of the rolling hills in this vineyard and the size, let's just say what happens in the vineyard stays in the vineyard because nobody will ever know what happens in the vineyard except the vines. 

Their Atlas Peak Syrah was just rated 98 points, best in class and region and best in California at the California State Fair wine competition. This is mountain fruit from Atlas Peak aged in 70% new oak, half French half American for 3 years. Soon to be released and you will get a preview of the tasting notes in the podcast. 

Game Pie 
They also have an on premise restaurant that opened June 5, 2014 "The Farmer & The Fox" and it's been very well received. Executive Chef Joseph Humphrey has a wealth of knowledge and great creativity. It does have a Scotch flare with gastro pub menu featuring items such as burgers, smoked mussel chowder and popovers. Unique and special items such as Lamb Tartar, Rabbit Wellington and Game Pie (soft pastry dough, mustard cream pie, wild boar, duck and venison). A great feature is no corkage fee at the restaurant.

Cairdean Estates is located on Highway 29 in St Helena, drive through downtown St Helena and they are 1.5 miles outside of town on the left. Visit them on line at http://www.cairdeanestate.com/ and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The tasting room is open until 8pm.

It makes people happy. they come to you, they want to enjoy their experience, they want to drink the wine and enjoy the food and that makes me happy. ~ Stacia Williams

Tasting Notes  2012 Haley Margaret - This wine is named after Stacia's cousin who passed away from cystic fibrosis 2012 at the age of 25. This wine is a tribute to Haley Margaret to keep her memory alive and to raise awareness of the disease. They pledge $10 sold of this wine to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. This is a blend of Roussanne, Pinot Gris and Viogner. A wonderful wine and supports a great cause. Expressions of lemon curd, grapefruit and some stone fruit. Very light with balanced acidity is smooth and delicious. Great with food or a stand alone wine.

2011 Cairdead Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay Napa Valley - Aromas of green apple, ripe pear and hints of citus lead the way to a soft palate with nice acidity.


Monday, July 21, 2014

North River Sparkling by Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery

I’m a little behind in my blogging, but I had to tell you about this Sparkling Wine from Whitecliff Vineyards.  It’s called North River and during the colonial times that is what they called the southernmost portion of the Hudson River. The term was given to it by the Dutch in the early 17th century and fell out of use during the early 1900's.

The label on the wine is a reproduction of William Bartlett’s 19th century etching of the Hudson Highlands. There's lots of Hudson Valley history on this bottle.

Most importantly, what is in the bottle.  A beautiful Rose sparkling wine made in Methode Champenoise (which is the same way they make Champagne in France, the second fermentation happens in the bottle.)The color was intense reminded me of the color of Sockeye Salmon.  Aromas of strawberry jam with some slight bread and yeasty notes.  (would probably pair very will with it)   My mouth was filled with flavors of pomegranate, slight hint of yeast that led to a light citrus rind finish. The bubbles weren't very tight, but they were effective until they fell out on the finish. Overall it was nice bubbly

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Hudson Valley Winery Wedding

It's wedding time in the Hudson Valley.  Congratulations if you are one of the many who have recently got engaged!

I recently wrote an article for Hudson Valley Wine Magazine on planning your winery wedding.  There are some good tips and information on the various venues in the Hudson Valley.

Cheers and congratulations to all!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Notes From the Captain Lawrence Tasting Room The Captain’s Log: Sour Power!

Not yet three years since moving to a roomy new brewing facility in Elmsford, Captain Lawrence is
expanding further. The brewery will be taking over the adjacent 4,800 square feet currently occupied by an HVAC outfit, says owner Scott Vaccaro, on top of the 19,000 square feet Captain Lawrence currently operates in. The expansion should be completed early in ’15, and will enable the Captain to produce more beer—and its beloved sour beers in particular.

The space will allow for storage of as many as 500 oak barrels and a second bottling line. Captain Lawrence’s sour ales, such as the Cuvee and the Hops N’ Roses, are currently bottled and labeled by hand. “It takes an enormous amount of time and manpower to get through a decent amount of beer,” says Scott. “This will allow us to do a lot more beer—to really expand production.”

The brewery is also designing special packaging for the sours, which typically leave the tasting room in drab cardboard boxes. The new sour beer wing will also allow for corking and caging of bottles.

Scott is currently sourcing equipment for the extra space. “I wish we could’ve had it running in time for the sour festival,” he says, referring to Sour’d in September.

On September 13, Captain Lawrence hosts 20 breweries, including Peekskill Brewery, Newburgh Brewing Company, Bell’s Brewing and Great South Bay Brewery, bringing their best sour beers to Elmsford. (Brewed with wild yeasts, sours offer a funky and tart flavor that beer connoisseurs adore, while other palates may wonder what the fuss is about.) Only 400 tickets are available, and go on sale online July 15 at 9 a.m.

Here’s something that will be ready for the September 13 event—a Captain Lawrence sour ale fruited with Italian plums and aged for “many, many, many months,” says Scott, in oak. The plums come from the regional grocery chain/craft beer haven DeCicco’s that often partners with Captain Lawrence on unique specialty beers. “Whenever they have something interesting, they let us know about it,” says Scott.

Just 30-40 cases will be produced. Scott says the plum brew will be “tart, tangy, delicious.”

The DeCicco’s outlet in Brewster is hosting a Captain Lawrence event July 26, featuring an assortment of CL brews for the tasting.

The brewing quarters isn’t the only thing that’s expanding. Captain Lawrence got permission to significantly extend the outdoor patio, and will begin construction on it in the next few weeks. “We’re doubling the square footage of our outdoor enjoyment area,” he says. “It will definitely be a big plus.”

Even if you don’t go for the sours, there’s always a wide range of colorful beers coming out of the brewery’s experimental pilot system. In fact, 36 small-batch beers—IPAs, lagers, stouts, ales--have been produced so far this year, including the 100% Brettanomyces yeast concoction known as Red Herring. On its heels is another 100% Brettanomyces brew in the tank now that Scott calls a “funky golden ale.” (Brettanomyces, imparting a complex, Belgian-style flavor in the beer, is Greek for “British fungus.”)

“We’re shooting for 70 pilot-system beers this year and it looks like we’re gonna break it,” says Scott. “If you haven’t been to the tasting room lately, there’s a lot of stuff going on.”

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, July 8, 2014

Notes From the Captain Lawrence Tasting Room: And So Fourth and So On

The holiday weekend initially looked like a washout, but Mother Nature rallied and served up a couple picture-perfect days for deserving revelers. Many of them are squeezing in some recreational activity—cornhole, bocce, beer sampling—on the Captain Lawrence patio before the long weekend comes to an end.
Brad Orr of Brooklyn and Mike and Marissa Madonia of Ardsley are enjoying a spirited game of Hong Kong Poker. “It’s similar to A**hole,” says Brad of that card game centered around getting rid of your cards--and doing humiliating things to the player still stuck with theirs. “Only nobody makes anybody drink.”

Their pal Victoria Yang comes back with fresh samples of Sippa, a mellow summer IPA out of the pilot batch system, while it’s cranberry juice for the expecting Marissa. The Madonias spent the first part of the weekend in Mystic. Brad is pleased to get out of the city to enjoy craft beers, along with some tasty Vietnamese banh mi and good old American pulled pork from the Village Dog stand, out in the sun.

“Miserable,” he says with a smile. “Just miserable.”

A young couple with a baby throws a blanket down in the grass and picnics. A few more dogs show up, their owners in tow. A two-on-two game of cornhole heats up.

Elsewhere on the patio, Anthony Stoddard of Stony Point, girlfriend Gina Celenza, Gina’s sister Christina, also of Stony Point, and George “Buy a Vowel” Eoanou of Fairfield, Connecticut are relaxing over beers and quips. Anthony is a frequent visitor to Captain Lawrence, typically leaving with a growler of Imperial IPA.

“I don’t know why—my taste buds just love it,” he says, offering up one of the most honest beer descriptions you’ll ever hear.

“He refuses to drink anything else,” says Gina.

George quaffs the Freshchester Pale Ale, the sisters Celenza sip the India Pale Ale, and Anthony of course does them one better with the Imperial IPA--as if the table has hit for the hops cycle.

Anthony sports a Red Sox hat that is a bit incongruous with his New York accent. His grandfather played a few games for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he says, before wrecking his knee and joining the NYPD. Grandpa despised the Yankees and passed it down like a family heirloom. To Anthony, it means rooting for the Yankees’ biggest rival.

Another foursome has just completed the brewery tour and is relaxing over samples of the copper-colored, 100% Brettanomyces yeast brew known as Red Herring. “It’s not heavy, it’s not light, it’s refreshing,” says Michelle Schoonmaker of New Paltz.

She’s sharing a table with Greg Lesser of Dobbs Ferry (Greg 1) and Greg Hasapis (Greg 2) and Nick Palega of Beacon. Greg 1 is asked what he likes about the Red Herring. “I don’t remember,” he japes. “Guess I’ll have to get another.”  

They’re fans of brewery tours, and Greg 1 notes that Captain Lawrence is the first place he’s been to where the staff crank out their own small batch beers, such as the Sippa and the Sleepy Time Saison.

The approach to the brewery—call it industrial eyesore chic--was “weird”, says Greg 2, but everything that came after has been a hit. “This is a good tasting room environment,” he says. “We just enjoy it.”

Meanwhile, inside the tasting room, Charlie Menendez of White Plains is enjoying quality time with his family. If anyone deserves a relaxing Fourth of July weekend, it’s Charlie, back from a two year stint fighting in Afghanistan. He’s digging the Red Herring. “Usually I’m an IPA guy,” he says. “This is a sweet twist on an IPA.”

Charlie is with his mother, Luz Mary, his brother, Christian Lasso, and his stepfather, Peter Gonzalez. Luz Mary is from Colombia, and the family rabidly watched Colombia’s World Cup campaign, which ended a few days earlier in a bruising match with Brazil. “I barely cried in Afghanistan,” says Charlie. “But that was…emotional.”

Luz Mary is emotional too, tearing up when Charlie speaks of phone calls from Afghanistan with his mom that were cut short when the bombing started. But that is all behind him now.
“We haven’t had many Fourth of Julys together—it’s always nice,” the proud veteran says. “Beer, barbecue, relax with family…that’s it.”

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.