Photos by Andrew Dominick
Attention whiskey geeks! Captain Lawrence Brewing Company unveils its Perpetual Whiskey Project in Westchester.
For more than 17 years, Captain Lawrence Brewing Company and founder-owner-brewer Scott Vaccaro have continued to grow and evolve. And that doesn’t mean simply coming up with inventive beers on a regular basis.
In late 2019, Captain Lawrence Brewing Company (CLBC) launched its distilling operation, Current Spirits, and a small tasting room next door to its Elmsford brewery. Less than a year after that, Captain Lawrence Barrel House — where spirits, sours, and stouts are barrel aged, and where pints are poured to thirsty patrons — opened in Mount Kisco.
Vaccaro’s latest “project” is essentially born from CLBC’s sister brand, Current Spirits, and has to do with American single malt whiskey, a category of whiskey that’s on the verge of being recognized as a style by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
No, this isn’t the gin, vodka, bourbon, or whiskey you’ve likely seen from the Current Spirits brand if you’ve visited Elmsford or Mount Kisco. And it has nothing to do with the canned cocktails the brand produces either.
The Perpetual Whiskey Project is something that has been in the works for years. In fact, the spirit that’s just started to become available is aged for nearly three years.
What Vaccaro and McLain Cheney (Current Spirits’ head distiller and operations manager) have created is a barrel-aged whiskey blend, 60% of which comes from an ex-bourbon barrel (that means the barrel was once used to mature bourbon), 25% from ex-rye whiskey barrels, and the remaining 15% from ex-sherry wine barrels.
That marriage of the three barrel-aged whiskeys results in a complex pour that is described as having a fruity, toffee-like aroma mixed with peaty smokiness (similar to a single malt scotch, but not as prevalent), and a sweet, savory taste with a hint of smoke. The smells and flavors the whiskey takes on, though, aren’t only from the mash — which we’ll get to in a minute — but they’re also the flavors it takes on from each barrel, where another oak-aged spirit once rested.
“Much of the character comes from the aging process,” Vaccaro explains. “These barrels have a lineage that can be traced to different distilleries; the ex-bourbon, madeira, and the sherry barrels are from Oloroso.”
What’s more exciting for whiskey geeks is that the American single malt (ASM) is almost there in terms of getting approval by the TTB with the following guidelines for a distillery’s whiskey to be recognized as ASM:
- The whiskey must be distilled entirely at one United States distillery and must be mashed, distilled, and aged in the U.S.
- The product must be sourced from a fermented mash of 100% malted barley at a distillation proof of 160 or less and stored in oak barrels not over 700 liters.
- Coloring, flavoring, and blending materials are permitted.
Even though distilling this style isn’t exactly as old as scotch and bourbon, it has been around in the States since the 1990s. And that peaty smokiness — that is, drying that malted barley with a peat fire — isn’t always what ASM is all about. Other distilleries have used wood, like mesquite or otherwise, to instill a smoky smell and flavor.
Innovation is part of it all, too, like using different varieties of hops, yeast, or barley in the mash, just no corn, because ASM isn’t supposed to have bourbon’s sweet notes. Some have even been finished in stout barrels. Imported grains are also fine to use. There’s definitely room to operate here.
The approval and setting of ASM standards by the TTB, and having a product that’s ready to go, are both exhilarating for Vaccaro.
“The TTB is looking to approve and likely will approve American single malt as a style soon,” he says. “It’s gotta be made from 100% malted barley. A bag of malted barley is like $40 to $80 a bag, whereas a bag of corn is like five bucks. That’s one of the reasons why American single malt costs more to make and costs more to sell. Bourbon is not that expensive to make, but it can sell for a lot of money if it’s aged long enough. [He goes over the ASM guidelines listed above.] There’s a minimum two- to three-year aging process. The rules are in place and these things have been debated in a public forum already. We’re at the goal line, and we’ll be at the goal line with something that’s aged about three years. We’re excited to have something to share.”
The sharing has already begun. You can grab a bottle of the Perpetual Whiskey Project’s flagship 91 proof blend in the shops at the main brewery or at the Mount Kisco Barrel House for $75.
Coming soon under the Perpetual Whiskey Project’s umbrella is a Madeira Bourbon made from 100% New York State grain and wheat, aged four years in #4 American oak barrel (a level of charred oak that adds a deep color and spicy taste), then rested another two years in Madeira wine barrels.
Captain Lawrence Brewing Company
444 Saw Mill River Rd, Elmsford
Captain Lawrence Barrel House
369 Lexington Ave, Mt. Kisco
375 Clearbrook Rd, Elmsford