Featured by Andrew Dominick
Five brewers and their respective breweries that are constantly innovating, evolving, and making great beer.
Captain Lawrence Brewing Co.
Elmsford/Mount Kisco; captainlawrencebrewing.com
It’s only appropriate that this list begins with Westchester’s O.G. craft brewery. One could make the argument that had Captain Lawrence and founder Scott Vaccaro not experienced success, the county’s beer boom may not be what it is today. The brewery — named after the street Vaccaro grew up on in South Salem — has seen significant growth since it opened in Pleasantville in 2006. In 2011, they moved to a larger brewery (one of the largest in the Hudson Valley) in Elmsford, and almost a decade later, they’ve opened up Captain Lawrence Barrel House, a satellite location in Mount Kisco where they barrel age stouts and sours, and they’ve gotten into distillation and canned cocktails under their sister brand, Current Spirits.
And while there’s no denying Vaccaro and crew love to have fun brewing — who can forget their Carvel Fudgie the Beer stout and Cookie Puss milkshake IPA — you’ll still see plenty of beer enthusiasts either at the brewery or at local craft beer bars sipping on a pint of CL’s flagship, hoppy, but easy drinking Freshchester Pale Ale. Those looking for a more fruity, puckering experience should never pass up their stellar sours, and Double Pull appeals to coffee stout fans, as this imperial uses espresso from the locally-based Black Cow Coffee Co. The rest of Captain’s creations are Belgian inspired (sometimes with a twist), unfiltered, juicy IPAs, and chuggable lagers, Kölschs, and session IPAs.
Captain Lawrence is tinkering with new ideas and they’re constantly thinking up ways to grow: case in point their new beer garden adjacent to seafooder Tiki Beach at Rye Playland.
Brewery Pizza that Isn’t Lame
In Elmsford, artisan pizza baked in a Forza Forni oven is the focal point of the menu and you might just devour a whole pie. Sandwiches (burgers, fried chicken, Cubano, etc.), wings, fries, pretzels, and all that beer-friendly fare round it out. In Kisco, you’ll find a similar menu, minus the pizza.
Oh, You Fancy
Look out for multi-course booze-pairing dinners where the kitchen crew gets to flex their fine-dining muscles.
Lemon meringue pie. S’mores. Cotton candy. Tiramisu. Black and white cookie.
Desserts or beers?
The answer is both. But when it comes to Decadent Ales, all of these nostalgic treats are beers. Some are creamy, milkshake IPAs, others are sweet, boozy, barrel-aged stouts.
How Decadent Ales started crafting these — decadent ales — is simple. Former investment banker-turned-brewer Paul Pignataro got hooked on home brewing when he bought one of those craft beer kits that at one point you could find just about anywhere.
He later obtained a farm brewery license and started using Chocolations (owned by his aunt, Maria Valente) to “home brew” dessert-like beers, an idea that stemmed from reading beer labels that said, “it tastes like this or that.” To Pignataro, some didn’t taste like what it should. “I became obsessed with that,” he says. He began canning and dropped off his products at local bars, and then to the Greenpoint beer haven, Tørst, that hooked him up with Twelve Percent Beer Project who enjoyed his creations and wanted to distribute them. That led to Pignataro connecting with the owners of Half Time who wanted a bar or brewery concept on the premises.
Now over five years in, Pignataro and Decadent are still churning out wildly creative drinkable desserts (some are crafted after Dole Whip flavors, tropical punches, and coffee drinks), but he’s found that balance of having “regular beer” (their pilsner is called Regular Beer). “We’ve realized there’s been a shift towards those types of beers, so we make a premium pilsner using the actual German brew process,” he says. “We’re also barrel aging more beers for more refined palates using rare whiskey and bourbon barrels from Buffalo Trace (mash #1), Old Elk, and others. And we’re making more sours.”
Decadent also plays nicely by allowing other brewers to use their space.
“Most of them before the pandemic were on track to open small, one barrel spaces of their own, but something happened, whether that’s funding falling through or whatever, so we invite them in,” Pignataro says. “Neverdead, Barclay, Run & Hide, and Wolf & Warrior have all brewed here. And it opens us all up to collaborations.”
*As of Press Time: They announced renovation plans that promise a different look and experience.
Use Your Hands, Please
Just to the left of the bar at Decadent Ales, serves up burgers, fat sandwiches, wraps, flatbreads, pub-style apps, and a top-shelf raw bar.
Run & Hide Brewing Co.
Port Chester; randhbc.com
Tim Shanley has long been a beer nerd, and he’ll tell you flat out that it’s in his blood. “I’m Irish!” he says. But the beer that got him into brewing after one taste was a popular Belgian farmhouse ale. “A buddy of mine came back from Belgium, and that’s when I first had Saison Dupont,” he says. “I was 18 then, and oh my god! I couldn’t buy it, so I started brewing Belgian style beers. I was always into fermentation and preservation, whether that’s fermenting pickles or curing meats. I was fascinated by old world methods that Italians, Germans, and Europeans as a whole did stuff like that because they didn’t have refrigeration.”
Shanley — a certified Advanced Cicerone — kept brewing as a hobby and he carried over his love of craft beer as co-owner of Coals Pizza where he prided himself in curating a stellar beer list.
Now on his own, Shanley started gypsy brewing (meaning he brews at other breweries) at Crossroads Brewing, Decadent Ales, and the now defunct Lock City and released cans for local distribution under the name Run & Hide Brewing Co. — an old Prohibition term. In 2022, he opened a small taproom in Port Chester where he serves flagship beers Fuque de French, a floral, spicy saison with strawberries; Stick with Grandma, a light, unfiltered Italian pilsner; and Larry’s Liquid Love, a juicy double IPA with oats and wheat, double dry hopped with Citra, Columbus, Motueka, and Centennial hops.
By Fall 2024, R&H will move to 30 Broad Street to a 15-barrel brewhouse. “I was able to convince developers to put in a boutique hotel upstairs with 38 rooms,” he says. “The second floor will be a lounge for the hotel that’ll be a coffee shop during the day, a bar at night. It’ll be 25 and older upstairs and it’ll be a little more boujee. Downstairs will be beer, beards, strollers, and tattoos.”
R&H is all about carefully cured charcuterie, cheeses, toasts, olives, and sandwiches on The Kneaded Bread’s rolls, some with house-made mozzarella, that blows away most area delis. When the new spot opens, Shanley will continue serving sammies, but vows to bring grilled pizza back to Port Chester, plus cheesesteaks and fresh sausages.
Soul Brewing Company
It’s safe to say that if Allen Wallace didn’t meet his wife, Freya Martens, Soul Brewing may never have been born.
“I was an advertising photographer, and I met her around 1997,” Wallace says. “Her parents lived in Brussels, so we did a lot of traveling back and forth. I wasn’t interested in beer that much back then. I was a Rolling Rock kinda guy. I was burning out on my photography career, and I discovered things out there and had an epiphany. It’s where my interest in brewing came from.”
Part of their trips to the Belgian countryside resulted in many brewery visits. Wallace stated that lauded breweries like Cantillon and Fantôme are a few of his favorites out there, and they’d frequently bring back bottles because it’s never in good condition if you see it in the states. “I always fantasized about opening a small brewery like the ones we visited over there, so I threw caution into the wind and here we are,” he says.
The “here” was obvious if you got remotely close to Wheeler Avenue, as you could smell Wallace’s batches for blocks, but it was the “when” that wasn’t ideal. Soul opened two days before pandemic shutdowns. It wasn’t a winning hand to be dealt, but Wallace made the most of it.
“In some ways it was great because I had this quiet time to keep brewing,” he says. “I thought we were doomed. But I was able to sell beer to-go. We introduced ourselves by selling growlers at the door. Thankfully the community supported us.”
And what they were buying then, and now, is mostly brewed in the spirit of Belgian and German beers. Think pilsners, lagers, saisons, dubbels, and so on. But that doesn’t mean you won’t see, and chug, juicy New England IPAs and thirst-quenching fruited kettle sours in Soul’s cozy taproom or outside where there’s a mini biergarten.
Coming down the pipeline for Soul, or so Wallace hopes, are sours using wild fermentation, and a possible expansion. “I want to make real sours that take like a year to settle into a groove,” he says. “I have fantasies about a barrel room, but one step at a time. Kettle sours for now and I’ll keep varying up the fruits to experiment. There are some beers we can’t make enough of, so I have to go elsewhere (Twelve Percent Beer Project in North Haven, CT) to brew it. The baseline of German – Belgian is where my love of beer came from, but I want to keep experimenting with variations and fermentation methods. I started this place as a proof of concept and eventual ‘lab’ that if all goes well, we would someday grow out to a larger facility, not huge, but with more capacity and have this continue as ‘the lab.’”
Throw back handfuls of Bjorn Qorn, crush a few empanadas made by Sundance Deli, or tear into a caramelized onion and goat cheese pretzel bun from First Village Coffee. Look out for pop-ups by local restaurants, too.
Wolf & Warrior Brewing Co.
If you win or place in every homebrewing competition you’ve ever entered, including medaling in the National Homebrewing Competition, the next logical step is to quit your job producing reality TV, documentaries, and news segments to brew beer full time. That’s exactly what Michael Chiltern did when he blessed Downtown White Plains with Wolf & Warrior, named after his two boys Vuk (“wolf” in Serbian) and Branko (translated to “defender,” adapted to warrior), that’s churning out some of the area’s better IPAs since its 2019 debut.
Of Chiltern’s 16 taps, you’ll always find varying IPAs, some are unfiltered, hazy, juice bombs, others are of the piney, floral West Coast vibe, and he’s not afraid to experiment with different hop varietals when creating new W&W India pale ales, imperials, and triple IPAs.
But it’s not just hop juice at W&W. One of their day ones at this city brewery, dubbed Patagonia, is an Argentinian golden ale that’s malty, crisp, light, refreshing, and as the kids are saying, “crushable.”
Pilsners, Kölschs, lagers, roasty porters, festbiers, hefeweizens, saisons, blondes, stouts (sometimes on nitro), Belgian quads, Irish reds, simple fruited sours, pumpkin ales, and even a shandy have made appearances, making this easily one of the more balanced beer lists, style wise, in Westchester.
What began as a small food operation that was mostly sausages on rolls and hot dogs, W&W totally revamped their menu by adding a full kitchen. Mouth-watering birria tacos (with rich, beefy consommé for dipping), plus carnitas, chicken, and mushroom round out the taco choices, but there’s also hand-cut fries, four burgers including a molten cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucy, flatbreads, wings, and sandwiches like Buffalo fried chicken, a Cubano, and a shaved rib eye Philly cheesesteak covered in beer cheese.