If you live in the New York City area, you may have spotted Captain Lawrence beers on tap at restaurants around town. We highly recommend you give them a try—next thing you know it, you may find yourself on the Metro-North train at an ungodly early hour making your way the brewery for a special limited-edition beer release. (All the cool kids are doing it.) We caught up with owner and head brewer Scott Vaccaro for the latest in our brewmaster interview series.
Name: Scott Vaccaro
Location: Pleasantville, New York
Occupation: Owner and Head Brewer, Captain Lawrence Brewing Company
Tell us how you started brewing—we hear you started at a very young age! Funny story....I went over to my friend's house after school one day my junior year in high school and when I walked into his kitchen his father was stirring a big pot on the stove. I immediately smelled the air and asked what he was doing. The answer he gave me changed my life forever. I asked if he would teach me how and he said if my parents said it was ok that he would. Clearly they were not paying attention when I asked because they said yes, and my life as a brewer began.
Did you grow up in New York? I grew up in Westchester County, went to John Jay High School in Cross River. I spent six years out in California and came home because I missed my friends and family—no other reason.
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How would you describe your brewing style? Is there a thread that ties your beers together? I don't really want to say I have a style because some beers I brew "to style" and some are completely out of any style. I guess the best way to describe it would be to say I brew for flavor, and the flavor dictates the recipe, not the "style". Some styles like Pale Ale or IPA are great as-is in my opinion, so I don't play with them. And then we have beers like Xtra Gold, which doesn't fit into any style.
What is the most exciting beer you've brewed? Have there been any disasters? The most exciting beer we have brewed was the Cuvee de Castleton; our first Gold Medal winner at the GABF and the first beer that really got us talked about on the beer websites. It was an eye opener. It's a sour beer brewed aged in oak barrels with Muscat grapes and wild yeast. Very champagne-like. No disasters yet—knock on wood—but we have had some beers taste a little different than planned. Sometimes it's a good thing.....but definitely not always.
What are you working on over the next few months? How do you go about developing a new recipe? We're working on a few new barrel-aged beers that we have been formulating over the past few years. Being that we are a new brewery we have a limited amount of aged beers. We are working on a barrel-aged sour ale series called "Barrel Select," which will incorporate the best of our aged sour brown ales. Each blend will be different and unique, kind of vintage dated. We are also in the process of starting to work on bottling our year round beers in 12-ounce bottles, but that's still about 10 months off. People ask me all the time about how we create new beers and recipes, and the short answer is, I just get a feeling and run with it. We don't have a board of directors or anything like that; I just brew what I feel like brewing! So yes, 6-packs are the plan for the future—it will just take some time and some more space to get there.
Are you pursuing wider distribution? Are there any plans for expansion? We are hoping to expand within our space to allow us to bottle our beers, but not for wider distribution, just to satisfy the New York metro market. We are brewing a ton of keg beer within our four walls, and we need to expand into more space if we are to add bottles to our product mix because we have no place to put them at the moment! We're hoping this will take place sometime in June, but we're still waiting to hear from the tenant next door.
Do you think the scarcity of your special beers (like Rosso E Marrone and Golden Delicious) contributes to their success? I think scarcity does play a role in the mystique of some of our beers. People are always asking why don't we make more of them so we don't sell out that fast. The simple answer is we are a small producer who makes small batches of beer and we don't have the capacity to make more of the very intensive barrel-aged beers. They take up a ton of space for over a year, sometimes two, and aren'tt easy to handle or to produce. So the scarcity does help, but we don't intentionally make the batches small to create the mystique.
Do you have a favorite Captain Lawrence beer and food pairing? Braised short ribs and smoked porter is a match made in heaven....delicious. Steamers with Liquid Gold, butter and garlic are great too.
What do you drink when you're not drinking your own beer? I go for whatever is local; I like to support other local breweries. I am big fan of Belgian-style ales and seriously hoppy ales.
Any tips for readers just starting to learn about beer? I would first suggest they seek out and try all the breweries within 50 miles of where they live. See what they have to offer and what styles they like best. Then once you have the styles you like you should try them from breweries all over the country and see which one you like best. And they should read books by Michael Jackson; he was one of the best beer writers of all time.