Home Food & Beverage Captain Lawrence’s column reaches milestone

Captain Lawrence’s column reaches milestone

The Captain Lawrence brewery’s tasting room has concrete floors and ceilings so high you could call the space trampoline-safe. The 1,500-square-foot room, where visitors eat mac ’n’ cheese and hot dogs while sampling the brewery’s craft beers, has a motif that’s more industrial than it is Irish pub.

A 30-foot bar that employees say is made from handcrafted wood makes up the far end of the room, which is decorated with photos, local fire department memorabilia and newspaper clippings about the brewery (sample headline: “Rhapsody in Brew”). Visitors sip beer while sitting on backless stools at high wooden tables or standing around barrels, looking off to the chalkboard that lists the rotating brews on tap and also directs customers: left to fill growlers, right for samples. Near the bar are large glass doors that peek in on the shiny stainless steel vats fermenting ales and other carbonated concoctions.

Michael J. Malone, a journalist and author, comes here at least once a week, armed with a camera, reporter’s pad and pen. He chats up the customers, snaps photos, then writes his weekly column, “Notes From the Tasting Room,” which is posted on the brewery’s website and in a network of local websites and newspapers. The first 66 columns were released as a paperback book, available behind the tasting room’s bar, called “Notes From the Captain Lawrence Tasting Room: Tasty tales, and ales, from New York’s coolest craft brewery.”

He’s paid in beer.

“It’s a mix of liquid currency and hard currency,” he says.

Last month, Malone filed his 100th installment of the column, which has a tone that is part brewer’s insider blog, part “Talk of the Town” and part advertisement. “This is a weird little marketing endeavor,” he says over a Liquid Gold, one of the brewery’s more accessible ales.

Michael J. Malone at the Captain Lawrence tasting room in Elmsford.
Michael J. Malone at the Captain Lawrence tasting room in Elmsford.

It never hurts to have a sample while weaving in and around the tasting room’s guests for the day, he says. Wearing a T-shirt of the brewery also helps him break the ice and prove his official status with potential interview subjects. Today, off duty, he is wearing jeans and a button-down plaid, and even though he’s the one being interviewed, he has a pen at the ready fastened in his breast pocket.

The tasting room, known to welcome live music on occasion, is filled with the crunchy grooves of Black Sabbath’s first, self-titled album. Beer and music go together at Captain Lawrence, which recently released a specialty beer called Hops’N’Roses. The sounds of the tasting room have been a theme of a number of Malone’s columns. He’s likened some of the regulars to Grateful Dead fans, not because of similar hygiene habits but because of their loyalty to the brand, sense of community and an in-depth knowledge that has them swapping bootlegs and critiquing set lists, or in this case, trading homebrew tips and critiquing Captain Lawrence’s seasonals.

Baseball and beer go together as well: Malone’s 100th “Notes” coincided with baseball’s opening day, only the latest in a series of sports-themed essays.

Malone combined two recurring themes – music and the holidays – in a column called “Twas a few nights before Christmas.” One verse went, “Michelle Crepeau came from Sleepy Hollow/On break from being a teacher/Her friends found the tasting room preferable/To that dopey film called ‘Jack Reacher.’”

Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. was started by Scott Vaccaro in South Salem. The company is named after the street Vaccaro’s parents lived on. (An early “Tasting Room” column polled samplers on who the captain was. No, he wasn’t Cap’n Crunch’s long-lost brother, as a Tuckahoe resident suggested, but a leader of the Westchester County militia during the Revolutionary War now buried in Lewisboro).

The first tasting room, a space half the size of the new room, was at the brewery’s former location in Pleasantville at the end of a dead-end street and across the way from a cemetery. The company moved six miles south to its current 19,000-square foot building on Saw Mill River Road, across the way from a golf range, in Elmsford.

Vaccaro, in his foreword to the “Notes” book, said he remembered the inaugural batch at the Elmsford location. For the first time, the brewery was producing six-packs of bottled Freshchester Ale, its flagship formula. The new tasting room was larger and would include food from Tarrytown’s Village Dog and eventually, an outdoor patio space complete with bocce court. Vaccaro recalled taking a sixer home and having a few on his deck.

“So we had everything we needed, except something we didn’t even know we needed – some crazy reporter dude to chronicle the adventures in the tasting room, and the new beers making their ways to tap,” he said.

Malone, the soon-to-be crazy reporter dude, had less-crazy journalistic roots, having been published in publications like The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle. Today, he works full time as deputy editor for a Manhattan-based business-to-business magazine called Broadcasting and Cable.

Malone grew up in Long Island and lived in New York City before moving to Hawthorne in 2006. Moving from the daily buzz of the city that never sleeps to the bedroom communities of Westchester was a culture shock.

“Up here it was a collection of houses and yards,” he says. He was drawn to Captain Lawrence’s beer, then the brewery itself, he says, because it was unique to Westchester. When the brewery moved to Elmsford, he pitched the idea of the column. Deadpan, Malone says he was surprised Vaccaro was receptive.

“I always come up with these crazy ideas, but no one ever says yes,” Malone says. “As I said in the intro to my book, it was a way for me to be a part, however small, of what I thought was the coolest brand in Westchester.”

Reporters often deal with hostile interview subjects or people who don’t want to be interviewed. One unique aspect of writing the “Notes” column is that his subjects, often with a craft beer sample in hand, are cooperative and friendly. Only once was he treated rudely, and his would-be subject later apologized, Malone says. His subjects over the years have included Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino (“He knows his beer,” Malone says) and Caroline Corley, the Peak 107.1 radio host who died tragically last year. His dream guest would be Russian-born satirist Gary Shteyngart.

Malone, who is married with two young children, often brings family members along when he visits the brewery to prepare for the week’s column.

Outside of the tasting room, he’s written two self-published novels, part of a thematic trilogy. “No Never No More,” named from the lyrics of an Irish folk song, came out last year, and “Nothing to Do Nowhere to Go,” from a Ramones lyric, is scheduled to come out this summer. The trilogy, he says, focuses on different characters but is linked through the connection to the area near Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan’s Alphabet City.

For more information on the books, visit welllitbooks.com. To view all of the “Notes” columns, visit captainlawrencebrewing.com/category/tasting-room/.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I have read Michael’s novels and most recent book about the brewery. What a talented author! Great article about him!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here