The Best Fest In All of Westchester
It was among the greatest days ever for New York-based craft beer fans. There were two full-blown brew festivals Saturday—the cleverly titled Hops and Props bash under the Spirit of St. Louis and other vintage aircraft at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, and Big Brew New York at the Westchester County Center.
Captain Lawrence was pouring at both. It being closer to home, we ventured to the County Center for a few samples and laughs. The trip was a longer one for Gil Perrone, who’d just touched down after a few weeks skiing, and quaffing beer, in Austria. He’s enjoying the Smoked Porter and the Imperial IPA at the Captain Lawrence booth. “You can’t compare Austrian beers to these,” he says. “There’s just not the same bite over there.”
Gil does cop to being biased; after all, he’s the father of Justin Perrone, one of the CL beer pourers for the evening, and creator of the rookie standout Frost Monster. Gil says his son’s imperial stout fits his palate perfectly: full bodied, smoky, dark. “I’m excited for him,” Gil says of the Monster’s smashing success.
Perhaps owing to home field advantage, Captain Lawrence holds down some good real estate at the County Center: adjacent to New York neighbors Kelso and Peekskill Brewery, around the corner from Sierra Nevada, and not far from the men’s room. Across the aisle, a booth sells Guinness and Jameson’s hoodies and rugby shirts.
Anthony DeMaio of Yonkers has a unique shirt: It says, “I’m Not Drunk—I’m Awesome.” He got to know the Captain after dropping in to the tasting room following his shifts down the road at the Elmsford Post Office. His nephew told him about the beer fest, and he was all in. “It’s unbelievable, it’s outrageous,” Anthony says, scanning the broad vista of microbrew booths. “I took a cab, so I don’t have to worry about driving home. It’s a nice crowd—no ghetto trash.”
The crowd is indeed chill—happy, ebullient but not rowdy, and taking the longer lines—Dogfish Head, Troegs, Allagash, the men’s room—in cheerful stride. (You truly did not want to fall asleep in some dark corner of the County Center, with the Reptile Show rolling in the following day.)
Lisa Gorman, Michelle Smith and Michelle Mascetta, all of Yonkers, say Big Brew NY is an opportunity to taste something fresh. “We always drink the same beers,” says one of the Michelles, I honestly forget which, mentioning Bud and Corona. “It’s good to try something new.”
They’re digging beers from Blue Point and Brooklyn Brewery. Lisa has one suggestion: hold the event outside. OK, two: outside, and not in February.
While there are over 300 beers to try with your adorable little sample mug, there’s a surprising number of non-beer booths too. Shari Wagner trekked from Long Island to sell snazzy bottle opener plaques featuring melted beer bottles affixed to wood; I see the Captain Lawrence IPA and the Winter Ale, among many others, creatively repurposed. At $35 a pop, business is good, she says, “but I don’t get to walk around.”
There’s a Jewelry Studio booth full of bling. Another one sells beer pong tables for $175—or $170, or $165, or $160, if you land your ball in the right cup. The tables are—get this—electric, with a refrigerated triangle to rest the beers on. “My son came up with the idea,” says Lynn Herro. “He’s the brains, I’m the bankroll.”
There’s a guitar guy playing songs that go well with a beer in your hand, such as “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard”, and a food truck has somehow squeezed inside the arena. It sells Wisconsin cheese curds with three sauces specifically designed for the craft beer crowd, says owner Rob Mitchell: sriracha mayo for summer beers, chipotle mayo for lagers, and a zesty smoked ketchup for the type of palates assembled in the arena this eve. “Curd is the word!” enthuses Rob, who drove the rig up from Philly. “We do one thing well—Wisconsin batter fried cheese curds.”
Meanwhile, back at the Captain Lawrence booth, Justin and Anthony Perillo are winning fans and making friends. Brian Kantor of Manhattan is devouring a Smoked Porter. “You don’t get too many smoked American beers,” he says. “This is rich.”
Pal Jesse Pauker of Scarsdale saw mention of Big Brew NY on Facebook. “I thought, Whoa! This is a badass beer fest,” he says, and compelled Brian to spend his Saturday night in White Plains.
“He dragged me to the suburbs,” says Brian with a smile and a hoist of his mini-mug. “And it was worth the trip.”
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.
The “Notes From the Tasting Room” book is available at the brewery and on Amazon.