It’s gratifying to see how many great breweries take our tiny slice of Western New York seriously enough to distribute and market their products in Rochester. It says a lot about us as beer lovers, as people who appreciate craftsmanship and as developers of a vibrant culinary culture. We may not be one of the biggest markets but, darn it, we matter.
Last week, two new entrants coupled up to area taplines: Captain Lawrence Brewing from the Hudson Valley and Ballast Point Brewing from San Diego. Both breweries are firmly established and highly regarded, and each brings something special to the region.
Nestled just outside the business district of Elmsford NY, Captain Lawrence has grown right along with the craft beer revolution. The brewery recently opened a new production facility, which enables them to expand their reach. Last week, Captain Lawrence celebrated their arrival in Rochester with a special happy hour at The Tap and Table, the first area establishment to carry their beer. Of the four on draft at time of tasting, two stood out as great beers.
Captain’s Kölsch is a refreshing take on a style that often seems to trip brewers up. Kölsch is an Ale brought up to think it’s a lager, simultaneously clean yet snappy. It takes longer to ferment and there’s some skill involved in avoiding extra flavors thrown by the yeast. This one hits the nail pretty much right on the head. It’s slightly sweet, a little lemony, and manages to exhibit character despite its crisp teutonic palate. It really wouldn’t be out of place in the little bars of Cologne.
The first thing you notice when you lift a glass of Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold is an aroma that reaches up and punches you in the nostrils. Belgian-style golden alles are sought after precisely for this sort of presence and character, which also comes through in the beer’s funky sweet and spicy flavor. The Liquid Gold never verges on syrupy though, with a pleasant liquid quench quality that tempts me to recommend it as a summer lawnmower beer, except for the fact that it’s north of 6% alcohol and drinking these while cutting the grass would result in some interesting yard patterns.
Ballast Point Brewing has some tough competition right out of the gate. They share their home market of Sandiego with Green Flash Brewing and the Almighty Stone Brewing Co (which paradoxically won Beer Advocate’s ‘Best Brewery of All Time’ title in two different years). Beginning last Wendnesday, that competition continued in Rochester for the first time at The Old Toad.
It’s increasingly hard to stand out as an IPA. Great examples and ok examples exist within percentage points of each other, and , barring flaws,it’s hard to even put one’s finger on what might make one more delicious. Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA, however, does distinguish itself. The aroma promises honey, grass and freshly turned earth, and the beer delivers these flavors, and a sneaky, alluring funk, with impressive subtlety. The other prominent aromatic note makes one wonder if Sculpin IPA was just legalized in Colorado and Washington.
Ballast Point’s standout beer is absolutely the Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Porter, and there is nothing really subtle about it. It’s big and chewy, smells like breakfast, and unapologetically melds three flavors proven to work well together: coffee, vanilla and chocolate.
That’s not to say Victory at Sea isn’t sophisticated. You taste each flavor in turn, and the chocolate notes are more cocoa than milk chocolate, forgoing candy sweetness for a more complex elegance. It’s the difference between birthday cake and Viennese pastry, and a tantalizing dessert unto itself.
Both Captain Lawrence and Ballast Point are here for the long haul, with local distribution, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find them in beer stores and on tap around the county within a couple of weeks. The arrival of these two breweries into a relatively crowded market demonstrates that there’s always room for a couple more places at the beer table, and reinforces how lucky we are to be beer lovers in this day and age.
Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at beercraft.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.