By: Adam Baer
Do you enjoy visiting new breweries, seeking out beer bars known for stellar tap lists paired with upscale food, and scoring rare offerings from bottle shops that are not available in your neck of the woods? Sounds like an ideal description for a “beercation.” An idea that may seem nonsensical to some, the beercation is indeed a well-known endeavor to throngs of craft beer enthusiasts plotting out travel itineraries. Luckily, there is no shortage of beercation spots within close proximity to the Philadelphia area. Coordinate the GPS then set your sights northward for these buzzworthy spots in the lower Hudson River Valley region; soon enough, you are sure to be in a New York craft beer state of mind!
Captain Lawrence Brewing Company paved the way for much of the areas booming craft beer success. Scott Vaccaro established Captain Lawrence in 2006, since moving to their current larger Elmsford facility in 2012. Captain Lawrence produces a variety of exceptional beer led by their #1 seller, Freshchester Pale Ale, while their newly released IPA is the fastest growing beer in their portfolio. They have a glowing reputation for their large bottle offerings like the Smoke from the Oak series and specialty sour ales Cuvee de Castleton and Rosso e Marrone; Scott has won multiple gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival for his sour ales. Captain Lawrence is expanding yet again taking over more space from an adjacent business. The extra room will allow them to increase their barrel aging operation plus build out a second bottling line focusing on sour beers. The brewery features a large tasting room in addition to an outdoor space complete with picnic tables; on site food options are also available. Captain Lawrence plans to enter the Philadelphia market shortly, look for some of their specialty beers in the city starting in September with the rest of their core lineup launching in January 2015.
Beer hunters should carve out ample time to peruse the impressive offerings at DeCicco’s. DeCicco’s is a specialty grocery store chain with 11 locations across the area and also has a top-notch beer selection. The Ardsley store usually stocks plenty of rarities in addition to an 11-tap growler filling station. The Armonk branch is a larger, more modern store that carries 1,000 bottled beer varieties in addition to an upstairs bar/growler station featuring a rotating selection of 28 craft tap lines. If you need an excuse to stick around you can purchase any of their gourmet food to enjoy upstairs while taking advantage of their indoor bocce ball courts! DeCicco’s frequently hosts unique events/tap takeovers at their various locations including a recent visit from Valter Loverier, brewmaster/owner of Italy’s LoverBeer.
If time is on your side make the effort to check out Half Time Beverage, truly a beer megastore that opened earlier this year near the Mamaroneck train station. They boast the world’s largest selection of beer in this location; at peak inventory during mid-summer they stock almost 6,000 different beers! The wide aisles are neatly organized by country and they house an impressive 50-door cooler box spanning the entire width of the store. Half Time also maintains a 22- tap growler station carrying some great local and national breweries. Half Time will undoubtedly impress anyone with a strong interest in craft beer.
Peekskill Brewery is literally setting a “higher standard” within the beer community, quickly becoming one of the premier brewpubs on the East Coast. The Peekskill team has all the bases covered under the wing of renowned brewer Jeff “Chief” O’Neil. Chief made quite a name for himself as head brewer at Ithaca Beer Company prior to joining Peekskill to help transform this former furniture store into a multi-level craft beer and dining destination. They feature 12 different house beers including Simple Sour, a tart beer that is refreshing, dry and extremely sessionable. The Higher Standard Imperial IPA can hold its own against the best in the country, yes, it is that good! Peekskill truly revels in the art and science of brewing, utilizing a seldom-found coolship as part of their brewery protocol. Every wort gets pumped up to the third floor vessel where it cools for a bit, also providing a chance for some late hop additions. The kitchen takes their food as seriously as Chief does his beer. One can find snacks, appetizers, cheeses, cured meats, sausage, and diverse entrees/specials all on their menu. The PB burger and the poutine are house favorites, while a pork terrine drizzled with a root beer gastrique highlighted a solid dining experience. The brewpub is a manageable 55 minute train ride from NYC on the Hudson Line, with many city folk happy to venture upriver to sample Chief’s ever changing beer selection paired with creative upscale pub fare. Tours are available for a small fee on the weekends, they will also be happy to fill up your growler to go with any of their amazing offerings.
Birdsall House is another fine option in Peekskill for locally sourced food along with an impressive beer selection. Co-owner Tim Reinke launched Birdsall House back in 2010, he is no stranger to the craft beer scene also having a stake in the venerable Blind Tiger Ale House in Greenwich Village. Patrons can choose to sit either inside at their expansive wooden bar flanked by several dining tables or venture outside to enjoy the large European-style beer garden complete with picnic tables, traditional tables and a bocce court. Birdsall House features 20 draft selections concentrating on local American craft beer; offering full or half pours, beer flights, and growlers to go. The beer board has something for everybody no matter what style you prefer. Chef March Walker leads the culinary efforts in the kitchen, whipping up some inventive food including favorites like house made charcuterie, smoked pork nachos, and seasonal entrees.
Rushing Duck Brewing Company is a small, family owned brewery led by Dan Hitchcock and Nikki Cavanaugh. You won’t see any signage pointing you in the right direction (head to the back of the building) but rest assured you will find excellent local craft beer amidst the rural surroundings. Dan spent several years at Weyerbacher, including a stint as lead brewer, prior to starting Rushing Duck two years ago. The unique moniker pays homage to Dan’s grandfather and his card-playing buddies from the Post Prohibition era. Whoever lost the card game had to visit the local tavern to fill a metal pail with beer (they called it a duck); the act of getting the pail filled was called Rushing the Duck. They have a modest tasting room offering 7 to 10 beers on tap with limited 750 ml bottles for sale. Their 3 core offerings include Naysayer Pale Ale, Beanhead Coffee Porter, and Nimptopical (strong ale), in addition to several seasonal brews and rotational double IPAs. The highly regarded War Elephant DIPA helped put Rushing Duck on the map; this is easily their most sought after beer. Dan recently started a barrel aging program to add to their portfolio. A recent choice included a bourbon barrel aged version of Beanhead Coffee Porter that is sure to please all of the bourbon and coffee lovers out there! All of their offerings are outstanding, well-balanced and amazingly fresh. While they don’t offer food on site, if you get hungry there are options via a local restaurant just down the road.