NY’s Captain Lawrence is quickly developing into local presence in 100 mil case NY metro mkt, raising questions of how large a local brewer can grow in its home area as well as how well that success can translate to other areas. Many craft brewers around US in coming yrs will be testing limits of “local,” which could even have implications for beer biz as a whole. For now, Captain Lawrence is having fun, enjoying its moment in the sun.
Captain Lawrence, founded in 2006, will jump from 8000 bbls in 2011 to around 15,000 bbls in 2012 (a little over 200,000 cases). While that only amounts to 0.2 share of NY metro, if it gets to 15,000 bbls, that would designate it as “regional microbrewer” in Brewers Assn nomenclature (and there were just 88 such brewers last year). So far, Captain Lawrence sells just in metro NY (95%) plus Connecticut. But it’s becoming uber-local star, especially since it moved to much larger digs in Elmsford, NY only a few months ago. Captain Lawrence began to package its beers more widely only a couple of months ago, so it is still 75% draft. Freshchester Pale Ale, its main brand, represents about 50% of its volume. The rented-space in an unassuming office park currently totals 19,000 square feet. On Friday we visited, brewery was beehive of activity, on a transitional cusp from startup into more established biz. Owner/brewer Scott Vaccaro (aka the Captain) sez that Captain Lawrence can get to 40,000 bbls or so in its current space, but it also has the option of renting more space right where it is.
Scott grew up in suburban NY (on Captain Lawrence Drive in South Salem) and has been home brewing since he was 17, after he saw a friend’s Dad cooking up some home brew on a stove. But he also earned a West Coast brewing pedigree of note. He has a degree from UC Davis Brewing School and studied under Dr. Charlie Bamforth. Then he worked for Sierra Nevada for 2 years. Captain Lawrence has 18 employees, including part-time, but is still very much a family affair, with both his parents and wife chipping in. His father was a longtime CPA at Price Waterhouse, so as cfo he keeps the co grounded financially. He also oversaw the construction of the new brewery in Elmsford.
In its brief history, Captain Lawrence has already evolved considerably in its distribution strategy. It started out self-distributing in Westchester and Putnam counties, then moved to American, a small Brooklyn outfit that also has Avery in Manhattan and Brooklyn, then Gasko & Meyer in the Lower Hudson Valley as well as Manhattan Beer on Long Island and in Queens. Ultimately, it consolidated all its metro area distribution with Coors/Corona behemoth Manhattan Beer last summer. “When I opened up, I planned to self-distribute forever,” said Scott. But he quickly learned benefits of full-service distrib like Manhattan, which means “we have a shot” in every account. “If the franchise law was not in the way, we would have consolidated one of our distributors much sooner.”
Over time, Captain Lawrence has developed a close partnership with Manhattan. The 33-million-case house could crack 200,000 case equivs of Captain Lawrence this year, or less than 1% of Manhattan’s biz. Yet Manhattan Beer has 1000 Captain Lawrence draft lines. Unbelievably enough, that is 3d at Manhattan Beer, sez Manhattan’s Rob Mitchell. In the borough of Manhattan itself, CBN spotted a Manhattan truck with Captain Lawrence logo last weekend. Captain Lawrence has placements in some of the top and trendy NYC restaurants such as Gramercy Tavern, Spotted Pig etc. Such “cutting edge purveyors” said Rob “serve as validators.” So that when the Captain places in accounts like these, other accounts “want to emulate” them. Understandably, distribs in surrounding areas are eager to get the Captain in their mkts.