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Northern Westchester a Craft Beer Hot Spot

CORTLANDT, N.Y. - If you're looking for the benchmark in craft beer sales, look no further. Bars, restaurants and specialty shops selling 64- and 32-ounce refillable glass bottles, growlers and the beer that fills them have cropped up all over the county.

Lewisboro's DeCicco Family Market, a new addition to the town as of August 2011, has eight taps and is planning to expand to 16 in the coming months. The Green Growler in Croton is celebrating its first anniversary in June. The Birdsall House in Peekskill has 20 taps with beers from as far as Washington state and as near as Elmsford in Westchester County. The Peekskill Brewery is expanding its brewing and restaurant operation to a new building, and Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. moved in December from Pleasantville to Elmsford, expanding its brewing and taproom significantly.

"Seeing the kind of business that Captain Lawrence is doing, and Peekskill Brewery, I knew there was demand," said Seana O'Callaghan, owner of the Green Growler. "There was some people that were hungry for this. Other people were hard to wean off of Stella and Bud."

According to the alcoholic beverage lobbying group, The Beer Institute, the sale of imports, crafts and above-premium beers sold off-premises was up nearly 3 percent in 2011. Retail sales on-premises, at the site of brewing, also increased 3 percent, exceeding $55 billion in 2011.

This jibes with what Scott Vaccaro, owner and head brewer of Captain Lawrence, said is the survival of his brewing operation.

"The first couple years of business, we would have probably been out of business if it wasn't for growler sales," he said.

When prospective brewing business entrepreneurs contact Vaccaro for advice, he said, "If your state doesn't allow growler sales just go to another state, because you have to sell a ton of beer wholesale as opposed to retail." Vaccaro said retail growler sales allow small breweries to "pay your bills on Monday."

Chris Thorne, of The Beer Institute, called beer "an American pilsner that's a barometer of the economy." The myth that alcohol sales increase during a recession is just that, he said. "When you look at overall sales volume every time you see a dip in the economy, you see a concurring dip in purchases of beer," he said.

"The first couple months of the year, we saw some gaining back of what we lost and it looks like it's going to be a good year for us," said Thorne.

Nevertheless, Thorne says the craft beer market, an undefined term applying to anything that is not an American pilsner (Budweiser), accounts for just a sliver of overall beer sales.

Still, retailers around northern Westchester will be hauling in extra kegs. Memorial Day is the second largest beer drinking holiday in the U.S., eclipsed only by the Fourth of July.

"Here, you have more of a variety, there's only so much that's actually bottled, and they rotate the taps constantly," said Green Growler customer Lindsey Allen. Veterans and first responders will receive 10 percent off beer purchases at the Growler on Memorial Day, Monday.

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