Craft Beer Bars: The Cloverleaf Tavern

ImageThe Cloverleaf Tavern in Caldwell, NJ was the first craft beer bar I ever went to.  I’d heard about the bar’s signature beer promo:  The MBA.  The MBA stands for a Master of Beer Appreciation.  It’s the greatest idea in the history of beer ideas.

When you sign up, you get a card with a list of beers on it.  Ales, IPAs, Lagers, Belgians, Seasonals and more.  Every time you have a beer on the list (start with the seasonal that’s in season so they don’t run out)… it gets checked off.  After a year,–yeah it takes about a year)–you get your degree.  Your name up on a plaque, a gift card, a t-shirt, and the right to drink out of a 20 oz glass when everyone else gets a regular old pint. 

I got to try some great beers when going for my MBA (of course I have it).  Dogfish Head Old School was probably the highlight, drinking that to substitute for Dogfish Head 120–which was out that year.  Plus, there are some “regular” beers to help initiate the uninitiated… like Stella Artois.  Flying Dog Doggie Style Pale Ale was a great one as well.

But getting your MBA is just the start.  After that, you move on to the PhD–you guessed it (or maybe you didn’t) Professor of Hops And Drafts.  This program is much more intense.  It’s a year long program, broken down into semesters (aka Seasons).  Each season there’s a new beer list-13 to 15 beers to try before the next season comes along.  At the end you get another t-shirt, another plaque, a bigger gift certificate, and you can drink out of an even bigger mug. 

Definitely the highlights of my drinking at the ‘Leaf came here.  Schlafly AIPA was discovered because of this program.  McNeill’s Dark Angel stout.  As we went through the program, my friend and I checked off our favorite–and, unfortunately, least favorite beers–of the season.  I finished my program last winter.  You can do it again, as the beers are always changing.  Each time you go through the program, the rewards amp up.

And the Cloverleaf is a place to get more than just beer.  They have great burgers (and have introduced me to the wonder A-1 sauce on a burger), a fantastic Sunday brunch, and some very cool promotions.  If you’re just getting into craft beer, this is the place to go.  A great place to learn about beer, and to discover your favorite styles.


Schlafly American I.P.A.

Thar she blows!  The White Whale.

I talked about this beer early last week.  It was a beer I’d had once at a bar, and loved.  I spent the rest of the summer trying to track it down.  Hearing rumors that only 1 caseload had been shipped to New Jersey, I hunted around for it, but with no luck.

I follow Schlafly and Hunterdon (their NJ distributor) on Twitter, and immediately began to find out more about them.  Turned out Schlafly’s American IPA is a early summer release only.  Which meant I’d missed it’s debut last year.  And I’d have to wait until now to find it.

Like Ahab, I waited.  And then April rolled around, and low and behold, there were some Twitter mentions of the AIPA. Is it coming out soon?  One of my search party came across their Export IPA, a good beer, but not the white whale.

And then two weeks ago, Hunterdon tweeted that the AIPA was a new release.  I called my local liquor store.  They told me to call back.  When I did, they didn’t have it.  I tweeted at Hunterdon and they replied with three liquor stores relatively close to me.  I called the first one… No luck.  The second said they had it and would put it aside.

I was stoked.  Right when work got out, I took the half hour ride to the store.  Walked it, hunted down a manager.  Who found the guy I talked to on the phone.  Who then informed me that he’d put the Export IPA aside.  He’d only heard the “IPA” part of the conversation, despite the fact that I’d specifically said “NOT THE EXPORT.  THE AMERICAN.”  Maybe I had bad reception.

I was down.

I was out.

Schlafly was going to escape my grasp.  I checked my Twitter reply from Hunterdon and saw the last place, the one I hadn’t called, was only ten minutes from where I was.  I called them.

And they had it.

Tonight, on Memorial Day weekend (yes, this post was written a few days ago), I opened it.  And it was glorious.

It pours golden, with a thick white head.  The odor is piny, much like the Hoptimum from earlier in the week.  The citrus flavor is sharp and prominent throughout the sip.  The mouthfeel is light.  Perfect for a BBQ, though the alcohol is a little high to make it a session beer.

And though slightly bitter, the beer ends with a perfect syrupy sweet finish.

The quest for my first white whale was a success.  Worth every penny.

I will be enjoying this beer for as long as possible.

Mm. Mm. Mm.