|Vince Capano is a two time winner of the prestigious Quill and Tankard
writing award for humor from the North American Guild of Beer Writers.
Vince's column is now a regular feature of beernexus.com
Check back often for the next installment of
Vince's Adventures in Beerland
| Bud Not Spoken Here
by Vince Capano
Kevin Torpey is a linguist. Just go into the pub he manages, The Tap Room at the
Somerset Hills Hotel, and prove it to yourself. Kevin can engage you in a
conversation about International Bittering Units, original gravities, and wet
hopping. He speaks the language of Stone, Founders, Chouffe, Ommegang, and
Spaten. He can communicate in stout, porter, IPA, ryes, and lambics. His voice
is heard in each of the 12 rotating taps and 80 bottles that dispense some of the
hardest to find beer on the East Coast. However, there is one thing you should
know about Kevin - he doesn’t speak Bud, Coors, or Miller. Its quality craft beer
or his lips are sealed.
The Somerset Hills Hotel in Warren, NJ has long been known for its inviting style
and high quality accommodations. It was definitely not known for its bar. Then,
about 4 years ago, hotel management made a fortuitous decision – they
appointed Mr. Torpey as beverage manager. Thanks to him the once pedestrian
bar has now reached a point where you can say, without fear of immediate and
well-deserved institutionalization, “move over Andy’s Corner Bar; a hotel pub is
now the premier beer stop in New Jersey!”
When you enter the warm, relaxing area of The Tap Room proper you can’t help
but notice the beer menus on the bar. Make that the totally current, atomic clock
accurate beer menus. Every time a new beer goes on line Kevin is out of his
office with an updated list within minutes. Think Michael Phelps speed but without
the water. Even more, the menu includes tasting notes, alcohol content, serving
size, and price. Listing the price is a special treat since any self-respecting male
would rather ask for driving directions than ask about the price of a beer. And
yes, those prices are reasonable. As a bonus, there is always a great deal on the
daily special. True to his customer friendly approach, Kevin makes sure the
special is not some leftover or slow mover; it actually is a special special. “One
reason I put a really good beer up that way is to encourage the customer to taste a
world class brew they might not have considered before”. He’s not fooling
around; the last three specials at the Tap Room were bottles of Piraat, Golen
Draak, and St. Bernardus Abt 12.
There’s even a new “Kevin’s Secret Bottle Stash” list with brews that are hard to
find even for Kevin. The only problem is that he hasn’t figured out how to tell
people about the list and still keep it secret.
Kevin also includes the style of the serving glass on his menu. As he explains,
“the correct glass can enhance the beer drinking experience for our customers.
That’s important to me.” He wants his beer menu to be as complete as possible
“because it’s only fair to our customers. They should know everything about the
beers we have so they can make the right selection.” This guy is so good Mrs.
Claus would probably dump Santa in a heartbeat for him.
Of course the same affection might not be forthcoming from leprechauns since
Kevin is an Irishman who took out the Guinness tap and replaced it with a rotating
line of stout treasures like Founders Breakfast, Great Divide’s Yeti, and Rasputin
Imperial. “Guinness is an excellent beer but it’s readily available. I wanted to give
my customers a chance to taste some of the other great stouts and porters that
are out there.” Amen. Besides, I don't think Kevin has to worry about those
leprechauns anyway. Rumor has it they don't really care about the Guinness we
get here in the USA since it's all brewed in Canada. Really.
Making a hotel bar into a premier beer pub was resisted by upper management at
first. For Kevin, “craft beer in a hotel was the way of the future”, for management it
was a tad more bottom line- if we build this will people come? In a word, the
answer is yes. If you look around the bar on any given night you’ll see beer
aficionados, local residents (a major coup for any hotel), and hotel guests enjoying
the craft beer world.
Getting the typical hotel guest to try a craft beer was perhaps Kevin’s toughest
challenge. “I try to talk to many of the customers about what flavors they like to
help them select something they will enjoy. I put special pamphlets about beer on
the bar. And I’m lucky to have great bartenders like Rachael and Carli who have
gone out of their way to learn about beer to help our customers. Our outstanding
bar manager, Mynor Elis is a beer guy too. Even the hotel chef, Kevin Donnelly, is
on board; he now uses beer in cooking some of his excellent dishes.”
While bottles of Coors and Bud Light are discretely hidden in the cooler under the
bar, Kevin usually recommends Cricket Hill (a fine local brewery) as an entry level
lager for those making the transition from macro to micro brews. Most people
take his advice and are amply rewarded. If you don’t, there’s no need to worry.
Kevin is a beer expert, not a snob. When one customer opted for a Coors Light
on ice (yes, on ice), Kevin simply filled up the guy’s glass with ice, opened the
bottle, and politely smiled. To this day he denies being the one who ran into the
hallway and let out an uncontrollable scream of despair.
In fact, Kevin freely admits to formerly being a swill light-lager guy himself, albeit
without the ice. He was a devoted, gasp, Bud drinker. His beer epiphany came
when he had his first glass of Chimay . After that it was full speed ahead, damn the
macros. “I love the Belgiums, but also am a huge fan of stouts and porters. I like
good lagers and hoppy ales too.” We get it Kevin, you like beer.
From searching online to personally contacting micro breweries Kevin is proactive
in getting the best craft beer into The Tap Room. “Distributors and brewers know
that we’re building a customer base here that will appreciate their product; they’re
beginning to think of The Tap Room first when they have something special.”
Now there’s a coincidence, that’s the same thing beer fans are doing ……thinking
of The Tap Room first when it comes to great beer!
|Bud Not Spoken Here