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
                              Mohawk House
                                       by Vince Capano        



According to the St. Bernardus Brewery website their Abt 12 is “the absolute top
quality in the hierarchy of beers.”  Truer words were never spoken.  It’s also in the
top five of my love-to-drink  hierarchy.    Don’t you just love it when hierarchies
come together?  Yet now I found myself sending a glass of this fabled beer back –
dead flat.  Making this never pleasant task even worse was that this was the first
time I was ever in the bar at the Mohawk House in Sparta, NJ.  Even worse than
worse, it was the very first beer I ordered.    

Under those circumstances, in most places, it’s likely argument time with the
bartender followed by the requisite bounce from the bouncers.  Little did I know
this was not a pub like most.  Instead of trouble, the bartender gave me a smile, an
understanding look, and what seemed to be a sincere “sorry” as she quickly
poured an alternate pint of my choosing.  While behavior like this immediately had
me listening carefully for Twilight Zone music in the background, I nonetheless
enjoyed the beer (and a couple more) eventually mumbling in my best Douglas
MacArthur voice “I shall return”.   For the record, I do a really good MacArthur…..
and even if I didn’t, who could tell?

The following week I did return.   I slipped into one of their colonial style, comfy bar
chairs and quietly ordered a pint of Founders Devil Dancer.  I say quietly because,
well, after all, I was the guy who sent back a beer only seven days earlier.  No
need to take chances; people here might keep a grudge. With baseball cap firmly
pulled down over my tucked down head I was the barely visible man.  Or so I
thought.  A gentle tap on my shoulder and the question “are you the guy who sent a
beer back last week” made me wish I had watched Kung Fu Panda a few more
times to learn some self-defense.  “Ah, yes” I hesitantly replied, as I mentally
prepared a witty salvo for when I would be asked to leave - “I would never want to
drink in a bar that would serve someone like me in the first place.”  

The gentleman identified himself as Steve Scro, the owner.   My immediate
thought was that my prior sin was so egregious that the top honcho himself wanted
the pleasure of doing the tossing out. “My bartender told me about the beer
problem and I was hoping you would come back.”  Bad news travels fast in this
place.   Just as I was searching for the nearest exit he added, “I‘m really
concerned that the beer was off.  I try to make sure everything here at Mohawk
House is done right.”  Cue the Hallelujah chorus – I’ve reached Emerald City and
the Wizard is great indeed!

As I eventually learned, everything truly is done right at Mohawk House.  And I do
mean everything.  Let’s start with the bar – well, where did you expect I’d start?  
Steve explained that he had recently taken it from 8 pedestrian taps of macro
suds to 34, yes 34, great craft ones (
Mohawk Beer List).  Why?  “Because it’s the
right thing to do.”

If you love good beer you know exactly what he meant.  

The bar’s design matched the excellence of the beers.  A massive brick wall
anchors its rear highlighted by a giant “Temperance” (God forbid) sign.  Rough
sawn beam work, oak paneling, copper fixtures, several discreetly placed flat
screen TVs and a 110” drop down projection screen make this one of the most
attractive bars around.  Well, all that and the 34 taps of course.

The bar is adjacent to main dining room which is anchored by a massive
fieldstone fireplace and boasts a vaulted ceiling, a massive iron chandelier, and
warm, soft wood everywhere.    It’s a design worthy of the superior food served by
the kitchen and of adjoining a bar with  the most craft beer taps in the area.

There are various additional private dining areas upstairs, all equal in their
perfection, allure, and attention to detail. There is even a balcony dining area
overlooking the main floor for those who aren’t afraid of heights and don’t mind the
long walk for a nightcap to the, what else, 34 taps.

I was able to see each room up close and personal thanks to a complete tour from
Steve.  Every inch of every room was spotless – even under the rugs.  Trust me, I
checked when he wasn’t looking.  The highlight of the tour was, of course, the cold
storage room.  Hallowed ground, indeed since it had a wondrous array of half
barrels, kegs, and sixtels.  I would have gladly stayed there the rest of the day
except it was constant 33 degrees and there wasn't a pint glass in sight.  

As we headed back to the bar, past the outdoor dining patios and two regulation
bocce courts, I marveled as to how a place this large was somehow able to ooze
such a warm intimacy.   It has the homey, romantic feel of a special bed and
breakfast.  Okay, I’ll be honest; for me it really felt like a special bed, breakfast and
beer place.  

Maybe the welcoming feel of Mohawk House is due to its timeless design and
decor but I think  it’s also because of the people who work there, from the owner
on down.   In Steve and his wife Rachael, Mohawk House doesn’t have two
restaurateurs at the helm but gracious innkeepers.  Their approach seemed to be
mirrored in each of their employees.  Every one seemed concerned about the
quality of the job they were doing and not just with doing the job.   Old world values
are alive and well in Sparta.

Of all the workers I encountered on my tour one was certainly a kindred spirit -
sous chef Alex, a genial beer lover who is involved with much of the beer infused
cooking done at Mohawk House.  Too bad he was working; he seemed like a
great guy to have a pint or two with.   He did however have time to clue me in on
one idiosyncrasy of Mohawk House – at the bar, 60 minutes is actually four hours.
every day, from 2 to 6 PM.  Now that’s what I would call a happy, happy, happy,
happy hour!  

While the length of the Mohwak House happy hour is impressive having it on
weekends is unprecedented. When I asked Steve why, he said simply, “it’s the
right way to do things for our customers.”  Talk about a consistent guy. Hey, watch
out Steve, with an attitude like that you’ll soon be so crowded no one will want to
go there anymore.

My tour ended where it began, at the bar.  Steve wished me well and went on to
his business while I went on to mine..... ordering more beer.  Then, another tap on
my shoulder.  It was Steve saying he forgot to tell me that he contacted his beer
distributor about last week’s St. Bernardus issue and the guy admitted that more
than a few pubs had called with the same problem.  Seems the brewery had been
trying out a new form of “bubble” kegs and it had “difficulties”.  The problems were
so pervasive that St. Bernardus had gone back to their traditional keg.  Maybe the
Mohawk mantra of doing things the right way is catching on in Belgium.

Steve asked me to try a glass of Abt12 from one of the new (old) kegs and I
dutifully did.   There it was - rich caramel, dried dark fruits, and toasty malts.  My
old friend Saint B had returned, just as I intend to do again and again to the
Mohawk House.

In fact, I would return even if they didn’t have 34 taps.  After all, how many places
can you go where, to coin a phrase, they always do things the right way.

Oh, one last thought.  If Mr. Scro continues making Mohawk House a beer mecca
then our saintly friend Bernardus might just have a companion in beer
canonization.
Mohawk House
by
Vince Capano
Take a tour of Mohawk House at
mohawkhouse.com

Read the Star Ledger Review of Mohawk House