|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
|Field of (Beer) Dreams by Vince Capano
Brew it and they will come! Or so it seemed when the Gaslight brewpub in South Orange
NJ tapped one of only 40 casks available worldwide of the historic Manchester Star Ale. A
packed house of beer sycophants had made the pilgrimage to Gaslight to enjoy New
Jersey’s single allotted cask of this 1888 re-created treasure.
The first two cask aficionados roared in on motorcycles fully four hours ahead of the 8: 00
PM tapping. Their colorful leather jackets mixed seamlessly with the suits and ties of the
office types that trickled in with each arrival of the train at the nearby station. The
Gaslight cask regulars were there as well. These long suffering fans of real ale already knew
the Gaslight as an oasis of satisfaction for their specialized tastes. Each patron was usually
there on a different night of the week, but now, for the first time, they joined as one,
around the bar’s beer engine. United. Waiting for cask conditioned nirvana to be tapped.
The full house included more than the usual suspects. Joe Cuff, faux Yankee Clipper,
wearing a classic Yankee jersey with “DiMaggio” stitched across the back, ambled in
leading a group of four. Their desire for the Manchester Star had caused them to
summarily leave their softball game in the 7th inning despite the mathematical probability
that their team could come back from an 28 run deficit. Real ale fans are also optimists,
by the way. One bar stool to Joe’s left sat two high school volleyball coaches, Katie and
Dan Gregory, who claimed they had made the long trek from their far flung workplace by
“following the Manchester Star in the sky” which led them to South Orange.
Across from the large TV on the near side of the pub, holding court on the quality of what
was to come, was the bar’s resident beer expert know only as “Larry the Sage.” To his
credit he didn’t seem to mind that no one was actually listening to him. Standing near him
was another Gaslight denizen, Brian Lynch, winner of countless homebrew competitions.
His avowed goal this evening was to take home a test tube sample of the Manchester Star
Ale and attempt to duplicate, in his lab, the actual recipe. He refused to wait another 116
years to enjoy Manchester’s unique properties!
The eclecticism of the crowd was indeed marvelous. Anonymous college students, t-
shirted construction workers, pipe smoking university professors, weary elementary
school teachers, two retired county road workers, a pharmacist, a computer programmer,
and several properly dressed accountants were among the crowd. Anchoring the far
corner of the large, oblong wooden bar was local political aspirant Joe Atttamante who
announced “I am here in search of good beer not votes.” While this might have sounded
a bit disingenuous at first, who could ever doubt the sincerity of a man whose campaign
slogan was “slightly less dishonest than the other guy”.
The fanfare of the evening loomed large. Ceremonial streamers and ribbons surrounded a
large rectangular countdown clock high on the wall that clicked off the hours, minutes,
and seconds until the tapping. Cheers rang out as the one-hour to go mark was finally
reached. Jeff Levine, the Gaslight’s renown bartender/raconteur, served glasses of the
Gaslight’s well hopped IPA and refreshing Wit Ale, as the anxious patrons prepared for the
main event. These were indeed experienced pub-crawlers who realized the value of a
good warm-up. They knew that the night to come of hoisting pints of Manchester Star
with a cold arm could lead to elbow aches tomorrow. Another round, Jeff. And please,
pour it in the weighted glass!
Twenty minutes to go. The weather outside had turned nasty. Sheets of rain slammed
against the Gaslight’s majestic front window as a fusillade of thunder, lightning, and hail
pounded out a salute to those waiting for the great moment. As the clock’s digits rolled
down to fifteen some patrons seemed pushed over the edge. Several menacing shouts
of “you know what we’re here for, be sure to bring the first glass over here” began to
pierce the jovial atmosphere. Ever watchful Gaslight proprietor Dan Soboti, immediately
sensed the inherent dangers in dealing with this cask crazed crowd. His earnest plea for
them to “remain calm” seemed to have little effect.
Ten minutes. The screaming demands for that first glass became more strident. Then, as
the clock showed five minutes, a unique but unmistakable sound emanated from the
unseen far back of the pub. The crowd quieted momentarily. The piper was here. In full
regalia, cheeks puffed wide, the bagpiper led in a procession of one. The one was Gaslight
head brewer DJ Soboti who marched in with the prized Manchester Star cask held high
over his head. Flashbulb pops, cheers, and hoots worthy of Super Bowl Sunday filled the
pub. In a ceremony not unlike a victory lap at the Olympics, DJ circled the bar and
stopped at its beer engine. With appropriate flair he placed the cask down and lifted a
mallet. “Let the enjoyment begin,” he bellowed as he opened the cask and quickly
connected needed hoses and clamps.
With reverential deliberateness, bartender Jeff Levine began to ease back the stick of the
hand pump. As the drops of liquid filled the first glass, the clamor for the beer grew louder
than the storm’s incessant thunder. The final seconds continued to count off, each
ratcheting up the tension. “I’ll double anyone’s bid for the first glass” was a cry from one
E-Bay addict. “I’ll write a story about you” was the lure from an unidentified beer writer
(Dan Hodge) in the crowd. “I’ll kick your… ah, sorry” was the limp lament from another
who only then just realized that the 6’5” 220 pound bartender would be a formidable
opponent. It was a moment that had all the pressure of the last spin in the International
Log Rolling Championships or even the final car pull in the World’s Strongest Man
competition! It was that and more. And all that pressure was focused on one man as he
filled that first glass. Jeff alone would decide.
Jeff held the first glass high over his head and slowly walked it to the middle of his
workspace behind the protective moat of the bar. In boxer like fashion he made four
sharp pivots, bowing a salute to each corner. The shouts had now turned to foreboding
silence. The clock read two…. one… then only zeros. This was it. One misstep in deciding
who would consume the first glass and chaos would reign. Armageddon was in view.
Taking a deep breath that was audible even to the far reaches of the crowd, Jeff cleared
his throat. He lifted the glass high and screamed, in his famed Homer Simpson voice,
“BEEEEEEEEEER ”. At that, he immediately chugged it down. Every drop. That first
vessel of elegant elixir was now history. In an instant. The stunned crowd froze in shock.
Suddenly there was one simple clap. Then another. And then more. A wave of applause
began to spread. Now a full-fledged ovation engulfed the bar. Jeff politely smiled. His
instincts had served him well. Disaster had been averted. Happiness and brotherhood
soon flourished in the glow of the now rapidly distributed pints of Manchester Star Ale.
The crowd was united once again. One man had made a difference. Medals have been
given out for less.
|Field of (Beer) Dreams