| The Other Side Of The Bar
By Glenn DeLuca
Northern New Jersey is a great place to be during this current craft beer happening.
We’ve got a handful of breweries with more opening every year and we’ve got a lot of
very good beer bars, with some many would consider excellent. I’m lucky to be
reasonably close to the Cloverleaf in Caldwell voted #1 Craft Beer Bar many times
and I consider that my go-to place to taste beers. They do tap takeovers almost
weekly and also rotate different beers through alongside their regulars. They require
not only their bartenders but wait staff to become certified beer server Cicerones,
which hopefully assures you won’t have someone tell you that a hoppy brown is a
seasonal IPA (not going to mention that place...).
Cicerones is a multi-level program, some of which is fairly strenuous and Cloverleaf
will pay for those classes which is a real commitment to have high quality staff. And
yes they have their MBA (Masters of Beer Appreciation) and PhD (Professor of Hops
and Drafts) programs which could be considered excellent marketing programs
(mostly by those who aren’t fond of them) or could be considered a good way to
expand your taste. They’ve certainly gotten me out of my comfort zone from time to
time to drink beers that I would not have considered trying in the past. In many cases
I’ve been pleasantly surprised and in other cases it’s one and done. But to my point, I’
m there quaffing a few, but also handing out my recently printed business cards to
the bartenders. Of course initially they think I’m now some sort of salesman, but I tell
them about Beernexus and my monthly articles if they’re interested in reading them.
Hey I like feedback and if I get some from one of them I know they would be coming
from a place of knowledge/interest. Obviously they’re not going to slam me, since I
am a customer and do tip. So one of our regular bartenders, George, asks me what
type of articles I write, so I mention a few of them. He listens, then says to me, “you
should interview me.” I hadn’t thought about doing an article like that before, but
since he mentioned it, he must be willing, I say that’s a good idea, let’s revisit that at
a later date.
So George and I sat down recently .George is a Jersey Guy; born in North Bergen,
but grew up in Clifton. He started playing football at the age of five and played for
twelve years through high school. So suffice it to say that football was a major part of
his life growing up. And it provided The Highlight of his life (so far, of course) when in
his junior year they played for and won the Championship in their division! And yes
the game was played in the old Giants stadium! Being part of a championship team is
certainly a memory that both bonds and lasts!
George was no stranger to work as his Father owned a wholesale jewelry business
and he worked in it throughout school. Upon graduation his Father expected him to
work full time in the business, but George and his Mom felt he should go to college.
He began attending community college while also working in the business. He wasn’t
thrilled with the expectations of having to stay and work in the family business and
not totally focused on his course work either, so both ended after a while.
Time to look for other work and he has jobs in stores like Champs and Lids. He’s an
assistant manager in Lids and hoping to get a manager position in a new store, but
that doesn’t come to fruition.
Forward to the summer of 2012, George and a group of friends rent a shore house.
One suggests they stay all summer, which only works if they have some income. So
George walks around the corner to the Bradley Bowl, a combination of a
restaurant, bar and bowling alley, applies for a job and is hired as a server. Later
that summer they put him behind the bar, without any training, which is how you learn
to fly by the seat of your pants and that becomes his first bartending experience.
Summer’s over and back north and it’s on to TGIFridays for a couple of years, both
serving and bartending. Time to move on and he sees a Cloverleaf ad and applies.
He has no clue of the Cloverleaf reputation as a highly rated craft beer bar. After the
second interview with Ryan Dorchak (3rd generation owner), he gets a server job,
which is what most everyone starts out as. But you don’t begin without going through
training. This isn’t flying by the seat of your pants; they sit down and go through the
entire menu, all the food items. Then it’s a beer class taught by Ryan to expose them
to the different tastes and styles and products, so he begins to understand their
passion for beer. With their reputation and the continuity of staff it makes sense they
spend the time upfront to make sure everyone’s on the same page. George works as
a server for about four months and then moves behind the bar and gets some
additional bartending training.
So what does George think of the Cloverleaf clientele? We’re generally nice, we don’t
complain and we come in excited about what’s on tap that we can try and ask them if
they’ve already tasted it for their opinion. Sounds accurate; the first thing I want to
do is look at the draft list to see what’s new that I haven’t had, what may be running
low that I should get before it’s gone, what’s up next if I may want to think about for
my last beer and of course what flights they have, since a little of each allows me to
try more. Afternoons tend to be less busy so he gets to spend more time talking with
us. Which is what we like also and how we’ve gotten to know George and Angelica
and Colleen and Dana and…
Most of us on the other side of the bar probably think it’s a fun glamorous job, so I
ask what’s it really like? It can be great, you do get to meet a lot of nice people and
get to talk about beer and breweries with the clientele and reps. George’s approach
is basically just trying to be genuine, be himself, but there are times when you need
to suck it up and just be nice. Then George says something interesting, “the
customer is the guest, they’re paying the bill.” He’s got the right attitude and
confident personality to be behind the bar.
The more hectic the less you get to spend time with the customers, but hectic is good
for business. Friday happy hour is probably his least favorite as that can be more of
crowd ready to blow off steam from a week of work, get ready for the weekend, not
always as concerned with what they want to drink and they’re interacting more with
each other than with the staff. One of the obvious perks to working at Cloverleaf is
being constantly able to try new beers. Cloverleaf probably taps six to seven hundred
different drafts a year! And we on the customer side of the bar forget they need to
come in early to setup/get ready and stay after their shift to cleanup and restock. So
guess it’s not all Tom Cruise in Cocktail…
So what was George’s first craft beer…Sam Adams Boston Lager. I’ve opined in the
past about Sam Adams and its importance as a link to our current craft beer
explosion. George is another person who tried SA BL and has joined the ranks. He
has done the Sam brewery tour in Boston and the Harpoon tour which definitely
made an impression and he described as very good and educational.
What styles does he like…IPAs, sours, porters, stouts, beers with lower ABVs.
Many times in the past we’ve chatted about different bars he’s gone to so I ask him
about it. He and his lady friend like to check out different bars. They look for bars
with good beer, more on the divey than the sports bar type. They’re looking more for
games than they are for TVs. And since they know we frequent Hooters on Fridays
they did check them out. He’s also been to approximately half a dozen NJ breweries.
And they’re willing to travel since they recently went to a bar in Brooklyn.
So what if any trends does he see? The first that comes to his mind is the high
quality excellent beers made in smaller quantities and therefore hard to get. He
compares it to the music scene where you find an underground band you really like.
They become popular and sought after basically by word of mouth. As they become
more mainstream it’s not as special or exciting. Similarly with some of the more
sought after beers, it’s more exciting when they’re hard to find, the thrill of the hunt,
so to speak. With more breweries opening up he’s expecting to see (and hopefully
taste) more of these.
We wrap up our discussion and this has given me the opportunity to get to know
George much better than through our interactions at the bar. It’s funny how when you’
re fairly young you think you’ll be a baseball player or a fireman. Then in high school
and college you focus more on areas of like and interest. But in many cases the
journey doesn’t go where you think its going. At 25, George may have just found a
home in the beer business. There are certainly more opportunities now than there
were even a few years ago. With his knowledge and personality I could see him
continuing on and hope our paths will continue to cross.
So on one of those quiet afternoons or evenings when you’re quaffing a beer,
spend some time chatting with the bartender(s)…you just may find another
interesting craft beer soul who you have something to share with.
Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing thebigG@beernexus.com.
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|Big G's Beer Beat
by Glenn DeLuca
|BeerNexus is proud to
welcome beer writer
Glenn "Big G" DeLuca
as a contributor to the
site. A widely traveled
beer hunter, Glenn is a
leading advocate for the
growth of craft beer.