Vince Capano is a two time winner of the Quill and Tankard writing award from the North American Guild of Beer Writers.
Vince's column is now a regular feature of beernexus.com
The One Precenters
Sometimes it’s hard to get away from the day’s news. From the front page to the business page to even the sports page the problems of the world reach out and grab you. There’s always a crisis somewhere, always an injustice to fight, always some problem that creates yet another headache for the average person already struggling with his own personal woes. However no matter how stressful or upsetting the real world is one could always find an oasis of serenity at the local bar. Now however that oasis is gone; it’s in the grasp of those infamous one percenters.
You surely remember the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Their lament was that the upper 1 percent of Americans take in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. Even more telling, in terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent of the wealth. They’re the elite of the elite. Truthfully, I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I do know that beer, or more specifically, beer at a bar, was always the great equalizer; a true champion of egalitarianism. Think about it. When you order a beer and the guy in the five thousand dollar suit next to you does the same you each get an equal pour. At least you used to. One of my local pubs, as I’m guessing many others, now has a hierarchy of customers. Joe Average, the backbone of our great beer nation, orders a beer and gets a 16 ounce pint (I know it’s never really that much but that’s a battle for another day), the one percenter next to him orders a beer and gets it filled to the top of a 20 ounce glass. To make matters worse, the guy next to him (the half of one percenter) gets the same beer served in a 22 ounce glass. Three different sizes yet each person pays the same amount. It’s hard not to conclude that these guys are not Churchillian Pigs. As the famous Winston once said “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
The bar in question, the Cloverleaf Tavern, is admittedly one of the premier bars on the East Coast.; they proudly boast of serving over 1,000 different beers a year. Impressive indeed, but so too is their “MBA – PhD.” program. If you’re wondering how they received certification from the Department of Education to legally award such advanced degrees the answer is easy – they didn’t, unless beer drinking has moved from being an unofficial college major to an official one. The “degrees” are all about beer – MBA stands for Master of Beer Appreciation" and PhD translates to "Professor of Hops and Drafts". It’s a clever and creative marketing maneuver. To graduate you have to drink a lot of beers. Specific beers are listed on a card. Every time you drink a designated beer it’s marked off. Reach certain plateaus and prizes await, reach the finish and you are entitled to an oversized glass along with a monthly free beer that is actually free unlike the sign over the bar that boldly proclaims “free beer tomorrow”.
As for the specific beers on the card, some you may like and some you may not but drink them all you will if you want to stay matriculated. Some of the beers are seasonal so if you need to check off a summer beer during the fall well, patience is a virtue. Don’t worry there are other beers to drink while you wait but good as they are none will earn a coveted check on your card.
Receiving your MBA allows you to try to next earn the most prestigious degree offered by the Cloverleaf. The PhD gives you all the perks of the MBA and also confers on you the coveted 22 ounce glass. You will be served in this Andre the Giant sized glass every time you order a beer, presumably for the rest of your lifetime or the demise of the pub (not likely to happen soon since it’s successfully been in business for over 75 years).
I happily walked into the Cloverleaf last week for the first time to join a few friends for lunch who are regulars there. The occasion was a tap takeover by Flying Dog. After the usual greetings were taken care of we got down to the business at hand – selecting our beer from the nearly twenty that were available. Our waitress patiently waited as we carefully studied the choices printed on a neatly folded paper sheet. Brian, aka “the beer poet” (There once was a beerfest called TAP, that's starting to get a bad rap. Standing in rain, to show ID is a pain, when you merely want beer, not this crap.) ordered a glass of Flying Dog’s The Truth, a double IPA. Unlike Jack Nicholson in the film A Few Good Men, Brian definitely could handle it. Glenn “Big G” DeLuca, my BeerNexus colleague ordered a Flying Dog Tropical Stout. Anything with the world tropical was definitely welcome considering the eight degree temperature outside. I ordered the Bloodline HBC-291 mainly because I had no idea what it was other than a beer.
We chattered away, once again solving most of the world’s problems in the time it would take a professional politico to solicit just one bribe. Then, as we completed our plan for eternal peace in the Middle East, I noticed a waitress approaching our table. She deftly placed a pint glass in front of me. I said a polite thank you. Next with a flourish of her hand, she reached over and loudly proclaimed, “here’s your MBA glass, sir” as she placed it in front of Glenn. He condescendingly smiled at me then turned and said "thanks, Colleen". Finally she grabbed the gigantic PhD glass shouting – “PhD in the house; PhD being served!” As the last word was said a large bell was clanged (yes, that’s a word) twice. She placed the Big One in front of Brian, slightly bowed and backed away, vanishing into the underworld of a door that said “employees only”. Brian lifted his glass and waved it in as deft a Queen Elizabeth imitation as you’ll ever see. At that, a smattering of applause emanated from several tables behind us though for the sake of honest reporting I also thought I heard some muffled boos too. And to be fair, when Brian looked my way it might have been an expression of sympathy and not superiority.
Being good friends, both Brian and Glenn took the time to carefully explain just why they got larger glasses than I did despite the fact that their tariff and beer were identical to mine. Glenn said they didn’t like my shirt; Brian said the waitress hates beards. Both then soothingly opined that “it’s probably personal”. I understandably said, “all you guys need is Curly and you can get the act back together.”
It was time for another round. I ordered sheepishly befitting my lowly status. Brian and Glenn ordered with an exuberant gusto clearly fueled by the extra liquid in their glass. Once again the ritual of serving these one- percenters was repeated. This time however, it was punctuated by both Brian and Glenn standing and toasting their over-sized vessels in acknowledgment of Max, one of their elitist brethren seated at the bar. Fortunately they didn’t do their double secret handshake.
My second pint was nearly finished when Richie, the fourth member of or group arrived. Richie is a sage and kindly person so I hoped that when he looked at my glass he wouldn't chuckle nor derisively scoff at its size. Fortunately he did neither proving that some one-percenters do have a heart.
As I turned toward the bar I happened to notice one incredibly large – at least two liters big – hand crafted German stein. It was inlaid with solid gold along the rim and handle; the body was adorned with silver images on all sides. It stood on a pedestal that proclaimed “The Goblet of Glory -reserved for the person with the most PhDs”. Richie’s voice brought my attention back to the table as I heard him order a Flying Dog Gonzo Porter. Colleen solemnly nodded and headed to the bar. Typical of the always efficient service at Cloverleaf she broke into a brisk jog but then, inexplicably, slowed down as she neared the stein. Wait - could Richie, be the ultimate ONE of the one- percenters? Was this quiet, friendly, unassuming nice guy really the SOB PhD king?
Just as Colleen’s hand was reaching for the hallowed vessel Richie coughed loudly. Was it simply a frog in his throat, an oncoming cold, or maybe, just maybe, might it have been a signal? The only thing certain was that at that very moment she withdrew her hand, walked to the taps, and began filling a glass.
A few seconds later she was delivering the Gonzo to Richie. Polite as ever, he thanked her and smiled. I looked at the glass. It obviously wasn’t the stein, it wasn’t the 22 ounce behemoth, and it wasn’t the 20 ounce MBA. No, it was a simple shaker pint, neatly filled, just as my glass was. Richie was truly the common man’s man.
I never found out if Richie was indeed the One of the Ones. If he was, then his gesture of making me feel comfortable by asking for the designated loser size glass was truly a mark of the superior soul. If he wasn’t, well, it really didn’t matter because the lesson was the same – the best place to be big is in your heart …….unless it’s a beer glass.