ADVENTURES IN BEERLAND
is a two time winner of
the Quill and Tankard
writing award for humor
from the North
American Guild of
Vince's column is now
a regular feature of
The Shepherd & The Knucklehead
Question: which one of the following does not belong with the others and why- binoculars, eyeglasses, goggles,
handlebars, scissors, shoes, tweezers. Well? Let me take one more sip of my beer and then I’ll give you the
answer. It’s shoes. It’s the only "pair" that actually has 2 separate pieces. Try another: doctor, brother, teacher,
waitress. If you guessed ‘brother’ you only proved it was definitely too easy. How about one more: author,
philosopher, restaurateur, poet, beer expert, entrepreneur, sommelier, gentleman. I guess it’s only fair to admit that
one is a trick question. They all belong together. Well, at least they do when describing Chris Schiavo, the owner of
The Shepherd and The Knucklehead, one of the finest pubs on the East Coast.
The Shepherd and Knucklehead is a beer geeks dream. It features 90 (yes, ninety) taps of nothing but great craft
beer. It’s the brainchild of Chris Schiavo, one of the unsung pioneers of the introduction of craft beer to New Jersey.
Among his beer buddies were legends like Richie Stolarz of Beer International and the king of them all, Michael
Jackson. Despite this impressive beer pedigree Chris actually started out as a wine drinker. His affection for that
beverage was so strong he completed formal studies in wine tasting, food pairings, and service techniques. He
learned how to judge and evaluate bottles from around the world. His preparation paid off – he became a Certified
Sommelier. Despite being a notable expert he never became a wine snob; he is one of the rare members of the
Oenophile tribe that retained the touch of normality.
With education, experience, and personality, it was a short time before Chris advanced, in 1985, to the position of
head of wines for Super Cellars, one of the most prominent chains of liquor stores on the East Coast. I can hear you
mumbling, when did this website become WineNexus.com? Don’t blame me, blame Chris. After all, it’s his story.
Super Cellars may sell a lot of wine but they also are purveyors of beer. And not just a few beers. With a portfolio of
nearly 3,000 different brews it isn’t hard to imagine anyone with an inquisitive pallet , even a wine guy, would want to
sample a few of the brews not named Bud, Miller, or Coors. For Chris, it was love at first sip – a beer fan was
instantly born! His mission from there on out was to learn even more about beer than he already knew about wine.
With friends like Michael Jackson that was anything but a chore.
Chris’ beer epiphany fueled his entrepreneurial spirit and the result was the 1998 opening of The Shepherd and the
Knucklehead in Haledon, NJ. Why Haledon? Well, why not? It has a population of nearly 8,400, a median household
income of $62,000, a university (William Paterson), is less than 16 miles from Manhattan’s population of over 1.5
million, and has never had an earthquake larger than 3.8 on the Richter scale. Oh, it also true that Chris' home town
of Hawthorne is less than 3 miles away. Local is good when it comes to beer.
At its grand opening The Shepherd and The Kuncklehead became an instant destination for serious beer drinkers
since at the time it had the most quality taps of any bar in the state – twenty. Today’s total of 90 is testimony to
Chris’ drive to keep the pub at the top. As he said, “I want the Shepherd and Knucklehead to have the most and
best beer around. Maybe it’s pure ego but I want my patrons to have a selection so varied they’ll always find a beer
they can fall in love with.”
Offering ninety taps begs two questions – can any bar actually sell that much beer and how is it possible to keep it all
fresh. “When we went to 90 taps business went through the roof. Beer sales totally dominated wine and mixed
drinks nearly ten to one” Chris said. As for the freshness issue, it isn’t one. This place really moves beer. Since
most of the beers are in sixtels (wish someone would invent a sevental or eightal) it doesn’t take long for that keg’s
40 or so pints to go which means a new fresh one will be tapped. Throw in a protective layer of CO2 and Nitrogen in
each vessel and you’ve got fresh beer all the time.
Chris’ formula for beer bar success isn’t a secret but he stands atop the pack not only for the variety of beers he
offers but for their uniqueness. Today every decent bar has a few of the usual craft suspects. However while they
might have Stone IPA on tap, Chris will not only have that but also Stone Ruin Ten. The token craft bars might have
a Blue Moon but Chris will pull out a keg of Alvinne Cuvee Freddy Zymatore. Take that all you pretenders to the
throne! His philosophy on which beers to select for the bar is simple and effective: “We don’t say no to any keg.”
The Shepherd and The Knucklehead’s clientele is as diverse as the beer it pours. It has its share of traveling beer
adventurers, local folks who see it as their friendly neighborhood pub, younger drinkers from nearby William
Patterson University, and those who like Chris, are long serving knights on the quest for great beer. All are welcome
even those who come in thinking they only like Budweiser. For those craft beer neophytes Chris touts a regimen of
what he calls “bridge” beers. He’ll recommend friendly lagers (Cricket Hill), approachable witbiers (Allagash White),
and tasty lambics (Lindemans Framboise) to prepare them for the journey to the powerful flavors of Double IPAs or
Imperial Russian Stouts. His siren’s song soon hooks them on good beer for which they should forever be grateful.
“Give Jim Kock (Sam Adams/Boston Beer) credit for bringing craft beer to the mainstream in the same way that Gallo
did it for wine years ago. They helped change the way people perceived beer and wine. They empowered the
vocabulary and grew the base of customers that helped make the industry as strong and innovative as it is today.”
Chris’ bar staff is one of the most knowledgeable around. Hallelujah. If you visit as many bars as I do (part of the job
of course) you know what I mean. Cluelessness about beer is the norm. If you don't believe me, just ask Norm
"What'll you have, Norm?"
"Well, I'm in a gambling mood Sammy. I'll take a glass of whatever comes out of that tap."
"Looks like beer, Norm."
"Call me Mister Lucky."
The most affable and beer wise member of The Shepherd and The Knucklehead’s bartending family is just that,
family. It’s Chris’ son, Joe. Despite being a very recent college grad (think devotees of Milwaukee’s Best, Bud Light,
and PBR) Joe is a true craft beer man. He fought the courageous battle to keep the flame of good beer alive during
his college years, well, as much as possible for a young man going to school an empty beer can toss away from a
sunny Florida beach. "We were college students so good beer was defined as cheap beer” he said. “But I always
kept my foot in both worlds drinking beers from the likes of great Florida breweries like Cigar City, Naples Beach ,
and Swamp Head whenever I could.”
Joe is now back working full time at the Shepherd and the Knucklehead, happily home in this oasis of no junk beer. .
“I have to admit that I enjoyed drinking my share of American macro lagers in Florida” he said. Since it's confession
time I admit to enjoying of few of those lawnmower beers on occasion too. Well, maybe enjoyed is a bit of a stretch,
like Miller Lite calling itself a “Fine Pilsner Beer.”
The Shepherd and the Knucklehead is more than a place for great beer, though alone is enough to make it stand
above the competition. It’s also a must stop for foodies sine they have some of the best pub cuisine around with
perfectly prepared items ranging from burgers to wings to tantalizing steaks to a selection of vegetarian items. Time
out - give me another Hallelujah please. That one was for their many vegetarian offerings. From my experience
most pubs make we vegetarians as welcome as Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lecter, and Norman Bates.
Of course those three are fictional characters as is Oliver Wendell Tweed. Who is Mr. Tweed you ask? What, you
never heard of the coat he created? Ah, actually he’s the main character in Chris Schiavo’s book. Yes, book, as in
Chris is an author too. The book examines duality in politics, culture, and life. It illuminates the shadowy places
between what things seem like and what they really are. In the story Oliver Wendell Tweed takes along Francis
Bacon, a sock monkey, his constant childhood companion, to find Lake Duality in the hope of understanding the
true meaning of mankind's duality. Despite the tale being philosophical and thought provoking (two things I try never
to do) I still found it downright entertaining.
Now before you say that the mere fact Chris wrote a book about “duality”- not to mention his poems, essays, and
popular public readings - makes him truly unique in the world of beer, I offer for your consideration a friend of mine,
one Greg Katz, aka The Paladin of Beer. You see, Greg too embraces the concept of duality. When he sits down at
a bar he always orders a duality of beers. One to drink and one to warm to what he feels is appropriate
By the way, if you want to order Chris' book (it’s available on.Amazon.com or at the pub) the title is The Shepherd
and The Knucklehead.
Seems I’ve heard that name before.
The BeerNexus review of The Shepherd & The Knucklehead
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