ADVENTURES IN BEERLAND
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The Rise and Fall of the Spaten Five
Every time I enter a pub I immediately check to see if they’re pouring a beer I’ve never had before. It’s automatic like
breathing, sneezing, or fudging a tax deduction. Oh, sidebar to any IRA agents out there, I don’t do that last one,
really. That’s what I pay an accountant for. Anyway, drinking beer is an adventure and that means a never ending
search for the next best brew. Don’t get me wrong, when I see a beer on tap that’s a favorite I’ll order it but after that
first one it’s a journey into the unknown. If it’s new to me it doesn’t even don’t have to be any good. A bad new beer
is still new. And besides, if you don’t try it how do you know how bad it really is?
My quest has led me to discover many outstanding purveyors of the brewer’s art including The Tap Room where
Kevin, the manager, has proven to be a magician of sorts. Why just last week I saw him walking down the main street
in town and, poof, just like that he turned into a bar. Ah, get it, he’s a magician. Oh well. Truthfully though, he is a
magician in that he’s parlays 12 taps into nearly twenty different beers each and every week. The drinkers of the
Tap Room consume goodly amounts and when a sixtel kicks Kevin instantly replaces it with another totally different
offering. That’s true for all except for one tap - Spaten. Spaten??
Yes, look in the glass, it’s a beer, it’s a lager, it’s a Munich Helles! And here I thought Spaten was just another beer
that tastes just about the same as every other German import. So to be accurate let me now say that Spaten tastes
the same as just about any other Munich Helles import. No real surprise since the style itself was a marketing
decision. When the golden and clean lagers of Plzen became all the rage in the mid-1800's, Munich brewers feared
that Germans would start drinking the Czech beer instead of their own. Munich Helles Lager was their answer.
Interesting, but that doesn’t address the question of just why Spaten is the only beer never changed in the topsy-
turvy tumult of the Tap Room’s ever rotating offerings.
The answer is the Spaten Five. Yes, the Spaten Five has made The Tap Room into New Jersey’s single largest on
premise seller of the beer. It’s five guys against the entire state and they’re winning! Regardless of how many or few
times you’ve been to The Tap Room you can’t miss them. They are almost always seated at the corner of the bar
closest to the door. Indeed, they are as much a fixture in the place as the lights, the sink, and the perpetually hazy
TV in the corner. They range in size from “Big Mike” who proves that some nicknames can be taken literally to the
diminutive “English Gordon” who on occasion forgets his Liverpool accent and sounds like a Bronx, NY refugee.
Also in the group are “Silent Jack” and a “Music Ted” who let their copious drinking do their talking. The unabashed
leader of the group is Hal the merciless, so nicknamed because his flowing beard is vaguely reminiscent of the one
worn by Flash Gordon’s arch enemy, Ming the Merciless. The comparison ends there as Ming is formerly of the
planet Mongo and Hal hails from Jersey City. If Hal’s beard doesn’t give him away just look for the guy with an ever
present computer tablet. It’s always in front of him. Always. No one is quite sure of Hal’s occupation but my guess is
he’s in guerilla marketing as an I-Pad demonstrator.
The entire Spaten Five only drink Spaten of course; never wine, never a craft beer, not even a glass of water. It’s
Spaten every day from when their rear hits the bar stool until they bid goodbye hours later. It’s important to note
however that they are first and foremost beer drinkers, not beer adventurers. They could care less what else is on
tap. When beer geeks invade The Tap Room and surround them, the Spaten Five hold fast, impervious to
intimidation. A generous soul must say they are unpretentious folk who simply know what they like. A more critical
person might conclude the only reason they drink Spaten is that they have been seduced by the siren call of the
Spaten 22 ounce glass. Yes, The Tap Room serves Spaten, and only Spaten, in that giant size for the price of a
standard 16 oz. pint. Think about it, that’s 6 free ounces in every glass which is hard to turn down regardless of the
liquid as long as it contains alcohol.
On occasion some of the Spaten Five would acknowledge the constantly changing selections of the craft beer
devotees and ask why we didn’t stick with one beer we liked. However, despite listening to our reasons they couldn’t
understand them. Traveling untold miles just to find a new and different brews did not compute. They were as
mystified about us as we were about them. Still, over time a mutual respect rose between the camps. After all we
were at least half- brothers in beer. And besides, they stayed on their side of the bar and we stayed on ours. Usually.
The Tap Room can get crowded since it’s located in a hotel that is popular with the business crowd and hosts
numerous weddings and catering events. Once such night I entered along with my BeerNexus colleagues Dan
Hodge and Art Hannemman to find every seat taken, the bane of any bar regular. We had been invaded by martini
swilling tourists who had taken over our home turf. Looking around I noticed that even the Spaten Five were not in
their regular spots but were now sitting in what was our regular seats. Then as fate would have it three seats opened
up for us in the Spaten Five section. Each group seemed to appreciate the other’s discomfort. If this wasn’t Bizzaro
World then it had to at least be the outer fringes of the Twilight Beer Zone.
Without thinking I quickly ordered, you’ve guessed it, three Spatens. Clearly the devious Spaten Five had put a hex
on the seat. Eva, our bartender, chuckled as she placed the beer in front of us. We three laughed too that is until
we had to drink the stuff. We lifted our glasses high in a salute to the Spaten Five hoping it would convince them to
respond by saluting us with a craft beer. When that didn’t work we mumbled a reverse hex. Failure again so we just
shouted “hey, you guys have to have real beer now. It’s the fair thing to do.” With a smile they dutifully ordered five
Stone Oak Aged Arrogant Bastards. Watching their faces as they drank it only proved that each group thought the
other got the best of the deal.
Over the next few months the Spaten continued to flow more than ever. Then we learned that both Silent Jack and
English Gorden had been transferred by their company to the southern part of the state. The Five had become the
Three. Next to leave was Music Ted who was going on a long national tour with Bon Jovi. Seems Ted was the road
manager in charge of supplying bon bons to Bon.
Hal and Big Mike, rock solid to the core, remained, vowing to drink even more to keep the Tap Room as the
preeminent Spaten seller in the state. And so they did. At least until Big Mike came in one day and ordered an
O'Doul's, the non-alcohol beer from Budweiser. Big Mike had become Really Big Mike and was now so large the
doctor had ordered him to go on a strict diet including no alcohol.
If that happened to me I’d change doctors.
The Spaten Five had been reduced to the Spaten Hal. He was now the lone drinker, fighting to preserve the group’s
reputation and well earned Munich Helles Medal of Honor. He sometimes brought in various friends to help in the
cause but they never joined him on a regular basis except for one of them. Hal introduced her as “Spaten Annie”, a
woman who “will drink as many Spatens as those other four combined”, an exaggeration but not by much. She was
indeed a marvel, able to match Hal glass for glass and slip in an extra one when he went to the men’s room. Sadly
the reign of the newly christened Spaten Two was to be short lived.
At 5.2% ABV some might consider Spaten a session beer but it does have an impact especially after two or thre
dozen. Spaten Annie was feeling no pain one night when she began visiting each table in the bar area extolling the
virtues of her favorite beverage. While some might welcome an uninvited inebriated woman’s rant about beer, most
of the customers seemed a bit unnerved. People are funny I guess. With a wedding crowd beginning to filter in even
the most understanding and patient bartender would be moved to action. And so it happened, there were to be no
more Spatens for Spaten Annie; she was now just plain Ann. Fighting to keep her identity, Ann complained. Loudly.
Very, very loudly. Her protests led to a logical conclusion – the boot. No not the Das Boot beer glass but Das Heave-
Ho as in don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Being a gentleman of the old school Hal understandably defended his Spaten sister. At first he gently explained just
how important the Spaten Two were to the bar’s financial well being. After that came the threatened law suit. Then,
finally, in a display worthy of D'Artagnan and the rest of the Musketeers, not to mention Zorro, he challenged, in
order, the bartender, the manager, the bouncer, and a silver haired grandmother at the end of the bar to a duel with
swords or whatever you call those small plastic skewers for martini olives.
When an agitated granny spilled her crème de’menthe Hal had gone too far. It was his turn to get the boot and you
know which boot I mean.
Hal and Annie made the appropriate apologies and are now back, under probation, in their regular seats. They are
a wiser and more careful duo. Although they still drink Spaten they now consume an amount appropriate for only
The mighty Spaten Five have fallen. They are now the stuff of legend.
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