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|On the shelf behind the bar stand New Jersey Statutes Annotated and Michael Jackson’s
Great Beer Guide, firmly held up by bookends of dusty bottles of Dewar’s White Label and Ruskova
Vodka. To their left, 20 taps stand ready for action waiting to do the bidding of an affable, bearded
gentleman residing under a well-worn baseball cap. This can only be the Copper Mine Pub and its owner,
It’s rare that a down home neighborhood bar in, of all places, North Arlington, NJ, can become a beer
mecca. In fact it’s so rare it’s never been done before, until now that is. Maybe that’s because there’s never
been anyone with the drive, determination, business acumen, and love of beer that Mr. Forte possesses.
Three years ago he came upon a shut down shot and beer gin mill across from a cemetery. Unlike the
cemetery, people had not been dying to get in the bankrupt bar. Vito somehow saw something no one else
did and bought the place to the delight of the seller and dismay of his family and friends.
Vito dusted off the bar’s vintage interior, added quality beer taps, and said no to the macro distributors.
Then, without any further ado, he swung open the doors for business. His Field of Dreams business plan
(open it and they will come) somehow worked. The word quickly spread about a new, little, BYOF (bring
your own food) pub that was serving incredible, hard to find beers. Old fashioned word of mouth went
viral. And no wonder, after all the place was pouring things like Firestone Walker Double Jack, Mikkeller
Monk’s Elixir, and Terrapin Big Hoppy Monster Oak Aged. It was having vertical tastings of Anchor
Christmas Ale and Stone Verticle Epic along with hosting promo nights from the likes of Dogfish Head,
Stone, and Founders.
Beers often appear at the Copper Mine that are near impossible to find anywhere else. According to Vito
he gets these gems because he has a long standing relationship with the distributors. “They know they can
just send me anything special at anytime without asking especially when it’s from a brewery I trust.” And
when he gets those special beers they sell out. Quickly.
The vibe in the Copper Mine is reflective of Vito himself. It’s warm, open, and friendly. “We get some
awesome people coming in. I really enjoy talking with everyone from the regulars to first timers.” They're all
there for the beer. “About 99% of our sales are for beer. I’m always changing kegs, usually several times
each week, so people come back often since there is always something new to try. But I do have one local
regular who loves Bud Light. I stock it in bottles mainly for him; it's the only non-craft beer you'll find here.”
Vito’s knowledge of the ins and outs of the legal labyrinth of the New Jersey’s alcohol laws can be traced to
his years working at Rutherford Wine Shop along with information he picked up from family members in the
industry. As for his business sensibility, this college History major credits a career of working in an array of
jobs ranging from being an assistant plumber to Christmas tree salesman. Business, after all, is business.
As for his appreciation of good beer, something not all that common in Vito’s young demographic group,
he cites the help of older aficionados who showed him the way. As a very young college freshman (make
that a 21 year old freshman in case the beer police are reading this) he didn’t join the Coor’s Light mania;
his beer of choice was usually anything in the Ruffian lineup, a long gone brand brewed at the great
Mountain Valley Brew Pub in Suffern, NY.
Vito does just about everything at the Copper Mine. He bartends, he cleans, he takes inventory, he orders
the beer, he deals with salesmen, he keeps the financial books, and he washes glasses. “After three years
in business, one thing I’ve mastered is cleaning cups”. Despite all of this, he still has time for one hobby
that involves fermentation. No, you guessed wrong. He is not a home brewer. Vito is a cheese maker.
Cheese makers ferment. Who knew? According to Vito, “fermentation using homofermentative bacteria is
important in the production of a variety of cheeses where a clean, acid flavor is required.” I have no idea
what any of that means but I do know cheese goes well with beer so I’m all for it.
When asked what promo event at his pub was most memorable, Vito said it was his first Jolly Pumpkin
Night. For the record, Jolly Pumpkin is a brewery, not a happy gourd-like squash. As to why it was special,
well, just how many New Jersey people two years ago knew about the beers from this brewery in
Michigan? Answer: only major beer geeks. And they packed the bar that night. That’s when Vito realized
the Copper Mine would be a success; it had become a destination stop on the craft beer lover’s drinking
As for Vito's own personal favorite single beer, he said with little hesitation, "it's the 2008 edition of The
Bruery’s Black Tuesday Imperial Stout - an avalanche of chocolate, malt, vanilla, sugar, and oak flavors.
Decadence at it's best!" On the other hand, the question of what was the worst beer he ever had, proved far
more difficult for him to answer.
“Actually, I’ve never had a really terrible beer. To me beer is like pizza, how bad can it really be?”
Now who could argue with that?
The Copper Mine Pub – 323 Ridge Road, North Arlington, NJ
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