I have two friends who I talk to at length about beer. One is an old friend that I met at work who now works elsewhere. I have managed to drag him headlong into the world of beer. Prior to the events illustrated below, he was enjoying Sapporo and Miller Lime. He will be known from here on out as The Senpai.
The other I also met at work and he is still in the same position as when I met him. He grew up in the Pacific Northwest and attended the University of Oregon. He comes into this storyline with a serious West Coast bias. I sometimes refer to him as His Royal High Duckiness, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll just call him The Duck.
So how did The Senpai become my senpai? We went out to dinner at Houston’s in Paramus for ribs. The Senpai loves his ribs as does the Beer Samurai. The restaurant had Victory Prima Pils on the menu and I ordered one and I talked The Senpai into ordering one as well. Prima Pils gets a lot of good press, but I find it lacking, but that’s because I’m a huge fan of Czech pilsners and I find that there’s no comparison. We started discussing this opinion and other beer facts and decided to hunt down a beer bar that I saw recommended on Facebook. This was posted by the same bass player who recommended BLO to me. So we headed off to Caldwell, NJ to find The Cloverleaf Tavern.
We found it very easily, parked and entered the place that would shortly become special to us both and is deserving of its own entry in this blog, which will come later. We sat at the bar and I scanned the taps as I do whenever I walk into a bar, usually to my disappointment. The first thing that caught my eye was that they had Delirium Tremens on tap! Oh my. I liked this place immediately. But we didn’t start off with DT, instead we ordered pints of Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute IPA. Then we went for DT and the effect it had on The Senpai was immediate. The subtly complex floral and fruity flavors that Belgian yeast delivers enchanted The Senpai and he was hooked. He had bypassed the usual progression from malthead to hophead and jumped straight to Belgian beer snob in one sitting. We had an instant convert and a willing pupil. We tried many other beers that night and paid for it the next day. In The Senpai’s case it was more like three days, but his tolerance is improving and he’s beginning to pay more attention to ABVs.
So I decided that it was time to take The Senpai to Weyerbacher and I invited The Duck along. I have no recollection as to when The Duck and I began to talk about beer. Our conversations usually centered on college football and watches. Due to the aforementioned West Coast bias, The Duck feels that the Pac-10 is under-rated. Other than USC’s dominance due to bucking NCAA recruiting rules, I have yet to understand this point of view. Somehow or another, this line of conversation must have turned to beer. He would extol the virtues of Stone, Rogue and Sierra Nevada and I would counter with Weyerbacher, Dogfish Head and Ommegang. We have both acquiesced on many of the points made by the other. I have come to embrace the hop maniacs that are Stone Brewing and his estimation of East Coast breweries would be forever altered by this trip to Weyerbacher.
The day was gorgeous if not a little hot and we piled into the Aztek and headed off to Easton, PA. We stopped at the Clinton exit on Route 78 to grab some grub and then proceeded on to the brewery. A Beer Samurai always builds a good drinking base when he prepares for battle. The brewery is just off of the second exit in Pennsylvania on Route 78 and not hard to find if you manage to make the correct turn after getting off the highway. They had the garage doors open and you could see the tasting bar as we drove in and found a place to park. After nearly destroying the Aztek’s front end on a boulder, we spilled out of my beloved red eyesore and went inside.
Upon entering we were warmly greeted and told that the next tour would begin in about twenty minutes. We shrugged and made our way to the tasting bar. I had explained to both the guys that the brewery tour was a bit boring so we were there to taste. The volunteers behind the bar really should be paid for the good they do. They walk you through all the offerings on tap and explain each beer as you proceed through their line-up. They do a good job keeping straight what beer each of their patrons has already tried. The Duck’s view of East Coast beers would change after his second sample. Not that the first one was bad, it was quite good, but the second one made him smile like I had never seen him smile before. That is until he tried Insanity.
After we ran the gamut of the beers they had we took the tour. Eh, why not? After 8 samples of high ABV beer we could use the break. This time was different than the last time I took the tour. Our tour guide was engaging and told some great stories. He didn’t actually work for the brewery, but for their distributor. I won’t recount all of the stories, but I will tell you how he said Blithering Idiot got its name. If you’re not familiar with this beer, it is their barleywine and the beer that put Weyerbacher on the map. Prior to this they had offered a pale ale, a stout, an IPA and it was at this point where the tour guide yawned. Everyone was brewing these styles. Well, one day the owner, Dan Weirback, got invited out to the Victory brewery and they served him a barleywine. He enjoyed it so much he drank quite a few of them, despite the higher alcohol content that comes with that style. So they took his keys away from him and drove him home. The whole ride home he kept slurring, “We gotta make shum of dis schtuff!” He had basically turned into a blithering idiot. So they put his likeness in a court jester’s outfit, enjoying a glass beer on the label of their first batch of barleywine and dubbed it Blithering Idiot. The beer was well-received and won many awards and became one of their top-sellers. From there on out they decided to put their efforts into more audacious brews and the jester became the company’s logo.
That brings us to Insanity. If you take Blithering Idiot and age it in bourbon barrels for a few months, the bourbon flavor leeches into the beer. If it is done by Weyerbacher, it is called Insanity. The tagline for this beer is “The Idiot has finally lost it!” They hadn’t had this on tap when we started the tour, but one of the kegs had kicked so they had swapped it out with Insanity. The Duck fell in love and immediately grabbed a growler to be filled. We left with his growler and more than a case each of Weyerbacher beer and other swag. Plans are in the works for a return trip, but maybe not until the next batch of Quad or when their lambic is released. At this time Quad IS on tap there as is their Imperial Pumpkin Ale which is supposed to be one of the best pumpkin beers in the United States, which pretty much means the world as it is a very much an American style.
Afterward, we went down to Circle Liquors in Pennington, NJ on the recommendation from the tour guide. Being a big BLO advocate at the time, I was dubious but it did turn out to be worth the trip. Did they have a better selection than BLO? No, the selection at both places is comparable, but the two places do seem to get different items. This is probably a function of distribution territories. The one thing that put them maybe a notch higher than BLO was that they offered so many of their beers as single bottles. At BLO, if you want to try something you typically need to get a six-pack. If you don’t like the beer, you’re stuck with five beers that you can try to foist off onto your Senpai, but eventually they become wise to that. So we came back with some nice stuff oblivious to the fact that New Jersey had a beer store that would make both Circle Liquors and BLO seem woefully understocked. But that's another entry for another time.
Next Time: A Tale of Two Beer Fests