|And I'm damn proud of it!|
In May of 2010 I found out about Cloverleaf Tavern from Beer Whisperer Nicole. She had contacted me and told me about their "M.B.A." program and explained just enough to make me want to start right away. As soon as I found out that it stood for "Master's of Beer Appreciation," I was sold. I had contacted a friend of mine and we agreed to start together on May 29th. After a particularly rough stretch during the week prior, I decided that I needed a night out with my wife Heather and our then-four month old son Timmy. I called Cloverleaf to find out if they were kid-friendly and I was told that we could gladly bring our boy with us.
And so began both my incredible relationship with Cloverleaf Tavern and my journey towards beer enlightenment (and certification!)
We were both incredibly nervous as we arrived at the restaurant because it was our first time going out to dinner as parents. We were unsure of how our son would react and we were intimidated when we walked into the restaurant's atrium area and saw that it was packed. Not wanting to disturb the other patrons, we each said a silent prayer that our son would behave and that we would be able to make it through our meal in peace. Our server came over and told us about the M.B.A. program almost immediately, which thrilled me because he saved me the trouble of having to ask. What struck me most wasn't simply his knowledge of the beer and the program but his passion for both; he was clearly someone who loved his job and, more importantly, loved where he worked.
|The forty-five beers of the 2010 MBA|
I left with a full belly, a full bladder, and a thirst not simply for more incredible beers but for more star-shaped punches on my card.
And therein lies the secret of the M.B.A. program: it's fun. The pursuit of forty-five punches can be an addictive one, particularly for someone like me who enjoys a) sampling as many new beers as possible, b) completing lists, and c) breaking records. Having tackled the spring seasonal beers on my very first night, I was free then to pursue a more varied approach to the next few beers on my list. I meandered along the card, picking and choosing whatever struck my fancy on a given evening. Before I knew it, I had amassed fifteen punches and thus netted my first reward: a fifteen dollar gift card.
I couldn't believe it: I was drinking beer and received money back for doing it; I was living the dream.
Before I knew it, the summer was almost over and I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the fall beers. Being a huge lover of Oktoberfest beers, I was thrilled that I would be trying new beers that I was almost guaranteed to enjoy. Still, though, a nemesis lingered on my list, taunting me with its un-punched square box: the Dogfish Head 120 Minute or World Wide Stout. Both beers had attained legendary status by the hushed, hallowed tones they were spoken of by both customers and servers; I knew I had to have it. Unfortunately, both beers are also relatively rare and enjoy extremely limited releases throughout the year because of the intricate care and attention to detail that must be paid to their brewing. I feared that Cloverleaf would never receive either and then it happened: they announced on their Facebook page that they would be having a limited supply of the World Wide Stout.
I'll admit, by this point I was captured fully in the throes of my own competitiveness and so I launched myself at the opportunity to sample the brew. I decided to go to Cloverleaf for lunch the next day and, when I did, I wound up having the same server from our very first visit. I told him why I was there and he laughed saying that he had me covered. He brought me a snifter of the precious liquid and told me to enjoy it; it was both a command and a warning. Usually, as I neared the ends of my beers, he would arrive and ask for my next order; this time, he didn't so much as suggest another one. When I was finally complete, I was going to ask him why he hadn't offered to take another drink order when it hit me. Seriously, the alcohol from the World Wide hit me right between the eyes. I had not been expecting an 18% abv brew to pack such a wallop but pack it did. He could see when he came over that I was reeling and reminded me that the beer was super strong (having already warned me of it once when I ordered it). He talked me into ordering dessert, which, to his credit was an awesome idea because the decadent dish was delicious AND it served to sober me up all the quicker.
Cloverleaf Tavern: always putting its customers' best interests first!
On May 21st, 2010 our favorite waiter served me my first M.B.A. beer and told me that it takes the average person a year to complete the program; on November 18th, 2010, our favorite waitress served me my last M.B.A. beer. I had accomplished not only my goal of finishing the M.B.A. but also of doing it in under a year. It took me less than six months to complete the degree.
|M.J.B., MBA, PhD!|
|The PhD Card|
To comment on the rewards of both programs, I must say that Cloverleaf is remarkably generous in what it offers its customers both during and after the completion of the M.B.A. and PhD. For the former, incentive is offered by way of a fifteen dollar gift card after 15 and 30 beers and then another one after finishing beer number forty-five. At that point, you are also given an awesome M.B.A. t-shirt, the right to enjoy draft beers in a 20 oz imperial pint instead of the standard 16 oz glass, an invitation to M.B.A./PhD graduates-only events (held the first Tuesday night of every month) during which said graduates receive a complimentary brew offered by the featured brewery as well as entries into various raffles. Oh, and your name is engraved on a plaque with your graduation number (I'm M.B.A. graduate #739 and Nicole is #740).
As thrilling as all of the M.B.A. treats and prizes are, the PhD ones are taken to a whole new level of awesomeness. Instead of netting gift cards at 15 and 30 beers, PhD candidates receive a free beer to take home at 20 and 40 beers, respectively. These are not your standard run-of-the-mill swills but carefully hand-selected offerings of the highest quality. No joke--they were some of the best beers I've ever had. Upon completing your 60th credit, you are given a $50 gift card, a PhD t-shirt (one that I wear proudly to many beer events and new breweries/brewpubs that I visit), your name is engraved on a special plaque, and you earn the right to drink draft beer out of a 22 oz behemoth of a glass.
And what happens when you complete a second PhD?
SOME things need to be kept a secret. All I will say though is that the ultimate prize does change for each additional PhD tour and my ultimate goal, as it stands now, is to complete three PhDs.
But I digress! Getting back to my own PhD journey, I began the same night I completed my M.B.A. and finished the following September. It still took me less than a year but it definitely didn't feel as frenetic a pursuit as the previous degree did. Now, as I pursue my second PhD, I find that I'm taking even more time with it. Living in Staten Island and having to drive nearly one hundred miles round trip each time I want to visit the restaurant has certainly taken its toll...but every mile driven has been worth it.
See, what makes Cloverleaf special isn't simply the excellent beers that they have available (and they are legion) or the incredible food (I've never eaten anything that wasn't tremendously delicious), it's the environment--the ambiance and the people that make Cloverleaf what it is. Cloverleaf Tavern is simultaneously the neighborhood drinking spot, the fine dining establishment, the family-friendly spot, and the get-together location of choice for friends, first-dates, and family reunions (I've seen all of the aforementioned things during my visits to the Leaf). It really is a place where almost everyone knows your name--where you're treated not as a dinner check but as a valued customer and, in a few special instances, as a friend. And that doesn't stop simply with the bartenders and servers but rather extends all the way up the chain to the managers and the owner, himself. Whenever I go with my wife and my son, we are greeted warmly by them all and feel so welcome there that it just seems natural to make that hundred mile round trip. Hell, I'd rather drive all the way up and back for the phenomenal dinner, drinks, and conversation that I know I will have at Cloverleaf than walk down the block to the bar that's less than five minutes away if I stroll down there.
If you happen to be reading this entry Ryan, Tina, Matt, and Pete, thank you for always being so accommodating to me, my family, and my friends. Heather and I know how busy you all are and the fact that you'll take a few minutes out of even your most hectic nights to stop by our table to ask how we are doing and to say hello to Timmy means more to us than we can ever express in words. Instead, we try to demonstrate our appreciation and affection for Cloverleaf and for all of you by coming back as often as we can and by introducing as many of our friends to your wonderful establishment as we can.
|And YOU should, too!|
--Beer Whisperer Matt