THE SHEPHERD & THE KNUCKLEHEAD EMPOWERS HALEDON
I first met entrepreneurial beer baron, Chris Schiavo, when he was the liquor supervisor at North Haledon’s still-thriving Grand Opening Liquors in the mid’90s. At the time, I was a green craft beer enthusiast amazed by the thousands of national and international beers lining the shelves at this small mall spot, purchasing hundreds of diverse libations over the course of several stimulating sojourns.
Little did I know that Schiavo, along with Andy’s Corner Bar owner George Gray and now-deceased Beer International founder Rich Stolarz, formed the early foundation for New Jersey’s craft beer movement. The burgeoning triumvirate truly changed the direction of the state’s once-stale beer scene, creating a new-sprung market for independent brewers looking to increase visibility and gain a stronger foothold. Stolarz played the role of knowledgeable godfather, mentoring Schiavo and Gray like a genuine titan.
Just a stone’s throw away from midtown Haledon and down the hill from William Paterson College, THE SHEPHERD & THE KNUCKLEHEAD PUB has prospered since Schiavo opened its doors on July 3rd, 1998, at 6 PM. A diminutive neighborhood bar readied for expansion, its rangy customer base includes young beer geeks, established businessmen, local politicians and curious couples – all congregating here on my initial late-afternoon February visitation.
Taking its chuckled moniker from the first novel Schiavo got published in 2001, The Shepherd & The Knucklehead may, by delineation, be a pun on the duality of man. But in actuality, it’s one of the most pleasingly inconspicuous residential hideaways imaginable. A designated landmark by sundry beer connoisseurs, the hot l’il joint regularly attracts some of the finest Jazz artists as well. On Sunday evenings, it’s not unusual to see old and new William Paterson-related musicians get together and jam in a small club-like setting here.
The Shepherd’s casual interior, adorned by solid oak furnishings, bronze neo-Classical ceiling tiles and exposed pipes, couldn’t be cozier. The snug right side bar features over two dozen tap handles (collected inside a black stovepipe) and a fine assortment of spirits, plus a TV, jukebox, dartboard and River Horse insignia back-siding the front-windowed Founders Brewery neon sign.
On this busy Tuesday schmooze, dedicated bartender Talya Cacchione, who has been aboard since ’09 (and splits time in local indie rockers, Caged Animals) serves the devoted crowd splendid suds while chowing down rice-noodled Mie Fun. The chestnut-haired lass got into Allagash White Ale and Bitburger Pils as a teen, expanding her palate thereafter.
“What really got me hooked on craft beer was Young’s Double Chocolate Stout,” Cacchione says as she pours my cinnamon-toasted apple pie-like Shipyard Applehead. “Our taps are always changing, so finding the right beer for mainstream drinkers isn’t very difficult. I try to find out what they like and match that to an accessible choice. This is a special type of bar with a different kind of atmosphere. The late night crowd is full of off-hours musicians and artists.”
As night falls, the best selling beer so far is Colorado-based Tommyknocker Cocoa Porter. Two wonderful Lost Abbey brews from California, dark chocolate-roasted Serpent Imperial Stout and citric-herbed Devotion Belgian Pale Ale, score high with three young dudes. Yet besides being a beer centric bar, The Shepherd also boasts a terrific wine and bourbon selection. Schiavo, an experienced wine sommelier who built up Grand Opening’s vino sales from scratch before turning his attention to beer in the ‘90s, was the brainchild for Build Your Own 6-pack (along with beer pal, Mike Berini, “a flaming comet from out West”).
‘Mike turned me on to beatnik poet, Jack Kerouac, and that affected the microbrew scene,” Schiavo maintains. “Ale Street News went to print and asked us to be on an amateur home brew tasting panel. When (The Shepherd) opened, there was an ongoing concern for people in the community as well as those looking at us as a destination spot. We couldn’t be more grateful for their support.”
I dip into richly viscous mocha-bound Leinenkugel Big Eddy Imperial Stout (a creamy molasses-sapped, dried-fruited, bourbon-wined, cedar-burnt full body) while Schiavo explains The Shepherd’s impending expansion.
“We’ll have 60 new tap lines, a kitchen and 44-seat dining area,” the Mount St. Mary College grad proudly exhorts. “I’m hiring two full-time Culinary Institute of America cooks in March. We’ll serve steak, fish, kebab, bratwurst and sauerbraten. There’ll be 30 different bottled Belgian beers to complement the food with champagne-like herbal medicine qualities that suit these interesting digestifs.”
In typical rebellious Kerouac fashion, he concludes, “I plan to have a filibuster night for religious and political debates as well. We’ll talk about hot topic issues like an academic center.”
My wife and I hit Shepherd & Knucklehead one night in June 2012 to try the newfangled cuisine with a few tapped beers. Richly sauced Riggatoni (with tender pork and fresh ricotta) and robust lamb wraps went well with tart cherry-enriched cream ale Erie Derailed Black Cherry. While vinous dry-wined sour ale Bockor Cuvee De Jacobins goes best on its own, multi-dimensional JW Lees Harvest Barleywine aged in Apple Brandy Barrels proved to be a fine dessert treat.