Secrets of the Season

Cloverleaf Tavern

Cloverleaf Tavern changes its seasonal menu every quarter and, since 2007, has never repeated a beer on the seasonal list.

When the snow flies and the days grow short, it’s only natural for diners to crave the rich and robust flavors of comfort foods. But that’s only part of the dining experience—many people also long for “comfort beers,” dark and hearty brews that pair wonderfully with sturdy cold-weather dishes.

Ryan Dorchak grew up in the restaurant business and knows what beer lovers want as well as anyone. Dorchak is the third generation in his family to run the Cloverleaf Tavern, a family-style restaurant in Caldwell, New Jersey, that has recently been voted the best craft beer bar in the Northeast by the readers of

“We’re very seasonal,” says Dorchak. “We always go for darker, higher-alcohol beers in the winter.”

Dorchak creates a seasonal beer list every quarter, consisting of 18 beers, a handful of which are made available on draft and the rest offered in bottles. He finds inspiration from reading beer magazines, surfing the Web, and talking to sales reps from his distributors. “Since 2007, we’ve never repeated a beer on our seasonal list,” Dorchak notes.

Of course, the beer is only one side of the equation. Cloverleaf Tavern is also known for its solid selection of well-crafted tavern fare and a menu that, like the beer list, changes with the seasons.

“Heavy or light, you can always find a pairing for a beer; it’s just a matter of matching intensities,” Dorchak says. “For winter, we look to heavier, spicier dishes to complement the bolder flavors of our winter beers.”

Cold-weather favorites at the Cloverleaf include comfort foods like pork loin stuffed with apples and cranberries, or roasted short ribs, which pair wonderfully with one of Dorchak’s wintertime staples, North Coast Brewing’s Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. The restaurant also offers four weekly dinner specials inspired by the season, each paired with a different winter beer.

While the names on the labels of Cloverleaf’s winter beer list change every year, the seasonal beer styles Dorchak chooses for the colder months generally remain the same.

Topping the list are stouts, inky dark beers that have rich and roasted notes of chocolate, coffee, and sometimes sweet hints of dried dark fruits. Stouts pair equally well with hearty stews, braised meats, and even desserts like caramel-covered brownies. Nice examples of the style include Sierra Nevada Stout, Deschutes Obsidian Stout, Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout, and the aforementioned North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.

Porters are also seasonal mainstays, dark brown in color and smooth and balanced in flavor, this traditional English style boasts notes of vanilla and bittersweet chocolate. Often brewed with smoked malts, porters pair well with smoky treats like sausage, pork dishes, and anything with bacon. Samuel Smith’s “The Famous” Taddy Porter is a classic English-style porter, and notable American offerings include Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, and Stone Brewing Company’s Smoked Porter.


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