is a member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers and a two time
winner of their Quil &
Tankard writing award.
Vince's column is now a
regular feature of
|This month marks the 10th anniversary of what was either my grandest beer adventure or biggest folly. It began
(alphabetically at least) with Abbaye de Sant Martin Bruin and ended with Zyweic Porter. In between there are 1,058
other items. It's the list of my self-inflicted attempt to drink 1,000 different beers in one year. Finally, after 365
consecutive days, the official count was - 1.060. Success!
As barroom hatched ideas go this one was just slightly dumber than most. While such alcohol fueled brainstorms
usually center on sports or slightly less important things like the meaning of life, beer geeks focus on, what else,
beer. Always. So it was no surprise when, during a one very well fueled conversation, someone asked if it was
possible to drink 365 different brews in a year. Most in the group opined that just finding one new beer each and
every day for a year would be near impossible especially if you also had something silly called a day job.
Never letting a beer challenge go unanswered I immediately said that 365 was a wimpy number. Indeed, I boldly
added, 500 would be a more invigorating exercise for a true beer guy. Somehow, in the short time it took me to drink
two additional pints of Bell's Two Hearted Ale, I noticed the number under discussion had climbed up to 1,000. Then
it hit me, I was the only one raising the number - I had become an auctioneer's dream bidding against myself.
Before I knew it, one unsavory character in the group grabbed a napkin. Then, using a pen with "Honest Joe, the bail
bondsman" proudly printed on the barrel, he proceeded to write down the details of this 1,000 beer challenge. The
particulars were rather straightforward; I would have to come back one year to the day (July 1) with an official list of
the beers I had been able to drink. In addition, the date and place associated with each beer must be noted and
initialed by the bartender along with the pub's phone number so that confirming calls could be made if needed. In
God they trusted, all others need verification.
Feigning confusion while I downed yet another pint, I finally signed my John Hancock, no not my name, I actually
wrote "John Hancock" figuring this bozo wouldn't bother to check the signature until long after he had used that
napkin to blow his nose. That of course, as any bar regular knows, makes a napkin contract immediately null and
void, even if it had a legitimate, instead of historic, signature.
The next day, despite knowing I had skillfully avoided any legal obligation, I inexplicably decided to go for the 1,000.
Maybe it was due to some long dormant competitive instinct or perhaps the hangover from the night before. I like to
think it was the sincere desire to do something good for mankind. And so with the fateful decision made, the hunt
For the first 100 or so beers this was a fun activity; when I hit number 300 it became a challenge, at the 500 mark I
realized this was now a full blown adventure, and by 700 it had become....... a Quest. I was a Knight of Beer, on a
mission worthy of the best of Camelot.
The actual math of the Quest was simple, though daunting in its meaning. I would have to average slightly less than
3 beers per day, every day, for a year. In good health or bad, thirsty or not. It had to be done. Neither rain, nor sleet
nor a prohibitionist could stop me from my appointed task. Knowing this challenge was going to be physically taxing
immediately doubled my intake of Flintstone Chewable Citamins and read several hundred articles on the health
benefits of drinking beer.
Clearly the consumption part would be easy; the finding part would not. In that context I ruefully discovered that even
the best stocked beer store offered more illusion that substance. Even if they had 60 or 70 different beers, those
were mostly the same ones as the well stocked establishment I had just visited the day before. And, if I had accepted
the wager every time someone said "bet a dollar you haven't had this one", right now I'd be complaining about high
taxes on the rich instead of writing this story.
Record keeping became even more important than drinking since a beer not written down was a beer that didn't
count. I soon took to carrying a large, heavy duty, official beer logbook (cleverly disguised as a bunch of old
envelopes) whenever and wherever I was going to have a brew. Not surprisingly, I became an object of curiosity for
many a pub patron and bartender. Inevitably I would be asked what I was so dutifully scribbling down with each new
pint I ordered. After hearing the story of my Quest they always then asked "why"? My standard responses were
"because they make them", "for my health -it's the beer version of the red wine paradox", or "I'm part of the economic
stimulus package for the beer industry". After a while however I just shrugged my shoulders and said I really don't
know but I've had too many beers to stop now.
A few insightful inquires asked how much is all this was costing me? Fortunately that's one statistic I didn't keep. My
friend Artie once asked if I wanted to join him on a trip to Belgium where, he claimed, I could find easily find all the
beers I would need in a few days. “Artie”, I said, “I'm just a poor beer writer and could never afford the trip”. He
quickly replied, "Hey, dude, you could have gone to Belgium and back three times for what you’ve already spent on
this silly 1,000 thing." Artie had what I didn't - perspective.
Perhaps the most disheartening part of the Quest was that I couldn't order a second pint of the same beer no matter
how great it might be. I knew my alcohol consumption limit so having a repeat meant I'd have to forgo one new one
for the day and one less could mean I'd end up with 999.
Now about the beers. After drinking one thousand and sixty beers in the last year I did learn a few things. First, it’s
impossible to make a beer too hoppy. Second, see item one. Third, my belief that banana flavors belong on my
breakfast cereal and not in beer was reconfirmed. Fourth, you can’t find a brewery beginning with the letter "Q".
On my list of 1,000 there isn't a single one of them.
While I didn't take tasting notes I did check off the truly great ones. So here are some of them (feel free to take it to
your local bar and watch the arguments begin): Any beer from Other Half , King Julius from Tree House, Founders'
CBS, Lawson's Knock Yer Hops Off IPA, Westvleteren 12, Van Damage my last homebrew, and Coors Light (just
threw the last two in to see if you were paying attention.)
The most historic beers on my list were a 1946 Ballantine Burton Ale (12 oz.) purchased on E-bay and a 1973 can of
Billy Beer found in a Florida antique store by my buddy Pete. For obvious reasons neither came close to making the
best 12, or 1,050 for that matter. The worst beers were anything made with pumpkin. The cheapest beer I bought
was a six pack of Piels at $3.95, which considering its quality was an appropriate price.
Without a doubt the best part of my Quest was being able to meet so many terrific people who became part of my
"Team One Thousand". They were always there with an encouraging word, a new beer, or most importantly, the
willingness to buy a round. Thanks to you all.
Once the Quest was over I immediately began thinking of what my next one would be. The answer was easy - lose
the 20 pounds I gained from doing this one. Now ten years later I've almost made it.
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