Dec 21, 2019
Today’s conversation is one of the hardest—and most edifying—that I’ve been lucky to have. It reaches that level of dialogue and storytelling that I think, on occasion, puts the GBH podcast on the level of oral history. It has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with the quality of people who we’re lucky enough to have share their stories on this platform. And each guest of this caliber serves as a sort of searchlight to others who might find their way here next.
Jonny Coffman has been a bartender in Goose Island’s taproom, just down the street from our studio, for some time now. He’s worked in breweries and bars like Chicago’s Local Option, and serves as a warm, inviting face to the world of beer for so many. He’s the kind of unassuming and energetic person that makes you feel like you always made a great choice.
But the last four years of Jonny’s life—including a long, sprawling battle with cancer—challenged that disposition in the most profound ways. And they did so over and over again.
I recently ran into Jonny at the Goose Island taproom when he was celebrating the national release of the beer he helped design and that he and his colleagues used as a symbol to celebrate his new lease on life. That beer is called Lost Palate—for reasons you’ll hear about in excruciating detail in this interview. It’s a Hazy IPA with cinnamon, lactose, mango, and graham crackers. It’s a wild beer for Goose to have made. But Jonny is kind of a wild guy.
In the end, this interview is not about a beer. It’s actually a struggle for me to even talk about the beer itself in the context of this interview, but for Jonny it’s critical that we do. Rather, this interview is about all the things that this simple beer has come to represent—for Jonny, his colleagues, family and friends, and the message he hopes it carries to the rest of the world—as it spreads out onto shelves all across the country. This beer, and Jonny’s story, are going to pop up everywhere.
Fair warning that this is a long one—and the listening will be hard-going at times. It was for me and Jonny, too. But I know I walked away better for having heard it.
This is Jonny Coffman of Goose Island Beer Co. Listen in.