After a failed romance, one can easily sink into a spell of sadness and sluggishness. Not so for Andrew Thomason — he chose to drink a lot of beer.
Thomason, a special education major at MSUM, is the first person ever to taste all of the beverages at JL Beers, the beer and burger joint located in downtown Fargo.
“All the tops, all the bottoms, all the cans, everything,” bartender Jason Cossette said.
On a Friday afternoon, Thomason sat at the end of the bar, nursing a petite glass of Lindeman’s Framboise Lambic. What was left in the bottle before him was what was left of a seven-week-long effort.
It was an unusual ending to such a large, personal mission, but Thomason rejected any sentimentality. He would’ve prefered Summit Extra Pale Ale over the Belgian raspberry fruit beer in front of him that afternoon, but a promise is a promise for Thomason, especially to himself.
Like a few of Thomason’s other endeavors, the beer tour started in the wake of a breakup.
“Whenever I break up with a girl, I always take up a project,” he said. Past projects have varied from learning how to knit to acquiring a conversational knowledge of German. His most recent goal came suddenly on a whim.
“I just broke up with a girl, and I was sitting here and I’m like, ‘I bet I can drink every beer in here.’ And so I started it. I didn’t do it for the glory. I just did it to do it. Just to say I did it, you know?”
With that firmly decided, Thomason set off on his beer tour the day after Christmas, but not without some semi-strict guidelines.
“I had a couple rules,” he said and began to count his fingers. “Every beer I had to drink in here. I had to do a hopper, which is 96 ounces — I had to do one of those by myself. I had to do a growler (64 ounces) by myself. I had to do all the beer cocktails.”
Then there was the minor matter of tap beers. While a certain number of JL Beers’ taps always carry the regular domestics, others are subject to seasonal rotations, making Thomason’s ideal goal impractical if not unreachable. This required a creative workaround.
“So what I did was assign each tap a number, and I went down tap one, tap two, tap three,” all the way to tap 32: old reliable 1919 Root Beer.
When Thomason first mapped out his objective, he resigned himself to drinking every beverage the bar displayed, including the soft drinks. As he neared the end point, the few cans of sugary soda proved to be the most difficult hitch in the journey.
“The problem is, I don’t drink much pop,” he said. “A couple times I did break down and have a beer that I wanted, ’cause it’d be like after a long day. I’d be stuck for about a week on pops. You feel like an idiot when you walk in at 11 o’clock at night and say, ‘Can I get a Diet Mountain Dew?’ People will look at you.”
Thomason poured the rest of his bottle into his glass that Friday afternoon as the conversation subsided. The bar was well over capacity and the wait staff was buzzing behind the counter. He caught one of them.
“What do you know, Vic?”
Like friendly colleagues, they launched into easy small talk. Vic mentioned he started exercising regularly and jogging in the unseasonably mild February weather.
“You gotta train up for the Fargo half (marathon). It’s only like three months away,” Thomason said.
“Oh yeah,” Vic said. “I’ve only had three knee surgeries on my left knee.”
The exchange lasted a minute or two before Vic’s obligations pulled him to nearby group of customers. Thomason cradled his glass.
“The cool part about a bar is the sense of community,” he said. “People who do yoga believe that you can’t eat at any restaurant unless they’ll go to your funeral. You can’t have food cooked by anyone who doesn’t love you. I like to think that some of the bartenders, if they knew I died, they would attend my funeral, you know, ’cause I’m a good regular customer and everything — a friend.”
Thomason finished his 116th unique drink.
“Yeah, that’s it,” he said.
There was no fanfare, no streamers, no award. Only an honest high-five from Vic. As Thomason promised, he did it to do it.
“I think, from now on, I’m only gonna drink hard cider,” he said. “Give beer a rest.”