John Lane runs the Winking Lizard Tavern's World Beer Tour. The Winking Lizard is a chain of great bar-restaurants stretching from Cleveland to Columbus. With its beefy beer menu filled with crafts and imports, the chain has helped turn countless people, in Lane's words, into "beer geeks." The World Beer Tour -- for those unfamiliar -- is on opportunity for people to drink 100 different beers from around the world within the calendar year. People get prizes when they reach the half-way mark (T-shirt) and when they finish (a Winking Lizard jacket). About 6,000 beer drinkers each year participate, although not everyone finishes.
Question: The World Beer Tour is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Why did the Winking Lizard start the tour?
Answer: The Lizard started the beer tour as purely a marketing tool to move some of the imports at the time from around the world. There were no American craft beers available so the concentration was on lagers from around the world.
Q: What do you remember about the very first tour, and how does it compare to today?
A: The first tour was 40 beers and you received a T-shirt when you finished. We were lucky to find 80 different beers at the time.
Q: How do you decide which beers are placed on the tour?
A: We always have some of the world classics on the tour as they are what started the entire revolution and are the classic styles that are mimicked by all brewers the world over. We try and get as many styles as possible so that we can turn anyone that is not a beer drinker into a beer drinker. Everyone has different taste profiles that they enjoy so by offering different styles we are able to make as many people happy as possible. We also add a few “zingers” to challenge even the most discerning pallet with barrel aging and sour taste profiles.
Q: You must have some personal favorites over the years. Name a few.
A: Orval is my desert island beer. I have so many that I love many depending on the season. I love Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald, Sam Smith Oatmeal Stout, Lindemans Faro, Jolly Pumpkin Bam, Dogfish Head Punkin, and the list goes on and on and on …
Q: After running the tour for so many years, what have you personally learned about beer – or even about beer drinkers?
A: It is amazing to see mass marketed light beer drinkers blossom into better beer drinkers. I think we have literally created thousands of beer geeks which gives me so much personal satisfaction. We are only on this earth so long, so whatever we put into our stomachs should be the best we can get.