Around the world in 955 days

Gabe Rosenberg
Gabe Rosenberg at Bob's Bar

In the end, it only took 955 days.

I walked the block from my apartment to Bob’s Bar on North High Street, handed over my credit card and ordered the only beer I could: The Ommegang Witte. In my two-and-a-half-year journey to finish the World Tour, just 13 ounces remained.

Bob’s, one of the first Columbus bars to embrace craft beer, launched the World Tour in 2004, challenging customers to finish 50 beers of varying styles and sizes from around the globe. That actually proved too easy for the regulars, and the list now stands at 130 — with no time limit for completion.

I’m by no means a man of faith, but for as long as I’ve lived in Columbus, most every Sunday I gave myself over to the ritual of the Tour. Bob, grant us the serenity to accept the beers we cannot avoid, the courage to try the beers we don’t know, and the wisdom to taste the differences.

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The bar opens at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoons, and my friend Jon and I are among the first at the counter, long before anyone bothers to put music on the jukebox. Though we started the Tour on the same day — January 15, 2017 — Jon finished his more than half of a year ago. What can I say? Jon went to the University of Alabama. He’s got a higher tolerance than me.

Bartender Paulie Simpson recommends Tourists approach the list alphabetically, to prevent cherry-picking all of your favorites and ending up with a miserable back half. (An exception to this rule is allowed for ordering Irish brands on St. Patrick’s Day, which is the extent of my festivities.)

“Ultimately, the Tour is designed to broaden one’s palate,” Simpson said. “Someone who’s not familiar with beer gets to — or is forced to — try multiple styles and discover that maybe they don’t hate Belgians as much as they thought they did.”

Like anything in life with 130 options, the Tour is a mixed bag. Most beers are at least decent, with more than a few all-timers (my favorite being the Schneider Weisse Aventinus, a full pint of malty bliss). Only a memorable handful are terrible, particularly the Cave Creek Chili Beer (with a whole pepper at the bottom of the glass) and the Founders Mango Magnifico. Both are etched wretchedly into my taste buds.

“I like to tell people that the beers are like my children: I love them all equally. But that’s not really true,” Simpson said.

To embark on the World Tour is to embrace the glorious chaos. Stick around long enough, and even the randomness will begin to make sense.

There are just three central tenets of the Bob’s Bar code, said manager Rich Good: No NASCAR on the TV, no domestic on tap, and no pitchers.

Simpson added a critical fourth: No jerks.

“If you’re gonna start the Tour, keep in mind that you’re going to become one of our friends. You’re going to join a family,” Simpson said. “So, therefore, don’t be a dick, because we’ll stop inviting you to Thanksgiving.”

I savor my Ommegang for an hour, cradling the tulip-shaped glass, before deciding I can no longer delay the inevitable.

The prizes for finishing the World Tour are ostensibly a T-shirt and an engraved mug. But both of those memoranda are long out-of-stock, so by the time I finished my 130th beer, the reward had been simplified: More beer. Any of the bar’s 36 drafts served in a Viking-sized tankard, for the same price as a regular pour, for the rest of your life.

I quickly learn that completion brings its own complications.

“The Tour is easy,” Jon said as I stared at the draft board. “You just look down at the list and say, ‘My next beer is this.’ It’s when you look and have 36 beers to choose from, and 22 ounces of some of them, that it gets difficult.”

I go easy on myself and pick something I know I’ll like: Jackie O’s Ricky, an American blond ale from the Athens brewer. Good offers me a handshake and grabs a tankard from the wall.

He returns, quicker than expected, with the glass three-quarters full.

The keg had blown.

Correction: In an earlier version of this piece Bob's bartender Paulie Simpson was incorrectly identified as Paulie Stevenson. Alive regrets the error.