Beer has been an integral part of my life for over three decades—a somewhat auspicious statement for a slightly past 40-year-old man. Being born and raised in L.A. (Lower Arkansas), I was afforded the opportunity to explore malted beverages at an age that less refined cultures may find unacceptable.
One day at a hunting camp, my childhood friend and I were scouring a dump for new objects to throw at the Duch brothers in our ongoing war, which usually started with dirt clods and often ended when someone was brained with something heavy enough to draw blood. Upon lifting a sizable sheet of corrugated tin, we found a startling array of beer cans, the likes of which we had never seen: Lone Star “Keg Draft, Black Label, Frankenmuth and Falstaff. Being somewhat of a childhood hoarder, I brought them home, cleaned them up and put them on my shelf. My mother was only slightly more enthusiastic about this latest score than she was my previous collection of poisonous snakes
In the camp over the next three years, we found over 50 varieties of cans dating to the late 40s, some of which were in remarkable condition and proved later to be quite valuable. Today my collection has grown to several thousand cans from all over the world, including a near mint condition Krueger Cream Ale, the first beer canned for consumer consumption in 1935. Beer has been a constant in my life ever since, be it through collecting or consuming.
I found my way to Fort Collins, CO, at age 18. At that time, one could still legally consume 3.2 percent beer at that age and certain bars were dedicated to such folly. The Town Pump proved to be my favorite. It touted itself as the smallest bar in the state. The smoke-stained ceiling, highlighted by bullet holes from happy hours past, added accent to a charm that reeks of the neighborhood taverns of old. In short order, I found myself tending bar and eventually became managing partner with the man I worked for. We sold Pabst Special Dark for 50 cents more per glass than the Coors Banquet and it caught on.
Before long, an early microbrew named Buffalo Gold was out. Coopersmith’s, Odell and New Belgium followed with breweries in our town and we were officially on the craft beer map. During this period we had the pleasure of being the first on-premise account for many of these startups.
An early morning phone call from Kim Jordan in 1996 prompted me to hop on my bike and ride over to New Belgium’s newest location to chat about the possibility of a job. Having spent enough time behind a bar to have webbed feet, I hung up my bar towel and started a new career as New Belgium’s first off-site Beer Ranger.
During my tenure there I had the pleasure of sharing beers with countless wonderful people in taverns, pubs and restaurants in most of this country and several places in Europe. Through our distributor partners, retailers and my co-workers, I worked with and learned from the most talented group of professionals I have ever met; many of whom I still count as my closest friends. Thirteen years, 26 states and a rotten divorce later, I decided to hang up my traveling shoes to dedicate more time to my 7-year-old son, Sawyer, and a to wonderful woman named Angela.
I promptly bought a rundown honky-tonk along the old Overland Stage Route not far from my house in Laporte, CO. We ripped out two layers of carpet whose smell eclipsed written description, built new bar tops, added some taps, ordered some Belgian Trippel and the Bar Double S was born. Our motto, Tending the Helpless, the Hopeless and the Hard to Believe, seems to ring truer by the day. We currently sell a disturbing amount of longneck yellow beer, but we’re slowly changing that. I’ll take a batch of beer swillin’ rednecks over collagen-stuffed Cosmo drinkers any day of the week.
I’m fortunate to have had beer be such a big part of my life, and now I’m back behind the bar watching it play its role in the lives of others. I’ve watched it celebrate births and deaths, weddings and break-ups. I have seen it welcome the return of proud veterans who sadly left more than their youth overseas, while at another table it helped a couple fall in love for the weekend. I’ve seen it provide the courage for everything from first dates to first two-steps and through it all it always makes me smile. May the celebrations continue long after I’ve finished my last glass.
JB Shireman is the owner of the Bar Double S in Laporte, CO, and the founder of Craftcentric Consulting, a firm dedicated to distributor and supplier consultation in the craft beer segment. He lives in Laporte, CO, with his now 8-year-old son, Sawyer.