I have been on an odyssey for the last eight months, one that has taken me around the world. Well, sort of. I traveled the world in beer and never left my local bar stool. How did I do it? Last August I joined Old Chicago restaurant’s World Beer Tour. I finished in May. Along the way, I earned a lot of swag, increased my craft beer knowledge and drank a hellava lot of beer (which explains those extra 15 pounds).
Old Chicago (OC) is what some would consider a “chain” restaurant. Although part of a franchise, Old Chicago actually started in 1976 in Boulder, CO, as a pizza place for a few friends who were missing their Chicago-style pizzas and specialty beers from their home town. Thirty years later there are close to 100 restaurants in 23 states mostly in the western US. Today Old Chicago restaurants are a part of the CraftWorks group of restaurants and breweries, which also includes Gordon Biersch and Rock Bottom.
Old Chicago prides itself on having 110 beers on tap and in bottles in every store, so much so they have the number on their logo. As the restaurant franchise grew in the 1980s and 90s, so did the craft beer industry, which accounts for the wide selection of beers, up to 30 brews on tap. OC also offers beers that are specially brewed for their restaurants. Our local OC gets their specialty brews from Boulder Beer Company. All this beer information leads me to the World Beer Tour. To complete a single tour, participants must drink all 110 different beers.
OC has some rules for completing a World Beer Tour or WBT. Most important, participants can only get credit for four beers daily. As it says on the WBT website, “It’s the quality, not quantity” that counts. The beers must be different; no duplicates. Participants can keep track of their beers on the WBT website and through their WBT membership cards, which servers can swipe and print a ticket to show the beers consumed. I would like to add that it has been my experience that if you really don’t like a beer, you don’t have to drink it. Most servers will still mark the beer on your tour card. So don’t think that you have to drink that heavy porter, cloudy wheat, or the super hopped-up IPA. Servers want you to enjoy your visit so if you are unhappy with a particular beer, they will recommend a substitute and you still get credit.
The WBT also has several mini-tours during the year. For example, I just finished the All American mini-tour in July. They are currently running the Gold Medal Mini Tour during the Olympics. Mini Tours consist of eight beers and you have two to three weeks to complete. For finishing a mini-tour, you receive a mini-tour t-shirt and all mini-tour beers count toward the full tour.
And now, the free stuff. For those on their first tour, the swag train has eight stops. After my 10th beer, I received a deck of WBT playing cards. After my 55th beer, I received a t-shirt, my 85th beer, a baseball cap and my 100th beer was a travel cooler. After finishing my 110th beer, I received a WBT sweatshirt and I my name added to my neighborhood Old Chicago’s “Wall of Foam” for posterity.
WBT members also get special event invites, discounts and other benefits. For example I regularly get coupons for free appetizers or pizza. On February 29, Leap Day, I received an email with a raffle ticket on it. That night I had my raffle ticket number swiped to reveal I had won $29 in “Foamer Bucks.” Grand prize was over $2012, but no one at my local OC won. They also offer food and beer pairing dinners. Check your local Old Chicago for the food pairing schedule.
However, 110 beers is not the end of the trip. OC has people who go on to complete multiple tours. How many? After completing your 10th tour, you receive an engraved WBT metal beer stein and every time you return to OC to use the stein, you get a discount. The number of beer steins my local OC keeps in their cooler numbers around 50. Complete 25 tours and you receive a special VIP card (it’s black, like the VISA), which entitles you to even bigger discounts. I have actually met a guy who has this VIP card. For those who go on to complete multiple tours, instead of swag, you get restaurant credits for free meals and beers. The credits are applied directly to the WBT card so you don’t need to do anything to redeem them other than show the card at the restaurant.
So, let’s put this into perspective. Ten tours at 110 beers each is 1,100 beers. Twenty-five tours is 2,750 beers. Those who complete 40 tours receive an OC leather jacket. Anyone who completes 50 tours (5,500 beers) gets a free pizza party for themselves and 10 friends. Let’s do some more math. The average cost of a beer at OC is between $4 and $5. I’ll let you figure that one out. And don’t tell me because I don’t wanna know.
So now I’m basking in the glory of finishing my first World Beer Tour. Will I continue? Hell yeah! I’m already 30 beers into Tour #2.