By Jason Tayloe | Photo by Robert Boag
Miles from the binge drinking on Devon Lane lies a craft beer paradise in downtown Harrisonburg. Jack Brown’s Burger and Beer Joint caters to the palate. Jack Brown’s serves over 100+ beers with three revolving taps. To promote beer appreciation, Jack Brown’s started the 100 Notch Club. The challenge is manageable: consume 100 beers. No time limit, no sprint. Add the 100 Notch Club to your graduation bucket list.
I asked Jack Brown’s manager Susan Sommerfeldt about the purpose of the challenge.
“The club pushes people to try new beers and expand their palates,” Sommerfeldt says. “The purpose is to get people out of their comfort zone.”
Domestics, such as Budweiser and Coors Light, comprise a fraction of the beer menu. I glanced at the list: Chimay Première, Rogue Dead Guy, Terrapin Hopsecutioner, Starr Hill Jomo, Ommegang Hennepin, Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier and Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. The bartender suggested I try 471 IPA by Breckenridge Brewery.
My 471 IPA is delivered. The hops hit and linger after the first sip.
I eyed the 100 Notch Club sheets, organized in plastic file boxes. Jack Brown’s has three full folders of sheets.
That’s around 1,000 people attempting the challenge, according to Sommerfeldt. But not everyone stops at the 100 mark. Some attempt the 800, 900 and 1,000 notch challenges.
“We have four people in the 1,000 Notch Club,” Sommerfeldt says. “The day they complete their 1,000th beer we name in their honor. So in March we have Saint Tony Day, and he gets to pick the beers on tap for that day.”
I drained the final sip, and took another look at the menu: Dogfish 90 Minute, Victory Golden Monkey, Stella Artois, Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter, Duvel and Stone IPA.
I sit with my back to the 100 Notch Club wall plaques. I noticed on previous visits the wall disappearing under a shield of stamped plaques. The 100 Notch Club button shirt hung above the bar. A white profile of a steer skull surrounded by “100 Notch Club: Jack Brown’s Burger and Beer Joint, Harrisonburg, VA” adorned on the back. I asked what the perks are after completing the challenge.
“You get your plaque added to the wall and you receive the shirt,” Sommerfeldt says. “You can have your name embroidered on the front. We also have a Notcher beer: a random case they we picked up from the distributor. Only those in the club can drink it. We also go on field trips to local breweries and give tastings.”
While talking, the bartender returned and asked about my next choice. I chose the Red Nectar, an amber red ale.
The caramel taste is much different than the strong, bitter 471 IPA. I took in a deep smell: light with traces of grapefruit and pine. The next sip I breathe in while letting the beer slide back, but I let the flavors linger for a few seconds before gulping it down. My white 100 Notch Club list is stained with water condensation, sauce drips and glass rings. Next to the number 24 I scribbled “Red Nectar.” I debated the taste. In the ranking column I wrote “8.” Only 76 more.