NEAR WEST SIDE — Jonny Coffman had been battling cancer for years when a truly terrible side effect of his treatment kicked in last year: he lost his sense of taste.
The brand ambassador with Goose Island Beer Company who relied on his tastebuds for work found that the foods he ate on a day-to-day basis no longer had any flavor. It was unexpected — and devastating.
“I’ve been battling melanoma for six years, but heavily since 2015,” said Coffman, 34. “Losing your palate and not being able to taste anything … you take that for granted.”
One day, after months without taste, Coffman tried something a little different: he fixed himself a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and topped it with mangos and milk.
Suddenly, he could taste all of the flavors in that bowl. For nearly a year, this trio became his breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Then, he decided to turn it into a beer.
In mid-December, Goose Island launched a new beer dubbed “Lost Palate” inspired by Coffman’s meal of choice. The limited-edition brew sold out quickly — and raised more than $1,000 for the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University to support cancer research.
Coffman worked with his colleagues including Goose Island President Todd Ahsmann, brewmaster Jared Jankoski and brewer Quinn Fuechsl to bring the beer to life.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the three of them,” Coffman said.
Lost Palate is a New England-style IPA brewed with flaked oats, lactose, mangoes, cinnamon sticks and — of course — Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.
“It’s a style of beer that Goose Island had never done,” Coffman said.
Aside from sharing his delicious concoction with the beer world, he wanted a way to thank the doctors and nurses at Northwestern Hospital who have helped him through surgeries and treatment over the last few years.
“Last December, they told me that I realistically had three to 12 months left [to live]. I wasn’t supposed to see Christmas. [I thought], well if this is the end, I would like to have a beer [in my memory],” Coffman said. “I wanted this beer to be brewed, and I want to give back as much as I can to the hospital to the Lurie Cancer Center. I’m just happy to be here.”
Last week, Lost Palate made its debut at Goose Island’s Fulton Street taproom on the Near West Side. It sold out in two days.
“I’m just happy that people drank it and that it sold out in two days and that my doctors get some more money to help more people who are dealing with what so many people out there are dealing with,” Coffman said.
Coffman got his start in craft beer by working as a beer buyer at Whole Foods. He then went to on to two other beer companies in Chicago before settling in at Goose Island. As a brand ambassador, Coffman traveled in and out of the country to spread the Goose Island gospel. As he continues cancer treatment, he stays closer to home these days.
Coffman’s tastebuds have returned, so he can appreciate the beer he helped bring to life. He just hopes more people will be able to try it someday.
“Hopefully we can get this beer on a bigger scale, and we can raise more than $1,000,” Coffman said.
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