After surviving a terminal melanoma diagnosis, Goose Island Beer Company ambassador Jonny Coffman shares the story of brewing a beer inspired by his lost palate and how it’s now raising thousands of dollars for cancer warriors.
Q: Describe your life at the time you received your first diagnosis.
Jonny Coffman: Goose Island was working on opening a taproom in early 2015. I accepted a job with them and by summer, I was on the road going coast to coast working. I thought, ‘Oh my god, everything is on track, I’m 31 years old, I’m in the best shape of my life and this is the coolest job I’ve ever had.’ And then I had a lump in my neck.
That first lump popped up right around Halloween 2015. On December 1, I got the biopsy and was told it was stage IIIB melanoma. Melanoma does run in my family, but I was shocked. The surgery came three weeks later, and I went into 2016 cancer free.
Around my birthday in March, I felt another lump behind my ear. My radiologist wanted to start radiation. They gave me a list of side effects and I didn’t even focus on the loss of taste, but that was by far the worst. I wouldn’t wish that on my least favorite person in the world. Everything tasted like cement.
Q: How did you discover the cinnamon and mango combo? What made you think of turning that into a beer?
Radiation beats your mouth up, so I was eating a lot of soft foods. One morning, I happened to grab cinnamon oatmeal with mangoes—and I could taste it.
Then in 2017, my cancer’s back in my lungs. I have surgery, then three months later, the cancer’s in my pelvic bone. The day after Christmas 2017, I’m back in the hospital and they tell me, ‘It’s all over your body and in your bloodstream. This is what terminal cancer looks like.’
I started thinking about what I wanted people to have to remember me with. I thought about a beer, and my twin brother was the one who said, ‘Hey, you should make a mango cinnamon beer.’ I joked, ‘Oh yeah, what are we going to call it? Lost Palate?’ All of a sudden, we have this idea.
Q: What was Goose Island’s initial response?
Goose Island lets a lot of people create crazy awesome recipes. Obviously, they’re not jerks, and they said they’d brew a beer for me, but they didn’t know what kind I wanted. Next thing I know, I’m in a room with Goose’s top dogs telling them I want to make a hazy IPA with mango, lactose and cinnamon. At that time, hazy IPAs were a big thing, so they were on board. We brewed the beer in March 2018.
Q: What was the launch like?
We brewed four or five kegs and we sold out right away, so we made more. People wanted to do articles, General Mills was sending me swag because we originally used Cinnamon Toast Crunch in the beer. It was crazy. I’m in Chicago every three weeks to get my [immunotherapy] infusion and then traveling to Belize, Turkey, Portugal—doing fun stuff so I wouldn’t think about cancer. Lost Palate is growing, and we start [selling it in cans].
All of a sudden, 12 months have gone by. My cancer isn’t growing. In February 2019, I went in for scans and my infusion, but my doctor was like, ‘You don’t need the infusion. We don’t see any cancer.’ Best day of my life, I’d say.
Q: Lost Palate is now a nationwide staple on Goose Island’s rotation and has raised more than $40,000 for Lurie Cancer Center of Northwestern University. How does it feel knowing that this beer you originally crafted as a personal memorial is now benefiting others?
It’s super emotional. It feels amazing because the beer at first was more about me, my friends, my family. Now I don’t even consider it for me anymore. There might be a picture of my face on the six pack with the story, but that beer is for everybody I see when I go to my doctors’. I know they’re struggling. I know what they’re going through. I look at the beer like, ‘This is for you guys.’
I’m stoked about all the money raised to make it easier for people in the future. Lost Palate is for the doctors, nurses and the fighters out there. It’s for the survivors. You really don’t ever stop fighting.
Jonny Coffman is a Goose Island Beer Company ambassador in Chicago, Illinois. His newest beer with the brewery, Grit, is available now. In November 2021, Buffalo Wild Wings will premiere its Lost Palate-infused wing sauce with profits further benefiting cancer research and care.