We visited Sergio’s World Beers on a drippy, dreary day in Louisville, Kentucky. What beer-lover can resist the promise of thousands of bottles of beer available, not to mention a tap list of over forty beers you can walk around with while perusing the goods? Here’s to Sergio for planning out a killer business model — I’m embarrassed to admit exactly how many beer-related items I’ve purchased while under the influence: bottle openers, T-shirts, stickers I’ve never stuck. Hazy memories that aren’t quite worth it.
The man tending bar that afternoon was not Sergio. He was short, heavily-tattooed, and with the long beard that almost made me confuse him for a brewer. Sergio, however, was there in spirit. He was referenced often, a man of impeccable style and exemplary taste who traveled the world eight months a year, all in the name of beer. The customer next to us at the bar pulled two of Sergio’s business cards out of his wallet and handed them to us. “If you ever go to Belgium, go with Sergio,” he said with the seriousness of someone who’s three or four in.
Sergio’s reminded me a little of my Great Aunt Hazel’s home, where you had to walk through alleys carved out of her keepsakes. Every time we left she’d send me home with a box of goodies, some items outright trash, others, treasure. Except Sergio’s was just beer. A beer labyrinth. Narrow corridors of coolers arranged by region punctuated by small walk-in coolers I feared I may lose my fella in forever. I watched Nick reluctantly retreating from one with three tall bottles in his arms and the distant look of having just had a religious experience.
Every available surface in the beer warren was covered in beer-related materials: tin signs, bumper stickers, tap handles, coasters, and labels. Behind the bar was the largest collection of dusty glassware that I’d ever seen. I couldn’t imagine for what all the pieces were designed, let alone what the plush chicken hat was doing perched there.
Maybe more than my hoarder relatives, the place reminded me of a bowerbird who has collected all the blue items that appeal to him and wove them into his nest to attract a mate. Much as the bowerbird’s straws, feathers, and buttons tell the bird world what a catch he is, the collection of bottles and cans tells the beer world what a Serious Beer Collector this Sergio is.
I felt very much as though I was sitting in Sergio’s nest, his lasting collection of souvenirs from a hobby that proves itself quite ephemeral, indeed. Beers (any around me, at least) disappear pretty quickly. On days when I’m feeling especially practical (grumpy) or frugal (poor), I question spending 20-plus dollars on a bomber of liquid that is gone in under 30 minutes. I don’t necessarily know I’m even going to like it. A more reliable constant would be impressing my friends with my find and my expertise on beer; the smugness that comes with capturing rare game.
I don’t really know enough to be a collector, so part of this questioning is really just jealousy. My collection is the aforementioned drunkenly purchased tchotchkes, a poor man’s version of Sergio’s decor. I’m also too impatient to do any extensive research, let alone allow bottles to age for months or years. And I suppose everyone has their own price threshold — I think of all the dudes holding racks of High Life that have scoffed at me and my $10 sixpack. All the same, when we left Sergio’s, Nick had five bottles in his arms, and I was empty handed. He will share them with me later, and I will feel grateful and guilty.
Around the corner we found a house with life-size statues of bison, giraffes, and dinosaurs in the front yard, beckoning to us. It was possibly the most glorious junk shop I’ve ever peered into. It was closed, so we stood in the drizzle surveying the backyard: filling station signs, bicycles, garden gnomes, anchors, Chinese lions, and lawn jockeys. A lot of lawn jockeys — of varying size and condition, but racist across the board. I’d much rather shell out for a short-lived beer than a statue illuminating my ignorance forever, but there’s no accounting for taste, I suppose.