Aug 18, 2018

1998 Beerdrinker of the Year

January, 1998

By Bobby Bush

Life doesn’t often afford second chances and I wasn’t about to waste mine. Here I was again in Denver, the guest of Wynkoop Brewing Company, participating, as I did last year, as one of three finalists in a national search for the 1998 Beerdrinker of the Year. Wynkoop, in case you don’t know, lays claim to the title of “World’s Biggest Brewpub” and was Colorado’s first brewpub.

To many people, the title of head beerdrinker doesn’t necessarily instill visions of honor. Thankfully, this contest doesn’t deal in quantity of beer consumed or chugging speed, but instead is a search for a person well versed in many aspects of beer and brewing. Applicants from across the country submitted resumes (limited this year to four pages, primarily because my submission last year ran over 250 pages) describing their knowledge, experience and love of beer. From the resumes, a dozen semi-finalists were selected by Wynkoop’s staff. This year the group was geographically diverse, from Massachusetts to Washington state, with two contestants each from Colorado, New Jersey and North Carolina. After viewing all 12 resumes, a select team of beer writers and industry insiders thinned the list to three finalists who meet at Wynkoop on January 31.

This year’s finalists included Cornelia Corey, a feisty beer enthusiast and the contest’s first female finalist, from Clemmons, NC; Steve Pawlowski, Roselle Park, NJ’s near-klepto breweriana collector and longtime beer list keeper; and yours truly, a knowledge-and-beer-thirsty brewpub fiend from dear old Hickory, NC. Two southerners and a damn yankee- almost a repeat of last year’s two NJ and one NC boy.

The National Finals have changed a bit from last year’s interview-only contest, when I failed to win the crown. Now conducted more like a game show, where five black-robed and white-wigged judges asked questions of us panelists, the program began with a weigh in, for part of the victor’s spoils was his or her weight in Wynkoop’s Railyard Ale. Following our two minute introductory speeches, for the next two hours we were on stage, responding to inquiries of general and specific nature from the knowledgeable judges. What’s the oldest operating brewery? Are women discriminated against in beer drinking? How do you feel about contract-brewed beers? How could beer help Bill Clinton in his current sex scandal? Hey, this was supposed to be fun. And it was.

Wynkoop publicist Lew Cady had, once again, lined up a stellar group of judges. John Hickenlooper, Wynkoop’s fabled owner, was included, of course, as were Denver Post columnist Dick Kreck; Rocky Mountain News scribe Norm Clarke; Sharon Mowry of the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup; and Rebecca Bradford, who works for the GABF and All About Beer magazine.

After three grueling rounds of grilling, the now weary threesome retired to different sections of Wynkoop’s large upstairs bar for up-close-and-personal sessions with the judges. Following another round of judges inquisitions, we each were allowed one minute for closing remarks. With beer in hand, the judges, retired to their chamber to determine the beerdrinker honoree.

Deliberations were swift. Returning to his podium, Judge Hickenlooper thanked the finalists, acknowledging their level of extreme beeriness, before anointing your humble Suds Brewer with the coveted moniker- 1998 BEERDRINKER OF THE YEAR.

Hearty congratulations offered. Lights flashing, photos of all were taken. It was practically like a family reunion breaking up until next year. Cady treated us all to dinner in Wynkoop’s main floor restaurant. But the night was too young to call it a day, so we visited a couple of Denver’s famed beer bars before extending so-longs and farewells.

So what did I get for nearly eight years of study and preparation besides an even bigger head? Plenty. Wynkoop paid for the flight to Denver and two night’s hotel stay, finalists and winner’s t-shirts, an XXL winner’s sweat shirt, my name permanently etched on a plaque proudly displayed in Wynkoop’s main bar, national notoriety and EIGHT CASES OF BEER. My one regret is that I didn’t weight more.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush


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