By Bobby Bush
I first met Steve Pawlowski in 1998. Along with Cornelia Corey, a fellow North
Carolinian, the three of us had been summoned to Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing
Company for the final round of the 12-year-old brewpub’s second annual Beerdrinker of
the Year contest. Having failed in the National Finals the year before, it was my second
As luck would have it, I prevailed that cold January afternoon and was anointed
Beerdrinker of 1998 with the title and eight cases of Wynkoop’s Railyard Ale as the spoils
of victory. Cornelia presented herself nicely, but poor Steve had visited too many of the
Mile High City’s brewpubs before the competition that day. The Roselle Park, NJ native
struggled to answer the judges’ questions, to put it nicely.
The following year I served as a judge, black robe, white wig and all. And
persistent, determined Pawlowski was back as a finalist, having survived the preliminary
rounds again. Learning from his previous transgressions, the 51-year-old mail carrier was
better prepared and sober. His effort paled, however, when compared to eventual 1999
winner, 60ish beer author Jim Robertson of California.
January 2000 and Steve’s still swinging, down to his last strike, up against
Cornelia Corey, making her second appearance in the Nationals, and Bob Coleman, a
newcomer from San Francisco. The judges’ interogation was relentless, difficult, ranging
from trivia to hypothetical. What four breweries brewed Billy Beer? What is your
attitude toward budmillercoors? Sing a beer jingle (Pawlowski sang three verses of an old
Rheingold advert tune). Name the last beer you threw up. If you started the church of
beer, what rituals would you require of your disciples? Each candidate gave opening and
closing remarks as well. Nervous tension was evident- this was serious competition
among equally qualified finalists.
Local Channel 7 caught it all on video for the nightly news. Susan Greene, a staff
writer for the Denver Post, joined about 40 other curious folks in the audience as the quiz
session continued. After nearly two hours of repartee, the judges were sequestered,
charged with a difficult decision. This astute panel included all three previous winners and
Wynkoop owner John Hickenlooper, Great American Beer Festival’s director Sharon
Mowry,Celebrator Beer News editor/publisher Tom Dalldorf, Charlie Papazian- President
of the Association of Brewers, American Homebrewers Association director Paul Gatza
and Denver Post beer scribe Dick Kreck.
Our private discussion was heated. The vote changed with each iteration. The
Beerdrinker of the Year should be someone who truly loves and appreciates beer,
someone who has great knowledge about beer, someone who has had a number of great
beer experiences, someone who, most importantly, presents himself or herself in a manner
of extreme Beeriness. Papazian lectured the group on his personal version of the
necessary traits. When pint glasses emptied, the final poll declared our two-time
runner-up as the new champ.
A fanatic since 1971, Steve Pawlowski has consumed 6,964 (and counting)
different beers. His beer logbook has a notation on each and every one, from 45 states
and 77 countries. Pawlowski’s hobby as beer historian and collector of breweriana, as
well as his quest to find new brews, are worthy of the hard-fought and coveted title: 2000
Beerdrinker of the Year. Steve’s name will be engraved onto a plaque, along with the
names of Jack McDougal (1997), Bobby Bush (1998) and Jim Robertson (1999). He’ll
also receive $100 worth of beer at his hometown brewpub (J.J. Bitting of Woodbridge,
NJ) and get free beer for life at Wynkoop. The newly crowned champ is probably
considering moving to Denver.
Susan Greene’s article in the following day’s Post summed up Steve’s beer
attributes nicely: “A meat-and-potato beer enthusiast, he distinguished himself from his
rivals by not using props or prepared poems, and for being the only of the three who
didn’t travel to Belgium last year on brewery tours.”
Congratulations to the new Beerdrinker of the Year, Steve Pawlowski! Cornelia
and Bob- hope to see you back in the National Finals next year.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush