Jul 20, 2018


January, 2001

By Bobby Bush

With the craft brewing industry in a state of chaos, what can be done to bring the industry together? What do you say to a stranger drinking budmillercoors? In what ways is beer healthful to the human body? Finish this sentence: “I drink, therefore....”

Those questions and scores of others echoed through Wynkoop Brewing’s Mercantile Room on January 20, 2001. The tossees, a panel of astute judges sporting scratchy white wigs and flowing black robes, included Denver Post writer Dick Kreik, Westworld’s Patty Calhoun, Penny Parker from Rocky Mountain News, former GABF head Sharon Mowry, Paul Gatza, chief of American Homebrewers Association, Wynkoop owner John Hickenlooper and yours truly, winner of this contest in 1998.

Three nervous, but beer-dedicated contestants fielded a torrent of sometimes serious, sometimes inane questions. What historical figure would you want to sit down and have a pint with? Seated behind bar tables adorned with growlers of their favorite Wynkoop brew, the anxious trio, obviously well-schooled in the ways of beer and brewing, did their best to impress the panel of judges seated to their right. We’ve all heard the slogan, ‘I’d walk a mile for a Camel.’ How far would you go for a single beer?

This was the 5th annual Beerdrinker of the Year contest, beer history in the making. Emcee Lew Cady, who puts the program together each year, introduced the threesome. Tom Ciccateri hails from Kansas City. He’s an award-winning homebrewer who experiments with cask-conditioning and non-traditional ingredients. Recently relocated from New Mexico, Tom maintains a website on his home state’s brewing activities ( From White Plains, NY, Gary Steinel is a high school math teacher who enjoys Belgian and winter beers. An avid runner, putting in 50 to 70 miles per week, Gary took his first day of vacation in 26 years to compete in this prestigious event. Centered between the two 40-something men was three-time contestant Cornelia Corey, whose motto is “I don’t drink beer like a girl.” A runner-up in 1998 and 2000, the Clemmons, NC resident was tense but prepared, hoping previous BDOY experience would be her trump card.

The attributes of the Beerdrinker of the Year, as the judges were reminded prior to the session, are fairly simple in content. The BDOY must truly love and appreciate beer. The BDOY should know a great deal about beer the beverage and appreciate the legend and lore of beer. The BDOY should be a person who has had numerous Beer Experiences. And most importantly, the winner must demonstrate an extreme quotient of Overall Beeriness.

What looks simple in writing is difficult in practice. The three candidates were near equals in beer knowledge, experience and appreciation. When all the smoke, which included questions from the curious audience, cleared, the judges returned from chambers with a verdict. As chief justice, it was my duty to announce our decision. Complimenting their enthusiasm and competitiveness, I proudly introduced the 2001 Beerdrinker of the Year, a fellow North Carolinian, Cornelia Corey.

The only female ever to make the finals in Denver, the third time was indeed her charm. Born in Rocky Mount, NC and presently residing near Winston-Salem, Cornelia and soul mate Ray McCoy live the beer lifestyle. The 44-year-old says her initial beer inspiration dates back to a 1990 visit to England, the land of warm, flat and flavorful beer. Her favorite style is barleywine and her favorite brewery, of the moment, is Dogfish Head Craft Brewery of Delaware. Beyond beerhunting, her other hobbies are costume construction for local community theater and music, especially blues, zydeco, New Orleans R&B, alt-country, folk and roots. A homebrewer, she’s named her cats Fuggles and Crystal, after two varieties of hops.

Cornelia and Ray are volunteer members of the Southeastern Microbrewers Association, which hosts several beer events in the Raleigh-Durham area each year. They’ll be working the group’s 8th annual festival on March 24 in Chapel Hill (see and also, in 2001, hope to attend the Great British Beer Festival (again) in London and 24 Hours of Beer in Antwerp, Belgium (again).

For her triple effort victory, the newly anointed beer fanatic was awarded $100 worth of beer at her hometown brewpub, Liberty Steakhouse, and free beer for life at Wynkoop.

So Cornelia, how does it feel to win and to be the first female Beerdrinker of the Year? “It’s a dream realized. I have entered the competition every year since its inception in hopes of becoming the first female winner. I hope it will serve as an example to other women that beer isn’t just for men, contrary to general beer marketing. It is a beverage with a history as long and interesting as wine. The vast array of craft beers available today ensure that there is a beer out there for everyone.”

There’s no doubt, Cornelia will wear her BDOY crown proudly.

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

© Bobby Bush


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