By Bobby Bush
For the first time in its six year history, I did not attend
the annual Beerdrinker of the Year contest. This event is America’s premier
competition for beerdrinkers and draws contestants from many states. It is not about
chugging. The contest identifies people who have a wide knowledge of, and appreciation
for, beer. Hosted by Wynkoop Brewing in the Lo-Do section of Denver, the concept for
this nationwide beer talent search belongs to John Hickenlooper, owner of the three-story
brewpub. The program is the work of Lew Cady, who handles public relations for
At the initial BDOY Bar Exams in 1997, I was a runner-up to Jack McDougall of
Cranford, NJ. The following year, fate handed me the crown and all the spoils that go
with it. Along with a little fame and dubious notoriety came eight cases of Wynkoop’s
Railyard Ale. My name was engraved on a plaque just below McDougall’s. That
monument to beerdrinking’s elite, hangs permanently in Wynkoop’s main bar. To it have
been added the names of more recent winners: the late James Robertson of Pomona, CA
(1999), Steve Pawlowski of Roselle Park, NJ (2000) and the 2001 winner, Cornelia Corey
of Clemmons, NC.
The 2002 BDOY finals were delayed two weeks for owner Hickenlooper’s
wedding. Held on February 2, the three contestants hailed from opposite points of US
geography. Tom Ciccateri, a 45-year-old Honeywell employee from Kansas City, MO,
was a contestant last year, as was Gary Steinel. A White Plains, NY high school math
teacher, Steinel (49) runs 50-70 miles a week. Newcomer John Marioni is 38 and a high
tech operative (huh?) from Bothell, WA. He recently appeared, fully clothed, on the cover
of Brew Your Own magazine.
The BDOY program has evolved through the years into a show of sorts. Starting
at noon, director Cady explains the application and screening process and then introduces
the esteemed judges, adorned in black robes and white wigs, and three Final Finalists.
Each of the contestants is allowed 90 seconds for an opening statement before The Oral
Exam begins. Judges fire questions, some straight forward, most obtuse, at the beer
knowledgeable trio. Some of this year’s beauts include: If beer was an Olympic event,
what would the rules be? What beer is the weakest link? Do you accept and understand
the fact that when people hear the name Michael Jackson, they don’t think about beer? In
the late 50s, what cartoon character was used in advertising for Stag Beer? Several
rounds of judges questions were followed by questions from the audience and previous
winners (by mail) and Closing Statements from the weary threesome. The judges
deliberate the outcome in their chamber, parading out before the nervous finalists to
deliver the verdict.
A new event was added this year. Beer Whispering requires that each contestant
whisper - loud enough for the judges to hear - to his beer. Marioni took a romantic bent.
An excerpt of his quiet musings goes thusly: “Hi there. I couldn’t help but notice the
scent that you’re wearing. Is that Cascade? Your name? Let me guess. Your name is
Amber. Would you hold it against me if I said you had a great body and incredible
mouthfeel?” Ciccateri was more aggressive in his beer whisper approach: “I have a rather
extensive glassware collection. Maybe you could come over and get out of that bottle and
into something more comfortable.”
And this year’s Beerdrinker of the Year, Gary Steinel, used prose to seduce his
beer prey, quoting Edgar Allen Poe, he concluded his appeal with “Quoth the beer maven,
pour me more.” Gary demonstrated the range and depth of his beerosity by singing beer
jingles from the past and - when asked to compare himself to a beer style - said he most
resembles a Belgian Lambic: “A little bit odd, a little bit eccentric, maybe not for
everyone. But the people who like it really like it. And it ages well.”
Gary wins free beer for life at Wynkoop, $100 worth of beer at his hometown
brewpub and, the best part of all, his name is added to the BDOY plaque, four spaces
below mine. Congrats Gary!
See www.wynkoop.com for photos and more information on the Beerdrinker of
the Year contest.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush