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BDOY '02

February, 2002

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 Wynkoop.

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

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