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Beer Geeks - An American Sub-Culture

Her lean legs, firm as steel and deeply bronzed, glistened in the shadows just as readily as they did in the afternoon sunshine. She had traveled to over 1,000 brewpubs across the globe, always with Phil Farrell who snapped her photograph with every beer aficionado he met, including Beer Hunter Michael Jackson, Charlie Papazian, Don Younger, and Pierre Celis. He was proud of her. She never drank, although her companion certainly offered her a taste of his many libations. Their relationship may have been as hot as the affair between Yuri Zhivago and Lara Antipova, had she been human.

She was a bit of a chicken. Actually, she WAS a chicken … a rubber chicken, who endured five years on the road with her beer geek chaperon. As her skin began turning to powder, he protected her with a loving bath of electromagnetic bronzing, preserving every detail in her ruffled skin, down to the “made in China” label embossed on her leg. She was his symbol of beer, mascot of the Chicken City Ale Raisers Homebrew Club in North Georgia. Before she began traveling, club members used her as a talisman, passing her ceremoniously over special brews for blessings and good luck. “That was a steamy affair!” she might have revealed, if Oprah had ever clinched an interview.

Phil Farrell symbolizes the newest genre of specialists in America, that of the Beer Geek. Although these specialists are usually immersed in the craft beer scene, they may also be proponents of super-producers, Anheuser-Busch/InBev or MillerCoors. Size doesn’t matter in this field. As in love, success is governed solely by passion.

Beer Geeks are often homebrewers, although many exist within the industry as writers, international beer judges, beer chefs, or sensory scientists. They have initiated the most robust craft beer scene in the world.

In his 1977 book The World Guide to Beer, Beer Hunter Michael Jackson wrote, “The United States has little more than 50 brewing companies, owning less than 100 breweries … few of them produce more than three or four beers.” Currently, records kept by the Brewers Association report “2,126 breweries … as of July 2012.” In an industry that is labor-intensive and hands-on, this sort of growth indicates a growing community that continues to expand by exponential proportions.

Is being a geek a good thing? The term geek, derived from the English dialect as geck, indicated that one was a fool. The root of the word geck exists in Dutch and as gek in the West Germanic languages spoken in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia. In these dialects, it indicates one who is a bit crazy. In 19th century America, “geek shows” were essentially “freak shows,” held in side tents at traveling circuses, featuring people with abnormalities, as well as performers who could breathe fire or bite the head off a live chicken.

In the 1980s and 1990s, geek became a description for those individuals fascinated by technology, but it was often an unflattering term that implied social awkwardness. When Richard Clarke, who served on the U.S. National Security Council, stated “geeks get it done” on the Colbert Report, the term suddenly lost its negative connotation. A geek became purely one who is an enthusiast, passionately involved in his/her chosen field. And there’s nothing quite like a Beer Geek.

Although Beer Geeks have individual strengths, most are multi-faceted in their approach. The Beer Judge Certification Program presents education on beer style identification with all the inherent sensory qualities in beer, including the appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel and overall impression, including their effect on the trigeminal and kinesthetic senses. Within the program, many are Recognized, Certified or National judges, and a large proportion of these judges have built elaborate set-ups for homebrewing as a personal avocation. Some have achieved levels as Grand Master (some at 2nd, 3rd and 4th Degree levels), including Phil Farrell, Dave Houseman, Kevin Pratt, Peter Garofalo, Ron Bach, Scott Bickham, Ed Westemeier, Tom Cannon, and several others. Gordon Strong is a Grand Master VII.

Phil Farrell also advanced to compete in the National Beerdrinker of the Year Competition and clinched the title in 2011. I hear you laughing at the idea of watching people consume great gulps of beer … but that’s not what this competition entails.

Beerdrinker of the Year was founded by Lew Cady of the Wynkoop Brewery in Denver Colorado. His goal was to identify people who were passionately driven by the culture of beer. These people submit resumes to Wynkoop Brewery, with hopes of becoming a finalist in this annual competition. The resumes are read by select individuals in the beer community (beer writers, publishers, brewers, and beer connoisseurs), who submit their choices for three finalists who compete for the title each February. The resumes would stun the average person. Some of the excerpts include:

“Beers Tasted: 13,600+ from 84 different countries, all 50 states, and the District of Columbia”

“I have constantly traveled to Europe, Central America, the Far East, and the Indian subcontinent, and everywhere I landed there was good beer to be found (…decent draft lager in Madras and Goa; some Lion from Sri Lanka was out and about).”

“This spring, I launched an historical research project into the origins of the doppelbock style of beer, investigating the well-known beer legend that says that 17th Century monks developed doppelbock to sustain themselves during their Lenten fasts. To explore this possibility, I embarked on a 46-day fast, consuming nothing but my own Illuminator Doppelbock (and water), chronicling it in real-time on a blog, and following with a book, which was published in November.”

Very few beer lovers can read these achievements without finding their own burning desire to build their own Beer Geek Kingdom. What are you waiting for?

Cheers!

She's not exactly the same, but you can start off with your own rubber chicken, too.
18" Squawkin Rubber Chicken Novelty GAG Joke Toy

Traveling for beer? Let's get started:
Rockland Luggage 19 Inch Tote Bag, Black, One Size

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