As spring blossoms begin to fade and pollen layers our spiffy white cars with yellow dust, beer geeks in Philadelphia get the itch for some serious beer games. These are not just any games. You won’t find Beer Pong or California Kings in their repertoire – at least, not at this time of year.
These people are serious – so serious, in fact, that they have earned the reputation as “Beer Geeks,” ready to compete for the most challenging beer championship the city has to offer. These men and women are ramping-up for the annual Philly Beer Geek Championship, hoping to capture the prestigious title and over $3,000 in beer-centric prizes … and that treasure trove has the potential to grow to over $5,000 worth of prizes, as it did in 2013.
The prizes are a pretty cool perk for someone who loves beer, but the benefits get better. The winner of the Philly Beer Geek Championship also has the privilege of collaborating with a commercial brewery to design and brew the Philly Beer Geek Beer for the next year, along with an invitation as food critic Craig LaBan's honorary Guest Judge at the Philadelphia Inquirer Brew-vitational ... and they get to Judge at the Philly Beer Geek Championship the year after their win.
If you ask the founders of Philly Beer Geek for the secrets of winning, they will tell you that it pays to know your beer trivia; but there are many new breweries in the Philadelphia region who are pouring new beers at your local watering holes. Familiarity with these newcomers is critically important, and Beer Geeks are encouraged to practice “tasting” all they can before their on-stage appearance.
But the real competition is all about passion. No one has ever won a Philly Beer Geek Championship without it. Whether their passion springs from homebrewing or attending every beer festival in the country, that lust for beer becomes connected to every thought in their brain. They begin to think outside the box, wondering if they can culture a yeast strain from the skin of a plum, or create a beer label signed by a famous Philadelphia publican.
In fact, the track record for Philly Beer Geeks is impressive. Although Head Brewers, Bar Owners, and Owners of Beer-related businesses are not eligible to compete, winners of Philly Beer Geek – and even some who have competed but not captured the crown - seem to gravitate to ever higher levels in the beer community.
Doug Hager, a past finalist of Philly Beer Geek, now owns Brauhaus Schmitz, the most authentic beer hall in Philadelphia. The latest addition to his portfolio is Wursthaus Schmitz, a German Delikatessan in the Reading Terminal Market.
Colin Presby, who nearly captured the crown in 2013, became Head Brewer at Golden Avalanche Brewing Company in Kutztown, PA. Steve Mashington, Philly Beer Geek 2012, headed for the West coast and is now Director of Production at Rogue Ales in Newport, OR.
Natalie DeChico, Philly Beer Geek 2011, works as a Sales Rep for Weyerbacher Brewing Company of Easton, PA. Although she had the job as Sales Rep a full six months before winning the title, her success has blossomed since she broke into the boys’ club on the Philly beer scene. She was featured in a distinctive spread in Philly Beer Scene magazine after her win, and did a collaboration brew with Doug Marchakitus while he was Head brewer at Manayunk Brewery in Philadelphia. Her very successful Philly Beer Geek Basil IPA was marked with memorable herbal notes and a slam of hops on a firm malt base.
With Beer Fox Carolyn Smagalski, she presented Weyerbacher beer and sweet delicacies in 2011 for the Beer and Food Pavilion at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. Two years later, Natalie developed a collaboration beer with Head Brewer Chris Wilson, making a splash with Weyerbacher’s Althea Abbey Dubbel, a beer brewed for Breast Cancer Awareness month in October 2013.
Steve Hawk, Philly Beer Geek 2010, went after the crown for three years before finally seizing victory. He has progressed into beerwriting for Draft Lines Magazine and Philly Burbs, developed the website for Philly Beer Geek, and presented a beer tasting at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia.
He has served as emcee at the 2013 Philly Beer Geek Semi-Finals, and with Natalie DeChico, will host the 2014 Philly Beer Geek Finals at the Field House on June 5th at 8:00 pm.
Videographer Michael Lawrence, Philly Beer Geek 2013, directed and produced the movie Beeradelphia, The City of Brewery Love even before he became the champion of Philly Beer Geek. His talents in both filmmaking and beer passion have led Mat Falco of Philly Beer Scene Magazine to book him as emcee and host of the 2014 Philly Beer Scene Awards at World Café Live – Mike's last gig in the states before he leaves for a 6-week Masters-in-Film Program in Rome. “While in Rome, I will be doing a short film about the Italian Craft Beer explosion,” says Mike Lawrence, who bills himself as Philly's own brother, Hoparazzi.
Speaking of Hopparazzi, Mike Lawrence also collaborated with Doug Marchakitus at Iron Hill Brewery, to brew a Double IPA, Hoparazzi, named in his honor as Philly Beer Geek. He also brewed the 2014 official Philly Beer Geek Beer, Free Will.I.Am Black Eyed Stout with John Stemler and David Wood at Free Will Brewing Company in Perkasie, PA.
As a training ground for Philadelphia beer, nothing gets better than this. Philly Beer Geeks are the best in the country. Bar none.