Denver, Colorado, the Mile High City, sits on the High Plains of the USA, reflecting the Front Range of the Rockies off to the West. Legends and folklore abound – colorful stories of Buffalo Bill Cody, Chief Red Cloud and the great Chief Sitting Bull; of silver barons, gold prospectors, cattle rustlers, and transients. Marked by the ambitions of scores of dreamers, Denver seems the appropriate place to hold a national competition.
National competition, like a western rodeo? Perhaps, but it gets better!
Crazy rodeo shows shrink by comparison to the Beerdrinker of the Year, a national competition sponsored by Wynkoop Brewing Company, located in the historic J.S. Brown Mercantile Building in the revitalized Downtown section of Denver, an area known as LoDo. Emerging as “top cat”2007 Beerdrinker of the Year was Diane Catanzaro, professor of organizational and industrial psychology at Christopher Newport University, Virginia, award-winning homebrewer, beer-haiku poet, certified beer judge, beer writer, and host of numerous beer dinners, beer-tastings and tours abroad.
As an “aperitif” the night before, the finalists – Diane Catanzaro, Phil Farrell, and Logan Perkins – joined competition organizer Marty Jones and the seven illustrious judges, wearing black robes and judicial, white wigs, for a taste of Schmidlin’s Schmoked Pilsener. Face-to-face introductions and an impressive beer-tasting marathon, dictated by eleven years of tradition, kicked-off at Wynkoop and continued into the wee hours at the Falling Rock Tap House. The judges’ panel was comprised of media personalities Tom Dalldorf, editor and publisher of Celebrator Beer News, the longest-running Brewspaper in the USA; Beer Fox Carolyn Smagalski, award-wining journalist at BellaOnline; and past national “Beerdrinker” champions Tom Schmidlin , Tom Ciccateri , John Marioni , Gary Steinel  and Bobby Bush .
Catanzaro, a 2006 finalist in the Beerdrinker of the Year competition, brought a heightened sense of determination into the arena. Her slim 118-pound figure exuded an aura of enthusiasm as she spoke of her own role as a breaker-of-stereotypes in the world of beer. When asked, “In all your beery exploits, what one thing haven’t you done yet that you’d like to do?” she impressed the judges with her desire to call upon corporations in work-group settings, conducting beer tastings as a means of building bonds between co-workers, and creating more cooperative work environments within the company setting.
In the Beer Whisperings segment, her effervescent wit introduced the Duchesse de Bourgogne, a Flanders Red Ale from Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Belgium, to Old Chub Scottish Style Ale, the Wham in the Can from Oskar Blues, in Lyons, Colorado. She whispered to the Duchesse that he was five inches tall and two-and-a-half inches in diameter. As she poured the coppery Old Chub into the glass of Duchesse, she proclaimed it Chubesse, and added with a wink, “He’s in to her!”
When asked to illustrate her response to a Beer Sobriety Test, Catanzaro sat on the floor in classic Lotus position, and touched her nose to the ground, bowing to the invisible officer with keen dexterity. This lighthearted attitude was sustained amidst questions about wet hopping, Pliny the Elder, lager yeast, spirulina blue-green algae, and historical brewpubs.
Past Beerdrinker contestants verify that tension can run high throughout the 2+ hour competition, but Catanzaro and Farrell kept things in perspective with Beer Barbie and Rubber Chicken, their ice-breaking mascots who accompany them on their beery adventures throughout the world.
Beerdrinker of the Year was the brainchild of Lew Cady, a free-lance promotional enthusiast who did work for John Hickenlooper of Wynkoop Brewing Company. Introduced in 1997, the reins for conducting the competition have since been handed over to Marty Jones, who has heightened awareness of the contest among the beer-loving community.
This competition is not for the faint-of-heart. From scores of passionate beer enthusiasts across the country, finalists are chosen to compete for the crown as the most revered beer devotee in the USA. Resumes detail beer trips across the United States, Belgium, Germany, England, the Sub-continent and the Orient, while displaying a dedication to teaching Beer Judge certification programs, collecting breweriana, or creating their own homebrew - all this, while retaining a sense-of-humor and spreading camaraderie among beer lovers.
Catanzaro was up against a tough field of contenders this year. Says Tom Dalldorf, “I’ve never seen three more deserving finalists, but Diane was very engaging, and her personality and very beery background helped her win the title. She speaks well for the beer community.”
As titleholder of Beerdrinker of the Year 2007, Catanzaro receives free beer for life at Wynkoop Brewing Company, a $250 beer tab at the Biergarden [her hometown Beerbar], in Portsmouth, Virginia, her name on Wynkoop’s Beerdrinker of the Year Trophy, the coveted black T-shirt proclaiming her Beerdrinker of the Year, and the prestige and honor befitting the distinguished title as National Champion among beer aficionados in the USA.
Phil Farrell, (of Cumming, Georgia) a commercial pilot, retired Air Force fighter pilot, national award-winning homebrewer, master beer judge, BJCP instructor and test administrator, and owner of the most beer-photographed rubber chicken in the world, impressed the judges with Five Seasons Quinte55ense Belgian Quintuple, a 5th Anniversary Beer he personally bottled at the brewery, his homebrewed Git in My Belly Scotch Ale, BMD (aka Beer of Mass Destruction, and 90 Minute CPA (continuous-hopped Chicken Pale Ale), along with his room-rousing rendition of the Schaefer beer jingle and superb ability for beer tasting. As a closing statement, Billy Joel’s Piano Man served as the backbone for his own harmonica-accompanied rendition…“Son, can you brew me a memory…”
Logan Perkins, of Denver, Colorado, placed all his belongings in storage in November, 2005, and has spent the past sixteen months traveling – “tasting beer and tasting culture from Cambodia to Transylvania.” In the Beer Whispering segment, he brought out bottles of Adam Avery’s Salvation and Vinnie Cirluzo’s Russian River Salvation. Passionately, he presented a soliloquy on the secret blending of these two masterful beers, resulting in the creation of Collaboration Not Litigation Ale. In addition, he carried the mood one step further during the Bribe the Judges segment by presenting the judges with bottles of the newly released beer - along with world-class Girardin Gueuze, St. Bernardus Abt 12, True Blonde Dubbel, New Grist Sorghum Beer, and Belgian-style chocolate.
A participating judge cannot help but stand in awe of the enormous dedication and ability among these able contenders. The personal journeys they have accomplished reflect a dedication throughout years of cultural exposure that may be matched by only a minute percentage of beer enthusiasts throughout the country.
To them, I raise my glass!
Photos (top to bottom):
(left to right) Judges Smagalski, Dalldorf, Marioni, Ciccateri, Steinel, Schmidlin & Bush; The crowd laughs at Catanzaro's wit (Photo credit: Duane Howell); Finalists Phil Farrell and Diane Catanzaro share a light moment; Beerdrinker of the Year 2007 Diane Catanzaro with Judges Smagalski, Dalldorf and Marioni; Finalist Logan Perkins with Schmidlin Schmoked Pilsener and Beer Barbie.