Excitement filled the air as ten determined competitors – five men and five women – prepared to battle it out for the coveted brass ring. Not in a literal sense, but hoping to seize a spot in the Finals lap in the Philly Beer Geek 2010 Competition to be held on June 10th during Philly Beer Week in Philadelphia. Six spots lay open for the crème de la crème of Philly’s Beer Scene, and each competitor had whet their appetite for the title as
Philly Beer Geek 2010 and the Grand Prize of over $1,000 in prizes.
Every one of the ten men and women had won a Preliminary Round sponsored by a metropolitan or suburban beer-focused business, and were warming up with a taste of the suds as the audience took their places within the upstairs “River Club” loft at Manayunk Brewery & Restaurant.
Four experts in the beer industry, dressed in black robes and sporadically sporting white barrister wigs, accepted appointments as judges. These illustrious members of the Quadrunal were: Rosemarie Certo, veteran Founder/Owner of Dock Street Brewery, Philadelphia; Doug Marchakitus, Head Brewer at Manayunk Brewery, Philadelphia; Casey Hughes, Head Brewer at Flying Fish Brewing Company, Cherry Hill, New Jersey; and Nate Gefvert, 2009 Philly Beer Geek Champion.
Contestants took the stage, announcing themselves by their beer stage name and sponsor. Members of the Semi-Finals panel were:
Jessi Black, aka schwartzbeir Frau, sponsored by Bridget Foys, Philadelphia;
Mike Gretz, aka Herr Bier-Mikester Gretz, sponsored by Brauhaus Schmitz, Philadelphia;
Mike Lessa, aka Dump Bucket, sponsored by Keystone HomebrewSupply, Montgomeryville and Bethlehem, PA;
Steve Hawk, aka The Human Growler, sponsored by Hulmeville Inn, Hulmeville, PA;
Kate Stewart, aka The Beeranthropist, sponsored by Iron Abbey Gastro Pub, Horsham, PA;
Andrew Pope, aka The Beer Pope, sponsored by Manayunk Brewery & Restaurant, Philadelphia;
Daniel Berlin, aka originally Fatty B, but now is known as Man Full of Trouble, sponsored by Dock Street Beer, Philadelphia;
April Ann Reynolds, aka April “AA” Annie, sponsored by the Beer Fox, Harleysville, PA;
Karin Suzadail, aka Muse of Booze, sponsored by the Grey Lodge Pub, Philadelphia;
Jenny Hobbs, aka Raging Panda, sponsored by Varga Bar, Philadelphia.
Semi-finalists showed uncommon brilliance amidst a variety of challenges. They all had whiteboards and endured a battery of fast-fire trivia questions to test their initial knowledge on an even playing field. Additional challenges ran the gamut from differentiating between ale and lager on taste alone; answering open-ended questions that were serious on some levels and silly on others; displaying their cleverness and sense of humor on a theoretical question; and convincing the jury to choose them as a Finalist.
You might wonder how it feels to be on-stage in this challenging situation. Responses from some of the competitors may surprise you. Read on:
Mike Gretz: “That was a great time had by all … and I'm really glad there is another round in store for me. It was great meeting the other contestants and I was delighted to see that my old friend from George School was in the line-up. We will let our high school know of course that we are both in the finals and set to go head to head.”
“Actually, it's funny because Kate and I were both wrestling team captains as well. Competition must run deep in our veins...”
“You know, I felt good up there. It was tough at times, like the trivia round on TV and beer. I didn't watch much growing up and when I did I certainly wasn't paying attention to the beer. But I felt consoled when I heard that 0% got the Simpsons question correct.”
April Reynolds: “Onstage, I felt nervous. Definitely nervous. But once I calmed down, I like the game show feel of having the contestants stand in front of the crowd, almost like we were on stage. And it's a rush when the audience takes to you and laughs at your (sometimes dumb) jokes!”
“I liked the ale vs. lager taste test. I mean, a lot of us know our beer trivia, but actually knowing the beer intimately bumps things up a level.
“I was told that I gave the "bravest answer" to the beer fantasy question, so I guess I'll go with that. *wink*”
Dan Berlin: “It was exhilarating to be there and I’m really looking forward to competing in the finals.”
Kate Stewart: “I had so much fun, and it was such an honor to be chosen to participate in the finals! I'm so excited to represent the Phenominally Phantastic, and Profoundly Prolific Philly Beer Scene.”
“I felt great being onstage with so many like minded people. We all, in our own ways, are working towards furthering the local craft beer movement. While of course it is a competition, there was also a sense of real camaraderie. And of course, I'm in the competition to win bragging rights (and beer!), but I can truly say that whoever does take this competition to the win will be worthy! Not only did I have the opportunity to wax on about my favorite beers and why I am a beer geek indeed, but I had a chance to learn some things.”
“I would also like to take this opportunity to express my joy and surprise that so many women participated! It seems to me that the craft beer scene has until recently been dominated by the guys, and it was truly refreshing to hear some women discuss the merits of beer other than wits and whites and lights. I anticipate a 50/50 gender mix next year! Truthfully, and surprisingly, I was more intimidated by the ladies in the competition than the guys.”
Mike Lessa: “I was very impressed with the overall level of beer-geekiness of the competitors. It's nice to see that craft beer is really catching on!”
Most agreed the “open-ended questions” posed the greatest challenge. Jenny Hobbs, when asked "what is your favorite body part and how does it relate to beer" brilliantly answered “the brain” and turned a possibly silly question into a thought-provoking statement on beer appreciation.
Comments about the best/worst questions during the competition:
Jessi Black: “My favorite part of the competition was when the person before me asked if all the beers were local (during the beer/brewery match up) and the answer was yes and when my beer was called it was not local at all but I actually knew the answer! I am more than honored to advance to the finals and I hope that I can prove my love of beer in the final even if I don't win.”
Mike Gretz: “Honestly, the only thing tougher than writing with my left hand” [Note: Mike Gretz had hand surgery just before the competition and could not write with his prominent hand]”was the free-form question I got about being pulled over by the police after a Belgian beer fest. I'm a huge believer in responsible drinking, but I didn't want to say ‘that would never happen...’ and leave the question unanswered. I played along and tried to make a funny excuse, hence the ‘I am a janitor at the local middle school and the fumes make me a little goofy’ response. Of course, then I couldn't recall whether the judges specifically mentioned a car or not so I asked, ‘Wait, am I walking or driving?’ to which Casey, in his lightning-quick wit replied, ‘Are you asking us or the police officer?’ Hahaha, he's a funny guy...”
April Reynolds: “The open-ended question about space and putting a message in a bottle. I thought when we were given that ahead of time that it was just a sample question, so I didn't prepare anything. Having to think on my feet, and not doing that well with it, was pretty scary. Next time I'll do my homework.”
Dan Berlin: “One of my favorite questions was when one of the judges asked me how I felt about Macro-Lager companies expanding into craft styles - Blue Moon, for example. Instead of damning the Macro-Lager companies for inching on craft beer’s turf, I stated that it can be a positive thing, by having these large omni-present corporations expose the mass public to other styles of beer. Craft beer sales have been rising, while macro-lager sales have been falling – if they want to try and regain their share by broadening peoples’ palates and helping them realize there’s other stuff out there, that’s fine by me.”
The Philly Beer Geek 2010 Grand Champion will be chosen on June 10th at Manayunk Brewery & Restaurant. The suspense is killing me!
Note, names in Bold type have advanced to the Finals.
Photos are: Judges Doug Marchakitus, Nate Gefvert, Rosemarie Certo, and Casey Hughes; Contestants April Reynolds, Jessi Black and Jenny Hobbs