Natalie DeChico, Philly Beer Geek 2011, Talks about the Philly Beer Geek Competition
Carolyn Smagalski, Beer Fox and Co-Founder of the Philly Beer Geek Competition, interviews Philly Beer Geek 2011 Champion Natalie De Chico about the 2011 competition.
Carolyn Smagalski: What does it feel like to win the prestigious title as Philly Beer Geek 2011? How did you feel that night, when we announced that you, Natty-Eisbock, had won the crown??
Natalie DeChico: The roar of the crowd still gives me gooesebumps!! I have never won something this big before. It feels awesome to finally be recognized for my geekyness! I was so shocked and excited that I had won Philly Beer Geek; it was great that my friends and family were all there to share in my victory. I felt like WE ALL won beer geek that night! I couldn’t stop smiling and was proud to be able to keep the title at The Hulmeville Inn.
C: There was a big crowd cheering for you that night. Did I hear there was a bus-load of people, too? How did you get so much support from your sponsor, family and friends?
N: Heck yes, there was a bus! We took a 20 passenger bus (complete with strobe lights and lava lamps) down to Manayunk so no one would have to drive. Having everyone on the bus also helped calm my nerves and got me pumped up at the same time. I was receiving pep talks from my boyfriend Brian between each round to keep my nerves down. Besides the busload of friends, my family, more friends, ALEiens’ members, and Weyerbacher co-workers all showed up to support me. The noise from the crowd was deafening at times! I loved every minute of it!
C: Tell me about your Philly Beer Phila-sophy.
N: When I won Philly Beer Geek that night, it felt like all my friends and family won it with me. We, as a group, took home the title. We are the people that make up the Philly Beer Scene. My Phila-sophy is all about the wonderful beer lovers, brewers, writers, readers, bar owners, and workers that contribute to make Philly the BEST BEER DRINKING CITY in the country! The Philly Beer Scene is all about YOU… make it what you will.
C: As a woman, what made you think you could capture the prestigious title as Philly Beer Geek 2011? Isn't beer more of a guy thing?
N: I thought I could capture the title because I know about brewing, beer history, the local beer scene, and … I love beer! As a woman, I always shock people with my knowledge about beer so I was excited to use that shock factor in the competition. I have always been a tom-boy, of sorts, so I am more suited for being a geek rather than a pageant-queen any day.
I have never let the fact that I am a woman stop me from pursuing something I was interested in. I don’t like the stigmatism that women don’t drink beer. It also doesn’t help when women believe they don’t like beer because they don’t fancy yellow fizzy beers or bitter IPAs.
There are so many more styles and flavors out there that would shock you if you try them! That is one of my favorite parts of working for Weyerbacher; when I get to surprise non-beer drinkers with the variety of flavors craft beer has to offer. I love changing people’s perception of beer! And changing the way they think of women in the beer industry. I’m not here to wear next-to-nothing and hand out samples of a light beer. I am here, as a friend, to convey information to you about the delicious elixir you are about to taste. It is a great time to be involved in the beer scene, women and men alike!
C: Jeff Lavin looked pretty happy that you won. What was he like before the competition? Did he encourage you? What burns in your mind as the true signature of Jeff Lavin?
N: He was actually mad that he had to have another Beer Geek BBQ! What a Debbie-Downer, geez…
Just kidding! He was ecstatic that I won. He knew I was going to win the whole time; whereas, I was more nervous and skeptical. Jeff is like a kid in a candy store when doing anything with beer! We had so much fun getting the pictures ready for the contest and talking about my speeches. I wouldn’t go as far as saying he encouraged me, but he said that I wouldn’t have a job anymore if I lost. (she laughed.)
The Hulmeville Inn doesn’t take this contest lightly. Jeff is a wonderful bar owner and friend who goes above-and-beyond to find the most wild-and-crazy beers out there, then taps them at noon on a Tuesday. He is a mad-man when it comes to beer, firkins, and fountains. Also, Jeff throws kick-butt Beer Geek parties!
C: What was the scariest part of the competition?
N: I was most nervous about remembering everything I know. When I get really nervous, I forget a lot of things. I have always been like that with tests, interviews, etc. The crowd kind of scared me when I had to give my speeches until I looked out and saw all the ALEiens, my family and friends giving me thumbs up. I was also nervous as anything when they were announcing the winners.
C: What was the most fun?
N: Giving my divorce speech and hearing people’s responses to the pictures. Though I think my mom and my boyfriend had a heart attack when they saw me in a wedding dress!! Also walking out in my wonderfully smelling hop dress. I enjoyed the blind tasting, that was one of my favorite parts of the competition.
C: Was it unnerving to have random questions thrown at you by six celebrity judges?
N: Not really. I was more interested in what questions they would come up with. I knew the question of AB purchasing breweries would be asked and I was happy I got to share my thoughts on it. I think discovering breweries on your own is a huge part of the fun with beer. Now that AB craft breweries are splashed everywhere, it is not as exciting. Hopefully the beer stays the same though. I really wanted to be asked what beer I would have in a Water Park though.
C: Were any of the judges intimidating, in your mind? Who and why?
N: YES! Steve Hawk is one menacing guy! Yikes. The judges for the finals were much more stern and serious looking than the judges during the semi-finals. You knew that they were really trying to pick out the best of the best.
C: What about during the Semi-finals? The judges were pretty loose, weren't they?
N: I think they drank too many Papa Smurfs! They were very light-hearted and funny. Lew Bryson’s laugh kept us all in good spirits during the tough competition.
C: What was your favorite part of the Philly Beer Geek Competition? At what point did you answer a question that made you proud to be a beer geek?
N: The Blind Beer Tasting is tough, but I love trying to figure out which beer is which. It takes knowledge of the local breweries and the process of tasting and deduction to figure out the beers. Plus you get to drink some great beers!
C: Can you recap for me how you decided to choose Newcastle Brown Ale as your "old love" and Yards "Old Bart" as your desired replacement?
N: I decided to marry Newcastle Brown Ale because, when I studied abroad in England, I visited the brewery and drank a lot of “Newky Brown” while I was there. Also, I discovered The Hulmeville Inn after looking up bars that served Newky Brown on tap after I returned home from England. Newky Brown has done a lot for me, so it was an obvious pick.
I knew that I wanted to divorce it for a local Philly beer. Since The Hulmeville and Yard’s have such a loving relationship already, Yard’s was it. Old Bart is one of my favorite Yard’s brews (besides TJ) and I have been lucky to have it a few times, oak aged and regular, at The Hulmeville. It is a big, bold, delicious barleywine. Who doesn’t want to drink an oak-aged barley wine every day?
C: Your posters were such a clever visual for the show. What stimulated you to go in that direction?
N: Jeff and I had discussed what props I was going to use for my speech and after picking Newcastle Brown, I remembered I had pictures from my trip up there. That solidified the use of those pictures. Jeff came up with the Old Bart-in-bed picture. We put our Photoshop skills to use to create the wedding and bed picture. The people at the Photoshop thought we had a few screws loose. Truth is, there are no screws left. (she laughs, again)
C: Tell us about your hop dress.
N: I had the crazy idea of wearing a hop dress to the finals this year, if I made it. Something that showed just how geeky I can really be! I came up with the idea during last year’s finals while supporting Steve Hawk. I wanted to also wear a crown of hops, but there were no hops on the vines yet. My hop dress was made of homegrown Willamette hops, thanks to Matt Myers. I took four ounces of whole cone hops and glued them on, one by one. I smelled fantastic! My hop headband and hop engagement ring were the perfect finishing touch.
Photos are (from top): Natalie DeChico (center) with Philly Beer Geek Founders Carolyn Smagalski and Jason Harris; Natalie's Hop Dress; Winning; Beer Divorce Presentation; PBG 2011 Prize Table