As one of the founders of the Philly Beer Geek competition, I am privileged to meet the most dedicated people in Philadelphia beer. Not only do I meet them, but I also get to pick their brains to find out what really makes them tick, how they think, and what they feel during the competition. These interviews trace a path that enlightens us regarding the ins-and-outs of winning a competition as daunting and variable as the Philly Beer Geek championship.
In 2014, the well-deserved win was passionately seized by Jess Streeter. Against a field of 10 other competitors, Professor Jess-ter, Fool of Ales - as she was known in the competition - proved her meddle to arise victorious and take home a prize package worth over $3,000 in beer-centric prizes and the coveted Philly Beer Geek title.
Read on to discover the secrets of what makes a Philly Beer Geek winner.
Congratulations on your huge win as Philly Beer Geek 2014.
Let me first say that you have a great smile! Warm and engaging! I loved seeing it when you became Philly Beer Geek 2014. How did you feel that night when Judge Lew Bryson, in his big booming voice, announced you as the 2014 Philly Beer Geek Champion?
Haha, well now youíre making me blush. Honestly I sort of blanked out; I didnít even remember Lew was the one who announced it. I heard the start of my name and freaked out, my mind went blank, and I just ran around like a mad-person, haha. It was absolutely amazing to hear that, and I donít think Iíve been more genuinely excited by anything in my life. This will probably even top the birth of our first child, whenever that happens. Unless the kid is born with that much beer-related swag. Then maybe he/she stands a chance.
What does it feel like to win the prestigious title as Philly Beer Geek 2014?
Oh my god, itís actually indescribable. Iíve been on this high for days! Even the guys at Naked are like, "we shouldnít still be this excited about everything, but we are!" And it actually comes with all these little perks that I didnít even think about. For the rest of beer week, Iíd have people coming up saying, 'hey, arenít you that beer geek? Congratulations, you did a great job!' And I had a little nerd moment when I woke up the next day with facebook friend requests from Lew, Joe Gunn, and Scoats. I was like a fourteen year old girl, squealing away. So itís been a really awesome experience so far, and Iím still in the first week of my reign!
You seemed to have a pretty enthusiastic fan club cheering for you. How did you build so much support from your fans?
Some were my friends, who arenít necessarily even beer people. Theyíre just amazing and supportive and came and sat through this craziness even though they have no idea whatís going on. Some were from the ALEiens homebrew club, who are seriously the best bunch of folks ever - even those who couldnít make it sent me tons of messages wishing me luck. And then there were the Naked Brewing guys.
Man! Theyíre seriously the most supportive group ever. The second I said I wanted to do this, and I wanted them to sponsor me, they were like, "yup, weíre in, weíll do whatever we have to do, just tell us what you need and bring home that title." Theyíre amazing and I love all of them. And of course, thereís my fiancee, who is insanely supportive. She put up with all the crazy preparation and studying and nights where I ignored her in favor of beer trivia and prep. And she was insanely helpful with everything. She was also my unofficial fan club organizer this year. After last year, with Mikeís insanely huge mob, she insisted on getting me a bigger crowd this year. Sheís amazing. And I love her.
This was your second attempt at trying for the title, and you seemed determined to win. You had tough competition, but you seemed to exude an attitude of a champion. How did you build such confidence in yourself?
Haha. Oddly, working in a psych hospital for 6 years. Through all of college I was actually a pretty shy person, and would go into a panic at the thought of public speaking. Then I got a job in a psych hospital in north Philly, working with a pretty...um..ĒeclecticĒ crowd of folks, and I had to build up confidence really quickly in that situation. That setting is what made it possible for me to teach college courses with confidence, and it just kind of bled into other areas where Iím much more outgoing. Also, insanely supportive friends and family who believe in me definitely helped me out. They really thought I had a chance to take it this year, so I didnít want to disappoint.
Tell me about the personal side of Jess Streeter. Is she a person with many sides? Does she go after it until she wins?
The personal side watches too much Netflix.
Is it weird I kind of donít know how to answer this? I do have some random, seemingly unrelated interests. Iím passionate about sociology and mental health, and all the things I teach on a daily basis. But Iím equally passionate about beer, brewing, and the community surrounding all of that. And in general, if Iím passionate about something, I dive into it head first. In academia, I have my masters in Sociology, teach at 3 different universities, and Iím the associate managing editor of our national sociology magazine.
When it comes to beer, Iím the VP of my homebrew club, I work at a brewery, I homebrew regularly, and I teach homebrewing classes. I think thatís why my parents are in a bit of a panic that Iíll stop being a sociologist and seek out a career in beer. For now, I enjoy working in both arenas. Aside from beer and sociology, I also have a weird obsession with zombies (and horror movies in general), and I have a little love affair with my bike. I even have a picture of her tattooed on me. Her name is Anastasia Beaverhausen.
Tell me about your Philly Beer Phila-sophy.
My official answer was ďShare the beer love: Share the passion, share the knowledge, and share the beer...unless you have a cold sore, then keep that stuff to yourself.Ē And I went with that because my favorite part of the beer scene in Philly is the communal nature of it. Iíve stumbled into homebrew club meetings for other groups, and everyone makes you feel at home within seconds. Iíve been at bars and had strangers offer me sips of some insanely delicious beer that theyíre raving about; Iíve split rare bottles with new friends; Iíve gotten homebrew tips from people I meet working at Naked. Thereís just such a sense of community in Philly, and I feel like most people in the scene really are about spreading the beer love. And I think we also do a pretty good job of policing the few people who come at this with a ďsnobĒ mentality or with a bad attitude. It just makes for a really awesome scene, and Iím all for keeping that mentality alive because of it.
How did you become associated with the "geeky side" of beer?
I manage to find the geeky side of everything haha. Iíve always been a nerd, I love school, and I love learning, so when I become interested in anything I go out and get the full backstory and learn as much as I can. And for me, that makes me fall more in love with beer. Itís not just about the beverage, itís about the huge history that goes with that beverage, and the connections that are forged over that beverage, and the effort that goes into making it. Itís awesome; I love it.
The other thing that really set me on that path was when Cheli bought me my first homebrew kit, complete with Papazianís book. I hadnít even really thought about brewing, because it seemed intimidating, but she knew I loved beer and took a chance on a kit for Christmas. I immediately ran into Paulís shop (Wine, Barley, & Hops) because I had passed it a few times in the past and thought it sounded cool. Paul hooked me up with all the knowledge, That opened up a whole other realm of geekiness above and beyond knowing styles and everything. Itís all been downhill since that. Cheli really has no one to blame but herself for this obsession.
Who are your biggest supporters? Do they like beer, or do they just love you so much that they are with you through all of this?
Cheli, hands down, is an amazing support. She puts up with countless nights of me going out for beer events, or going to homebrew club meetings, or endless beer geek talk. Sometimes I feel like she just puts up with it because she loves me, but then Iím reminded how much she loves a good beer herself. Like this year, she was the one really pushing to go VIP to the Belgium Comes To Cooperstown Beerfest at Ommegang. And as long as I bring her along for anything involving sours (and I donít get drunk hiccups, ever), sheís happy.
Brian Sucevic and Jim Crossland looked pretty happy that you won. Did they have any memorable comments before, during, or after the competition
Everything those two do is memorable. It was all such a blur, but they were just excited, and told me 'whatever you need up there tonight, Jess, weíve got your back.' Although since the competition, Jim has taken up bowing in my presence haha, and Brian just keeps compulsively high-fiving me. I love it. And Iím really happy I could bring this award home to such an amazing set of guys.