The Beerdrinker of the Year? It’s not me

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WYNKOOP BREWERY, the Denver brewpub, named its annual Beerdrinker of the Year earlier this month, and as usual the winner was from the East Coast.

This year’s lucky champion has a theory about that, and it has nothing to do with our region’s astounding capacity for beer consumption.

“First prize is free Wynkoop beer for life,” Gary Steinel told me in a phone chat.

At 1,800 miles from Steinel’s home in White Plains, N.Y., Denver’s a long, long way to go for a freebie, even if it is a pint of Wynkoop’s yummy RailYard Ale.

But forget about the free beer. This contest is all about bragging rights, and they’re priceless. In the beer freak world, winning the Wynkoop competition is the equivalent of Olympic gold.

For Steinel, a high school math teacher who has competed in the contest since its inception in ’97, it’s the culmination of a lifetime of high-quality boozing. His beer resume – yes, resume – is three pages long.

“I’ve been to 295 brewpubs and micros in the U.S.,” he said, ticking off his qualifications.

“I own 260 different beer glasses.

“I work at the Vermont Craft Beer Festivals.

“I give beer tastings and talks on cooking with beer. I write about beer.

“I have 300 vintage beers stored in various refrigerators . . . Let’s see, there’s a wine cellar with nothing but beer, about 170 bottles kept between 53 and 57 degrees. Another half fridge with nothing but beer, kept at 45 to 48 degrees. Plus there’s some more in my regular refrigerator, plus some stored in my back room . . . “

Um, I interrupted, you’re not married, are you, Gary?

No, he laughed. “But my girlfriend understands. “

Steinel’s resume got him noticed in Denver. Wynkoop flew him in with two other finalists – one was a self-described “cover boy” on Brew Your Own magazine; the other claims he’s tasted 2,250 beers in 24 countries.

The competition is overseen by a panel of semi-distinguished judges in silly powdered wigs who pepper the contestants with questions and challenges. A shot clock pressures the players to come back with quick replies.

Steinel handled the trivia well. His toughest question was naming the cartoon character who shilled for Stag Beer (Mr. Magoo).

But it was his free-form “beer whispering” that awed the panel. Holding a bottle of Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout (“It’s liquid poetry,” he proclaimed), Steinel recited adulterated Poe, Kilmer and Frost’s “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”:

This beer is lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

I’ll drink this beer before I sleep . . .

The frothy sentiment bowled over the judges. So did the Worldwide Stout.

“I sent the bottle over to the judges and never saw it back,” Steinel said.

Ah yes, judicial bribery. Another East Coast tradition.

Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Hitachino Nest Weizen.


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