America’s No. 1 Beer Drinker of the Year

HERE you go:

Evil terrorists are threatening to wipe out the world’s entire supply of hops. Do you negotiate with them? And, if so, what single hop variety would you save?

Tough choice?

How about this: Dick Cheney invites you to accompany him on a hunting trip. What beer do you bring?

Such are the challenges, imagined or not, that may one day confront America’s No. 1 Beer Drinker. It is a grueling job, one demanding strong moral fiber and an even stronger liver.

And so three semi-finalists for the honor were grilled last weekend for two hours by an unsober panel of powdered-wigged judges at Wynkoop Brewing’s annual Beer Drinker of the Year contest in Denver.

Somehow, yours truly found himself on this high court of beer-drinking jurists. How’d I do? Let’s just say Judge Sixpack ultimately succumbed to the winner’s blatant attempt at bribery (three vintages of the powerfully rich Dogfish Head World Wide Stout).

The contest, in its 10th year, is a rollicking affair that begins with a nationwide call for resumes – yes, beer resumes. The ones I reviewed boasted an astounding collection of sudsy credentials, including worldwide travel, home-brewing awards, advanced education, scholarly journal submissions and beer-cap collections.

One guy noted that since he was currently posted as a member of the American armed forces in Kuwait (a dry country), he was forced to keep in shape by tasting and reviewing non-alcoholic beer. Sadly, he didn’t make the cut.

The three semi-finalists were an impressive cross-section of uber beer geeks:

_ Warren Monteiro of New York City is a screenwriter who has flown to England four times in the last year, and twice to Belgium, in pursuit of great beer. He plans to wallpaper his bathroom wall with the more than 2,000 beer labels he’s collected.

_ Diane Catanzaro of Norfolk, Va., is a college professor who was once named “Honorary Hophead” at a Virginia beer festival. She writes beer haiku and named her cat “Chimay,” after the Belgian Trappist ale.

_ Tom Schmidlin of Seattle gave up his job as a mechanical engineer to enter a Ph.D. program in biochemistry so he can study yeast. His resume included a photo of his year-old twins (“the future of beer drinking”) sucking on bottles of Samuel Adams.

With credentials like those, any one of the three could’ve won.

The trio, though, had to face the judges first. During a beer-soaked Q-and-A in which each candidate did serious damage to a half-gallon growler of Wynkoop beer, the panel peppered each with a variety of brain-teasers.

_ Describe the entire history of beer in 40 seconds.

_ How many rings on the Ballantine label? (Three.)

_ How many ridges on a beer cap? (Twenty-one. )

They answered ’em without spilling a drop.

This was a close call, but the decision came down to a final “beer whispering” segment in which each spoke a soulful ode to his or her beer of choice.

Monteiro, the oldest and perhaps the most studied, pulled out a bottle of Greene King Olde Suffolk, an obscure British ale aged in oak casks. Cantanzaro played the feminine card, rhapsodizing about Duchesse de Bourgogne, a tart Belgian ale named after the 18th-century tart who broke gender rules.

Schmidlin surprised everyone by turning down the advances of an old, forgotten lover, a can of Milwaukee’s Best.

“Oh my God,” he greeted the can, “it’s you! How have you been? What has it been, like 10 years? At least! You haven’t changed at all.

“Me? Oh, you know, this and that . . . I’ve been playing the field lately, looking for something more interesting, you know?

“For old times sake? I don’t know . . . I mean, you haven’t changed, but I have. My tastes have matured and developed. Really, it’s not you, it’s me. I’m different now.

“Look I’m sorry, but it’s totally not going to happen. All right, yeah, maybe if it was really late and I was drunk and you were the only one around. But seriously, is that what you want?

“You should move on – I know there’s plenty of guys out there who would love to have you. I don’t know, try a fraternity. “

The kiss-off paid off and Schmidlin took home the title, $250 in beer from his favorite bar and free beer for life at Wynkoop’s brewpub. Schmidlin announced he would be moving to Denver immediately, preferably to an apartment upstairs.

No word, however, on that hunting trip with the vice president.

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