“This is one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me,” said Steve Mashington on Thursday, after receiving the 2012 Philly Beer Geek title and $2,000 in beer-related prizes at the Manayunk Brewery.
It was the second and final round of the local competition which called on bars and restaurants to choose and sponsor one contestant for the semi-finals in May. Thursday’s competitiors were the reining champs of last month’s competition.
The annual event began in 2007 as a component of Philly Beer Week. Co-founders Carolyn Smagalski, beer and brewing editor at BellaOnline.com, and Jason Harris, owner of Keystone Homebrew Supply, said they started the competition to reward “the individual who exhibits the greatest universal knowledge and passion for Philadelphia beer.”
“We take beer seriously,” said Harris, “we want it to mean something.”
A winning personality
Throughout the contest, finalists displayed their personalities through their chosen monikers which represented a unique beer-centric identity. Some of those identities included “The Beer Pope” and “Philly Beer Baron.”
The six contestants included: Andrew Pope, “The Beer Pope” from Iron Abbey Gastro Pub, located in Horsham, Pa.; Colin Presby, “Bockman” from Canal Street Pub, located in Reading, Pa. and Standard Tap, located in Philadelphia; Michael Soo, “A Brewer Named Soo” from Dock Street Brewery, located in Philadelphia; Steve Mashington, “Smashington” from Hulmeville Inn, located in Hulmeville, Pa.; Christian Mosebach, “Moosebock” from American Sardine Bar, located in Philadelphia and Jesse Andreozzi “Philly Beer Baron” from Philly Beer Scene Magazine.
The contest began with a presentation of the contestants “Philly Beer Phila-sophy,” which included the personal motives and ethics they hold for a Philly Beer Geek that would make them deserving of the title.
“A Brewer Named Soo” began his opening remarks with “My name is Soo, how do you brew?” while “Moosebock” spoke about implementing charity efforts like “Pints for Prostates” to support prostate cancer research. “Bockman” added pizzazz to his speech with the opening lines: “These are dark days. The best beer drinking city in America is under attack.” He stated that if chosen as ‘Beer Geek,’ he would fight for “tap diversity” in the city.
Testing their knowledge
During the three-hour competition, the six finalists faced challenges in beer trivia and beer profiling, including a soliloquy-like performance portion. Using dry erase boards and markers, contestants answered questions to the Jeopardy theme song.
Some questions were simple: “What is the oldest continually operating tavern in Philadelphia?” The answer was McGillin’s Olde Ale House. Other questions were more in-depth and asked about processes like flocculation and fermentation.
For the beer profiling round, contestants were presented with three beers and were asked about the beer’s brewery of origin, style and name. There were also questions about the best beer to pair with specific dishes.
The final portion was a “Creativity Round” which asked contestants who they would like to share a beer with if they were able to time travel. This is the only portion of the competition that contestants received notice about, and they were given about two weeks to prepare. Many donned costumes including a Pope’s hat, a superhero outfit and one contestant had his sponsor dress as Benjamin Franklin.
Choosing the top ‘Geek’
The six judges included reining ‘Beer Geek’ champion Natalie DeChico, Mike “Scoats” Scotese, owner of the Grey Lodge Pub and Hop Angel Brauhaus; Lew Bryson, beer writer and blogger; Marilyn Candeloro, brand ambassador for Dock Street Brewery; Rick Suarez, director of sales and marketing at Arcadia Ales, located in Michigan; and Doug Marchakitus, head brewer of Manayunk Brewing Company.
Marchakitus spoke about the difficulty of the competition and noted that many contestants are repeat competitors.
“They’re still trying to win, they keep coming back,” said Marchakitus. “I think it’s very hard to win. It’s great to see how passionate they are – they truly are beer geeks.”
Natalie DeChico said the experience landed her a position as a representative for Weyerbacher Brewing Company of Easton, Pa. and a bartending position at Hulmeville Inn.
“People know my name when I go into bars,” said DeChico. “It’s been an amazing experience.”
Lew Bryson likened the competition to a Miss America pageant and noted “this was the most knowledgeable group we’ve ever had.”
This year’s champion, Steve Mashington of Northern Liberties said he’s been in the beer scene since 1999 when he began waiting tables at a brewpub.
For want-to-be beer geeks, he advises them to “make sure your knowledge is thorough” and to “let your creativity flow.” He says the judges are looking for more than just a bevy of beer knowledge, but moreover they want an entertaining personality. He believes his “Creativity Round” idea to have a drink with Benjamin Franklin helped him win the title.
Mashington will receive a plaque for himself as well as his sponsor, Hulmeville Inn, which will now host three consecutive winning plaques stating that they are “home” to the Philly Beer Geek for 2010, 2011 and 2012.
When asked how the Hulmeville Inn can win three years in a row Smagalski stated: “I think Jeff Lavin [Hulmeville Inn owner] is such a supporter. That’s what it takes – sponsors need to get involved. It’s not an individual sport.”