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Ten judges wearing black robes and the curly white wigs of traditional British courts assessed the experiences and "beer values" of the three aspirants.

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The Real Beerdrinkin' McCoy

by Bob Coleman

     Sound the trumpets, beer lovers everywhere! Let us all hail Ray McCoy, 2003 Beerdrinker of the Year. It's a long road to reach this pinnacle of beerfandom, but McCoy's motto helped him persevere: "Life's a journey -- pack a cooler!"

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     Sponsored by the Wynkoop Brewing Company of Denver, Colo., the seventh annual national search began with an open solicitation for "beer resumes." Expert judges narrowed the field to three finalists, who were flown at Wynkoop's expense to a public judging at the brewpub on January 18, 2003: the "bar exam."

     In an entertaining atmosphere of suspense and camaraderie, 10 judges wearing black robes and the curly white wigs of traditional British courts assessed the experiences and "beer values" of the three aspirants. The two-hour Q&A and tasting session was moderated by Wynkoop's Lew Cady, the coordinator of the contest. Unimpeded by beer tastings and evaluations, McCoy (and exuberant fellow candidates John Ahrens and John Marioni) deftly fielded questions from the judges and the audience. Fascinating insights into the world of beer emerged, while snobs and overly prosaic types were savaged in absentia. A "beer whispering" round involved the finalists having mock conversations with their beers. The ebullient humor that's a hallmark of the beer community was on prime display.

     A Budweiser fan in the audience asked McCoy why that preference was subject to criticism. "As long as you're drinking what you like, I'll support you one hundred percent," he replied. "If you're drinking a marketing program, then you need to come out of the closet and experience life."

     Notably, all three finalists had trim physiques similar to that of host John Hickenlooper, Wynkoop's proprietor and leading Denver mayoral candidate. McCoy, a 42-year-old computer consultant, had an explanation. "It's not the time you spend drinking beer that counts; it's the intensity."

     Following the victory, McCoy basked in the glow of his accomplishment at his home in Clemmons, N.C. He had won free beer for life at Wynkoop, $100 of credit from Wynkoop at his home brewpub (Liberty Steakhouse and Brewery in High Point), apparel proclaiming his winner's status, his name on the contest trophy and, perhaps most important, bragging rights among his pals. In this case, the chest-pounding also would have domestic significance; the contest's winner in 2001 was McCoy's life partner, Cornelia Corey. McCoy expressed satisfaction with the new parity. "She's had her 15 minutes of fame, and now I guess it's my turn."

     McCoy pointed out the irony of his being the third winner (of a total of seven) from North Carolina despite the state's restrictive limits on retail beer's alcohol by volume and prohibitions on home consumption by under-21s supervised by their parents. With persuasive charm, the Southern homebrewer of kudzu beer (kudzu is an abundant nonnative vine celebrated as part of the Southeast's regional identity) challenged his state officials to embrace a modern educative model. McCoy is convinced that responsible consumption is enhanced by proper exposure and training. "I'd prefer legislators to realize that beer isn't evil and that it's better to educate our youth."

     McCoy's mission continues, and his trusty cooler is full and ready to go.

Bob Coleman is the San Francisco reporter for the Celebrator Beer News and a past finalist for Beerdrinker of the Year.

Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!

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