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Beerdrinker Of The Year Is Tom Ciccateri
By Bobby Bush

Already in its ninth season, Wynkoop Brewing’s Beerdrinker of the Year contest has evolved into much more than a two-and-a half-hour beer survivor show. Though this year’s contest officially began in the Denver brewpub’s Mercantile Room at noon on Saturday, February 26, it really began the night before at Falling Rock Tap House. In what has become a tradition of its own, the typical scenario finds the three finalists, escorted by a team of previous BDOY winners and BDOY groupies, embedded in the many-beered bar’s basement den in a beer-tasting marathon. Falling Rock proprietor Chris Black, always a genial host, brings out beer after have-you-tried-this beer into the wee hours of the morning. This festive ritual, it seems, has become a reliable predictor of future BDOY winners. In all the years that the group could remember, the last finalist left standing won the morrow’s crown.

The 2005 competition was the first to include a Coloradoan. Longmont’s 36-year-old Fred Pelon, a disk-drive engineer whose drinking philosophy is “Live to drink — drink for life,” was absent from the previous night’s festivities. Not a good sign. From McKinney, Texas, recording producer Richard Pedretti-Allen, 46, aka Professor Dunkel, was making his second appearance in the group of three. And Tom Ciccateri, 48, a resident of Alexandria, Va., and a Honeywell International employee involved with WMD nonproliferation, was in for his fourth attempt.

Emcee Marty Jones began the afternoon’s proceedings by introducing the judges and contestants. This year’s panel of judges consisted of Falling Rock Tap House owner Chris Black and six previous BDOY winners: Jack McDougall (1997), Bobby Bush (1998), Cornelia Corey (2001), Gary Steinel (2002), Ray McCoy (2003) and John Marioni (2004). The 2000 winner, Steve Pawlowski, stayed home in Jersey. A moment of silence was observed for 1999 BDOY Jim Robertson, who passed away in 2002 at age 66 in Westwood, Calif.

Nervousness was rampant as each candidate delivered his Opening Statement. Needless to say, this contest is not taken lightly, especially by the finalists. First screened by local writers and then by a national panel of beer writers and previous winners, the selected trio arrives in Denver well prepared for the gauntlet. Seated for the Oral Exam before a panel of judges that included all living past-winners save one and Falling Rock chief Chris Black, the threesome responded to questions about beer-food pairings, sang beer jingles, recited tombstone epitaphs, described their epiphany beer, shared their favorite quotes, named the three oldest U.S. breweries and outlined a beer reality TV show. “What style of beer are you?” “Spell Reinheitsgebot.” “Describe your worst experience with beer.” Questions rang more hypothetical and historical than trivial in scope. The audience piped up with a round of questioning: “How has beer affected your sex life?” “What tap handle is at the center of the universe?”

Beer Whispering, described as a private conversation with a beer, provided comic relief. Pelon oozed small talk before demanding, as the voice of his brew, “Shut up and drink me, you fool!” Sipping on a sweet Belgian-style Ommegang Three Philosophers, Ciccateri discussed the secret of life and beer. Using the rocks/pebbles/sand full-glass parable, he happily explained that “in life, there’s always room for beer.” Pedretti-Allen put his day job to work. Accompanied by his boom box, the recording producer karaoked an original beer tune, “Writing My Name in the Snow,” to a houseful of laughter. One of the judges joked that the original tune was written in the “key of P.”

With a shot clock counting the allotted time for each answer, the BDOY sessions continued into the Nasty Round (extremely tricky questions), Bribing of the Judges (appreciated … but ignored), Beer Listening (which found the contestants trying to describe a blindly tasted Olde English 800 Ale) and finally the Closing Statements. After asking for additional bribes, the seven wigged and robed justices staggered into the back room to deliberate. During the part titled “Waiting and Pondering and Sipping” for the full courtroom of spectators, serious matters faced the beer scholars. Definitely all three finalists were worthy; their beeriness quotients were high and deserving. Discussion was thorough. Arguments were presented and debated to redundancy until a close vote decided the race.

Presented by last year's champ, John Marioni, the title of 2005 Beerdrinker of the Year was awarded to Tom Ciccateri. With an impressive beer resume and extensive beer travels, Tom impressed the judges with his vast knowledge, quick wit and three-verse off-key rendition of an old Schaeffer beer jingle. Beer is his “guiding light.” Ciccateri won a couple of fancy BDOY T-shirts, a $100 gift certificate at his hometown brewpub and free beer at Wynkoop for life.

After a quiet Wynkoop dinner, the judges, the winner and the losers all marched back to Falling Rock for a few more tastes of the newest seasonal brews. Unintentionally — but undeniably — this small and growing group of beer luminaries has become a tight-knit, non-elitist but always beer-curious Band of Beer Brothers (and Sister). Ah … beer!

Bobby Bush is just a good ol’ Southern boy who loves his beer rich and tasty and despises all things NASCAR. Comments and sarcasm are welcome at bobbywbush@charter.net.


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