In a state where new craft breweries and new beers debut every week and beer festivals and events run nearly every weekend, it's hard to notice when one goes missing. But that's what happened last February, when Wynkoop Brewing decided not to host its Beerdrinker of the Year competition, which had taken place annually for seventeen years.
Although the brewery plans to bring the event back this fall, it will probably be in a new format and without some of the trappings that had made it an institution.
"There are so many people who care about this event because it has been going on for so long. We want to reinvigorate it," says Wynkoop spokeswoman Shannon Berner. But the brewery will need to find a way to fund it or widen its scope.
Founded in 1997 by the late beer-loving advertising exec Lew Cady -- who was working for the Wynkoop's then-owner, John Hickenlooper, at the time -- the BOTY was designed to find and reward America's most passionate beer lovers, wherever they lived.
Entrants didn't need to drink the most beer. Rather, they had to understand beer's place in history and culture and civilization itself. The winners were usually collectors -- of memorabilia or tasting-room experiences or beer-making knowledge and trivia.
"It had a very important role that may not be as important today with so many people rushing into the craft-beer world," says former Wynkoop spokesman Marty Jones, who ran the contest from 2005, when Cady retired, until 2013. "It honors the serious beer lover -- the most ambitious, evangelical beer drinker in America."
Over the years, the contest changed and evolved, but the Wynkoop continued to send out the call each year across all fifty states and to fly in finalists who would pit their beery stylings against one another in front of a panel of robed and wigged judges.
The most recent winner was Warren Monteiro, a beer writer, homebrewer and traveler from New York City who has sampled beers in the United States, Europe, Asia and Central America. His philosophy: "I consider creative beer drinking to be an essential part of the tapestry of art and fellowship contributing to a full life."
And his loot? An all-expenses-paid trip to Denver for the finals and a lifetime's supply of free beer from the Wynkoop after his victory.
But Monteiro may be the last to claim those prizes. Berner says the Wynkoop, which is now part of the much larger Breckenridge-Wynkoop holding company, plans to hold the next contest during the Great American Beer Festival this fall, when serious beer drinkers are in town anyway. The brewery will also be looking for financial sponsors and for more involvement from other local beer-makers and enthusiasts.
"It will be in a tweaked form. We will still have a call for resumes. But there may not be free beer for life -- maybe for a year, but not for life," she says.
Jones says he offered to take over management of the contest when he left the Wynkoop last year to run his own public-relations business, but was turned down. "I didn't want to see it die. Lew was a hero of mine, and I don't think he would have liked that, and neither would the seventeen people who won it over the years," says Jones. (Cady died last year.) "These are the ultimate people you'd want to drink a beer with.
"The Beerdrinker of the Year is a tradition, and craft beer is so young that there aren't a lot of traditions of any length or significance," he adds. "Hopefully, it will continue in some good fashion, and they will uphold the good and long tradition of the contest."
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