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Saturday, February 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Beer battering didn't sway aficionado: Bothell man wins Beerdrinker of the Year
Forget electability. This contest was all about drinkability.
And it was, by all accounts, a real nail-biter. But in the end, John Marioni proved himself not only the competitor with the most formidable knowledge of beer, but the guy with whom the judges would most like to belly up to the bar.
With a growler of Sagebrush Stout in hand, the Bothell resident and self-proclaimed beer dork claimed a real talker of a title last week when he became the Beerdrinker of the Year.
Besting two beer buffs in a national competition in Denver, Marioni displayed the kind of passionate subject knowledge usually reserved for high-school football fans and show-dog owners. But, you know, with beer.
But first, let's get a few things straight. The contest wasn't about how much beer you can drink, it's about how much you know about the beer in hand. And at 155 pounds (as the contest weigh-in proved), Marioni is no Duff-swilling Homer Simpson.
Really, he's just a normal guy: job in high tech, kids, wife who kicked him out of the kitchen when he started going nuts with the home-brew operation.
Know the name of the first brewpub in the country? The New Albion Brewery, Sonoma, Calif. The difference between imported beer and import beer? Imported beer is brewed elsewhere and brought into the U.S.; import beer is brewed here under special contract. And those are pretty easy.
"It was really grueling," Marioni said. "You're exhausted at the end of it. Not to mention half drunk."
Hosted by the Wynkoop Brewing Co., the contest is in its eighth year of testing beer lovers' mettle. A whopping 13 elements make up the competition, including the Nasty Round, Bribing the Judges and Beer Whispering, where finalists demonstrate their innate ability to communicate with the content of a pint glass.
It's part "Jeopardy!", part stand-up comedy, all judged by 11 industry folks dressed in black robes and powdered wigs. To make his bid, Marioni had to submit a three-page beer résumé that went through two narrowing-down processes by beer aficionados across the country.
And yes, a woman has won. In 2002. Cornelia Corey, of Clemmons, N.C., who most certainly does not drink like a girl.
Marioni's first beer was an Oly given to him by his dad, way back before he held beer-tasting parties with his buddies, before he studied German in business school so he could read beer labels, and before crafting a top-notch oatmeal stout in his garage-turned-brewery.
"For whatever reason, beer was something at an early age that I just acquired a taste for," he said. "I wasn't just getting drunk like the other kids."
Which is why he can tell you what was missing from the Reinheitsgebot. And what the heck that is. For you amateurs, it's the 1516 German purity law mandating that beer could only be made from water, barley and hops. Yeast was left out because, well, it hadn't been discovered yet.
This was Marioni's third time competing for a really ugly T-shirt and free beer for life at the Wynkoop. Each time, he said he learned a little lesson about how to woo the judges.
"He was outgoing, he was quick with his answers, he was humorous," said North Carolinian Bobby "no relation to Anheuser" Bush, 1998 champ and head judge this year. "He could give as well as take, and there was a lot of both."
Marioni's deep-seated love of the stuff helped him win, but a refined and methodical approach didn't hurt either. In 2002, he knocked down 9,129 ounces of beer about two 12-ounce bottles a day. He knows because he counted.
"I just totally geeked out on (that)," he said.
The charts he made indicate a strong preference for Pilseners and ales, with German beer taking the lead in most popular country-of-origin. But he's a loyalist, too, with Washington beers far outpacing suds from other states. Incidentally, light lagers of the Budweiser variety have more alcohol than a hefty Irish stout. Guinness lovers, take note.
When contest time rolls around next year, Marioni will be brushing up his knowledge yet again, remembering that there are 44 varieties of hops, that cooler fermenting temperatures make a crisper beer, and that the character on the Stag beer label in the 1950s was none other than Mr. Magoo.
Winning this year makes him a judge next year, and he's already mulling over some potential toughies. After all, no one went easy on him.
"I'll ask them something really obscure," he said, with the teeniest hint of wicked grin. "Make them scratch their heads and squirm a little bit."
Lisa Heyamoto: 206-464-2149 or email@example.com
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