In Greater Beervana there are at a minimum 2,397 annual beer events (2008 totals). Of these, something on the order of 2,393 are designed for public enjoyment. A select few, however, are reserved as a kind of collegial celebration among the brewers themselves, and the Brewers Games may be the signature event of this kind. Not that spectators can't come--they are invited, encouraged to come, and more than welcome. But it is not an exclusive event. Having attended my first Games, this is the key fact I walked away with: brewers come here to have a hell of a good time and enjoy each other's company (not to mention beer). All of this is important context for appreciating the Games.
The Brewers Games is based very loosely on the Olympics, with a series of events (eight, maybe?) designed to test the strength, dexterity, and endurance of the contestants. All are based on beer: keg toss, service with a smile (a slalom course wherein contestants hustle a tray of beer), a game involving scooping spent grains from one plastic bin to another, and so on. This is the straightforward part.
Points for Style
Less straightforward are the "style points" awarded by judges for teams completing events with flair. One event--the most entertaining--involves throwing cans of cheap beer at a target; in this case a board mounted with a keg sawed in half and surrounded by a bed of nails. Points are awarded for landing a can on the nails (1), inside the ket (5), or cracking the can on the edge of the keg (10). But style points constitute a major part of the score. Hopworks threw hula hoops back and forth in front of their team, who had to time their throws to get through the hoops. Many teams raced out after their turn and drank the oozing or undamaged beers in creative ways. It was up to the judges to determine the degree of difficulty and creativity of the style efforts.
(My general observation: working for style meant sacrificing performance on the event itself, usually to the detriment of the final score. But for many teams, the final score was immaterial.)
Over the years, a highly sophisticated process of judicial corruption has evolved, so that teams bribe the judges with everything from compliments to rare beer in the hope of currying favor. It is not only sanctioned but encouraged, though the parameters are specific and unwritten. (Do: offer hooch, any hooch, as much as you can. Don't: offer cash. Gauche.) While you may bribe the emcee in hopes that s/he will appeal to the judges on your behalf, it's a bankshot effort, and rarely used. Special kudos to Jamie Floyd, who brought me a Radiant. I didn't help you in the end, man, but I was ready to.
I should mention briefly that being the MC is difficult, perhaps even for those not handicapped with congenital introversion. This year, I didn't have a chance to connect with Pelican's Jason Schoneman, who was the real MC. He was the center of everything and was literally running around the event for hours. So I was handed the mike at 12:15, with no real sense of what I was supposed to do. The first few minutes were rough, but after that, we all muscled through. It only took me two or three hours and several gentle reminders to get all the teams' names right. I don't think I did a stellar job, but I also don't think I marred the event, which was what I feared/expected. In other words, a good outing.
The Point of it All
On Friday night, I witnessed a scene that reminded me why this event exists, and why I am such a shameless booster for Oregon breweries. We stopped in at the brewery for a bite, and hung for a bit with the brewers who were having a private kegger back among the tanks. There was a lot of pre-Games trash-talking and merriment going on. At some point the weather came up. The forecast was for a high of 58 and a good chance of rain. Amid the bravodo, someone bragged that the rain would be good because it would help his team. Darron Welch, masterbrewer at Pelican, wilted and said, "No, it can't be rainy--all this money's for the kids!" He was genuinely distraught at the possibility, and perspective swooshed in like a bracing wind. (I heard at the end that it was a success, perhaps the best ever, with proceeds going to the Children's Cancer Association and our local schools through Nestucca's Booster Club. It was sunny a good portion of the day and not a drop of rain fell.)
I've run out of categories, but there's one more story to tell. The final event is a truly Oregonian spectacle, and worth driving to Pacific City to see. The brewery sits on a slight rise above the beach, perhaps thirty feet up a pretty steep, sandy hill. In this event, two runners take one side of a pony keg and race down the hill, out across the sand, and into the icy surf where they dunk the keg. A second pair picks up the keg and returns it. The whole event is grueling, but especially so is the dunking. Apparently in past years the judges felt the efforts were a little lame, so this year judge Abe Goldman-Armstrong went fairly far out into the sea and made everyone go that far. He stood out there for maybe a half hour as three flights of teams went in succession. When they came gasping back up the hill, totally exhausted from the day, it felt like the end of something. The sun was setting, starting to filter orange through the clouds, and Haystack Rock was fading to black. A wonderful final image, and a fitting one for a great day.
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