Part-Time Monk Wins “Beerdrinker of the Year”

J. Wilson, a Prescott, Iowa writer, homebrewer, beer judge and beer blogger, is Wynkoop Brewing Company’s 2012 Beerdrinker of the Year, as decided by a panel of judges made of brewers, past winners, and national beer experts on February 25.

“He’s a person who really understands and promotes beer,” said Andy Brown, Wynkoop’s head brewer and one of five judges for the finals. “All three of the finalists were worthy of the 2012 title,” said Jack McDougall, Wynkoop’s first Beerdrinker of the Year and another finals judge. “But in the past year J. showed a total dedication to beer that won us over.”

Wilson outlasted Warren Monteiro (a New York City freelance writer, beer traveler, homebrewer and beer journalist) and Greg Nowatzki, (a Las Vegas, Nevada accountant, home brewer and beer judge) to win the crown.  In addition to Wilson’s astute beer knowledge and beer ambassadorship (from a town of just 283 people), it was his national-media-attention-getting religious experience last year that proved to be his winning qualification.

In case you never heard the story, in 2011 Wilson fasted for 46 days during Lent on just water and a dopplebock he brewed with a Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant in West Des Moines. His experience later became a book, Diary of a Part-Time Monk, and landed him national attention. A CNN op-ed written by Wilson can be found here recapping his fast and his reflections.  He also has a personal blog at

“With the fast and the book and my other efforts it’s been a very big beer year,” Wilson said after being crowned. “To have it all lead to my winning the Beerdrinker of the Year title, it’s very satisfying. It’s a validation of everything that has happened this past year.”  Wilson is the first Beerdrinker winner to hail from the nation’s heartland, and he lives in a rural area far removed from a rich beer culture. “I don’t live near any beer mecca and I’m a 90-minute drive from a city with a brewery,” he says. “But you can win this contest by doing things in your own community.”

During the finale, each contestant was asked a series of questions by the judging panel, not unlike a beery job interview.  Some of the questions were fun, lob-ball questions like “what would be your 2012 end-days 6 pack?”, or “who would you have a beer with, what would it be, and where would you drink it?”.


finalists during judging

Though some of the questions got a little intense.  After the fun, get-to-know-you questions, contestants were grilled with the likes of “at what stage of the brewing process to gibberellins come into play?”, or “Which 4 states have the most breweries per capita?”, and “what is the etymology of the word Brettanomyces?” (answers: barley germination, Oregon/Colorado/Vermont/Montana, and British fungus [Greek]).

 It got extreme from there, as the contestants were challenged to identify three different beers presented to them.  Nobody could accurately guess their brews; mystery beer #1: Anchor Steam, which collected 3 incorrect guesses as an ESB; mystery beer #2: Saison DuPont, which was mistaken as a stale Blue Moon by one contestant, or other wittes by others; mystery beer #3: Ommegang Three Philosophers, which presented as a winter warmer to Monteiro and Nowatzki, but Wilson’s guess of an Abbey Dubbel was the closest, and probably a favorable point with the judges. 

Wilson, as with all previous Wynkoop Beerdrinkers of the Year, wins free beer for life at the Wynkoop Brewing Company, $250 worth of beer at his local beer bar (El Bait Shop in Des Moines, Iowa), his name engraved on Wynkoop’s Beerdrinker of the Year trophy, and will brew a special batch of beer with Andy Brown that will be served at next year’s Beerdrinker of the Year event, where he is required to serve as a judge to the 2013 contestants.  Nobody would be surprised if said beer ends up being a doppelbock.

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