When it comes to beer, Phil Farrell is no chicken.
His rubber chicken mascot at beer festivals and competitions may fool some, but Farrell’s motto is to “fear no beer.”
He’s tasted a beer in every country in Europe, home-brewed every competition-recognized style and attended a camp where he designed his own brew, just to name a few of his beer-related accomplishments.
Most recently, all the hard work landed him his ultimate prize in the world of beer as he earned the title of 2011 Beerdrinker of the Year by Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver.
Farrell, a Cumming-based commercial pilot, is the 15th winner of the annual honor and the first from Georgia.
He traveled to Denver for the Feb. 27 finalists’ competition, during which he wowed the judges in answering questions, an unknown beer taste test and opening and closing statements illustrating his passion for beer.
The two-hour competition drew a standing-room only crowd to watch the three finalists.
Farrell said the high point for him was when he not only named the style of beer he was tasting, but also the exact brand — a Duvel.
“I basically described what I was smelling, tasting and looking at ... and then I picked the beer,” Farrell said. “I nailed it. That was huge.”
He closed the competition with a song honoring both his love of beer and his chicken mascot, which originated from his involvement in the Gainesville-based beer club, the Chicken City Ale Raisers.
The song was a parody of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” called “Chicken Man,” to which the chorus is: “Brew me a beer you’re the Chicken Man/Pour me a beer tonight/’Cause we’re all at the bar in the Wynkoop/And beer gets us feeling all right.”
Farrell said he decided to remain in Denver after the competition for a “victory lap,” involving plenty of visits to nearby pubs.
Marty Jones, contest organizer for Wynkoop, said Farrell was the perfect mix this year of everything the contest looks for in a champion.
“You have to have this really nice mix of knowing a great deal about beer, being able to answer questions about beer, be able to think on your feet,” Jones said.
“We’re also looking for someone we’d want to drink beer with, not just a beer nerd.”
Aside from the 2011 title, Farrell received free beer for life at Wynkoop, $250 at a local brewpub of his choice and a shirt proclaiming his coveted win.
The contest asks beer lovers nationwide to send in a beer resume highlighting their passion. Jones said sometimes people misunderstand the title based on the name.
People who drink a lot of beer, he said, are “not who we’re looking for.”
“We’re looking for people who have a great passion and love of beer and take it very seriously,” Jones said. “They appreciate its culture, but are also great ambassadors of beer.
“Phil is a great face to our contest. When you meet him, you instantly see how much beer means to him.”
Farrell, a finalist in the competition three years earlier, said winning the title just fits who he is as a beer lover and person who wants to expand others’ beer horizons.
“I don’t care where you go, the brewers are just the most wonderful people in the world,” he said. “It’s just my way to give back one-tenth of what was given to me, and to get people that much more excited about beer.”
Farrell said his own interest in beer began to develop during his time in the Air Force. He had the opportunity to taste beers in many different countries.
As a pilot, he’s no stranger to travel, and Farrell loves to try beers where they’re made fresh and have “the home-field advantage.”
In 2010, Farrell drank brews in 32 states and 18 countries, as well as wracking up more than 11,000 miles on his family’s RV. He said his wife has been very “beer supportive.”
At his home in Cumming, Farrell continues his quest for new beers by home-brewing his own in his basement pub, which features six taps, three refrigerators and a 15-gallon brewing system.
He began the operation in the 1990s and has worked his way up to being a judge for home-brew competitions.
Overall, Farrell said the present is a great time for the world of beer.
“There’s been an incredible renaissance in craft beer and beer in general,” he said. “People are realizing that beer doesn’t have to be a homogenized one-size-fits-all kind of product.”