Wednesday, October 3, 2007

And the winner is…..Whooooaaaa!

By Donald Frazier

In our effort to document the sights and sounds of this year’s Blues and Brews Festival, one remarkable feature eluded us: the frequent raising of glasses and chanting that took place throughout the tasting of beers from more than 50 breweries that was a centerpiece of Saturday’s action.

Well, it wasn’t strictly a chant. Rather, it was more like a few people declaiming a long and drawn-out “Whooooaaaa!”: softly at first, but gradually rising to a crashing crescendo as more and more happy beer tasters join in. By the end it was somewhere between a frat party just before the cops arrive and The Gathering of the Clans.

But what is it? What kicks it off? And why can’t we get it on videotape?

Austin Colby Nelson solved the mystery. As publisher of ‘Draft’ magazine and the sponsor of this year’s competition, he sees this ritual all the time. “It’s a regular feature of beer tastings.” We can’t catch it on videotape, he helpfully explains, because it’s totally random: a sort of spontaneous upwelling of exuberance that expresses the tasters’ studied appreciation of the beers they are assessing at the time.

(Oh yeah, and maybe the fact that they’ve carefully assessed more than a few as the afternoon wears on.)

This year’s winner was the Sweetwater Brewing Company, Atlanta, in a reprise of their victory of two years ago. Nelson says four to five thousand festival-goers took part in the balloting. Which specific beer were they voting for? The process has not yet become sophisticated enough to figure that out. But between the chuggings and the ‘Whooooaaaa’ings, not too many of the tasters were complaining.

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