13,000 And Counting

Kevin Noonan

, Food & Drink

Woody Chandler—‘The Beer Monk’ —continues to sample brews as he prepares to attend the premiere of Beer Can: A Love Story

Woody Chandler’s biography on his Twitter account is succinct. It states that he is a Pittsburgh sports fan, a movie buff and a beer pest.

Beer pest?

“Yeah, it’s true,” Chandler says. “Everyone tells me that—when it comes to beer, my personality comes across, and that can be good or bad. I’m emotional, I let my opinions be known and, yeah, I can be a real pest.”

Chandler is much more well known by an equally distinctive title: The Beer Monk. He earned the sobriquet by traveling thousands of miles around the world to sample thousands of kinds of beer. And the fact that the 54-year-old looks and dresses like Rasputin, the infamous 19th century Russian mystic who was known as The Mad Monk, is more than a coincidence.

Featured Appearance

Chandler will be at The Queen in Wilmington on Saturday, Nov. 9, for the premiere of a film that is near and dear to his heart and his palate: Beer Can: A Love Story, in which Chandler is prominently featured. The 30-minute film was written by Matt Del Pizzo and directed by Gordon DelGiorno, both 51 and former classmates at Delcastle Technical High School. (See cover story on pg. 24.)

Chandler, aka The Beer Monk, is also a fan of the can, and it was natural for the filmmakers to reach out to him and ask him to be in Beer Can: A Love Story. Maybe (probably) you’ve never heard of him, but in the world of beer, Woody Chandler is a rock star.

“When he talks about beer, people listen because of his experience and his reputation,” DelGiorno says. “And, of course, he’s a real character and that’s what you want in a film – somebody that people can enjoy watching and relate to.”

By his latest count, Chandler has tasted more than 13,000 kinds of beers all over the world. He’s a familiar figure at beer festivals here and in Europe and he’s written articles and columns for magazines and websites dedicated to beer lovers.

Chandler still lives near his hometown of Lancaster, Pa., and when he’s not globetrotting to sample yet another brew, he’s a substitute teacher and journalist. The life-long bachelor used to be a full-time English teacher in high school in Lancaster. He has a master’s degree in arts and teaching from the University of Pittsburgh. 

A Beer Epiphany

That was after he spent time in the Navy —Chandler retired in 1998 as a petty officer first class at the age of 33. It was while he was serving his country that his love affair with beer began. His ship, the U.S.S. Fulton, was docked in Barcelona, Spain, and he and a couple of shipmates went into town to get something to eat and a couple of beers. At that time, Chandler’s idea of beer was a typical American brand like Budweiser or Miller High Life, so he was surprised when he asked for a beer and the bartender reached below the counter and pulled out a dark bottle with a cork-and-cage arrangement that Chandler had only seen before on champagne bottles.

That unknown-at-the-time beer was Chimay Premier Red, a Trappist ale, and it’s not a reach to say that moment and that first sip changed Chandler’s life.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” he says. “The beer was from Belgium, and when I took a sip of it, I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. It was phenomenal, and right then and there I said I’ll never be able to drink that garbage we call beer back in the States ever again.”

Photo courtesy of Woody Chandler

“The only problem was, that [type of] beer was the only kind you could get in the States, or so I thought,” Chandler adds. “But when I was on the West Coast, I discovered brew pubs where they made their own beer and I tried Anchor Steam Ale and Sierra Nevada and that’s when I realized there was hope for beer in America.”

Chandler has quaffed many a Delaware-brewed beer, and even though he was hesitant to rate one over another, he said the best of the First State includes its most famous brewery, Dogfish Head in Milton, as well as the first brew pub in New Castle County, Stewart’s Brewing Co. in Bear.

“I don’t like to play favorites,” Chandler says, “but Dogfish Head is consistently good, and Stewart’s also consistently puts out a good product. I especially like their Smoked Porter.”

Those Delaware brews were part of his quest—or, rather, quests—to taste the best beers not only in America, but all over the world. And the more he traveled, the more he and his unique appearance became known in the hops-and-malt community. Now he’s reached cult figure status, and if you go to the premier of Beer Can: A Love Story, you won’t be able to miss him or ignore him, even if he isn’t being a pest.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.