Kings of Beer

A new suds squad seeks to build a roster in Phoenix

When Colby Lingenfelter sits in the bar and drinks his beer, he drinks it faster than most people would. It's one big gulp, rest, repeat. Impressive work, really. But then again, he is a member of the United States Beer Drinking Team.

The team was organized a year and a half ago by a NASA engineer in Maryland. Across the nation, it's now 26,000 members strong, with roughly 300 more signing up daily. In two weeks, Phoenix members like Lingenfelter will get an e-mail from headquarters asking them to meet and toast one another as "brothers in beer" at a local pub. There will be no competition, just men and women who enjoy beer and the company surrounding it.

The United States Beer Drinking Team is really about the appreciation of beer. Or, put another way, it's a beer social. But it's a social happening soon in all 50 states.

Lingenfelter likes the idea of drinking beer while talking to people passionate about beer drinking. He just can't believe someone organized a team.

"I was watching Fakin' It one night" -- the TLC reality series that tries to turn a beer drinker into a wine connoisseur -- "and this guy was on there talking about the United States Beer Drinking Team," Lingenfelter says.

It turns out the guy was Chicago Bill, the "coach" of the USBDT, who this week was scheduled to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show to talk about his many beer-drinking experiences.

Lingenfelter had to join. So he found the Web site -- usbdt.com -- filled out the free membership form and printed out his official certificate, which now rests in his office at Phoenix International Motorsports, where the 28-year-old fixes bikes.

"I figured I have every right to join," Lingenfelter says one night in Pomeroy's, a bar on Seventh Street. He is halfway through the first of two 24-ounce drafts of Drop Top. "I can't believe I didn't think of this."

Dennis Buettner hears that line every day; no, these days, every hour. He's the captain and founder of the USBDT. As of this writing, 125 members live in Arizona. "I never expected the kind of response we're getting right now," Buettner says from his home outside Annapolis, Maryland.

It all started as a joke. One night about a year and a half ago, Buettner, 40, was working the night shift at NASA, flying satellites. The guy next to him said his roommate loves beer -- so much that you could call him the captain of the United States Beer Drinking Team.

Buettner asked if this team were real.

The guy didn't think so.

Well, Buettner reasoned, he loves beer so much he, too, could be named captain of the United States Beer Drinking Team. When he went home that morning, he couldn't find a beer drinking team Web site. So he made one. Named himself captain, too. Three days later, 450 people had signed up for membership.

He and a friend decided to sell them tee shirts, at $20 each.

Today, however, the USBDT thinks well beyond tee shirts. There is "crazy money" to be made, Buettner says. "We call it Oprah money."

By Buettner's estimates, there are 90 million beer drinkers in the U.S. They drink $67 billion of beer each year. With more than 800,000 bars in the country, if the USBDT co-sponsors drink specials in the bars of major cities, and charges each local pub a nominal monthly fee of, say, $350, there is Oprah money to be made, especially if that city's USBDT members decide to meet each other often.

But for guys like Lingenfelter, it's not about the money headquarters can make. It's the beer, man. It's appreciating the beer.

"Appreciation comes with age," Lingenfelter says, now between deep swigs of his second -- and last -- Drop Top. When told of the upcoming Phoenix event, at a bar yet to be named, Lingenfelter says, "Whoever else is joining, they've got to be a fun person."

John Wright is. When the 58-year-old isn't selling Viagra for the online pharmacy where he works, he's writing poetry. Or drinking in his favorite Ahwatukee bar, where he, on occasion, holds forth with meetings for the (unofficial) Live International Poetry Society (LIPS) or KAWW, Keep Ahwatukee Women Working -- ostensibly, Wright says, so he and his buddies can keep drinking. "We just do this for shits and giggles," Wright says, which is also why he joined the USBDT.

"I'm an avid beer drinker, a Budweiser drinker," he says.

"I like to meet people. . . . Guys who drink beer tend to pal around together."

Buettner hopes so. He'd like to work with vendors at national events like, say, at Lollapalooza, and e-mail members about its regional tour stop, then show up with a stand. There's been discussion about sponsorship with drivers from NASCAR. There's been talk of a national Beer Hall of Fame. An international summit of beer drinkers. Beer Television has some shows edited. Buettner's shopping them for distribution.

"There's a crapload of money to be made," Buettner says. Still, he will favor no beer above any other in order to make more. "Aren't we all brothers in beer?" he says.

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