Happy hour got hotter Sunday afternoon for folks sitting on the corner of Commerce Street and Avenue D sipping shots from the tap.
Like snakes to a feast of penned rabbits, locals and those who travel just to experience this kind of die-hard frivolity again expressed their love of smoked fish dips by wrapping their affection around Oyster City Brewing Company (OCBC) for Captain Clint Taylor's third annual competition.
This year's champion, out-of-towner Arden Coley, from Atlanta, will now feature on the winner's plaque with prior years' locals Catherine Korfanty and Beth Appleton, hanging high above its merchandise corner inside the brewery, for all to hail until the next hunt for this crown comes around.
Korfanty, also a long-time St. George Island Chili Cook-off participant, pulled out of this competition and put herself in the role of judge. "I can always say I was a Dip Diva," she said. "I have a palette, and people here are serious about food, and competing, and so being serious about judging is the next, logical step."
Judges also included the Tap Room wait staff, plus a member of the crew, John Hutchinson, who helped gaff this year's catch, provided to contestants.
Coley's winning mix was matched in second place by Susan Richardson, who brought her concoction, topped with a healthy layer of cream cheese and mouth-watering mound of black caviar, she called " Traditional Plus." A hungry public dubbed it a "Cookies and Cream" dip for its' Oreo-looking texture.
Jerry Hall came in third and a concoction by Carrie Jones and OCBC brewmaster Clayton Mathis stayed in the money in fourth place.
There were some that smelled as good as they tasted. 10-4 Barbecue's pit master, John Solomon, also had judged, but came this year to collect a first prize. He did so as the hands-down People's Choice, by sneaking some of that smoke into his popular selection.
All winners will collect on their success aboard Taylor's charter boat next summer, when they take the traditional run offshore to haul in the basic ingredients for the contest. On this year's trip, Hutchinson, Cassie Gary, and Hall wrangled mostly tuna, including Gary's first. Hall also caught a wahoo and together they brought in a king and ton of "whopper" amberjacks, including a 45-pound fish.
This event was originally a kingfish dip off. Last year, amberjack season had not opened in state waters. However expanding this year's smoked fish selection, and using the back-up fish, made it "a fantastic experience, with many bursts of flavor that took us on a tantalizing tour of the Gulf of Mexico," said judge Christopher Dwight.
Twenty-eight people did so and it took 10 judges less than 30 minutes to assign a maximum 30 points based on taste, texture and creative style.
Comments made, while each licked their spoons, revealed flavors of basil and turmeric, lemongrass, and of course, beer.
Taylor judged the finalist's table.
Gail and Houston Jones from Panama City have tasted fish dip all over the country, from Seattle and "all up and down Florida," he said. They came over just to indulge, and were partial to one by Cutler Edwards, of Apalachicola, made without mayonnaise or cream cheese, rather infused with yogurt, and cilantro.
"It has the flavor profile popular in Laos," Edwards said.
Other local success stories included Donna Duncan, whose dip made it to the finals table in her first year.
Kim Britz, of Lanark Village, concluded "it's good fun," as he made his way to the end of the sweet and spicy tasting line.
"I need to bring the amount of dollars, equal to number of contestants," said Cynthia Sprouse Mason of Apalachicola. "It's too hard to choose."
Mike Sparks, of Island Grocery on St. George said he has fished with Taylor for years, but was a first-time dipper, as well.
"Clint's confidence makes you confident," he said, about any experience on the Bigfish boat. "I had to enter this. I love the concept, and why not make it as big as we can make it?"
As of the winner's announcements, $1,080 was raised for the Franklin County Sheriff's Fire Victims Relief Fund. Taylor was also selling tubs of dip he made from the extra fish for $10 each, to total another $200.
Hall summed it up. "Why not enter?" he said. "We all care about the cause, plus we get to go fishing."
Solomon echoed, "Amen."