Dennis Buettner's thousands of weekly radio listeners have no idea what he looks like. But if they were ever to see him, he would appear exactly as they might expect - vaguely middle age, with an easy, back-slapping nature, thinning hair and another feature stereotypically associated with those who enjoy the fine beverages made of barley and hops.
No, we don't mean a beer belly.
"It's an inactivity belly," Buettner says. He asks that we think about those monks, who many centuries ago made and consumed beer in their monasteries, even receiving a special dispensation from Rome to drink it on Fridays. "They knew. Beer is liquid bread. Having one or two beers a day is not bad for you."
In fact, it has been very good for him. With a childhood friend, Buettner is building a sudsy empire based on his weekly two-hour Beer Radio program heard across the country. He is captain of the U.S. Beer Drinking Team - a team of his own creation - and he is planning a Beer Hall of Fame in Cincinnati.
The cornerstone of the empire is Beer Radio, which originates out of the Infinity Broadcasting studios in Towson. The show was picked up by Sirius satellite radio in July and just last week Buettner and his partners signed a syndication deal that they hope will put the show on 80 stations within a year.
Buettner, 41, who lives in Severna Park and works a few nights a week as a flight controller for NASA, notes that there are radio programs about cigars and wine and cars. "We thought, why not beer?"
Why not beer indeed. Buettner reels off the statistics: 300 million beer drinkers worldwide, 90 million in the United States alone, $78 billion in annual beer sales. "And yet," he says, "there are no media associated with what we call the beer lifestyle."
But now, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays on 105.7 FM in Baltimore, you can hear Buettner and co-host "Big" Don O'Brien pouring their hearts out (as they might say) about beer. The show includes interviews with brewers, old beer jingles, reports on fishing and football, and news segments (typical report: "North Carolina is thinking of raising its beer tax by 30 cents.")
There is also occasional political talk, viewed through a frosty mug, of course, such as a recent discussion of which potential Democratic candidates in 2008 would be best to have a beer with. Hillary Rodham Clinton did not fare so well. John Edwards did slightly better.
"You could probably have a beer with John Edwards," O'Brien told listeners. "But he'd sue you because he stumbled on his way out the door."
Listeners are urged to call in and talk about whatever beer they're enjoying at the moment, or offer their favorite beer-drinking stories. Each caller is welcomed with a hearty, "Cheers!"
"We knew we were onto something in the first show when all the lines were lit up," says Joe Gardenghi, 36, Buettner's partner and friend since childhood. Gardenghi, a Catonsville resident, has quit his job as an information systems consultant to focus full time on beer.
In addition to the radio program, the partners have created what they call a loyalty program for U.S. Beer Drinking Team members. A membership card can be bought for $10 from the usbdt.com Web site, which lists bars and restaurants that offer discounts to those with the card.
Commissioned sales reps across the country sign up new bars and restaurants, which pay $1,500 to join the program and get a supply of 150 membership cards they can sell and keep the profits from. Gardenghi says he gets more than two dozen resumes a week from people who want to work for the team.
"People think we sit around and drink all the time," Gardenghi says, admitting on this Saturday that he hasn't had a beer since Monday. "It doesn't happen. We wouldn't get any work done."
His efforts now are focused on establishing the Beer Hall of Fame in Cincinnati, which would be both a museum of beer and celebration of those who drink it. Owners of several locations in downtown Cincinnati have expressed interest, and the beer team is working with a development group to weigh the proposals.
It's been a rapid progression in the year since Beer Radio went on the air, and it's even more remarkable because the partners didn't have much beer expertise before they started.
"I learn something every week on the show, and now I can have conversations about Hefeweizen," says O'Brien, a longtime Baltimore radio personality. "I think we put on a pretty good show. The main thing is we're not a bunch of frat guys. We're not throwing back shots. It's about family and responsibility."
Buettner stresses there's a difference between passionate beer drinking and drunkenness, and he says the beer drinking team promotes the former. His group emphasizes the importance of designated drivers and of "knowing your number" - that is, how many beers make one legally intoxicated.
"We say a win for the team is your best beer on your best day with your best beer buddies," Buettner says. "We're celebrating the sisterhood and brotherhood of beer."
In other words, he says: "We are all one in beer." That means the show is not for beer snobs. It does not favor microbrews over the mainstream breweries - Coors, Miller and Budweiser. When Buettner talks about your best beer, he's not talking about taste.
"You remember good times, and the beer you were drinking," he says. "If you descend from the Himalayas, and you say to your Sherpa guide, 'Let's go have a beer,' and he takes you to a mud hut and you have Sherpa beer, daggonit, that's going to be one of the best beers you had in your life.
"Beer's about the journey. You're capturing a moment."
When: 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays
Where: 105.7 FM WXYV in Baltimore and Channel 148, Talk Central, on Sirius satellite radio
What: "A show for you, sultan of all sud sippers, commander of the keg, master of the malt."