The second round of any 64-team single elimination tournament is always clearer. The chaos is winnowed down in scale but magnified in intensity. Dark horses that dazzled against top-ranked teams return to earth (ahem, Harvard). Under-performers face heavier competition, and some of the best battles of the tourney ensue.
The second round of Malted Madness brought a whole new level of great matchups and tough calls for tasters (see the entire bracket here). The first round’s head-to-heads had been largely decided on gut reactions. In this round, the tasters began showing signs of “decision depression” — i.e. not wanting to make a selection — and there was far more frowning going on than should be in a room loaded with excellent brews. Still, we had known the risks going into the tournament (though we forgot to include alcohol poisoning waivers). Furrowing brows and downing saltless crackers to revive our palates, we forged on.
64 Beers. 6 Rounds. 1 Winner. It’s the Gear Patrol National Craft Beer Championship. Follow the Story This Way »
By-the-book judging from David Hitchner continued in the lager category. With laser-like precision, he picked as the online beer-judging masses had: Great Lakes Eliot Ness (1) over Blue Point Toasted (9), Rogue Dead Guy (3) over the almost-too-popular-for-beer-hipsters Sam Adams Boston (6), Victory Prima Pils (2) over Avery Joe’s Premium American Pilsner (7). In the most hard-fought match of the round, Brooklyn Lager (4) faced off against Sly Fox Pikeland Pils (5); perhaps it was home-court advantage or an aversion to foxes, but Brooklyn Lager won out by a nose. In short, our dream of a 1-v-2 matchup was alive and kicking, and so were some other excellent beers.
The hoppiest category continued to be the bloodiest. Before we could cringe at the loss of Tröegs’ (7), Stone’s (5), Bell’s (4), Surly’s (3) and Ballast Point’s (2) offerings in the first round, the sixth-seeded Firestone Walker Union Jack was beaten by Two Brothers Domaine DuPage (14). A reminder: the difference between the 1 seed and the 11 seed in this category was 7.5 points (100-92.5), a pittance in terms of subjective beer ratings. Still, the master of the category, Russian River Pliny the Elder (1), took down delicious Belgian challenger Ommegang Rare Vos (8). With other top contenders poured out for the homies, would the beer many considered to be best in the tournament cruise into the round of eight?
In other news, Southern Tier IPA (12) beat Perennial Artisan Saison De Lis (13). (Lest you forget how stacked this category was, these lowly seeded beers’ average scores from BA and RB were 91 and 89.5, respectively.) Captain Lawrence Kolsch (10) beat out Goose Island’s peppery Pepe Nero (15).
In the first round, Et Al was described as a moshpit of wasted hooligans. In the second round, it was a moshpit where only the most talented and obnoxiously violent bruisers were left. It was impossible not to imagine death metal music as each pairing came up, was downed, and was then presided over by Zach Mack. Disorder didn’t entirely reign yet — there were two beers of each type left, and only one by the end of the round — but serious tumult was just around the corner, when drastically different styles would face off in a charge to the elite eight. So who would win their substyle categories?
Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ (2), a powerhouse of a wheat beer with some serious IPA chops, took down Southampton Double White (8) with little question. In the battle of the apricot beers, Cascade (5), the obvious favorite for the style, defeated Pyramid’s (14) offering. Though Weyerbacher Insanity (11) drew a “woah” from its taster, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot’s (7) huge flavor barrage won out. In the category of
Sean Connery ales Scotch Ales, Three Floyds Robert the Bruce (9) kept some order by defeating the fifteenth seed, Brau Brothers Brancreagie Peated Scotch Ale. (Your author also celebrated no longer having to write that name on the white board.)
In my favorite movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Stout Factory, a young alcoholic, Charlie, must defeat a deranged Brewmaster (Gene Wilder) by asking himself the ultimate question: how does one make the best possible chocolatey, malty, smokey and sweet beer using Oompa Loompa slave labor? This category begged a similar question: how does one choose between the resulting delicious beverages?
You were good, Smuttynose Robust Porter. But not this good.
The epitome of this conundrum was North Coast Brother Thelonious (11) versus Smuttynose Robust Porter (3). In the battle between delicious porters and delicious Belgian Dark Ales, dark fruits and an alcohol heat warmed the cockles just the tiniest bit more than roasted malts. Maine Beer Co. King Titus Porter (5), still tasting of a mixture of Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles, took down Summit Great Northern Porter (13). Lost Coast 8 Ball Stout (7) made easy work of Long Trail Brewmaster Coffee Stout (15), and the eminent #1 seed, Founders Breakfast Stout (1), beat Lakewood The Temptress (9) in a surprisingly close bout. Temptress, indeed.
Sixteen beers kick the crap out of each other making it to the round of eight. Rogue Dead Guy takes on Victory Prima Pils and Brooklyn Lager faces off with Great Lakes Eliot Ness; Russian River Pliny the Elder takes on up-and-comer Southern Tier IPA; Two uber-delicious beers — Founders Breakfast Stout and Maine Beer Co. King Titus — make their taster sweat; and four beers of different styles go Patrick Bateman on each other in Et Al.