Ah, the round of sixteen. Narrowed down to a quarter of our original beers, the Malted Madness field (see the whole bracket here) has been cleared of those excellent beers with even a minuscule flaw. What remains is a clash of subtle differences, muddied everywhere by the trouble of putting slightly different (sometimes, vastly different) styles head-to-head. The process wasn’t pretty — but how can tasting 16 of the best beers we’ve ever imbibed resemble anything close to a thankless task?
Mind you, we still didn’t know which beers were moving on. What was abundantly clear, however, was that the “As” and “Bs” we had given the nod, so far, were damn good. Decision depression was at an all-time high, and we all defaulted to our over-arching rule, beyond judgement of appearance, smell, taste and mouthfeel: Which beer would you rather drink?
64 Beers. 6 Rounds. 1 Winner. It’s the Gear Patrol National Craft Beer Championship. Follow the Story This Way »
If you’ve been following the tournament, you know that the Lagers category has turned into an all-star game where the players actually care and the results actually matter. Seeds remaining? One, two, three and four. Average seeding score of the beers still alive? 94.75. Those are some damn good suds, and some fierce matchups to judge.
Great Lakes Eliot Ness (1) faced off with Brooklyn Lager (4); both are dark, complex lagers. It was a matchup befitting the tournament’s namesake, to be sure; in the end, Great Lakes Eliot Ness won out because of its incredible maltiness. Seriously, this beer has layer upon layer of delicious sweetness, caramels and toasted grains.
Victory Prima Pils (2) versus Rogue Dead Guy (3) was a different game entirely. Prima Pils’ crisp, hoppy snap and Dead Guys’ malted, dark fruit notes almost mirrored the wild range of the Et Al. Category. Ultimately, the perfection of Victory’s style and a beautifully abrupt finish got the upper hand on Dead Guys’ complexity. It was a bad boy versus a poet, and we know who always wins out in that one.
The IPAs, pale ales, Saisons, ESBs and red ales of this category had played out quite a bit differently than anywhere else in the tournament. The dark horses — Southern Tier IPA (12), Two Brothers Domaine DuPage (14) and Captain Lawrence Kolsch (10) — controlled the division in number, but powerhouse IPA Pliny the Elder (1) loomed over them all with ratings of 100 from both RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. This beer is like Kobe, Tom Brady and Tiger (sans extramarital chicanery) all rolled into one.
That’s why we were so shocked when it lost. Indeed, Southern Tier IPA’s more balanced, less forward style took down the juggernaut. If we would have had an announcer (why didn’t we, again?), he would have been yelling “Down goes Pliny! Down goes Pliny!” at this point. The light ales category claimed another shocking victim.
How exactly do you follow that shocker with play-by-play? In short, another underdog was headed to the category finals: Two Brothers Domaine DuPage (14) took down Captain Lawrence Kolsch (10).
While we had been looking forward to the Battle Royal of different styles brought head-to-head in the “and others” category, we may not have thought it through entirely. Sure, wheat versus fruit and barleywine versus Scotch ale sounds great, but with the competitors as they ended up, things were less mano e mano and more, well, uneven.
That’s because an eminent IPA masquerading as a wheat beer, Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ (2), was up against a true fruit beer in Cascade Apricot (5). Don’t get us wrong: fruit beers are freaking delicious. But Little Sumpin’ was bringing a lot more than a little flavor. It knocked Cascade on its ass.
There was more of the same on the other side of the bracket. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot (7) is a beer brimming with untamed, delicious flavors, and, well, yet again we felt that another very good style was left out to dry. Though truly delicious in its own right, Three Floyds Robert the Bruce (9) seemed one-dimensional next to the 3D Michael Bay explosions of Barleywine flavor. Game, Set, Match, Bigfoot.
By this point, several hollow bunnies worth of alcoholic chocolate had been consumed in this category. What remained were two entirely different matchups and four entirely impressive beers: Brother Thelonious (11), a Belgian Dark Ale with heavy, alcohol-tinged notes of molasses, raisins and brown sugar; its opponent, Lost Coast 8 Ball Stout (7), a sweet stout with equal notes chocolate, coffee and sticky malts, and topped with a slightly higher carbonation than most; Maine Beer Co. King Titus (5), a stout led off with sugary sweetness and followed through with incredibly powerful dark chocolate; and finally, the heavy hitter of the round, Founders Breakfast Stout (1): a beer with a massive nose of bitter dark chocolate and roasted coffee, which both continue on the tongue along with oak, molasses and a silky, almost buttery mouthfeel.
Brother Thelonious went ahead because it was just damn tastier. Founders Breakfast stout beat an incredibly good beer because it is, simply, one of the most complete beers out there.
Eight beers go head to head to become the champions of their style, and all four tasters get to sample — and decide on — the matchups. Yee-haw.