Four style categories, four beers remaining. This is the big time folks: four rounds have drained 60 beers from the tourney. That makes Victory, Two Brothers, Founders and Sierra Nevada — seeded 2, 14, 1, and 7, consecutively — in the 96th percentile. That’s a 1290 on the SAT. Not quite Ivy Leaguers — but then again, neither are our tasters.

With so few brews remaining in our Malted Madness tournament, it’s time for some specific dissection. What remains, largely, is a contest between styles. So how does one judge between a stout and a barleywine, a pilsner and a Bière de Garde? Very carefully, we realized — but also with plenty of subjectivity, banter, and flip-flopping. Largely, the debate was winnowed to a somewhat philosophical question: what kind of beer were we even looking for? Was it the most complex, style-boundary-pushing flavor bomb, or a beer that everyone could enjoy anytime, anywhere? For full disclosure, we’ve decided to include our full discussion/debate sessions for both matchups this round (which we recorded for prosperity’s sake). Read on for our decisions.

[Setting: ABC Beer Co. Four tasters sit on two couches, facing one another. All four are exhausted and reek of beer. They are seen to sip water now and then in a desperate attempt to remain sober. Enter eight glasses of beer marked "A" and "B", carried in and placed on the table before them.]

Lager vs Light Ale

victory-prima-pils-vs-two-brothers-domaine-dupage-gear-patrol

A: Victory Prima Pils (2), which defeated: Napa Smith (15), Avery Joe’s Premium American Pilsner (7), Rogue Dead Guy (3), Great Lakes Eliot Ness (1).
B: Two Brothers Domaine DuPage (14), which defeated: Surly Furious (3), Firestone Union Jack (6), Captain Lawrence Kolsch (10), Southern Tier IPA (12).

[All four tasters drink from both beers.]

Zach: When you put different brews like this back to back, it shows just how differently you can experience beers. Comparing is no where near as easy as it looks on paper. B has higher alcohol, it’s a different offering. In fact, B makes A taste downright watery. There’s not much to fault with either of these beers. But I have to go with B. The finish is stellar. I could drink A any night of the week and be happy, but I think B is a more complex offering.

Dave: I knew immediately what I wanted last round when I came across this beer. And I still think I’ll go with my original choice, but the comparison has definitely made things a lot harder. I prefer A. Partially because I know lagers are more difficult to make. But that’s not a reason why I would pick it in this case. I just can’t find a flaw with it. It’s essentially a seamless beer.

Chris: I find very little wrong with A. But B has more complexity, a distinct sweetness, and flavors that last. That’s why I’m choosing B.

Ben: The struggle here is choosing what we’re after. Is it a beer we love to drink and could see ourselves enjoying over and over again, or a beer that offers an incredible flavor profile that really pushes the boundaries of the medium? I’m after the former.

B has a dry mouth feel and taste that is really distinct from the rest of the offerings in the tournament. I’ve continued to recognize it throughout the tournament, which is why it’s made it this far. In this match up, it’s sweetness really comes out, though, to the point where I wouldn’t drink it over and over as a result. I don’t really find anything wrong with B. But A has a clean, crisp taste and to me it epitomizes what a lager should be. That’s why I’m going with A.

Chris: So it’s 2-2, then?

Ben: Looks like we need a tiebreaker. Come over here, [redacted].

Anonymous Tiebreaker: I feel like B is a little sweeter than I remember it. The bittery bite of the pilsner, A, brings out the sugary qualities in B. I like the pilsner. I’m not a big pilsner guy but I like A. B is coming off too sweet for me now. I think I’m going to have to go with A.

winner-victory-prima-pils-gear-patrol

Gracious in Defeat: Two Brothers Brewery

Gear Patrol: Can you give us your own personal flavor profile of the beer?
Two Brothers: Appearance: Light Amber, White Head
Aroma: Caramel, bread, stone fruit, slightly sweet, biscuit
Taste: Sweet, caramel, bready, very little bitterness, dark fruit, earthy
Grain: U.S. Pils, M.W. Vienna, M.W. Munich, Caramel Wheat, Cara Munich, Melanoidin
Hops: Northern Brewer, Mt. Hood
This beer is all about the malt. It is a medium/full bodied beer with a moderate alcohol content of 5.9% ABV. The low bitterness allows the subtle hop notes to enhance the malt character, rather than to dominate it, and the alcohol cleans off the palate, making you want another sip.

Q: What are your favorite aspects of that flavor profile?
A: Since it is a malt forward beer, I would say the malt. We use CaraWheat malt from Weyermann in Bamberg, Germany. It is a roasted wheat malt, which gives the Domaine DuPage its signature malt flavor and color.

Q: What was your inspiration for the beer? What did you have in mind when you set out to brew it?
A: The inspiration for Domaine DuPage came from owners’ (Jason and Jim Ebel) time in France in late 1980s. At that time, U.S. beers were mostly fizzy yellow drinks, where the beers being brewed in Europe had a much wider range of flavors and nuances. So we tried to bring a piece of our European experience back to the states.

Q: What was the process like to get to the finished product?
A: With Domaine DuPage it was all about sourcing the right ingredients. There are no exotic hops or oak aging with this one. We use good quality malt, and our brewers do a fantastic job of keeping attention to detail from grain to the glass.

Q: What sets your beer apart from other beers in its style?
A: Most other beers in this style tend to either lean toward the “funky” side or are a bit higher in alcohol, lending to more aging potential. Our beer is very approachable, not too “wild”, and meant to be enjoyed by the pint and well before the best buy date on the back.

Dark Ale vs Et Al.

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A: Founders Breakfast Stout (1), which defeated: Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout (16), Lakewood The Temptress (9), Maine Beer Co. King Titus Porter (5), North Coast Brother Thelonious (11).
B: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine (7), which defeated: Great Divide Old Ruffian (4), Weyerbacher Insanity (11), Three Floyds Robert the Bruce (9), Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ (2).

Zach: A is like getting a hug. This is the type of beer that I see time and time again, where someone says flat out I don’t drink anything dark, I will never try anything dark, I will never like a dark beer and then you put this in front of them and they try a sip and their eyes light up and they realize… wait a minute, this is what this style of beer should look like. I have to go with A.

Dave: I’m still gonna go with A. This is a similar matchup to our last round, but an even more formidable one. B comes on a little strong on alcohol and hops. I think it’s better integrated than the competitors we just tasted in Lagers and Light Ales, but it’s up against an even better beer. I mean you can smell it [A], it smells great, it tastes great. It has a good sweetness, and then the dry bitter chocolate to it. I don’t taste the alcohol in it, but it’s got the body that I would be surprised if it didn’t have a high alcohol content.

Chris: [Chris's dialogue was somehow not recorded for this round. As the author, Chris can tell the audience that he found B to be a hoppy, malty, alcohol-laden powerhouse, but that A was, very simply, one of the most complete beers he'd drank. He selected A.]

Ben: A is incredibly pleasant to drink. Its complex, it tastes excellent. It’s clearly a stout. A to me epitomizes a great beer that’s also fun to drink. I think you can get some beers that are very interesting to taste that may not be something you want to have on a regular basis. A is one of those rare beers that is both. I think we’ve all tried this beer before. So admittedly there might be some bias there. We won’t know until the names are revealed to us. So part of me just wants to go with B because it’s a dark horse. Whether we crown A the winner or not, I know it’s going to be a great beer in my book. This gets back to what our goals are. If you’re going to go with beers that you’d want to drink regularly, then it’s definitely A.

winner-founders-breakfast-stout-gear-patrol

Gracious in Defeat: Sierra Nevada Brewery

Gear Patrol: Can you give us your own personal flavor profile of the beer?
Sierra Nevada: When it’s fresh, Bigfoot is very hop focused; you’re hit with huge pine and citrus aromas. It’s balanced with a big malt character, though — burnt caramel and toffee. As Bigfoot ages, its hop profile fades and the beer becomes more malt focused, and you might pick up hints of sherry.

Q: What are your favorite aspects of that flavor profile?
A:It’s a beer that evolves, and it’s fun to follow the nuances year after year.

Q: What was your inspiration for the beer? What did you have in mind when you set out to brew it?
A:There were few American breweries tackling barleywines at that time, and those that were didn’t seem to focus on big hop characters. In that regard, it was a forward-looking beer.

Q: What was the process like to get to the finished product?
A:It’s a laborious beer to make. To concentrate all of the flavors and reach that high ABV, we had to be patient with boil times, and it’s a challenge to get the yeast to perform properly in a not-so-yeast-friendly environment.

Q: What sets your beer apart from other beers in its style?
A:Looking back to Bigfoot’s origin, no one was pushing 100 IBUs and 10% ABV with this kind of beer. We’re humbled by how faithful craft drinkers have been to it for 30 years.

Q: What’s the mission statement of your brewery?
A: What guides us is pretty simple: we brew beers we like to drink, and we do so with an eye toward the environment.

Q: What sets your brewery apart from its competitors?
A:There’s a bounty of talent in craft beer today, and it’s exciting to be in that mix. We’re confident our obsession with quality and consistency is evident to the folks who drink our beers.

Q: How does this beer fit into your brewery’s line of beer?
A:We have what we call a High Altitude series, which includes Narwhal Imperial Stout and Hoptimum Imperial IPA. Bigfoot is in good company.

Q: What’s your favorite way to enjoy the beer?
A:At the end of the evening, by a fire, feet up, dog within reach.

Next Round:

Victory Prima Pils faces off with Founders Breakfast Stout in the Malted Madness Championship. That’s bitter hops and crisp carbonation against thick, sensuous blankets of chocolate and coffee flavors. Who will win? We’ll finally find out.

malted-madness-teaser-icon64 Beers. 6 Rounds. 1 Winner. It’s the Gear Patrol National Craft Beer Championship. Follow the Story This Way »
Special thanks to the fine gents at ABC Beer Co. for all their help with the tournament. If you're ever in need of brews and/or a good time, visit their store and bar in Alphabet City, Manhattan. Follow them on twitter at @ABCBeerCo.