As there’s been some misinformation on the interwebs and the blogosphere about The Washington Post’s “Beer Madness,” our aim is to provide a bit of understanding and analysis to better appreciate this competition, now in its sixth year.
Last week Greg Kitsock, your favorite beer writer’s favorite beer writer, rolled out the list for The Washington Post’s “Beer Madness,” March’s bracket-based beer battle. Greg Engert, Beer Director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, handpicked each beer for this competition. While last year the competition featured 64 beers, this year’s competition began with 32. Over the course of the next several weeks, one ale or lager will eventually be crowned champion. This champion will be announced on April 11th.
There are nine judges on the blind-tasting panel. Four WaPo readers were selected in addition to four “tasting professionals.” They are by vocation: mixologist, sommelier, chef, and pastry chef. Greg Kitsock serves as the ninth judge and fills the role of tiebreaker. Readers are encouraged to vote for their picks, though ultimately a beer’s progression in the bracket lies solely within the hands of the judges.
Engert’s criterion was to establish a bracket of beers brewed year-round (no one-offs or seasonals). Beyond that, all of these beers are regularly obtainable throughout the DMV.
The beer bracket and judging has been broken down into four categories: fruit and spice, roast, hops, and crisp. Anyone familiar with the draft lists at Birch and Barley, Rustico, or Tallula will recognize these descriptors.
26 of the 32 beers and eight of the 32 craft breweries are newcomers to the competition. Of local note are DC Brau Brewing Company and Lost Rhino Brewing Company. While both breweries are under a year old, their demand throughout the District cannot be denied. In the first round, DC Brau’s Public Pale Ale squared off against Lost Rhino’s New River Pale Ale. Ultimately the panel chose The Public to advance over New River, but it’s important to note that Washington Post readers scored New River over The Public by a vote of 1,041 to 927. Similar discrepancies between reader’s choice and judge’s choice appear throughout the bracket. It’s important to emphasize that the panel’s choice of winner is what is advanced in the graphic on the Beer Madness site.
As the “annual suds showdown” continues, you can expect more difficult choices for both readers and judges. The bracket started out clean, positing pilsner against pilsner, and while its still crisp vs. crisp, fruit and spice vs. fruit and spice, and so on, round two has some interesting matchups. Open-fermented traditional Bavarian-style wheat beer (Troegs’ Dreamweaver Wheat comes from their new massive tanks in Hershey, Pennsylvania) will go up against a Belgian-style saison bottle-conditioned with the famed yeast (and scourge of vintners) Brettanomyces (The Bruery’s Saison Rue).
The Road to Victory
Eventually we will see fruit and spice, roast, crisp, and hops champions competing in the final four. Within the final four, we will see crisp paired against fruit and spice. Likewise, the hops winner will square off against the roast winner. A few beer judges are torn over the competition’s setup; is it harder to select a best beer in one particular style or to select the best beer out of all the styles? As it is presented currently, several styles exist within one category.
Some beer judges find it easier to pick the best IPA out of a flight of five, compared to the best beer out of a flight of saison, pilsner, porter, stout, and IPA. A few styles are naturally more delicate. That’s not to badmouth lager, I LOVE Czech pilsners and the crisp German helles. Still, I have a prediction to make: the champion will be hops. It’s possible that roast or fruit and spice could take the trophy, but unfortunately it’s looking like the lagers, the crisp category, are the underdog in this fight.
So which matchups, victories and/or losses, surprised you most? Leave it in the comments. We hope this helped to clarify any confusion on WaPo’s bracket.