It's almost time for the collegiate basketball championship tournament, colloquially known as March Madness. Mirroring that, the Washington Post Food Section conducts an annual Beer Madness Tournament. This year 64 US 'craft' beers were selected by the Post's beer writer, Greg Kitsock, and the beer director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, Greg Engert.
The Gregs placed the beers into into four categories: Malt, Fruit & Spice, Roast, and Hops. I dig that: beers are judged according to broad flavor similarities rather than geographical mismatches.
A panel of beer fans and beer professionals, including Kitsock and Engert, was selected to taste and judge the beers blind, that is, except for knowing the category, not knowing what the beers were.
Similar to the basketball tournament, Beer Madness is not a round robin, but an elimination, the field whittled in half each successive week, until only one beer remains. By the 'Final Four' judges will be voting with stylistic preferences in mind, as beers from different categories will be facing each other.
The first round eliminations will be announced by Kitsock on 16 March; the 'Sweet 16' on 23 March; and the 'Elite 8' on 30 March. The 'Final Four' will be announced on 6 April, which will pit the favorite in the Malt division versus the favorite in Fruit/Spice, and that of Hops versus Roast. The winners of those will then be judged against each other; the ultimate champion will be revealed on Wednesday, 13 April.
Just as with the basketball tourney, the competition can be followed along, and predictions made, on brackets. Post readers can vote for their favorites on-line, but their votes will not influence the tournament, whose tastings and choices have already been conducted. The full story is at the Washington Post: here. [The Post's on-line brackets are not as informative as they could be; click on the photo above —the print version— to see the full 64-beer lineup.]
Complaints about beer choices and beer omissions have been posted at the story. These miss the point of the exercise. Beer Madness is not the Great American Beer Festival; it's a fun diversion. And, by its very nature, it must exclude beers that are the freshest: draft beers from brewpubs. The few exceptions are from brewpubs close to the judging venue: Oliver Breweries, DuClaw Brewing, and The Brewer's Art.
In a manner, the exercise mimics the manner in which real world beer judges —consumers— choose beers. They purchase those beers they favor; they don't bother with official style guidelines. Of course, to avoid brand favoritism in this case, the 'judges' tasted the beers without seeing the labels.
There are eleven beers in Beer Madness from the tri-state area of Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (from where I 'blog'). These are:
Fruit & Spice