When I think of the NCAA tournament, the first thing I think about is skipping work to watch basketball all day Thursday and Friday (yes, I work. Sort of). The second thing I think of is hanging with friends and drinking beers. Combine those too, and you have my NCAA Tournament of Beer.
Frank Zappa said, "You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline." And, I'd extend that to say, how can I root for your college if I can't fondly think of a brewery I like near campus?
Here are the beers you should be drinking from each competing college's best brewery. As well as the colleges you should be rooting to lose for disgracing themselves by not even having one.
16 (drink-in game)
5 Oklahoma State (Stillwater) - NOTHING (huffing paint)
12 (drink-in game)
10 Cincy - Fifty West Brewing (Coast to Coast IPA)
I've been fortunate--or unfortunate in the case of the gluten-free brewery Steadfast--to have drank beers from every participant in this region, save East Lansing's non-notable Harper's Restaurant (and cow-town Stillwater which is brewery-less). It's a surprisingly strong region, mostly thanks to a couple of places you don't immediately think of as beer hot spots. When I'm in Louisville I'm typically swigging bourbon, but Against the Grain is a rising star making splendid stuff. The birthplace of Budweiser, St. Louis, has also become a great craft beer town and I gave the nod to the experimental Perennial over the strong-and-steady Schlafly. Finally, Nebraska Brewing Co. is making some of the finest wine barrel-aged beers in America. And, of course, Colorado's New Belgium is one of the most prominent craft breweries in the whole country...and the reason every uninformed bozo thinks Fat Tire is the nectar of the Gods (it's actually their sour ales that truly deserve your acclaim). But, the Midwest's...
FINAL FOUR PARTICIPANT: St. Louis University and Perennial Artisan Ales
12 Mississippi (Oxford) - NOTHING (Marshall Henderson's "stash")
13 (drink-in game)
7 Notre Dame - Four Horsemen Brewing (embarrassing)
15 Iona (New Rochelle, NY) - NOTHING (whip-its)
An exceptionally weak region with no real breweries of note aside from Albuquerque's La Cumbre, Pittsburgh's East End and their world-class barleywine Gratitude, and Columbus with their likewise world-class IPA. Then again, to be fair, Madison is a great craft beer town and I do love Ale Asylum. And, of course, I've neglected to mention Boston which has more great breweries than the whole rest of the region combined. I decided to give their nod to Pretty Things though as it is actually in Harvard's Cambridge 'hood.
FINAL FOUR PARTICIPANT: Harvard University and Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project
16 Western KY (Bowling Green) - NOTHING (moonshine)
13 S. Dakota St. (Brookings) - NOTHING (wampum)
14 Northwestern St. (Natchitoches, LA) - NOTHING (even poorer-made moonshine)
2 Georgetown - Bluejacket
15 FGCU (Fort Myers) - Fort Myers Brewing Co.
By far the region of drunken death, the South features heavyweights Jolly Pumpkin, Surly Brewing, Coop, Bluejacket, and the entire city of San Diego, America's greatest beer mecca (though I didn't consider suburban SD breweries Stone, Lost Abbey, or Alpine). Still, in a bit of an upset, my Final Four victor comes from the frozen north...
FINAL FOUR PARTICIPANT: University of Minnesota and Surly Brewing
16 (drink-in game)
11 Bucknell (Lewisburg, PA) - NOTHING (crystal meth)
14 Davidson (Davidson, NC) - NOTHING (bag of glue)
15 Pacific - BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse (lame chain)
Syracuse's first round match-up becomes much more formidable in the beer tournament, with Big Sky Brewing being one of the region's stronger participants--and the crafters of perhaps the region's overall best single brew, Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout. I still think Middle Ages squeaks out the win, though, in the 1st (er, 2nd) round's toughest matchup. But those two are still comparative lightweights when you throw Boulder into the mix, one of American's finest craft beer cities which features one of the country's best breweries.
FINAL FOUR PARTICIPANT: University of Colorado and Avery Brewing Co.
Listen to me and you'd have a completely believable Final Four of St. Louis vs. Harvard and Minnesota vs. Colorado. You'd probably be fired from work if you submitted that to the office pool--and rightly so.
Perennial barely knocks off Pretty Things and, in the "real final," Avery clips Surly.
In the championship game, upstart Perennial stands no chance against the blue bloods from Colorado. Your champion of the 2013 NCAA Tournament of Beer:
Avery Brewing Company
Drink an 18% Uncle Jacob's Stout at the first sign of Syracuse's erratic play stressing you out...and thank me when you wake up.