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Drinking Your Way Through the 2015 NCAA Tournament

Still bummed about Syracuse's self-imposed postseason ban? This should do the trick.

Matthias Kern/Getty Images

Syracuse isn't in this year's NCAA Tournament. This you know, but that may not make it any easier to get through an Orange-less March Madness just the same. That's where alcohol -- specifically beer -- comes in.

With the proliferation of craft beer throughout the United States, it's become even easier (than it was for Aaron last time around) to spot breweries in just about every college town in the country. Unless you're a few remote outposts of course -- looking at you, Provo (BYU), Cheney (Eastern Washington), Nacogdoches (Stephen F. Austin) and College Park (Maryland), since we had to look 15-30 miles for the nearest brewery.

But onto the beer. Below, we give picks for every NCAA Tournament college's best brewery, keep them in the corresponding seeds and then play the bracket out accordingly.

Sorry in advance. Chances are either your favorite brewery was not included due to the real-life bracket, your favorite beer wasn't included because we could only pick one, or your favorite beer WAS included but was eliminated. Regardless, find yourself a way to drink as many of these as possible.

Midwest Bracket

1) Country Boy Knotty Pine
16) St. George Porter
8) Rhinegeist Brewing Truth
9) People's Mr. Brown
5) Morgantown Two Weeks Lager
12) Flying Bison The "Herc" C-130
4) Franklin's No Sleep Till Brookland
13) Figure 8 Ro Shampo
6) Sun King Grapefruit Jungle IPA
11) Jester King Atrial Rubicite
3) South Bend Brew Werks 9 Aye
14) Trillium Congress Street IPA
7) River City Tornado Alley IPA
10) Upland Blackberry Lambic
2) Free State Old Backus
15) High Desert Fresh Hop IPA

Bracket Notes:

  • Four of the better breweries in the entire bracket -- Sun King, Jester King, Trillium, Upland -- are all present in this region, and are unfortunately matched up against one another in the first couple rounds.
  • South Bend... how is it that a city that houses a major university (Notre Dame) has one very small brewery?
  • Same goes for College Park, too, which is completely brewery-less and forced us to head over to Hyattsville, Md.
  • Your Sweet 16: Rhinegeist Truth (Cincinnati), Flying Bison The "Herc" C-130 (Buffalo), Jester King Atrial Rubicite (Texas), Upland Blackberry Lambic (Indiana).
  • Bracket winner: Jester King Atrial Rubicite. Sure, this beer's only a couple years old, but it's already made a huge impression on the brewing community (see the 100 rating on BA) and has become a beacon for the Austin beer scene. Beautifully sour, and chock-full of raspberry aromas and flavors, this wild ale may not be for everyone. But for those who give it a shot (and chances are you're headed to Texas or trading if that's your intent), it's a rewarding brew.

Jester King Atrial Rubicite

(Image via Crafted Pours)

West Bracket

1) Ale Asylum Bedlam
16) New South IPA
8) Hop Valley Alpha Centauri Binary IPA
9) Iron Monk Milk Stout
5) Fossil Cove Paleo Pale Ale
12) RJ Rocker's Black Pearle Dark IPA
4) Carolina Groundhog Imperial Stout
13) Cambridge Blunderbuss Barleywine
6) MadTree Galaxy High
11) Oxford Brewing MPA #8
3) Bare Arms Turbulence IPA
14) Wrecking Bar Mexican Siberus Maximus
7) Hardywood Park Bourbon GBS
10) Columbus Bodhi DIPA
2) Dragoon IPA
15) Saint Arnold Pumpkinator

Bracket Notes:

  • A couple interesting breweries here -- Hardywood (VCU) and Saint Arnold (Texas Southern) in particular -- that once again have to knock each other out early. Definitely a bummer, as both brews represented above are thoroughly enjoyable. Though as Aaron points out, "*Pumpkinator is great, but no pumpkin beer is winning this shit." Agreed on both counts.
  • Half of this bracket is pale ales, IPAs or DIPAs -- which is more a commentary on just how much the style has flooded the U.S. market than anything else.
  • Bare Arms is the only brewery in Waco (Baylor) and by all accounts, they have one beer. So there's that. Same goes for Stillwater (Oklahoma State), which features one brewery, Iron Monk, and just a couple beers.
  • Your Sweet 16: Ale Asylum Bedlam (Wisconsin), Cambridge Blunderbuss Barleywine (Harvard), MadTree Galaxy High (Xavier), Hardywood Bourbon GBS (VCU).
  • Bracket winner: Cambridge Brewing Co. Blunderbuss Barleywine. "A barleywine, seriously?" you said as you got to this point. And normally I'd agree. But the alternative was going to be "a gingerbread stout, seriously?" So either way, can't please everybody. But the beer we picked -- yes, despite the less-than-beloved barleywine style -- is an interesting and complex one that could get you to rethink barleywines a bit beyond their typical, bready nature.

Cambridge Blunderbuss

(image via CBC's Twitter page)

East Region

1) Tired Hands Parageusia1
16) Weyerbacher Insanity
8) Lone Rider Pistols at Dawn
9) Tin Roof Perfect Tin Amber
5) SingleSpeed IPA Blanco
12) Altitude 7200' Stout
4) Against the Grain Bo & Luke
13) Bayhawk Chocolate Porter
6) Revival Double Black IPA
11) Warped Wing Mr. Mean
3) (405) I Can't Believe It's Not Lemons!
14) C.H. Evans Belgian-Style Strong Ale
7) EagleMonk Annie's IPA
10) Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout
2) Three Notch'd Jack's Java Espresso Stout
15) Yazoo Brewing Sue

Bracket Notes:

  • A couple giants in this bracket -- Tired Hands (Villanova) and Terrapin (Georgia) -- surrounded by some smaller, regional ones that it's tough to really get a read on if you're not in the area.
  • This bracket was one of John's only chances to "show off" any California beer knowledge, and he ends up with Irvine (UC-Irvine) instead of sexier, yet nearby options like Long Beach (LBSU) or Fullerton (CS-Fullerton) that both possess some more palatable options. Damn.
  • We get the most dark beers here, with several different variations on porters and stouts, as well as a black IPA. A welcome change.
  • Your Sweet 16: Tired Hands Parageusia1 (Villanova), Against the Grain Bo & Luke (Louisville), Revival Double Black IPA (Providence), Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout (Georgia).
  • Bracket winner: Tired Hands Parageusia1. Maybe picking a beer brewed just once fails the spirit of this bracket. Or perhaps it actually lives up to it, since the whole nature of the actual NCAA Tournament is very much "one and done." Tired Hands makes a ton of different Belgian styles as well as IPAs, but this is likely the most notable (and most sought-after) of the former. Unlike the previous two beers that made it to the Final Four, Parageusia1 only serves to improve with age, so we may not know its full potential for quite some time.

Tired Hands Parageusia1

(image via Picbi)

South Region

1) Fullsteam BA Working Man's Lunch
16) Aurochs Brown Ale
8) Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
9) Finback BQE - Barrel Aged
5) Epic Big Bad Baptist
12) Big Thicket Small Batch #9 IPA
4) DC Brau On the Wings of Armaggedon
13) Perry Street Kolsch
6) Community Mosaic IPA
11) Golden Road Wolf Among Weeds
3) Old Main Sodbuster Stout
14) Good People El Gordo RIS
7) Backpocket Wooden Nickel Scottish Peated
10) D9 Brewing Viking Fraoch
2) No-Li Rise & Grind
15) Fargo Sodbuster

Bracket Notes:

  • Several larger ones saved for this bracket, as Epic (Utah) and Ballast Point (San Diego State) should stand out to most, while some others might recognize DC Brau (Georgetown) and Golden Road (UCLA) as well.
  • While there are certainly more obscure beers in both San Diego and Los Angeles that could potentially usurp Sculpin and Wolf Among Weeds, respectively, we felt that name recognition is probably a good thing amidst a lot of lesser-knowns here. Because believe me, I could have gone on for DAYS talking about the beers from those two cities alone.
  • Two beers called "Sodbuster" in the same bracket?!
  • A real bummer, in some ways, to see Community's Mosaic IPA leave so soon (first round). While Deep Ellum IPA might have been the popular pick for Dallas (SMU), Community provided the best overall IPAs in Texas based on your authors' experience, so they got the nod -- and should be a bit more well-known.
  • Your Sweet 16: Ballast Point Sculpin (San Diego State), DC Brau On the Wings of Armageddon (Georgetown), Golden Road Wolf Among Weeds (UCLA), No-Li Rise & Grind (Gonzaga).
  • Bracket winner: DC Brau On the Wings of Armageddon. Finally the IPAs manage to get an entry into our Final Four. And OF COURSE, it's the one representing Georgetown, making this the #disloyalidiot bracket for all eternity. Sure, John would've loved to just push Wolf Among Weeds and/or Sculpin through based on a mix of personal beer preference and Georgetown hatred, but it's tough to ignore how good OtWoA really is. Fresh, citrusy, West Coast-style IPA that it is, there are few comparisons on the other side of the country.

DC Brau On the Wings of Armageddon

(image via Artzberger)


Jester King Atrial Rubicite vs. Cambridge Brewing Co. Blunderbuss Barleywine

Tired Hands Parageusia1 vs. DC Brau On the Wings of Armageddon


Jester King Atrial Rubicite vs. Tired Hands Parageusia1

Winner: Jester King Atrial Rubicite

(view full bracket)

That's not to say Jester King is the country's best brewer or Atrial Rubicite is the country's best beer -- we're not looking to incite a riot, after all, just get you drunk. But based on a mix of our own experiences with these brews, as well as critical acclaim, this is what the bracket gives us. It's very entertaining to see a final matchup of two saison-style brewers given the country's gravitation toward IPAs, etc., as you might imagine. So if you can find yourself an Atrial Rubicite, it could be the perfect drink to get you through this SU-less month of basketball. Otherwise, a LOT more options for you to get plenty drunk on above, too.

JC Atrial Rubicite

(image from John's own drinking and picture-taking habit)


In addition to the above, there are plenty of colleges -- both feasible and otherwise -- we WISH would have made this year's tournament too, if only for the beer. Some of our top picks there as well:

  • Santa Rose Junior College -- Santa Rosa, Calif. (Russian River)
  • Indiana Tech -- Munster, Ind. (3 Floyds)
  • Calvin College -- Grand Rapids, Mich. (Founders)
  • USF -- Tampa, Fla. (Cigar City)
  • Luther College -- Decorah, Iowa (Toppling Goliath)
  • St. Louis -- St. Louis, Mo. (Perennial Artisan Ales)
  • Long Beach State -- Long Beach, Calif. (Beachwood BBQ & Brewing)
  • Colorado -- Boulder, Colo. (Avery Brewing Co.)
  • Colorado State -- Fort Collins, Colo. (New Belgium)
  • Tulsa -- Tulsa, Okla. (Prairie Artisan Ales)


Happy drinking, and enjoy March Madness -- even if this is the only way you're able to do so.