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Drinking Your Way Through the 2016 NCAA Tournament

We did this again? Yeah, actually.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange are back in the NCAA Tournament. There are some nerves and fears associated with that of course, but we'd rather be in it than not. If you're struggling with those nerves and fears, perhaps a beer might help?

Just like last year, we went ahead and picked the best beer in each and every city represented by the tournament's 68 teams. Due to the growth of the industry in America, finding beer (regardless of quality) in most cities was an easy task. Unfortunately, holdouts like Nagadoches, Tex. (Stephen F. Austin), College Park, Md. (Maryland) and Storrs, Conn. (UConn) forced us to a look slightly outside schools' immediate zip codes. Maybe one day we'll do this and each city will finally have a brewery to call their own. We can dream...

But onto the beer itself. Below, we give picks for every NCAA Tournament team's best brewery (in the actual city they play in), keep them in the corresponding seeds and then pick the bracket accordingly. Despite some carryover from last year, we even tried to pick different ones if we could. We care THAT much.

Apologies in advance. It's likely that either your favorite brewery was left out due to the real-life bracket or maybe there was just a better brewery and/or beer in the same city. Regardless, find yourself a way to drink as many of these as possible.

Also, we went ahead and recorded a podcast to accompany the bracket this year too. You can listen to that at the bottom of the post.

South Bracket

1) Free State Old Backus Barleywine
16) Blackhorse Hefeweizen
8) Avery Uncle Jacob's Stout
9) Willimantic V.E.G. IPA
5) Franklin's Imperial Stout
12) Wooden Legs It'sWhatWeGot
4) Rare Barrel Map of the Sun
13) Honolulu Beerworks South Shore
6) Dragoon IPA
11) Yazoo Sue
3) Titanic Boiler Room Nut Brown
14) Flying Bison Herc C-130 Barleywine
7) Iowa City Brewlab Session X Citra
10) Saint Benjamin Liason Saison
2) Tired Hands Parageusia1
15) Wicked Weed Red Angel

Bracket notes:

  • You could easily make a legitimate Final Four out of the breweries in this region -- the strongest in real-life and ours too. Along with last year's runner-up (Tired Hands Parageusia), the South also contains Wicked Weed Red Angel, Yazoo Sue, Avery Uncle Jacob's Stout and the Rare Barrel's Map of the Sun.
  • Boo on UConn for having nothing in its city -- Storrs, the sixth borough. We had to head about 15 miles out to grab a selection from Willimantic Brewing instead.
  • Your Sweet 16 (all mentioned above): Uncle Jacob's Stout (Colorado), Map of the Sun (California), Sue (Vanderbilt), Red Angel (UNC-Asheville).
  • Bracket winner: The Rare Barrel Map of the Sun. A Belgian golden sour aged in oak barrels with apricots. This isn't your tart bomb-type sour that a lot of folks might be used to if they've taken a tour around America's sour brew scene. Map of the Sun is a nuanced yet easy drink. The fruit addition is pleasant and keeps the beer refreshing. Simplicity is a good word, but not one that should diminish what it took to create it or your ability to drink it. You'll need to get to the Bay Area to try it out, but if you do, it's well worth a taste (as are other Rare Barrel options, of course).

East Region

1) Carolina Brewery Santa's Secret
16) Fort Myers OYA Citra Double IPA
8) Highland Park Raised Eyebrows
9) Revival Double Black IPA
5) Upland Sour Reserve
12) Chattanooga Chestnut Street
4) Country Boy Sinkhole Stout
13) Port Jeff Porter
6) Crooked Ewe Recneps Oatmeal Stout
11) Prarie Bomb!
3) Morgantown Zack Morgan's Pale Ale
14) Big Thicket Piney Woods Pale Ale
7) Funk Factory Frampaars
10) East End Gratitude
2) MadTree Galaxy High
15) Roosters Junction City Chocolate Stout

Bracket notes:

  • There are some quality beers in this bracket, but it largely ends up top-heavy. Prairie Bomb! and Upland Sour Reserve seem like the ones that could actually be familiar to readers. The rest? More local and with a wide range of quality assigned to them.
  • Like last year, Big Thicket Brewing gets some ire, not because of its beers, but because it's the closest brewery to Stephen F. Austin (and it's not overly close). Get on it, Nagodoches. You can produce something beyond just Clint Dempsey.
  • I could talk about Highland Park Brewing's Raised Eyebrows, USC's representative, all day. But don't, because I care about people reading this entire article.
  • Your Sweet 16: Highland Park Raised Eyebrows (USC), Upland Sour Reserve (Indiana), Prairie Bomb! (Tulsa), Funk Factory Frampaars (Wisconsin).
  • Bracket Winner: Prairie Bomb! If ever there was an accessible imperial stout with a ton of adjunct flavors, this would be it. And lucky for you, it's fairly easy to find in many metro areas too. Prairie adds coffee, cacao nibs, vanilla beans and ancho chili peppers, and even without barrel-aging, comes in at a whopping 13 percent ABV. Calling it accessible doesn't mean it's simple. The beer packs a punch AND it's a great representation of creativity with the style. Those things don't always go hand in hand.

Midwest Region

1) Champion Fruitbasket IPA
16) St. George Porter
8) Triple J's Murphy's Irish Red Ale
9) Sun King Grapefruit Jungle IPA
5) People's Notorious B.I.P.
12) Vino's Lazyboy Stout
4) Olde Main Sodbuster Stout
13) Captain Lawrence Cuvee De Castleton
6) Gaslight Pirate Pale Ale
11) Iron Goat Impaler
3) Epic Big Bad Baptist
14) Tioga-Sequoia Rush Hour - Breakfast Stout
7) Toxic Safety 3rd
10) Prison City Crime of Passion
2) EagleMonk Red Eye Rye
15) Mayday Evil Octopus

Bracket notes:

  • This was a bad bracket. And it's what frustrates us more about great brackets like the South. The Midwest features a couple really well-regarded beers, then a bunch of okay beers from okay cities. Syracuse is also in this bracket, though it's unlikely a whole lot of you have had Prison City Brewing's offerings (though you should).
  • There's two slight "cheats" involved here. New Rochelle, N.Y. (Iona) doesn't have anything, so we have to wander to Elmsford to find something. Epic's Big Bad Baptist represents Utah, despite the fact that the beer is brewed in Epic's Denver facility.
  • Your Sweet 16: Sun King Grapefruit Jungle (Butler), Captain Lawrence Cuvee De Castleton (Iona), Epic Big Bad Baptist (Utah), Prison City Crime of Passion (Syracuse).
  • Bracket Winner: Captain Lawrence Cuvee De Castleton. Aaron claims this is the first beer he ever lined up for, though he's beyond beer lines now (must be nice...). The lemony, fruity sour arrived in 2007 as a standard-bearer in the style, and still holds up today. Oaky, dry and balanced, this rarity is worth visiting with if you can snag a bottle or find on draft in the Westchester area or elsewhere.

West Region

1) Oakshire Overcast Espresso Stout
16) Wormtown Be Hoppy
8) Yard's Cape of Good Hope IPA
9) Rhinegeist Truth
5) Bare Arms Turbulence IPA
12) New England Fuzzy Baby Ducks IPA
4) Fullsteam BA Working Man's Lunch
13) Wilmington Blair's Breakfast Stout
6) Jester King Atrial Rubicite
11) SingleSpeed Brewed X 2
3) Blackwater Draw Contract Killer
14) Titletown Green 19
7) Block 15 Sticky Hands
10) Hardywood Park Bourbon GBS
2) (405) GFS "Grapefruit Sour"
15) Lengthwise Zeus Imperial IPA

Bracket notes:

  • A couple giants in this bracket, including last year's champ, Jester King's Atrial Rubicite and the excellent Hardywood Park Bourbon GBS.
  • Aaron pans New England Brewing Co. for not packaging Fuzzy Baby Ducks. Can't really argue with the logic, as you'll hear on the podcast.
  • Your Sweet 16: Wormtown Be Hoppy (Holy Cross), New England Fuzzy Baby Ducks (Yale), Jester King Atrial Rubicite (Texas), Hardywood Bourbon GBS (VCU).
  • Bracket Winner: Wormtown Be Hoppy. Worcester's finest ale has become one of New England's best IPAs and a local favorite despite staying fairly local in distribution. The lone IPA in our Final Four (seems strange given my appearance on this panel), Be Hoppy is bitter, tropical and everything you want out of the style. Apparently it even has some West Coast characteristics? Count me in if I'm ever in Worcester.


The Rare Barrel Map of the Sun vs. Wormtown Be Hoppy

Prairie Bomb! vs. Captain Lawrence Cuvee De Casteton


The Rare Barrel Map of the Sun vs. Prairie Bomb!

Winner: The Rare Barrel Map of the Sun

(view full bracket)

It's only natural that a sour beer wins this thing in a year where the style seemed to grow a whole lot (at least from our respective vantage points). The matchup of a sour and a big, imperial stout also looks like a commentary on trends in the industry too. IPAs are now 0-for-2 in this competition, while sours are unbeaten. The Rare Barrel stands a pretty good chance to dominate this bracket in the coming years too, to be honest, if Cal continues its current rate of program growth. If you want to celebrate that fact, though, you'll be better off picking up a bottle of Bomb! Sorry, we wish Rare Barrel's stuff was available for you to enjoy too. Maybe next year...


Just in case that wasn't enough, Aaron and John chat about the bracket above, beer industry and more in a special edition of Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Podcast too: