The Syracuse Orange did not make the NCAA Tournament this year, much to everyone’s chagrin. One easy coping mechanism for this fact is ignoring March Madness all together. Another, even easier one, is drinking.
As we did in both 2015 and 2016, we went ahead and picked the best beer in each and every city represented by the tournament's 68 teams. Most college towns have at least one brewery to call their own at this point, so the task has gotten simpler over time. But holdouts still remain. Bucknell (Lewisbuerg, Penn.), Jacksonville State (Jacksonville, Ala.), Northern Kentucky (Highland Heights, Ky.), Troy (Troy, Ala.) and others forced us to look at neighboring cities. One day they’ll all get on board.
But to the beer itself:
Below, we provide selections for every NCAA Tournament team's best brewery (again, in the actual city they play in), keep them in the corresponding seeds, and then pick the bracket accordingly. While there was a bit of carryover team-wise from last year, we tried to differentiate beer selections as much as possible to keep things fresh (much like the beer!).
Apologies in advance. It's likely that your favorite brewery was either left out due to the real-life bracket or perhaps 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 (if you haven’t already).
Just like last year, we also went ahead and recorded a podcast to accompany the bracket. You can listen to that at the bottom of the post.
|1) Tired Hands Mango Double Milkshake IPA|
|16) Grail Point Priori de Saison|
|8) Funk Factory Cucumber Pear Lambic|
|9) Rising Silo Brown Chicken Brown Ale|
|5) Champion Fruitbasket IPA|
|12) Wilmington Blair's Breakfast Stout|
|4) Swamp Head Saison du Swamp|
|13) Yee-Haw Dunkel|
|6) Community Mosaic IPA|
|11) Mumford Unpresidential IPA|
|3) Bare Arms Java Joule|
|14) High Desert Fresh Hop IPA|
|7) Conquest Brutus Imperial Stout|
|10) Lakefront IPA|
|2) Fullsteam Summer Basil|
|15) Railyard Alabama Pale Ale|
- Two of the best breweries end up facing off in round two, as Funk Factory’s Cucumber Pear Lambic knocks out top seeded Tired Hands and its Mango Double Milkshake IPA. Times like these are when you wish you could re-seed.
- On top of those, the other side of the region also brings a fair amount of quality. Fullsteam’s Summer Basil, Community’s Mosaic IPA and Mumford’s Unpresidential IPA are all great entries, and ones that would stand a better chance in a different region.
- Your Sweet 16: Cucumber Pear Lambic (Wisconsin), Blair’s Breakfast Stout (UNC-Wilmington), Mosaic IPA (SMU), Summer Basil (Duke).
- Bracket winner: Funk Factory Geuzeria Cucumber Pear Lambic. It’s unlikely you’ve tried this beer (or anything from Funk Factory) if you’ve never been to Madison, Wisc. But that doesn’t take away from the brewery’s prowess and acclaim among beer nerds. Cucumber and pear are surprisingly complementary of one another, giving a lot of character to this unique take on a lambic. Not a whole lot of U.S. breweries approach the style. But Funk Factory’s among the few that can do it justice.
|1) Iron Goat Impaler|
|16) Wooden Legs Barn Yard Cadet Ale|
|8) Temperance Might Meets Right|
|9) Yazoo Sue|
|5) Crooked Ewe BBA Wendingo|
|12) Triumph Coffee & Cream Stout|
|4) Morgantown Zack Morgan's Pale Ale|
|13) Selin's Grove Phoenix Kriek|
|6) Franklin's 97 Pound Weakling|
|11) MadTree Galaxy High|
|3) Proof Creatures in the Dark|
|14) Fort Myers Ooya Citra Double IPA|
|7) Farm Creek Heather's Limit Stout|
|10) The Veil Crucial Taunt|
|2) Dragoon BA Biere del Bac|
|15) Rhombus Guys Iconic Blonde|
- Every year, we get one lopsided bracket, and this year, it’s the West. Local favorites are sprinkled all over this region, but only one is really worthy of consideration to advance to the Final Four.
- If you’ve been following this post over the last few years, you’ll notice some stand-by picks largely out of need given the cities’ lack of real options. South Bend’s Crooked Ewe, Morgantown Brewing Co. and Franklin’s Brewery all make return trips due to lack of any other choice. Franklin’s is not even in College Park, Md. But sadly, they don’t have anything in the city itself.
- Your Sweet 16: Temperance Might Meets Right (Northwestern), Selin’s Grove Phoenix Kriek (Bucknell), MadTree Galaxy High (Xavier), The Veil Crucial Taunt (VCU).
- Bracket winner: The Veil Crucial Taunt. Richmond’s The Veil is one of the buzziest breweries around right now, and their IPAs are earning rave reviews on Beer Advocate. Aaron’s enjoyed a bunch of those, and thinks they have one of America’s best-looking tasting rooms. Crucial taunt, a double IPA, is incredibly "juicy" for lack of a better term.
|1) Free State Old Backus Barleywine|
|16) Sudwerk Funke Hop Farm|
|8) Titanic Boiler Room Nut Brown|
|9) Ellison You Can Get With That... JUICE|
|5) Alluvial Mosaicus Pale Ale|
|12) Brasserie Saint James Third Man|
|4) People's Mr. Brown|
|13) Foam Built to Spill|
|6) Brickaway Coffee & Vanilla Stout|
|11) Proclamation Derivative: Citra|
|3) Oakshire Overcast Espresso Stout|
|14) Captain Lawrence Rosso E Marrone|
|7) Wolverine State Massacre|
|10) Iron Monk Milk Stout|
|2) Against the Grain Bo & Luke|
|15) Cheaha Model Citizen Hefeweizen|
- Another region that stacks the deck on one side, sadly. Against the Grain’s Bo & Luke is one of John’s favorite beers, while Aaron will ride for Proclamation Ale. Co. any day (despite them being just one of countless stops on a recent Rhode Island beer tour). Captain Lawrence also sits in the bottom half with those breweries. Bummer.
- We judge Ellison’s use of the word "juice," despite us using it in the previous region.
- Your Sweet 16: Titanic Boiler Room Nut Brown (Miami), Foam Brewers Built to Spill (Vermont), Proclamation Ale Co. Derivative: Citra (Rhode Island), Against the Grain Bo & Luke (Louisville).
- Bracket winner: Proclamation Ale Co. Derivative: Citra. The West Kingston brewery makes a pretty great series of pale ales, all featuring different hop varietals. This one, citra, takes the cake above some of the other contenders they also put out. It’s bitter, crisp and tropical -- everything you’d want out of a hoppy pale ale. They also don’t fall into the "juice" trap everyone else is across the country.
|1) Carolina Black IPA|
|16) Karbach BBA Hellfighter|
|8) Fossil Cove Paleo Pale Ale|
|9) Gaslight Pirate Pale Ale|
|5) Minneapolis Town Hall Masala Mama|
|12) Mayday Evil Octopus|
|4) Sun King Afternoon Delight|
|13) Legal Remedy WCWC Mocha Blonde Stout|
|6) Triple Digit Chickow!|
|11) Tallgrass Ethos IPA|
|3) Highland Park Lazier Susan|
|14) MadCap Green Room IPA|
|7) Warped Wing Whiskey Rebellion|
|10) Wichita Brewing & Pizzeria V.6 IPA|
|2) West Sixth Snake Cake|
|15) Braxton Dead Blow|
- This region has a lot of balance, but just a few real elite contenders. Both John and Aaron have some past personal favorites here. John gets to defend Los Angeles beer with Highland Park Brewery.
- Mayday Evil Octopus could be Tennessee’s best beer; John and Aaron toss some Nashville slander around.
- Your Sweet 16: Karbach Bourbon Barrel-Aged Hellfighter (Texas Southern), Minneapolis Town Hall Masala Mama (Minnesota), Highland Park Lazier Susan (UCLA), Warped Wing Whiskey Rebellion (Dayton).
- Bracket winner: Highland Park Brewery Lazier Susan. HPB may be the best brewery in Los Angeles, and while their IPAs get a ton of the press, their barrel-conditioned sours and farmhouse ales are also top-notch. Lazier Susan is a fantastic sour wheat ale aged in French oak barrels, and adds a bunch of Masumoto Farms nectarines to really knock it out of the park. Those nectarines are excellent, and John’s loved any beer they’ve ever been used in. Drink at HPB (up in the Highland Park ‘hood of L.A.) if you’re ever out there.
Funk Factory Cucumber Pear Lambic vs. The Veil Crucial Taunt
Proclamation Derivative: Citra vs. Highland Park Lazier Susan
Funk Factory Cucumber Pear Lambic vs. Proclamation Derivative: Citra
Winner: Proclamation Derivative: Citra
After two years of more sour options (Jester King, The Rare Barrel) winning it all, we end up with a stand-by American pale ale taking home the championship. Proclamation’s the most obscure winner to-date, but one that is likely to gain steam in the coming months and years. We thought about giving the title to Funk Factory, but felt it was unlikely that most listeners would ever get to try that one. At least with Proclamation, you stand a reasonable chance to drink it (and a hat tip to the TNIAAM staff’s resident Rhode Islander, Kevin).
Just in case that wasn't enough beer talk, Aaron and John chat about the bracket above, beer industry and more in a special edition of Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Podcast too: