Beer Madness: Round 2 decides the Elite 8

The Washington Post’s annual Beer Madness focused on selections from local craft breweries in the annual tournament pitting 32 beers against each other in a bracket-style tournament. (Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)
April 2, 2013

The level of competition intensified in Round 2 of Beer Madness, our blind tasting of 32 brews, this year all from the Chesapeake Bay region. Three of eight contests resulted in 5-4 squeakers, and the remaining face-offs were decided 6-3. No blowouts this time.

What’s more, the momentum shifted, with Maryland (the big winner in Round 1) advancing only three out of eight beers, while Virginia sent three out of four to Round 3. The District and Delaware, as the dust cleared, still had dogs in the hunt, advancing one beer apiece.

Our panel showed a slight preference for softer, better-balanced, more middle-of-the-road beers. The elegantly malty Devils Backbone Vienna Lager upended the acerbically hoppy Tuppers’ Keller Pils, 6-3, while the kinder, gentler Legend Pilsner nudged the lager/ale hybrid Wild Wolf Local Wolf, 5-4.

The latter contest created some serious cognitive dissonance. Cheesemonger Carolyn Stromberg praised the Legend Pilsner for “beautiful notes of honeysuckle and caramel apples,” but she cast her vote for Wild Wolf’s entry (“passion fruit — yum!”). Confessed hophead Jeanne Segal chose the Legend (“appley, light and fresh”) but found Local Wolf “very delicious” and commented, “This beer seems like it’s in the wrong category.”

Old Dominion Oak Barrel Stout (which Joe Wallace likened to a “chocolate brownie” and Scott Schenkelberg compared to “root beer”) beat the marginally richer Evolution Lucky 7 by a 6-3 margin. Meanwhile, the Irish-style Baying Hound Long Snout Stout narrowly defeated the stronger, barrel-aged District ChopHouse Bourbon Stout, 5-4. The ChopHouse’s entry drew a lot of praise (“really pronounced licorice flavor,” wrote Schenkelberg, “rich flavor and mouth feel”). However, Matt Hill, chef de cuisine at Range (who replaced chef Bryan Voltaggio after the first round), might have uncovered a flaw when he compared the Bourbon Stout to “caramel corn” and observed that it lacked “the bitterness to balance sweetness.”

In a few cases, the more aggressive of the pair made the cut. Union Craft Duckpin, a pale ale, was overwhelmed by the hopped-up Lost Rhino Face Plant IPA by a 6-3 score. In another 6-3 verdict, the panel chose the pungently herbaceous Stillwater Cellar Door over the maltier, more rounded Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre. Mixologist Gina Chersevani, who dubbed the Fruit & Spice niche “my favorite category,” claimed to detect “citrus, allspice, cardamom” in the Cellar Door, while Schenkelberg noted “Belgian yeast funk” and “white pepper background.” U.S. Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) picked up a hint of lime, while Stromberg wrote that it was “tangeriney.” (No one identified a key ingredient: white sage.) Doris Dixon was a voice of dissent, dismissing the Cellar Door as “minty — mouthwash.”

In a battle of the brewpubs, the fuller-bodied Gordon Biersch Belgian Pale Ale, the District’s sole surviving entry after it knocked out DC Brau the Citizen in Round 1, edged Rock Bottom White Ale by the slimmest of margins. Chersevani enjoyed the “brandylike nose” of the Belgian Pale Ale, while the White Ale found its most ardent booster in Stromberg (“candied orange zest and peppercorns — really complex”).

In the Hop category, Segal, who in the previous round was so enamored with Flying Dog Double Dog Double Pale Ale that she wanted to marry it, jilted her one-time amour in favor of Franklin’s Private I.P.A., terming that beer “very sophisticated and balanced — royal!”

Admittedly, Segal had previously praised the Private IPA as well, calling it “seriously amazing.” Besides, fidelity is not necessarily a virtue in beer evaluation: paired against different brews, the same beer can evoke very different sensations on the palate.

At any rate, Double Dog still managed to beat the Private IPA, 6-3, raising the possibility of a reconciliation in Round Three.

The bracket: To see the full, updated interactive bracket, to see how the panel’s votes compare to readers’ in each matchup, and to register your own preferences, go to www.washingtonpost.com/beer-madness.

Next week: The Final 4 emerge, each contender the champion of its category.

Kitsock is the editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.

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