Beer Madness, Round 3: Defending champ stays strong


The judges of the Washington Post's annual Beer Madness, which takes place at Church Key, write down their comments for each beer they taste and judge to determine which one is the best. (Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
March 27, 2012

Hometown fans, take heart: You’ve still got a dog in this year’s Beer Madness fight, a tasting competition of 32 all-American craft brews.

In a dustup to determine supremacy in the Hop category, DC Brau’s the Public eked out a 5-4 victory over the bigger, burlier Dogfish Head Burton Baton.

Burton Baton is a blend of an imperial IPA and an English-style old ale, which spends a month mellowing in an oaken tank. Its complexity, body and high alcohol (10 percent by volume) might have worked against it. At this stage, we simply craved a lighter, snappier beer. The Burton Baton was likened to “cognac” (mixologist Gina Chersevani), “beer candy” (Komi sommelier Kathryn Bangs) and “caramelized bananas and rum with a squeeze of lime” (Palena pastry chef Agnes Chin). The Public drew such comments as “grapefruit zest” (Chin), “classic IPA” (reader/judge Halley Fehner) and “hint of sage” (reader/judge Samantha Polinik).

In the Crisp category, Sword Swallower trounced Fordham Helles, 8-1. This might have been an apples-vs.-oranges matchup: Sword Swallower is almost 2 percentage points higher in alcohol and much more aggressively hopped (the brewing company’s Web site calls it “IPA style”). “Pine nose, herbal, slightly nutty” was Cork Wine Bar executive chef Rob Weland’s description. Polinik was almost apologetic about choosing Sword Swallower, calling Fordham Helles “a really great, crisp pilsner.”

Defending champion Flying Fish Exit 4 once more dominated the Fruit & Spice category, handily beating Saison Rue, 7-2. Fehner commented that drinking Exit 4 was “like sipping a bouquet.” Other descriptors included “fresh grass,” “forest floor,” “tropical fruit.” Saison Rue was perhaps our most polarizing beer. “I do not like this one, it tastes like what compost must taste like,” wrote Polinik, perhaps picking up some earthiness from a secondary fermentation with the wild yeast Brettanomyces. “Love it . . . very few beers could compete with [it],” asserted Bangs.

Maui Coconut Porter advanced again, clinching the Roast category, but not by the same 8-1 drubbing it administered in the first two rounds. This time, it won 6-3 over Stone Brewing’s Sublimely Self-Righteous. Reader/judge Jim Munsterman praised the latter for its “complex, bold” flavors and “lingering bitterness.” Chersevani picked the porter, but said she thought that Sublimely Self-Righteous “would be a great cocktail.”

Commentary was fading at this point. The normally loquacious Bangs simply wrote “yes” next to the coconut porter, and “no” aside Stone’s black IPA.

Next week: The tasting panel survives another round. Which beers will?

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