There we sat, munching on calamari and chicken wings and drinking beer on The Post’s dime. But happy hour this was not.
The panel of judges in Beer Madness, our quest to find the region’s best brews, grew increasingly pensive and absorbed as we assembled to choose a champion in each of four stylistic categories. Brows were furrowed, small talk ceased. Written comments grew sparse. Reader panelist Lauren Smith, by the time it was over, had ceased drawing little hearts next to her picks, merely circling the winners.
Smith professed to be in mourning as we sipped on the finalists in the Crisp niche. “I’m sad that my favorite didn’t survive!” she lamented. Cheer up, Lauren! The beer that you wanted to dab behind your ears as perfume — Bluejacket’s Forbidden Planet kolsch — actually did survive, and you gave it another yes vote. (It emerged a 6-3 winner over Stillwater Classique.)
Smith was a model of consistency, voting for the third time for Devils Backbone Vienna Lager (“I love how it reminds me of baking pretzels!”). The Vienna Lager, which squeaked by Atlas Brew Works District Common, 5-4, in Round Two, edged AleWerks Tavern Ale by the same score to dominate the Malt category.
The Tavern Ale drew praise for its roasty flavor. Expert panelist Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) lauded it for its “classic dark malt.” Reader panelist Bryan Berghoef detected notes of coffee, and I mistook it for a porter.
In a battle of the Belgian styles, Victory Brewing’s Swing Session Saison barely bested Franklin’s Golden Opportunity, 5-4, to win the Fruit and Spice category. “Lovely. Saison-ish. Very light coloring. Pale golden goodness. Lovely scent in the glass,” Berghoef commented.
Reader panelist Echo Rummel opted for the blond ale, preferring its “fuller body, complexity and more roasted flavor.” Smith, too, was in the minority, choosing Golden Opportunity in part because “I can drink more of it.” Miles Gray III, managing partner of Smith Commons Public House, was another Franklin’s fan. “Hats off. Tough category. Stiff competition,” he observed.
The Hop category proved the least competitive, as Monocacy Riot Rye trounced Tröegs Perpetual IPA, 7-2. “Decentish hops. . . . Good late bitterness. Takes it, but there were better beers in this round,” wrote a less-than- enthusiastic Berghoef. But Rummel praised the rye ale for its “pleasant complexity without sacrificing balance.”
And there you have our Final Four: a quartet of beers from the District, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland. They represent the brewing traditions of four nations: a crisp, quenching, German-style kolsch; a malty amber lager of a kind that might have nourished the Habsburgs when they held sway over the Austro-Hungarian Empire; a Belgianesque spiced saison; and a well-hopped American pale ale with a touch of locally grown rye.
We couldn’t have scripted a better denouement.
Kitsock is editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News. He will join today’s Free Range chat at noon at live.washingtonpost.com.
Want to taste Beer Madness’s final four? Head to Meridian Pint (3400 11th St. NW, 202-588-1075, www.meridianpint.com), which is offering free one-ounce pours of the matchups — and where you can cast your ballot with the bartender. This week’s schedule:
Thursday and Friday, 5 p.m. to closing: Hop winner Monocacy Riot Rye vs. Fruit/Spice winner Victory Swing Session Saison.
Sunday and Monday, 5 p.m. to closing: Crisp winner Bluejacket Forbidden Planet vs. Malt winner Devils Backbone Vienna Lager.