Beer Madness, Round Four: Grudge Match!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A feeling of deja vu gripped our scorers as they tallied the results of Round Four.

The Final Four were all familiar names. Three of the divisional winners -- the Raven Special (lagers), Troegs HopBack Amber (ales) and Ommegang Hennepin (specialty and fruit) -- had won their respective slots last year, judged by a different panel and against different beers. Brooklyn Brown, voted best dark beer this time, comes from the same brewery that gave us our 2007 champion, Brooklyn Lager.

A lone dissenter can produce a hung jury, but 8-1 is a decisive victory in Beer Madness. That's the margin by which our combined panel preferred HopBack Amber over last year's runner-up, the Raven, brewed by Baltimore's Clipper City Brewing for Baltimore-Washington Beer Works. The spicy HopBack, from the Pennsylvania capital of Harrisburg, was praised for its "robust color and flavor" and described as "near to an ideal beer." One taster decreed that "it clearly wins by brute force . . . in flavor and complexity." It was a sweet victory for HopBack, which lost to the Raven in the semifinals last year.

The Raven did get compliments for its subtlety. "Would prefer and enjoy on a fall day during a football game," wrote the one panelist who voted for this Baltimore lager.

Hennepin barely survived, wresting a 5-4 victory from Brooklyn Brown.

The Belgian-style farmhouse ale from bucolic Upstate New York drew applause for being "citrusy sweet, balanced and full of flavor." (Oddly, one admirer described Hennepin as "pumpkin pie in a bottle," although no pumpkins were harmed in the brewing of this beer.) Two panelists commented on its thick, billowy foam.

Brooklyn Brown had its own adherents, including one who described it as "deep and nutty, meaty and hearty" and one who panned the Hennepin for its overpowering "yeasty" flavor.

And so Beer Madness concludes with a grudge match between two big, beefy ales that fell just short of the finals last year. Which will be the champion, and which will be the also-ran?

-- Greg Kitsock

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