Beer Madness: It's England vs. Norway in the final

Take a peek into the March taste test for our annual Beer Madness competition and meet the panelists who rated all 32 beers.

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By Greg Kitsock
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nothing in common.

That's what our four Beer Madness finalists had. They represented four styles from four countries with four very different brewing traditions. They included an authentic German-style lager from an American microbrewery; an American-style pale ale from a Norwegian microbrewery; a dark ale from an English regional brewery that resuscitated the long-forgotten oatmeal stout style; and an unfiltered German wheat ale that traces its pedigree to the reign of King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

Our two panels regrouped to bring this mission to a conclusion. I wielded the ninth and potentially deciding vote.

In the first of two randomly chosen matchups, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout -- which had barely squeaked by with one-vote decisions in two of the three previous rounds -- handily beat the Raven Lager from Baltimore by a score of 7-2. Panelist Tracy Jill Doty wrote that she enjoyed the victor's "coffee and chocolate roasts." Jeff Krehbiel found it "smoky, rich" with "floral notes." A. Grace Lopez welcomed the stout like a boon companion. "Dare I say you've returned? Good to see (and taste) you, my good friend!"

Meanwhile, John H. Harris III registered a minority opinion, declaring that the Raven "has kick, bite, [is] more serious."

The choice between Nogne O Pale Ale and Schneider Weisse Hefe-Weizen proved much tougher, with the hoppy pale ale triumphing by a hair's breadth, 5-4.

Female drinkers sometimes are said to shy away from bitter beers, but there was no consensus according to sex, with the men choosing the hoppy Nogne O by a 3-2 vote and the women splitting 2-2. "Easy decision; almost reminds me of Sierra Nevada," wrote Charlene L. Esaw in casting her ballot for Nogne O. "Bring it on cold!" Doty agreed, docking Schneider for "too much bananas; too cloying." Lopez, on the other hand, found the Schneider "more balanced" and said it "would pair great with spicy Asian food."

"Very good flavor, nice aftertaste, good for the long term," wrote Edward J. Hanrahan in praise of Nogne O, while Raul Arroyo-Mendoza found his choice, the Schneider, "earthy, clean, minerals, dry, complex."

This much is certain: Malt and hops will duke it out as Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout faces off against Nogne O Pale Ale for the gold.

Kitsock can be reached at food@washpost.com.

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