Beer Madness

 Beer Madness
Beer Madness
Joe Heim and Greg Kitsock
Assistant Editor, Sunday Source and Founder, Beer Madness and Professional Beer Writer
Monday, March 10, 2008; 1:00 PM

In the spirit of bracket fever and single-elimination madness, Sunday Source put 32 beers to the test in the second-annual Beer Madness tournament. The results of the head-to-head challenge will be revealed weekly through April 6.

Gallery: At the Tasting

Beer Madness founder Joe Heim and esteemed panelist Greg Kitsock were online Monday, March 10 at 1 p.m. ET to take questions and comments about the game.


Joe Heim: Hello everyone and thanks for joining us. The second annual Beer Madness tournament is underway and there's already controversy a-brewing. Well, actually the controversy mostly boils down to complaints about beers that weren't included in the contest and about some that were. Here's our rationale which I hope will nip this in the bud: We didn't want this to be a beer snob contest, so we included a number of mainstream (or, as snobs refer to them, swill)brews in the mix to see how they would stack up against higher end beers. We make absolutely no apologies for doing this as we think it adds to the fun of the whole thing. And, really people, shouldn't beer drinking be fun? Okay, let's answer some questions.


Hollywood, Md.: What was the criteria for selecting your tournament judges? Other than the retired Navy gentleman, I believe most of your judges are too young/inexperienced to be credible. As a high school basketball coach and a beer aficionado, I believe in order to have a reliable and credible tournament, you've got to have experienced/knowledgeable officials...

Joe Heim: Hmm, it seems to me that if you're old enough to drink you're old enough to think - about beer. I mean, you only have to be 35 to be president, so 21 seems like a reasonable age to offer opinions on beer. For the record, here are the ages of our panelists: 30, 36, 28, 84, 51, 22, 28, 34, 21, 36.


Chicago, Ill.: Hmm. Why nothing from 3 Floyds or Great Lakes?

Greg Kitsock: Great Lakes doesn't distribute in our area; I've occasionally seen Three Floyds beers, but their availability is very sporadic. Both are first-class breweries, and I wish we could have included a representative from each.


Anonymous: If you are looking to go out and find a place with a great beer list with normal bar food, where do you go? It seems like there have been a lot of higher-end restaurants opening up that have wonderful beer, but the food isn't exactly a good deal (i.e. Brasserie Beck is great, but I can't afford to eat and drink there). I'd love to find a place with a great variety of beer and knowledgeable bar staff where a friend and I can nibble on wings.

Greg Kitsock: I sympathize with your problem. My local pub, Dr. Dremo's in Arlington, closed permanently in January, and while there are plenty of higher-end restaurants opening, there are far fewer good, cheap neighborhood bars.

But surely you know about the Brickskeller in Washington, DC? They serve reasonably priced pub grub, and their beer seletion is second to none.

I also like the Hard Times chain. They've expanded their menu to include more than chili, and they usually have a few pretty decent selections on tap. And yes, they do have several kinds of wings to nibble on.

Also, you might want to try Franklin's brewpub in Hyattsville, Maryland, which does some excellent beers and has more of a pubby atmosphere than the chain brewpubs.

And if it's cheap, good beer you're after, you're not going to do much better than the Rock Bottom in Arlington with its $1.50 pints on Wednesdays.

Joe Heim: I'm lucky enough to live within a few blocks of Granville Moore's on H Street, NE which has an amazing selection of Belgian beers and the Argonaut (also on H) which always has a number of good beers on tap. And, Sova, a cafe on the 1300 block of H Street, NE is going to begin serving beer and wine.Its beer list is limited, but outstanding (Bear Republic, Mendocino, Bells and a few other great ones). Any readers want to share their favorite beer places?


Frederick, Md.: FYI -- The "Flying Dog Old Scratch" you have in your Lager section of the Tournament Roster, has not been brewed in Denver Colo., for quite a while. All Flying Dog beers are brewed in Frederick, Md. The labels will say Denver Colo., until all the old labels are used up.

Greg Kitsock: That's true, but Flyng Dog still maintains its corporate headquarters in Denver to the best of my knowledge.

Sometimes it's hard to tell where the beer was actually brewed. Pabst owns the Schlitz and Natty Boh labels, but its headquarters is in San Antonio, Texas, and it brews its beers at several host breweries in Milwaukee, Winston-Salem, Wilkes-Barre and other cities.


Purcellville, Va.: How can you put Miller Chill in this?

Joe Heim: I think the real question is, how could we not have put Miller Chill in this?


Washington, D.C.: Schlitz? Really?

Joe Heim: Yes. Yes.


New York, N.Y.: What are your opinions of where the best beer is brewed. I know some speak highly of Belguim. How are the best of the brewers?

Greg Kitsock: Actually, I'd say the best beer brewed is in America. We've been able to duplicate almost every style brewed in Germany, England or Belgium, and our brewers have added a few twists of their own, inventing styles like steam beer and imperial IPA. What other country produces such a wide spectrum of beers ranging from 3.8 % alcohol light lagers to the 27% alcohol Sam Adams Utopias?


Rochester, N.Y.: What? No Genesee Cream Ale?!

Joe Heim: That's an excellent suggestion for next year's contest.


Fairfax, Va.: You hit Oskar Blues for a beer for the competition, but it's not DALE'S PALE ALE?

I weep . . . .

Greg Kitsock: I tried to pick a wide variety of styles, and Old Chubb seemed to be a great example of the strong Scotch ale or "wee heavy" style. I also tried to limit entries to one per brewery. There are more pale ales and IPAs out there than Scottish and Scotch ales, which is why I chose Old Chubb, a great beer in its own right, especially if you're a malthead rather than a hophead.

I also like Gordon from Oscar Blues, but that imperial IPA is a little too high in alcohol for a tasting involving 32 beers.


Fairfax, Va.: I realize that Miller Chill and Schlitz exist, but do you REALLY think they're not swill? This isn't a snob issue, it's just common sense -- these are BAD, tasteless beers. You might as well have given their opponents a bye.

Joe Heim: You might be surprised when you see the results next week. Then again, you might not. I don't want to give away any winners while people are still filling out their brackets.


Burke, Va.: Glad to see the bracket back this year. What changes to the ground rules did you make from lessons learned last year in addition to having the four catergories of beer (lagers, ales, dark, specialty)? Speaking of those 4 categories, I assume you had the tasters work through a catergory until you got to the semis.

Joe Heim: Yeah, we definitely decided that we couldn't put a fruity beer up against an IPA, or a lager against a dark in the opening round. That was the most significant change from last year to this. We also doubled the number of panelists. And, yes, we had tasters work through a category until we got to the semis.


Burke, Va.: Favorite beer place? The tiny bar (and a few tables, but more recently added) at Shenandoah Brewing Company, on Pickett (between Van Dorn and Duke) in Alexandria. THAT'S good beer, my friends.

Joe Heim: Thanks for that tip. Keep 'em coming.


Washington, D.C.: Have you tried Schenkerla Rauchbier from Germany? Don't think you can get it in the States, but it's well worth the $600 ticket to Bamburg to taste bacon flavored beer. Yes, you read that right.

Joe Heim: Or you could just soak bacon in a pint of Bud for a couple of hours and save the cash.


Burke, Va.: Good Lord, you put Stone's and Dogfish Head's IPAs in the SAME SIDE OF THE BRACKET? Those are your #1 and #2 seeds in the IPA derby, my friends.

That being said, overall, a REALLY outstanding job of selecting beers (leaving aside the almost-obligatory nods to waste water like Schlitz).

This beer drinker gave up all booze for Lent, and will break his Lenten fast, on Easter Sunday, at the Dogfish Head restaurant in Falls Church. Have you been there yet?

Greg Kitsock: I have been to the Dogfish Head resturant in Falls Church and I enjoyed the beer and food greatly. Watch out for Dogfish's new beer, a strong ale called Palo Santo Marron aged in brewing vessels made of an exotic Paraguayan wood.

You have a great deal of will power to give up beer for Lent, and I wish you a happy Easter Sunday! I think it's interesting that centuries ago, monks, who underwent very rigorous Lenten fasts, were often allowed a very generous portion of beer per day to keep up their strength. I think that must be how beer received the ncikname "liquid bread."


Washington, D.C.: Did you include Yuengling? Seems to me that's the best of the cheap ($4.99 six packs!) beers.

Joe Heim: Growing up in the Philadelphia burbs, Yuengling was my beer of choice and I still don't mind drinking it, especially in the summer. We included the Yuengling Black and Tan in this year's contest.


Best Places for Beer: For an awesome selection, I really like Rustico in Alexandria or Rams Head in Annapolis.

Joe Heim: Good to know. Thanks.


Kensington, Md.: I guess the Great Lakes question answers mine about Fat Tire and other New Belgium products, which would do very, very well in this field.

Do you hear anything about distribution past Chicago or where ever they reach now?

Greg Kitsock: I've heard rumors about New Belgium entering the Philadelphia and Washington, DC markets in the near future, but that's all they are at this point ... rumors.


Manassas, Va.: Saranac's Black and Tan is really nice. I like it much better than their IPA. Maybe next year?

Joe Heim: There's always next year.


Notice beer drinker: Hi,

I like your idea of putting "low-brow" beers with some of the higher brands. In college, one of my favorites was Miller High Life, even though no one else seems to like it (or admit to liking it). Anyways, can you post a primer on the Beer Madness page to explain (or give more info) on the differences between ales, lagers, IPA, etc.

Joe Heim: That's a great request. I'll see if we can add that to the package. Also, let me just thank's Amanda McGrath and Jeremy Norman who did such an excellent job creating the interactive bracket on the website and putting up all of the content. Go on there and vote for the beers you would have selected and you can see where they stand.


Virginia: Why is Light Corona Beer not listed? I'm diabetic and this is the only beer that doesn't caused me a headache or sweat. The others did.

Greg Kitsock: Corona is a Mexican import and our beers were limited to domestics. I'm still trying to persuade my editor to do a Beer Olympics, open to all nations, to coincide with the Beijing Olympics this summer.

Joe Heim: And, uh, there's pretty much no chance that's gonna happen. I'm trying to convince my editor to send me to China to drink beer during the Olympics and blog about it. In fact, she doesn't even have to send me to China. I'm happy to stay here and do it.


Gluten Free?: Any chance you'll ever include a gluten-free beer? Due to my wheat allergy, I haven't had a beer in years, and I'm dying for one!

Greg Kitsock: Last year we had New Grist from Lakefront Brewery in Chicago. For next year's panel I might include Redbridge from Anheuser-Busch.

Incidentally, the De Proef brewery in Belgium has put out three new gluten-free beers, Green's Discovery (an amber ale), Green's Endeavor (an abbey-style dubbel) and Green's Quest (an abbey-style tripel).


Great Beer and Good Food Place: The DogFish Pub in Falls Church (7 Corners) or in Gaithersburg

Joe Heim: Got it. Thanks.


Danz, Ark.: So, sip by sip, what's your estimation of how many "beers" each judge consumed by the end? Was anyone hammered? Did anyone make out? I want to see 'those' photos.

Joe Heim: I did see people making out at the Brickskeller that night, but none of them were our panelists. I think, on the whole, everyone held up pretty well. It is a lot of beer to drink even if it is sip-by-sip.


TKPK: If you can stomach the hipsters and their "I'm cooler than you stares," the re-vamped Quarry House in Silver Spring is a good spot for tasty beers this side of the river.

Joe Heim: Sounds like a lot to stomach, but thanks for the tip.


Washington, D.C.: I want to be you. Hire me?

Joe Heim: But if I hired you to be me then who would I be?


Arlington, Va,, S: While I've had friends give me the "bacon" reaction from the Schlenkerla smoked beers, it's not really fair. Both bacon and Rauchbeer are smoked so they have a similar character. This vegetarian loves smoked beer but doesn't really associate it with bacon.

I also love other smoked beers like Alaskan Brewing Co. smoked porter, Special's beers (also from Bamberg), the smoked porter at Bullfrog Brewing in Williamsport Pa., and so on. Wish a local brewery made some so it'd be easier to find...

Greg Kitsock: Actually, brewer Chris Rafferty of the Rock Bottom in Ballston did offer a very good version of a Bamberger Rauchbier last November. But it seemed to sell a lot more slowly than is usual for the seasonal beers, and I don't know if he will repeat it.

Geoff Lively, Chris's counterpart at the Rock Bottom in Bethesda, Maryland, visited Bamberg recently, but said he had no intention of doing a Rauchbier (although he added a Keller Pils - an unfiltered pilsner - is a possibility).

The Schlenkerla beers have been available in this area, and I've even seen a few bottles of smoked beer from Spezial - Bamberg's other Rauchbier brewery - at Chevy Chase Wine and Spirits.


Frederick, Md.: Rustico is great -- but, as Yogi Berra said, nobody goes there anymore, because it's too crowded. Seriously -- two hour waits on a Saturday night? Sheesh.

If you're in Maryland, try Brewer's Alley in Frederick. Great beer; interesting food.

Joe Heim: More tips. Thanks!


Baltimore, Md.: More venue suggestions:

Rock Bottom Brewery, Bethesda

Growler's, Gaithersburg (former Summit Station)

Brewers Alley, Frederick

Frisco Grille, Columbia

Bare Bones and Ellicott Mills Brewing, Ellicott City

Half the locations in Fells Point, Baltimore--especially Max's Taphouse, John Steven Ltd., Wharf Rat, Duda's, and DuClaw Brewing

Brewers Art in Baltimore -- Belgian-styled brewing, excellent kitchen.

Wharf Rat, downtown Baltimore -- cheaper than a trip to England.

Speaking of DuClaw, other locations in Bowie and Arundel Mills -- some people swear by their beers, while others seem to see it as the TGIMcBenniBee's of brewpubs.

Rock Bottom, Ballston

Olney Ale House, Olney -- and Belgian bistro Le Mannequin Pis is just around the cornerand I'm leaving many, many fine places off the list

Joe Heim: And even more...


Arlington, Va.: My friends and I are hop heads, so we like IPA's. We did a taste test of about 10 and we all chose (to my surprise) the Red Hook Longhorn IPA

Joe Heim: I like that IPA as well. What were some of the others on your list?


RE: New Grist from Lakefront Brewery in Chicago: Are last year's results still available? And thanks for all the GF beer suggestions! I'll have to find them.

Joe Heim: There's a link to last year's results on the page. Under the heading "Thirsty for More."


Washington, D.C.: Most underrated type of beer has got to be German dunkelweissbier. Nothing quite like a dark wheat beer... mmmmm delicious.

Greg Kitsock: I like this style as well. You mix the banana-clove flavors from the wheat beer yeast, and the caramely sweetness and chocolatey flavors from the specialty malts, and you wind up with a beverage that tastes a little like a beer banana split.

On a similar note, the Weizenbock style seems to be gaining popularity. Fordham Brewing has done a strong German-style wheat beer as their spring seasonal, and I believe the latest assortment of Sam adams' LongShot beer contains such a beer.


Burke, Va.: Also on the shout-out list: Norm's Beer and Wine in Vienna -- a micro selection that's as broad (and thoughtful) as you'll find around here, and a very knowledgable staff.

Joe Heim: thanks Burke!


Washington, D.C.: Have you found that many supposedly good, but actually bad (I'm looking at you Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) beers don't do so well in the bracket? Or, do things usually end up the way you thought they would?

Joe Heim: There are always some surprises.


Probably A Good Thing: I know all entries had to be locally available (not sure to what degree)but I honestly have to say I seldom, if ever, see Schlitz on the shelves of any retail establishments I patronize. I think there is good reason for that! Though I remember the days before Schlitz fell hard and was 1 and 2 with Budweiser for shelf space and sales.

Greg Kitsock: Schlitz was the number one brand in the country as late as the 1950s. But the brewery tried to shorten the brewing process during the 1970s, and wound up marketing some "green" beer that turned people's stomachs. Believing its slogan "Go for the gusto!" was outdated, it also unleashed a series of new ads that came to be known as "the drink Schlitz or I'll kill you" campaign.

Around 1980 or 1981, it sold out to Stroh, which later became part of Pabst's collection of brands.


Natick, Mass.: Did you contemplate getting the panel together each week to judge the competition? This might have given palates a chance to rest.

Joe Heim: There's nothing more dangerous than a rested palate. We did think about it, but finding one night when all 10 judges could make it was hard enough. I can't imagine doing that five weeks in a row. We might split it up into two nights next year though.


San Diego, Calif.: I love beer. Beer beer beer. It goes down.. down into my belly.

Joe Heim: Wow, that's beautiful.


Baltimore, Md.: To Kensington: Don't get your hopes up too high about New Belgium products until you try the latest batches. I used to get their stuff when it was still made in the old Fort Collins, Co., railroad station and was sent east in 22-oz. bottles -- 15 or so years ago. Since then, they've ramped up production so much (in a new brewery) that Fat Tire is readily available in six-packs in Wal-Marts in much of the West, and it certainly isn't the beer that it was back in the 22-oz. days. I fear much of the mystique about Fat Tire is simply its earlier pioneering status and lack of availability here (remember Coors and "Smokey and the Bandit"?), and I would argue that you can get much better beers made locally around here. Heck, Is Bell's Winter Wit still in the Va. stores?

Greg Kitsock: I think Fat Tire is a good, well-balanced, everyday drinking of beer ... the type you split a few pitchers of when you get together with friends. I agree, being unable to get it here does increase the desirability.

As for Bell's, I did spot a few sixpacks of the Winter Wit at a Whole Foods recently. I was also pleasantly surprised to drop by the Liberty Tavern in Arlington last week and find two of Bell's brands, his brown ale and cream stout, on tap.


Fairfax, Va.: The beers on tap are many and tasty and the food is very good at the Old Dominion brewpub out in Ashburn.

Joe Heim: Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Hey, I never said Shenkerla Rauchbier was made with bacon, but trust me it tastes like smoked meat (in a very very good way). There is no question about it.

How would a vegetarian know if what he/she was drinking tasted like bacon anyway?

Greg Kitsock: I have a friend who described drinking a Rauchbier like "licking a skillet." But if you stick with it, the shock of drinking a bacon beer goes away and the malty flavors come to the fore, balancing the smoke. You need to down a pint or two to properly appreciate it.


Natick, Mass.: I hope my taste buds can handle all the flavor when I am 84!

Joe Heim: Trust me, if we're all in as good shape as our 84-year-old panelist Paul Helmke, we'll be very happy.


Washington, D.C.: Haha... the quarry house is awesome... DEEP FRIED PICKLES! TKPK is right on about the hipsters though.

Joe Heim: Another Quarry House fan.


Frederick, Md.: Consider pairing up some of the GABF's top picks with this year's winners on next years Madness. I think that would make for some interesting results.

Joe Heim: We just might do that.


Category Confusion: At least please tell me that Miller Chill is in the "fruit" half of that category.

Dos Equis Amber:Miller Chill::Extra-Strength French Roast:Dunkin' Donuts water-coffee

Greg Kitsock: Before you knock Miller Chill, bear in mind that lime seems to be the hot fruit flavor right now. Anheuser-Busch, from what I've read, is set to release a Bud Light Lime, and Coors, as its spring seasonal, released Rising Moon, an ale flavored with Kieffer lime leaves and lime peel.


Arlington -- IPA list: We hopheads tried Dogfish 60 Minute, Dogfish 90 Minute, Ramshead Tavern Ale, Harpoon IPA, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Smuttynose IPA, Sam Smith India Ale, Anderson Valley IPA, Pyramid IPA, and Red Hood Longhorn IPA

Joe Heim: That sounds like a great roster. I have to say that my favorite hoppy beer is Victory's Hop Devil Ale. If I could only drink one beer the rest of my life, that would be it.


Heffenreffer!: Where's the Green Death -- made with real chunks of the Narragansett River? I still have a headache from 1981...

Greg Kitsock: I thought the Green Death was Rainer Ale from Washington state.


Garrett Park, Md.: From Philly, eh? Of course, you remember Schmitz, Ortliebs, Hamms and Ballantine?

Greg Kitsock: Ballantine is another brand that got picked up by Pabst. As late as the mid-1990s, they were still marketing Ballantine IPA, a nice example of the style. Dogfish Head Burton Baton is an homage to the famous Ballantine Burton Ale, a brand never sold but shipped to VIPs like the president of the United States.


Baltimore Columnist: Yo, boss, you are derelict in your duty if you don't mention that very handy-dandy beer newspaper that shows up in many of the venues that you just recommended. It has a handy listing of other places -- breweries, brew pubs, and better beer bars -- that those with inquiring minds and palates might want to check out. Can I say the name of it here, or will you have to?

As for the madness brackets - -my persona sheet shows a Final Four of Ommegang, Oskar Blues Old Chub, Wild Goose IPA, and Flying Dog Old Scratch. But you probably could have guessed that.

(Yes, yes, I'll go back to writing that column now...)

Greg Kitsock: Great to hear from you, Alexander! You aren't talking about Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, are you?

Your picks aren't too shabby at all, but I can't reveal the winners, even under the threat of being forced to drink light beer.


Washington, D.C.: How about a national swill contest. Olympia versus Natty Boh for example (although I think both beers are quite good). With the entered into the contest.

Joe Heim: I think this is a great idea. Maybe we'll do that next year.


Burke, Va.: Even this hophead finds the Dogfish 120 overbearing. At some point, that many hops makes it a stunt beer for me.

Interesting question -- one beer for the rest of your life? For me, it would have to be the Stone's IPA.

Joe Heim: There's a comment section on the beer madness page. Maybe readers can start posting the one beer they'd drink for the rest of their life there. I'd love to see what people come up with.


Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: I was downright gratified to see Stone IPA (not Ruinator, Arrogant B, etc.,) on the list. As a devotee over the past several years of what have become known as American-style IPAs, I think the Stone has stayed consistent as THE non-slammed IPA while meeting the challenge of increased distribution and manufacture. With that said, have you ever had the Bells Two-Hearted Ale? It too is particularly nirvana-esque, but as it becomes more popular, we have to wait and see if quality control can keep up. Thanks!

Greg Kitsock: Bell's Two Hearted Ale is a wonderfully hoppy ale from an area of the country not really known for hoppy beers.

I saw it earlier this year in five-liter mini-kegs and I hope Larry Bell will experiment with this packaging for some of his other brands.


Joe Heim: Thanks everyone for all of your great questions and comments. We'll roll out the sweet 16 in the Sunday Source (and online) this Sunday.


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