Another round of beer samples are brought to the judges table during the Washington Post's annual Beer Madness. (Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

“These two beers could easily be in the top three of the last eight. Tough to choose.”

Those comments, penned by reader/judge Jim Munsterman, are indicative of the soul-searching our tasting panelists went through as they whittled the four category winners to two finalists for this year’s Beer Madness, a competition that began with 32 all-American craft brews in four categories.

“Like judging between a red zinfandel and a white sauvignon blanc,” puzzled reader/judge Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) as he pondered whether to advance DC Brau’s hoppy Public Pale Ale or the coffeeish Maui Coconut Porter.

“It’s really just personal preference from here on out,” admitted reader/judge Samantha Polinik.

Despite all the wringing of hands and racking of brains, however, our panelists spoke decisively in naming two winners. Flying Fish Exit 4, top dog in the Fruit & Spice category, handily downed Sword Swallower (Crisp winner), 8-1.

Maui Coconut Porter (Roast), the beer that traveled the farthest to get here, scored an identical 8-1 triumph over the Public (Hop), the beer that traveled the least distance.

Several of the panelists, by this stage, found the beers as recognizable as old friends. “This little bugger keeps making its way through,” wrote Komi sommelier Kathryn Bangs of the Exit 4. Unlike in the last round, she gave it a pass.

“The nose is so different and yet now you can just pick it out,” said mixologist Gina Chersevani of the Exit 4. (This is the same beer that reminded her of “carrots” and the “forest floor” in the previous round.)

“Roasty and nutty (I’ve written this so many times),” commented reader/judge Halley Fehner, groping for adjectives, on taking yet another sip of the Maui Coconut Porter.

Polinik was the sole holdout for the Public, writing of the hometown pale ale, “This is great — peppery — that’s all I got. Great!”

Rob Weland, executive chef at Cork Wine Bar, cast the lone vote for the imperial Pilsener Sword Swallower, detecting “floral, citrus, clove, cinnamon, slight chocolate, bitter finish.”

Next week: Will defending champion Exit 4 become our first repeat winner? Will Maui Coconut Porter become the first canned beer to win the Beer Madness crown? Either way, history will be made.

More Beer Madness:

Search for the best beer is underway

Descriptions of the contestants