Coasters for Devils Backbone Brewing Company and Victory Brewing Company.

It was time to put away the beer flavor wheels and Beer 101 crib notes. They were no help at this stage of Beer Madness, our quest to find the region’s best brew.

The herd had been culled to four beers, quite diverse for four beverages crafted from the same basic building blocks of barley, hops, yeast and water. Based on a few dainty sips, we had to figure out which one we’d spring for if we were buying a pitcher or a six-pack.

And once again, our inner voices were pulling us in different directions.

In a battle of Malt vs. Crisp, Devils Backbone Vienna Lager narrowly bested Bluejacket’s Forbidden Planet, 5-4. “I love the color and sparkle of this beer. And the taste doesn’t disappoint,” wrote reader panelist Echo Rummel of the malty amber lager. “By a hair!” exclaimed fellow reader panelist Bryan Berghoef in choosing Devils Backbone. He couldn’t have phrased it better: This was the third consecutive round that the Vienna Lager eked out a one-vote victory.

“Problematic choice,” agreed Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.). “Good beer, not typical malt,” he wrote of the Vienna Lager, “but I have to go with hops.” And thus he chose the Bluejacket kolsch, a German-style golden ale jazzed up with fruity Australian hops.

Cast a vote for your favorite each week through April 23rd.

“Oouwah!” wrote reader panelist Bruce Johnson, unapologetically choosing the kolsch.

In another nail-biter, Victory Swing Session Saison nipped Monocacy Riot Rye, 5-4. Berghoef picked Swing Session but griped, “I can’t believe this one made it! Mild Belgian, some late flavor. Where’s my saison?” Actually, this was the same beer that Berghoef picked last round, praising its “pale golden goodness.”

DeFazio opted for the Monocacy Riot Rye while complaining that it was “not hopped enough.” And yet it was the same beer he chose over Tröegs Perpetual IPA in Round 3, claiming it was the only truly hoppy sample of the two.

Palate fatigue? 

Rummel was a little kinder, calling the Riot Rye “balanced and not boring, though not as complex and full-bodied as my favorites.”

Two observations: Over four rounds we’ve had a total of 30 matchups, and 13 of them have been settled by 5-4 scores. Our panel turned in only two unanimous decisions, way back in Round 1.

Despite the presence of several professed hop heads on the panel and the burgeoning popularity of IPAs, a hoppy beer failed to make the championship round.

There was some grousing about the beers that advanced, but there are no instant replays in Beer Madness. 

Kitsock is editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News. He will join today’s Free Range chat at noon at