Beer Madness is The Washington Post’s annual bracket to pick the best brews in America. This year, there’s a public voting bracket and a blind-tasting panel bracket, which is described below.

>> Final Four recap

When we decided to include breweries from across the country in this year’s Beer Madness, we wondered how our local representatives would do against the collective might of Stone, New Belgium, Brooklyn or Lagunitas. Maybe, if we were lucky, there would be a Cinderella moment.

Instead, two plucky local brews – one limited edition, one almost never found outside its Southeast brewery – defied the odds to make it to the Final Four. Bluejacket Forbidden Planet, a dry-hopped kölsch that captured the Crisp category for the second year running, went up against the powerhouse Terrapin Wake-n-Bake Coffee Stout, which had steamrolled the Malt category. On the other side of the bracket, DC Brau On the Wings of Armageddon, an Imperial IPA that shocked the Hops region, took on Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, which had won the Fruit & Spice category.

Again, it wasn’t an easy choice for the judges: As with the Elite 8, both matches were decided by a paper-thin 5-3 vote.

Crisp vs. Malt

TERRAPIN WAKE-N-BAKE 5, BLUEJACKET FORBIDDEN PLANET 3

“I love the floral smell and clean finish” of Bluejacket, wrote Anna Bethel. “As another winter storm looms, this is my aspirational winner. Because I desperately want to be drinking on a boat.”

Other panelists weren’t as complimentary: “I think this beer could be replaced with a Smirnoff Grapefruit,” snarked Ian Munoz.

The weather was also on beer writer Tammy Tuck’s mind, but for a different reason. “I like the richness” of Wake-n-Bake. “It’s winter, it’s late in the evening. [Terrapin] is a cold-weather, last-of-the-night kind of brew.”

“[Terrapin] is pungent and has just the right touch of sweetness,” wrote panelist Sidney Thomas, comparing it to another potential champion: “This is the Kentucky Wildcats of Beer Madness. It will not be defeated!” It wasn’t: Terrapin punched the first ticket to the final.

Hops vs. Fruit & Spice

BOULEVARD TANK 7 FARMHOUSE ALE 5, DC BRAU ON THE WINGS OF ARMAGEDDON 3

Smith Public Trust owner Miles Gray III didn’t think the pairing was fair. “These should be the final two beers, but sadly, there can only be one. Both very good.” He voted Boulevard.

So did Sidney Thomas, who commented that the Kansas City farmhouse ale “is a superb craft beer. It feels like a lot of thought went into selecting just the right ingredients. [On the Wings of Armageddon] will probably sell more barrels, but [Tank 7] wins for its spicy complexity.

But Brandon Byrd, the man behind Goodies Frozen Custard, chose DC Brau: ” Very hoppy with an awesome stone fruit finish.” And Washington Post beer columnist Greg Kitsock also went with the locals, praising the “rich resiny hop character – lingers on the tongue for a long, long time.”

It was close, but in the end, the panel agreed with Ian Munoz, who wrote that “I love hops, but I think that when against [Boulevard], the Belgian-style really comes through with quality and maturity.”

So there we have it: A Belgian-style Farmhouse Ale from Kansas City and a big-and-bold coffee stout from Athens, Ga., will face off for the Beer Madness title. May the best beer win.

Earlier: Round of 8 recap

Finally, after multiple rounds of tasting, our blind panel is ready to winnow the 32 Beer Madness contestants down to a Final Four: The single best beer from each of the Crisp, Hop, Malt and Fruit and Spice categories.

It was a tough job. After tasting the two finalists in the Fruit and Spice division, DC Beer Week director Miles Gray III wrote, “It’s criminal that one of these beers has to lose,” echoing sentiments from other judges.

Want to compare your taste buds with those of the judges? The final four Beer Madness selections will be available during a special happy hour at Meridian Pint (3400 11th St. NW) Thursday, March 26, from 6 to 9 p.m. Come in, try free samples of each (while supplies last) and vote for your favorite. 

Once again, our online voters and the blind-tasting panel veered down two different roads. Three beers made it to the Elite 8 in both brackets: Founders Porter, Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale and DC Brau On the Wings of Armageddon. The panel shot down Founders and advanced the other two; the public vote saw DC Brau lose to Green Flash West Coast IPA by almost a two-to-one margin. Only Boulevard Tank 7 survives in both.

On a regional level, the expert panelists sent two of remaining Mid-Atlantic beers to the finals: DC Brau and Bluejacket Forbidden Planet. The public bracket only has one regional representative remaining: Dogfish Head Piercing Pils.

Here’s a recap of how (and why) our blind-tasting panel of beer experts and beer-loving readers chose the way they did.

Crisp

In the Crisp category, Bluejacket Forbidden Planet, a dry-hopped kolsch, faced off against the pear-infused Dogfish Head Piercing Pils. Anna Bethel praised Bluejacket for its “tart, lemony-fresh quality that reminds me of washing my car in the summer,” while Ian Munoz, admittedly a fan of the Bluejacket, chose Dogfish because it “has more character and will travel more distance [in this competition].” Sidney Thomas’s view was more nuanced: “The difference between the two seems to be that [Dogfish Head] has a more tart and stronger finish. Probably simply a matter of preference for each drinker. My American tastebuds prefer the milder selection.” In the end, the panel split evenly over the two beers, and the tiebreaking vote went to the more nuanced Bluejacket beer.

Malt

The Malt final came down to Terrapin Wake-N-Bake and the more traditional Founders Porter, both of which have pronounced java notes. “Apparently the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup,” wrote Miles Gray III. “Both of these beers were brewed with the blood of Juan Valdez and the caffeinated tears of the Starbucks mermaid. I thought I ordered a beer!” (He ultimately voted for the Founders.) Other judges had no problem deciding: Washington Post beer columnist Greg Kitsock called Terrapin “The perfect marriage of alcohol and caffeine: My two favorite recreational drugs.” Beer writer Tammy Tuck also chose the “more flavorful, more interesting (but pretty intense)” Wake-N-Bake, which advanced to the Final Four.

Hop

The popular Hop category also featured another local, DC Brau’s On the Wings of Armageddon Imperial IPA, facing the lush, citrusy flavors of the appropriately named Fresh Squeezed IPA, from Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery. “The smoother caramel notes” of DC Brau “make it an easier drink to stay with for a while,” waxed Anna Bethel. “It’s a date that picks the restaurant and pays the bill (with dessert!).” On the other hand, she wrote, the Deschutes’ “lack of complexity isn’t amazing. It leaves nothing to the imagination, nothing to dream about.” Brandon Byrd, the chef behind Goodies Frozen Custard, found the “subtle hints of citrus” to be “very pleasing to the hop connoisseur.” Sidney Thomas, on the other hand, wrote that Deschutes “is more balanced and an easier drink. I would love a 12-pack to take home.” DC Brau turned out to be the winner.

Fruit and Spice

Finally, the Fruit and Spice category found the Belgian-style Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale in battle with Stillwater Cellar Door, a saison flavored with white sage for an herbal taste that some judges found off-putting. “So long, hand soap!” wrote Tammy Tuck, casting her vote for Boulevard after comparing Stillwater to “fancy hand soap” in previous rounds. Others had a tougher time deciding. Miles Gray III wrote, “This is my Thunderdome moment: “Two brews enter — One brew leaves!” (He voted for Boulevard.) Greg Kitsock also supported the Kansas City brewery, praising the “citrusy, acidic, zingy … fruit cocktail of a beer,” which won over five of the eight judges.

As the only beer left in both brackets, the only question is how far Tank 7 can go.

Round of 16 recap

When it comes to blind tasting, reputations mean nothing. Just ask Devils Backbone Vienna Lager and Maui Coconut Porter. Both have previously conquered the Beer Madness field – Maui in 2012, Devils Backbone in 2014 – and both were unceremoniously knocked out by our judges in the Sweet 16.

By this round, some of the judges’ preferences are emerging: The two IPAs that advanced were full of tropical hop notes. The two beers that escaped from the Crisp category had brighter flavors – grapefruit, pears and citrus – than the ones they defeated. But it’s not like that in every corner of the bracket: In the Malt section, the beer with the pungent aromas of espresso and dark chocolate took out a mild, smooth, traditional oyster stout; while the other matchup featured a quirky beer with notes of coconut, coffee and chocolate falling to a smooth, dark traditional porter. Maybe it really does come down to the individual beer.

Once again, the local beers did well, with four of the eight participants in the Elite 8 coming from the mid-Atlantic region, despite only making up at quarter of the field when Beer Madness began. (Condolences to Flying Dog and Devils Backbone, the two regional beers to drop out at this stage.)

Here’s how the judges voted.

Crisp

It took until the second round of the competition for Beer Madness to have its first shutout, as Bluejacket Forbidden Planet‘s tropical hops and effervescence blanked New Belgium Blue Paddle. “Delicious. Fruit-forward note with a hop-citrus finish,” wrote Brandon Byrd, the founder of the Goodies Frozen Custard Truck. Post beer columnist Greg Kitsock dubbed it “nicely fruity, with a little orange and tropical fruit. A distinctive beer – I remember this from the first round.” He’ll have another chance to enjoy it in round three.

The second contest in the Crisp category was more of a nail-biter – and an upset – as Dogfish Head’s Piercing Pils, a traditional Czech-style pilsner with peaches added for aroma and flavor, knocked off defending Beer Madness champion Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, a more staunchly traditional beer, by a score of 4-3. Beer critic Tammy Tuck raved about the “refreshing” Piercing Pils: “Bready, fruity and floral; Balanced with dry finish and nice carbonation.” Anna Bethel enjoyed Dogfish Head’s “fruity, tart balance. Makes me want more. I could lose a summer afternoon to this beer.” Like several others, she recalled Vienna Lager from the previous round: “Ah, my old friend. You have a fine taste, but in comparison, you’re not as complicated. This is fine with dates, but not with my beer.”

Malt

Terrapin Wake-N-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Stout, with its aromas of deep espresso, was the love-it-or-hate-it beer of the round, but it still moved on to the Elite 8 after besting the more mild-mannered Flying Dog Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout 5-3. “Espresso!” wrote Greg Kitsock. “I am yanked back into wakefulness. Lovely mocha flavor.” Anna Bethel exclaimed “Hot damn, grandma’s coffee. I like this! I would drink this at any socially acceptable time of day. I want to let it sit and see how it changes.” On the other hand, Ian Munoz thought the taste of the Terrapin to be “flat” and said it “could use ice cream.” He preferred the Founders, which had a “light body, but nice dark strength.”

“I would have preferred a happy medium between these two,” wrote Tammy Tuck. “One borders on too intense, and the other is too simple/light/thin.” She wound up voting for the Terrapin in the end.

The next bout was a more lopsided affair as the Maui Coconut Porter became the second former Beer Madness champion to go out in this round, falling to the rich flavors of Founders Porter by a score of 6-2. Founders is “a classic porter with sweet and smooth flavors that aren’t too heavy,” wrote Brandon Byrd. Anna Bethel (on a roll with her commentary) found herself leaning towards the Maui for its aroma and “a nice coffee aftertaste. My gut says pick this one, but [Founders Porter] is almost like a chocolate bar. It’s a vote-changer.”

Hops

In the first contest in what had become an exclusively IPA bracket, the panelists deadlocked over the rock-solid Abita Wrought Iron IPA and DC Brau’s On the Wings of Armageddon, a double IPA packed with tropical hops. Wrought Iron’s fans included Brandon Byrd (“very hop-forward fragrance without hop bitterness”), Ian Munoz (“bright and fresh with a clean finish”) and Greg Kitsock (“Resiny, with a smooth, creamy mouthfeel”). Those voting the other way included Tammy Tuck, who said the flavor reminded her of “orange slice candy,” and she preferred “the sweet, citrus fruit character of [DC Brau] to the more intense, bitter character of [Abita].” Sidney Thomas called Wrought Iron “an easy drink with character,” but went with the “hoppier and bubbly – champagne-like” DC Brau. In the end, the tiebreaking vote went towards the big tropical hops of On the Wings of Armageddon.

The second hop battle was a slightly more clean-cut, as juicy Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA squeezed past the perennial favorite Green Flash West Coast IPA by a score of 5-3. “Excellent beer,” wrote Brandon Byrd. “Mild hoppiness but flavorful, has a sweet finish. Requesting more.” Ian Munoz wrote: “I love the round flavor: Sweet and soft, but full of hops.” In the end, what Greg Kitsock called the “delicate balance of flavors” in Fresh Squeezed won the day.

Fruit & Spice

Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale had put forward a dominant performance in the first round of the Fruit & Spice category, winning 7-1, but faced a much tougher challenger this time in Brooklyn’s Sorachi Ace. No matter: The Belgian-style ale still won 5-3. “This is a wheaty, lemony delight,” wrote Anna Bethel, remembering the beer from the week before: “I think this is the one I said I’d drink the heck out of on a boat.” (It was.) Still, Brooklyn had its defenders: Sidney Thomas enjoyed the spice and “crisp-and-clean finish,” while Ian Munoz thought it was “crisp” and “had a nice ‘green’ taste.”

And in the final matchup of the Sweet 16, Baltimore’s Stillwater Cellar Door did the Free State proud: The spicy witbier, with its citrusy hops and grassy notes of white sage, triumphed over Spencer Trappist Ale, a well-rounded Belgian-style ale, by a score of 5-3. Stillwater’s distinctive taste awakened Round 1 memories for some judges. “Herbalicious! My old friend fancy hand soap!,” wrote Tammy Tuck. “The Altoid beer is back!” exclaimed Greg Kitsock. “Spicy, minty aroma, and grassy notes.” (Both wound up voting for it.

And then there were eight.

Round of 32 recap

“Stone Stunned!” “Lagunitas Licked!” “Sayonara, Sierra Nevada!”

Those are the headlines from the inaugural round of Beer Madness 2015, as some of the biggest names in brewing tumbled out of the competition at the first hurdle.

Eight judges assembled at Meridian Pint on a cold Monday night to blindly taste through 32 potential champions from across the country. The beers were divided into four stylistic categories – Crisp, Hops, Malt and Fruit & Spice – and then paired off for the bracket.

Some of the resulting matchups were no-brainers for our judges: Two of the 16 decisions were 7-1 blowouts, including an easy win for defending champion Devils Backbone Vienna Lager. The victor coast to a 6-2 win in four others. But two categories were especially fraught: In the Malt division, every outcome was a hair-splitting 5-3. And while the Hop category had two of those 6-2s, it was also the scene of two knife-edge 5-4 victories, with tie-breaking votes required.

Throughout their comment sheets, judges complained that matchups were “too close to call,” “this is a tie, in my opinion” or “a tough matchup.” We took this as a positive sign: If every result came in 6-2, it wouldn’t be much of a competition.

This is the first time in three years that breweries from outside of the Mid-Atlantic region were included, but the seven breweries from D.C., Maryland and Virginia acquitted themselves well, with five first-round win. If you include Dogfish Head — the Delaware powerhouse counted as local in previous Beer Madness tournaments — that’s six of eight, or a robust 75 percent success rate.

Here’s a look at how each of the regions shook out.

Crisp

In the first matchup of the night, New Belgium’s Blue Paddle Pilsener-Lager took out Schlafly Kolsch 5-3. Victoria Lai of Ice Cream Jubilee called the Blue Paddle “Fresher, fruitier and easy to drink” compared to its St. Louis-born counterpart. “It would be delicious with slices of apple. Perfect for a picnic! Oh I wish spring were here. I will drink this and dream of warmer weather.” Miles Gray III, the owner of Smith Public Trust, also voted for New Belgium, but was more measured in his praise: “Close call here. They remind me of the conflict between Kim Kardashian and Amber Rose: Neither one is particularly remarkable.”

Bluejacket’s Forbidden Planet, which captured the Crisp division title in 2014, got off to a rockier start, splitting the judges 4-4 in its fight against Sly Fox Helles. (The tie-breaking vote went in favor of Bluejacket.) Beer writer Tammy Tuck called Forbidden Planet “the best of the 8 Crisp beers,” praising the kolsch for its tropical hops. “I really like the blend of hop flavors – balanced although it’s a lighter-bodied, and presumably lighter beer” than the German-style Helles. Of the Sly Fox, Ian Munoz called it “Dry, crisp and beautiful,” while Post beer columnist Greg Kitsock described it as “Light, refreshing, with a slight fruitiness. Nice beer for a picnic or softball game, but [Forbidden Planet] runs over it like a tractor trailer.”

Two pilsners faced off in battle No. 3, with the seasonal Dogfish Head Piercing Pils, a Czech-style pilsner flavored with pear juice, beating the smooth-but-hoppy Lagunitas Pils 5-3. Victoria Lai summed up the Dogfish nicely: “Balanced, clean, flavorful, delicious,” while panelist Sidney Thomas wrote “I could drink this all summer at Ocean City.” Still, he cast his vote for Lagunitas, calling its flavor “more distinctive.” Panelist Anna Bethel was more effusive in her praise for Lagunitas, describing it as “Sort of warm honey nose, with a cool kind of sour finish. Because it reminds me most of candy, it wins!” Sadly for her, it didn’t. Miles Gray III again didn’t think much of either of the two choices: “Both of these beers need to do a few pushups.”

In the last of the Crisp matchups, Devils Backbone Vienna Lager — the defending Beer Madness champion — swamped SweetWater Take Two Pils 7-1. “The beautiful amber hue prepared my tastebuds for this beer, and it did not disappoint,” Sidney Thomas wrote. Greg Kitsock praised the “fresh, light bready malt character” and “hint of caramel/toasted malt.” Even though SweetWater lost, some voters still praised it, calling it “pleasureable” and “hopped aggressively for the sweetness.” Anna Bethel, on the other hand, said it “smells like a lemon hand soap I grew up with in church.”

Malt

The dark, flavorful beers of the Malt category made it the most competitive bracket, with every contest decided by a single vote. In the first pairing, Terrapin’s coffee-infused Wake N Bake Oatmeal Stout bested the more traditional Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter 5-3, but even those who voted for the former had to give the Cleveland beer some credit. “Black coffee flavor doesn’t overwhelm the malt flavors,” Greg Kitsock wrote of the Terrapin. “A little bittersweet chocolate in the finish. Nicely blended.” He noted while he enjoyed the Great Lakes, it “tastes kind of thin compared to” Wake N Bake. “A Mismatch – and an unlucky draw.” Anna Bethel described the Terrapin as “Coffee and chocolate on the nose and happiness on the tongue. It’s the perfect java/cocoa combo.” Comparatively, she found the Edmund Fitzgerald “still in the coffee family but not as rich in roasted taste (as hinted by not-as-dark in color). It’s the thinner sibling of above, and I prefer robust things.”

Several of the judges dreamed about other uses for Wake N Bake: Victoria Lai suggested “I would make it into an ice cream with Kahlua and call it the Double Dude,” while Judy Spector wrote that Wake N Bake was “too strong/acidic/bitter” to be enjoyed as a beer, it “would be good in a chocolate cake.”

The next coupling was the most contentious in round 1: The Bruery’s Tart of Darkness, a stout aged in oak barrels with wild yeast and bacteria to create sour flavors, faced off with the malty, silky-smooth Flying Dog Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout, which is brewed with Rappahannock oysters. What became obvious is that most of our panel either enjoyed wild ale’s sour flavors or they didn’t. “I love sours!” wrote Tammy Tuck. “Mmm, sour. So tasty,” wrote Ian Munoz. But Victoria Lei just wrote “Too sour!” and Judy Spector stressed that she was “not in the mood for a sour.” In the end, the Flying Dog won. But Miles Gray III’s response to the two beers wasn’t so cut-and-dry: “If you’re into sours, then [Tart of Darkness] is the way to go, but I’m not into sours, so … Yeah, [Pearl Necklace] has my vote by default. The sour is a better beer stylistically, so I’m conflicted.” (In the end, he voted for Flying Dog.)

The third battle was between Founders Porter, a traditional and robust porter, and Oskar Blues Old Chub, a strong and smoky Scotch ale. Both have a chocolate flavor, but the comparison really ends there. Tammy Tuck called Founders “really nice,” and praised the “fluffy vanilla; lovely roast.” It won her vote, though she admired the “nice dark fruit quality” of the Oskar Blues. ” A little thin, but not bad,” she said. “This was a tough call.” Anna Bethel found the Founders to be “perfectly fine, a good balance of smoke/sweet/bitter, but there’s nothing exciting here.” Instead, she found the Old Chub to be “something different. I want to sit with this throughout the night and see how the flavor changes with the temperature.” In the end, the Founders emerged victorious.

Finally, we had the 2012 Beer Madness champion, Maui Coconut Porter, venturing all the way from Hawaii to challenge the Narragansett Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout, a creamy stout brewed with coffee from Rhode Island’s Autocrat Coffee. Again, some judges seemed to like both: Maui “smells like hot chocolate and toasted coconut! Yum yum!” wrote Victoria Lai, while the ‘Gansett “smells like a yummy salty snack!” (She voted for the former.) Sidney Thomas called the Coconut Porter “very drinkable” and “dense with hints of chocolate,” but the “burnt toffee” notes of the Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout made it “superior to the previous selection.” Greg Kitsock said the Maui’s “roasty character” and “very smooth, light sweetness” made it “almost a confectionary beer” to be paired with chocolate chip cookies. The Narragansett, was “thin” and “lacks body and oomph by comparison.” Maui won by yet another 5-3 scoreline.

Hops

Our Hops category had room for traditional West Coast IPAs, a local double IPA, a pale ale, a rye IPA and a session IPA, and the results were just as wide ranging: Two contests were blowouts, and two were decided by a single vote.

In the first matchup, Abita Wrought Iron IPA, which only made its debut in November 2014, took on Elysian Space Dust IPA. Judges were complementary to both beers, but their votes went to Louisiana instead of Washington State. “Tropical Fruit! What a nose!” raved Tammy Tuck. “Bright followed by intensely bitter finish” made Wrought Iron, for her, the best overall IPA. (In contrast, Elysian only merited an “Also nice…”) Greg Kitsock praised Abita’s “familiar aroma of pine and grapefruit” and “nice caramel malt backbone,” though he noted he could “feel alcohol fumes wafting up through my sinuses.” He judged Elysian to be a “solid enough IPA, but out of its league” against Abita. Several other judges had trouble choosing; Victoria Lai wrote that “Both are so good. This was very hard to judge. I loved sipping each one repeatedly, but when I switched glasses, I was left wanting the glass I just left.” In the end, Lai cast her vote for Abita, and Wrought Iron won 6-2.

The second bout was an interesting battle between two wildly different beers: DC Brau On the Wings of Armageddon, a citrusy imperial IPA with an impressive 9.2 percent ABV, was pitched against piney Stone Go To IPA, which takes its name from its relatively low (for Stone) 4.5 percent ABV. “This is a boozy hop, but I’m okay with it,” wrote Anna Bethel. “More hops on the nose with a sweet and bitter combo on the tongue.” She was less enthusiastic, and almost let down, by Stone: “The hop nose is mixed with cut grass. I wish it tasted as much like summer as it smells.” On the other side, Ian Munoz found the hops in On The Wings of Armageddon to be “overwhelming,” and much preferred Stone, which he found “light and distinct. Refreshing and hopped with care.” “I’m forced to pick one, but this is a tie, in my opinion,” wrote Miles Gray III, and he was correct: The panel was split 4-4. The tie-breaking vote went for the grapefruit and citrus hops of DC Brau.

Frederick, Maryland’s Monocacy Riot Rye, which cleaned up in the Hop category in the 2014 Beer Madness, returned to defend its crown against Deschutes Fresh Squeezed, an Oregon beer loaded with juicy Citra and Mosaic hops. It was another close squeeze. Ian Munoz praised Monocacy’s “nice, hoppy, honey, malty pleasing awesomeness,” compared to the “sweet, hot” Deschutes. Victoria Lai described Fresh Squeeze as smelling “like Moscato. Love. I’d serve this at my summer outdoor wedding.” Anna Bethel wrote that Riot Rye “smells like a boozy caramel apple and tastes like a dry-hopper, with very little bitterness,” especially up against the Fresh Squeezed, which she called “really bitter and ironically cloying in that way a bitter thing can be, like an angry ex that won’t let go.” In the end, the panel again deadlocked 4-4, and Fresh Squeezed’s juicy hops carried it through to the next round via the tie-breaking vote.

The final fight in the Hops category wasn’t much of one: Green Flash West Coast IPA, soon to be brewed on the East Coast, swept over Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA 6-2. Greg Kitsock praised Sierra’s “solid, satisfying citrusy/tropical fruit hop character,” and while he found Green Flash’s flavors to be “not as dramatic,” he was won over by the “nice caramel malt backdrop and long-lasting bitter finish. This beer has legs. Two worthy, closely matched contenders,” but Green Flash “steadily grows on you after a few sips, forcing me to dispatch 7H to beer Valhalla.”

Fruit and Spice

The first contest of this category wasn’t much of one, as Boulevard’s Tank 7, a zesty, grapefruit-led farmhouse saison, bested Hardywood Singel 7-1. “Belgian fruity goodness,” enthused Tammy Tuck. “Tangy and spicy. The carbonation was very noticeable,” wrote Sidney Thomas. “Peppery, fruity nose. A lot going on here,” mulled Greg Kitsock. “A real logjam on my palate.”

The second pairing was more of a battle, as both beers had their supporters — and judges who couldn’t quite make up their minds. Brooklyn’s Sorachi Ace, which takes its name from the lemony Japanese-born hop that gives it its flavor, inspired fervor in Anna Bethel, who wrote “This smell! It’s a memory I can’t place. A sort of oak and oatmeal combo? I want to drink more just to figure out why I like it.” Ian Munoz also voted for it, writing “Grassy, with some lemon – perhaps lemongrass? Interesting and tasty.” Miles Gray III, thinking as a bar owner, voted for the Belgian-influenced Allagash Tripel: “Sweet. Feels like a Belgian. I like her a lot. I could sell the [heck] out of this beer.” In the end, Sorachi Ace went through 5-3.

The matchup between Stillwater’s Cellar Door, a Belgian-style saison infused with white sage, and Ommegang Witte, a coriander-spiced witbier, was not the judges’ favorite, and led to some creative descriptions. Tammy Tuck said “herbs” dominated the Stillwater, and as a result, it “kinda tastes like fancy soap.” Ommegang “smells like celery. Tastes like it, too,” offered Victoria Lai. The Stillwater has a predominantly “minty flavor,” noted Greg Kitsock. “Did they toss a box of altoids into the brew kettle?” Ian Munoz said it was “Christmasy,” with “too much seasoning.” And Judy Spector compared the Ommegang to “watered-down (artificially flavored) ginger ale. You call this beer?” When the votes were counted, Stillwater won 5-3.

The final contest of this round found Spencer Trappist Ale, brewed at an American monastery in the tradition of Belgian Trappist monks, against Goose Island’s Sofie, a barrel-aged farmhouse ale with delicate carbonation. The monks provoked the most enthusiasm: “This is my jam,” wrote Anna Bethel. “Spices that inspire smoke without tasting like a campfire. Nutmeg and cinnamon? I don’t know. I like it.” Greg Kitsock praised its “very clean, toasty” flavor. “Not too complex but wins this round for its quaffability. A friendly, not-too-challenging, hail-fellows-well-met sort of beer.” In the end, Spencer triumphed in an easy 6-2 victory. “I think this beer has the potential to go deep in this tournament,” prophesied Miles Gray III. We’ll see.