There’s nothing like sports to bring people together—or drive us apart, depending on which side of the rivalry we’re on. But when it comes to jumping on the bandwagon and rooting rabidly for an underdog you’d never heard of until two weeks ago, there’s nothing better than the NCAA basketball tournament. Brackets are made and busted. Millions of work hours are lost to cubicle-dwellers streaming all those can’t-miss moments. And the hole in the GDP is only bolstered by the millions of dollars changing hands in office pools. Of course, the whole experience is a boon to the beer industry. WalletHub reports that 3.5 million more barrels of American beer are brewed each March. Whether you’re celebrating your team’s buzzer beater or drowning your sorrow because your team’s hopes were drained by that same said miraculous three-pointer, watching b-ball with a brewski just goes hand in hand.
So, we thought, why not make some March Madness with the actual beer itself? With so many quality microbreweries in town, why not invite them to participate in a fun, straightforward beer bracket? And thus the Springs Beer Bracket is born.SpringsBeerBracketFinal4
We gathered a Sweet 16 of local brews to face off against each other round by round. We asked for flagship styles, but left it brewer’s choice as to what beer they entered. We tried the beers blind to rid ourselves of any branding bias and left out any pretentious commentary. Some matchups began with like styles; others faced brews from the far side of the brewing spectrum. Was it a scientific assessment? Absolutely not. Just a casual, lighthearted and highly subjective vote of average Joes and Janes—mostly contributors to our magazine—choosing the beer they preferred and voting which beers would advance. Like the basketball tournament itself, there were serious upsets, victories and a Cinderella story, and as our panel sipped, we had to make some tough calls. Editor at large Steven Hayward said it well: “The nature of March madness is that they’re all good teams, but there can only be one winner.”
We agree—when it comes to the overall quality of these local brews. But while we drank our way to a victor, we’re giving anyone and everyone a fully democratic chance to vote on a People’s Champion. Here’s how our Sweet 16 went down. Keep reading, then follow the instructions on how to choose your favorite through our Facebook page. Come Monday, April 3, we’ll announce our champion and yours. Regardless of who cuts down the nets, it’s beer drinkers who win having so many strong local contenders to choose from.
Right away we started with two beers that are drastically different, like two teams with very different strengths. The citrusy, hoppy IPA up against the coppery, clove and apricot Dubbel came down to personal preference. “One definitely has more hop character,” said Edward Madani, as he was feeling out the styles. There was a divisive split in our group. A single vote decided the winner, and the IPA persevered 5-4.
Local heavyweight Bristol represents their flagship series with the accessible Compass IPA. Iron Bird rose to the challenge with their hybrid West coast/English style IPA. Panelists went back and forth regarding the hop character, but the needle ultimately pointed to Bristol’s balanced Compass. This straight-up IPA faceoff pulled off a solid W for the Ivywild icons.
A flavor outlier in the field, the liquid cherry pie from Rocky Mountain Brewing ended up paired for a first-round matchup against the honey wheat Sticky Paws from Fieldhouse. The panel instantly remarked on the color of the cherry ale with piqued curiosity. Both brews give off some sweetness, but the ale tastes just like its namesake dessert. Ultimately, the sweet tooth took a back seat, and the majority chose to reach for more wheat.
This was a matchup between two of the big-house restaurant/brewpubs in town. Our panel definitely dug the malty reds, and this round was poised to go either way. Eventually, more of us rolled for the coaster red in a 5-4 vote.
Time for the two golden nuggets to fight it out. Both were easy-drinking and refreshing, but the crisp, lemony kolsch was too fresh to be knocked out. “The first kolsch I had was in Germany, and this tastes just like it,” said Ryan Roberts, whose days as an Air Force pilot took him drinking around the world. The kolsch deserved the high praise; NBD was on point.
This was going to be a wildcard matchup of different styles, but both seemed to offer good hints of spice. Little Red tastes like a caramel biscuit while Pikes Peak gave us the full-flavor of a Belgian ale. But everyone likes a good story, and our panel gravitated towards the fairy tale. “Tastes like an autumn afternoon,” said editor Jeremy Jones.
Phantom Canyon came to play with their English style amber against Peaks N Pines brown ale. Judge Edward Madani, a beer industry pro who handles distribution for Denver’s Tivoli Brewing, found the brown to be a little hazy, but others were eager for a second pour. “The brown is outstanding,” Hayward said. But even good teams sometimes go home, and this time brown went down in a 5-4 vote.
It was time for the dark horses to make their presence known. “These guys pack a punch,” photographer Scott Majors remarked. We all got the bourbon-esque flavors from Manitou’s imperial stout and wake-me-up coffee notes in the porter from Triple S. This was a heated battle. The vote went 5-4, and a few had trouble swallowing the loss for the well-crafted barrel-aged team. “This should have been at least a Final Four matchup,” Jones said.
It was a resurgence of the reds. But this repeat performance was a landslide in the second round. This panel liked reds, but a round mouthfeel and nutty flavor gave one a slight edge. It was an easy 8-1 victory for Colorado Mountain’s theme park-inspired amber ale.
This round-two matchup was like comparing apples and oranges—or more like baked goods to fresh fruit. The carb lovers prevail. The mythological, three-headed dog gave a good show, but as we entered the later “anything can happen” rounds, Sticky Paws ended it’s run. This did not sit well with voters on the short end of the 6-3 vote.
By this point, there was no doubt that more of the panelists naturally favored malt over hops. That didn’t bode well for an IPA up against a red ale. Still, the American style IPA from Red Leg put up a strong challenge, but eventually took a 5-4 knee against sweet Little Red from Storybook.
Talk about a divergent matchup. This one brought out some heated debate and vocal declarations about love or hatred for dark beers or IPAs. Some were hard and true for darks; others swore by the hops. Lines were drawn, and the porter from Triple S took it home in a 5-4 squeaker.
That took us to this Final Four—where we’ll leave it for now. Check back Monday April 3 to find out which one claimed our championship. In the meantime, see below for instructions on how to vote for your own People’s Champion, which we’ll also reveal Monday.
The People’s Champion: Vote for Your Own
**Update: Here’s how the voting went down (below). Now you can read about the champions and see who came out on top!
Starting now, Friday, March 31, through Sunday, April 2, we want the craft beer loving community of Colorado Springs to vote for your own champion from these Sweet 16 contenders. Here’s how.
- If you haven’t already, like us on Facebook. Just remember, we’re @cospringsmag on the social networks.
2. Use the hashtag #springsbeerbracket to vote on your favorite beer from our Sweet 16. Post it on our page, and be sure to tag the brewery too.
3. Drain a three-pointer by checking in at the brewery. To ensure reliability, post a screenshot of your check-in on our page, and be sure to include the #springsbeerbracket hashtag. This vote will count for three points.
Vote through Sunday, April 2. We’ll tally and announce the winners here on Monday, April 3.
Here are The Champions!