This time, the Beer Bracket is going one-on-one.
Yes, it’s once again time to sharpen your digital pencils and advance your favorite Wisconsin beer round by round to glory. Beginning today at go.madison.com/beerbracket, your votes will winnow the field of 64 beers to a single, hallowed champion.
Voting in the first round runs through this weekend, with subsequent rounds proceeding more or less regularly until the champion is crowned on April 3 — the same day the NCAA tournament champions hoist their trophy.
The theme of the field shifts a bit year to year, and in this sixth iteration the selection committee — that would be me, a guy who occasionally refers to himself in the third person — shook up the criteria again.
In a reflection of the exploratory, flight-not-pint way so many of us are drinking beer these days, each brewery in the field is getting just one beer. In most previous years, the state’s heavy hitters—New Glarus, Lakefront, Central Waters, Ale Asylum and others — would find one of its beers on two, three, even four lines in the bracket.
There have been so many new breweries making so many good beers that, despite the merit in representing the market at large with multiple beers from the state’s key breweries, worthy entries were being excluded.
The result is the broadest field yet, with all of the Madison-area’s young brewpubs represented and several breweries that bottle in their home markets but don’t yet sell their beer in Madison. While it was at times painful to pick a single beer to represent a diverse portfolio, it means beer I haven’t yet been able to highlight in this column — Madison’s Rockhound, Algoma’s Ahnapee, Westport’s Parched Eagle, Kenosha’s Public Craft — all have a shot at cutting down the net.
My hope with the Beer Bracket, as always, is that you have fun, cheer on your favorites and perhaps some underdogs, and perhaps discover something new and delicious.
The bracket’s four regions also have been reorganized, with beers grouped by strength. The last couple of brackets had beers assigned to the Malt, Hops, Water and Yeast regions more or less randomly — which I didn’t mind because, hey, Villanova doesn’t always end up in the East region, right?
But meaning means more, and with the Session, Moderate, Big and Imperial regions, beers now will compete against peers of similar ABV for the first four rounds of the tournament. Perhaps this will translate to some new blood in the final, frothy four.
Despite the broader field, the smart money remains on hop-forward beers and Madison-area breweries. The first five titles were split between Ale Asylum, New Glarus Brewing and Karben4, and the only non-IPA or -pale ale to claim the crown is a beer by the name of Spotted Cow. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Last year was Moon Man’s turn. But winners are barred from future brackets, clearing a path for another beer of destiny.
This year, will it be a pale or pils, a saison or a stout? Will this be the year for O’so Night Rain, Lakefront Riverwest Stein or Lake Louie Warped Speed — steady strong performers who have never taken home the hardware? Or will a Cinderella blitz to the championship like Ale Asylum’s Ballistic did as a double-digit seed in 2013?
It’s up to you.