It's bracket season-- that special time of year when everyone, down to the President himself, is filling out their NCAA tournament picks for the office betting pool. While most of us can't influence the outcome of the Final Four, there's another March faceoff in which everyone gets a say: the Washington Post's annual Beer Madness competition. Last year's Beer Madness spanned the globe, but 2011's tourney is exclusively focused on American craft brews, meaning more of Northern California's finest get to compete.
Participants this year are divided into four categories, based on their dominant flavor: Malt (ambers, browns, reds, Scotch ales, and barleywines); Fruit/Spice (Belgian styles and wheat beers); Hops (IPAs, pilsners, and pale ales); and Roast (porters and stouts).
In the Malt category, Anchor's Old Foghorn barleywine is up against a Pennsylvania barleywine, Weyerbacher's Blithering Idiot. Over in Hops, Bear Republic's Red Rocket Ale will compete with Caldera Ashland Amber, and a clash of the titans will take place when Lagunitas' Maximus goes up against Harpoon's Leviathan. (Although we're finding it hard to imagine any legitimate Hops competition that lacks many beer fans' gold standard, Russian River's Pliny the Elder.)
Strangely, the area has no horses in the Roast race; the closest you'll get to a local brew is Green Flash Double Stout, out of San Diego County. (We would have recommended Lost Coast's 8-Ball Stout or FiftyFifty's Eclipse.) The bracketeers make up for the slight, though, with a whopping four NorCal brews in the Fruit/Spice running: 21st Amendment's Monk's Blood, North Coast's Brother Thelonious, Anderson Valley's Brother David's Double, and Sierra Nevada's Kellerweis.
Got a favorite brew in the running? Head over to the Beer Madness site to cast your vote, and be sure to return there on Wednesday, when the judges will make their first-round cuts.