Hello, Coug fans, and welcome back to CougCenter's Craft Beer Tournament. The play-in games are finished, and it's time to get to the regional matchups. There were few surprises in the First Four, with Rainier and Busch Light winning the low-seed matchups.
It was a but surprising to see that Busch Light had such a close match with Oly. Though Oly is probably the better product, I, like many of you, figured Busch would win easily. Oly started strong and threatened to pull the upset, but Pullman's sentimental favorite ended up covering the 10 vote spread and advancing to face top seed Pliny the Elder.
The other matchups were far less competitive, as Bell's Hopslam easily defeated Southern Tier Pumking, and Big Sky Moose Drool cruised past Santa Fe Java Stout. I get the feeling that if Java Stout were more readily available in the Northwest, this would have been a much closer match, but the more prevalent Moose Drool won, and advances to face one of Seattle's favorites, Manny's Pale Ale. As a result of its runaway victory, Hopslam faces much stiffer competition in the form of Kona's Koko Brown.
I would be remiss if I didn't disclose which beer I'm drinking as I formulate each beer post. After all, it's only fitting to sample a microbrew as one tries to find out which craft beer our CougCenter readers think is the best of them all. Today's selection is Left Hand Brewing's Great Juju Imperial Ginger Pale Ale. The ginger is definitely present, but not overpowering. All in all, it's worth a try. Let's get to it, starting with the #1 vs #8 seeds. (You can view the full bracket here.)
 Rainier Beer vs.  Deschutes Black Butte Porter (-2)
- Style: American Adjunct Lager
- Beer Advocate Rating: 63
- Average Star Rating: 2.64
- ABV: 4.6%
Black Butte Porter Vitals:
- Style: American Porter
- Beer Advocate Rating: 93
- Star Average: 4.18
- ABV: 5.2
Rainier absolutely curb-stomped Natural Light in the First Four round. I imagine that's not only due to it's superior taste, but also to the legendary commercials. It faces a far more substantial opponent this week, as Black Butte Porter is not only a Northwest favorite, but is renowned throughout the western United States. Unfortunately it hasn't made its way to Florida.
***CRAIG EDIT: Black Butte Porter was a gateway craft beer for me back in college. I tried it because my cool Uncle Jim would always have a sixer of it at family get-togethers. It's one of the best American porters and one of the rare beers I had early in my craft-beerin' days that I still enjoy with some regularity.
Rainier says "Made with Yakima Valley Hops" around the rim. This decision is a tough one.***
 Busch Light vs.  Russian River Pliny the Elder (-17)
Busch Light Vitals:
- Style: Light Lager
- Beer Advocate Rating: 46
- Star Average: 1.81
- ABV: 4.1
Pliny the Elder Vitals:
- Style: American Imperial Double IPA
- Beer Advocate rating: 100(!!!)
- Star Average: 4.66
- ABV: 8.0
It was a much closer call for Busch Light than predicted. Like many other heavy favorites, Busch probably figured it would show up and dominate. However, Oly got out to an early lead and threatened to pull the upset. In the end, Busch Light asserted its sentimental dominance and won by a comfortable margin.
It will take a much stronger effort this time, as Busch Light faces Pliny the Elder. Pliny the Elder is one of the top-rated beers you will ever come across, making this match akin to Kentucky facing Hampton.
***CRAIG EDIT: Pliny the Elder is one of the original DIPAs and still a benchmark for the style. It's got just enough malt to prevent it from being a bitter bomb, but not too much to overpower with sweetness. The hop profile is a nice blend of dank, citrus and piney. It's one of the all-time greats. I want one right now, but Russian River just had to go and pull out of Washington several years ago. Before that happened, I made Nusser order it at a bar and he should be forever grateful.
I have drank a lot more Busch Light in my life, though.***
So there you have it. You can now determine the fate of our first set of matchups. Will the superior products dominate, or will the local underdogs spring the upset? The poll will be open for five days, so you have time to sample our participants.