Welcome back to CougCenter's Craft Beer Tournament. Last week saw a couple predictable results, even though a fair number of you folks think highly of Airways Oatmeal PSA. Like any other tournament, this is a matter of matchups, and PSA ran up against a behemoth in Iron Horse Irish Death. The result was one that resembled a scene one might witness on Lake Washington in late July. Despite the result, Airways Oatmeal PSA has officially become my white whale of beers.
In our other contest, Lagunitas Brown Shugga steadily increased its lead on Green Flash West Coast IPA, and cruised to an easy victory. Coincidentally, both of last week's victorious beers are classified as American Strong Ales. Why? BECAUSE AMERICA IS STRONG THAT'S WHY. This sets up our first pair of Elite Eight matchups, as Irish Death will face Black Butte Porter in what is sure to be a titanic battle. On the other side, Brown Shugga advances to face Busch Light, which has become the 1994 Denver Nuggets of this tournament.
While we're on the topic of Busch Light, there have obviously been some varying opinions on Busch Light's inclusion and subsequent success in this contest. One thought I've seen raised more than once has been along the lines of "This is a craft beer tournament, and Busch Light is definitely not a craft beer." This is true.
When the authors were kicking around ideas about how to conduct this tournament, one suggestion was to make the entire bracket a contest between lousy beers, the implication being that we've all had every lousy beer, so it would be easy to vote for the one we prefer. Another author said we should include bad beers as the lowest seeds. When we couldn't decide which ones to include, the play-in games were born, and they went perfectly with the craft beers that made up the First Four.
We all knew full well that Busch Light had a shot to get in and wreak havoc on the bracket, and that is what happened. I believe Craig Powers even predicted that Busch would topple a #1 seed. There is a simple solution to Busch's controversial inclusion, and that solution lies with you folks. Once it comes back up for vote, opt for the opponent. Unlike the situation with in the first contest, in which most of you were unable to access Pliny the Elder, Brown Shugga is readily available at most beer stores. It's also very good.
On to this week's matches. As always, the entire bracket can be seen here.
 Georgetown Manny's Pale Ale (-5) vs.  Big Sky Moose Drool
- Style: American Pale Ale
- Beer Advocate Rating: 86
- Star Average: 3.85
- ABV: 5.0
Moose Drool Vitals:
- Style: American Brown Ale
- Beer Advocate Rating: 84
- Star Average: 3.7
- ABV: 5.1
PJ's Take: Manny's is a Seattle favorite, and I expect it to carry the day. It even stirred up a bit of a kerfuffle at Century Link Field when they stopped serving it. Moose Drool is an outstanding beer that easily defeated its first opponent and is a worthy adversary. Much like the advantage the Seahawks have at the CLink, however, Manny's has the home field edge here. If Manny's is anything like Field 41 Pale Ale, six of which I consumed rather quickly, it's a very good product.
Craig's Take: This is an interesting battle of Pacific Northwest longtime favorites. Manny's is draft only, and that has given it a certain level of scarcity that motivates people to grab it every time they see it at a bar. Moose Drool can be found in any grocery store and most gas stations. These are probably some of the first craft beers you tried if you are around my age.
Manny's is a different breed of pale ale than Field 41 and a lot of modern pales released in the last few years. Manny's has much more of a malt backbone and uses classic hop styles Cascade and Summit. It's far more balanced than its successors and that gives it a drinkability that lends itself to mass appeal. It's rarely my first choice anymore, but I'm never disappointed when I grab it--especially if it's fresh.
Moose Drool comes from a time when craft breweries were making a lot of balanced, slightly dark styles - ambers and browns. You don't see either of these styles as much anymore, at least not without some variation. The reason Moose Drool has hung around so long, in my not-so-expert opinion, is the bite it gets from the Kent Goldings hops. English hops have a different flavor--more of the bitter and less of the fruity aromas that American hops carry. I've grown so accustomed to the American styles that I don't generally appreciate that English bite.
 Kona Koko Brown vs.  Bell's Hopslam (-7)
Koko Brown Vitals:
- Style: American Brown Ale
- Beer Advocate Rating: 82
- Star Average: 3.63
- ABV: 5.5
- Style: American Imperial IPA
- Beer Advocate Rating: 99
- Star Average: 4.48
- ABV: 10.0
PJ's Take: It's a bit of a surprise that Koko Brown is the underdog here, but Hopslam has a very high rating on Beer Advocate. Unfortunately for Hopslam, it isn't as widely available as many Bell's products such as Two-Hearted Ale and Oberon.
Rating criminally low in the BeerGraphs ratings is Koko Brown. I don't know how much credibility I can lend this site after it ranked Longboard Lager as Kona's best beer. Longboard Lager is awful, but I digress. Koko Brown is a spring seasonal, and is far and away my favorite Kona product. When I didn't see it in the stores in March, I began to worry. After a little internet research, it appears that Koko Brown is an "island-only" release this year. To give my nuanced opinion of this development: BOOOOOOOOOOO. Come on, Kona, you're better than that.
When my wife found out that Koko Brown wouldn't be available this spring she nearly cried, since it is probably her favorite beer of all time. That case I bought her last year is running perilously low, despite the fact that we've implemented rationing procedures here at the house. The struggle is real.
Craig's Take: If you've had Hopslam, you know what's up with this beer. It's crazy good and dangerously consumable at 10 percent. It's got the wonderful hop aromas and flavors of any great Double IPA, but what sets Hopslam apart is the use of honey. That gives it this touch of interesting sweetness, and also allows for that higher ABV without an overly pronounced malt presence. I wish I could get more of this beer, it wasn't even distributed to Vermont when I lived there but I've had friends give me some. I also snagged a few delicious ounces of it from a kind soul at Dark Lord Day this past Saturday.
I haven't had Koko Brown in a long time. I can say that the reason Longboard Lager is rated higher on BeerGraphs is because it is up against generally easier competition. BeerGraphs rates by style, and not that many people like lagers these days, nor do many American breweries produce good lagers (the ones that focus on it, do it well though). Now I've really digressed.
I remember Koko having a slight coconut flavor that I wished was a little stronger and a roastiness that I wish was a little more present. I would guess the reason you see it pulling back to an island-only product is that brown ales just don't sell that well anymore. I'm very sorry for your loss, PJ.
(But at the same time, I say vote Hopslam!)
Which beers will advance to the Elite Eight? I think we know the answer, but you folks have the final say. Enjoy and vote, or vote and enjoy. Either way, hopefully you get to enjoy all of these selections.