Welcome back to the CougCenter craft beer tournament. It's been a long road, but at last we've arrived at the championship round. We began with beers from nine states throughout the country, but only west coast beers remain, as was largely predictable. What I did not foresee was the absence of a Washington beer in the finals. We almost got one, but time ran out.
Both Final Four matches began neck-and-neck, but that's where the similarities ended. In the Pacific region, Ballast Point's Victory at Sea was locked in a tight battle with Lagunitas Brown Shugga. As the contest wore on, Victory at Sea imposed its will and ended up with a comfortable victory. On the other side, Deschutes' Red Chair NWPA got out to a big lead on Iron Horse's Irish Death, and an easy win looked inevitable. However, Irish Death began to mount a serious charge down the stretch, and had closed within 20 votes when the polls closed. Another day and Irish Death may well have emerged victorious.
So here we stand, with Red Chair taking on Victory at Sea for the title. A mild surprise, to me anyway, is that an IPA didn't make it, as IPAs are easily the most popular style of craft beer. Both of our title contestants are here because they're outstanding beers. Only one will emerge with CougCenter's title belt. The entire bracket is here. Away we go.
 Ballast Point Victory at Sea vs.  Deschutes Red Chair NWPA (-5)
Victory at Sea Vitals:
- Style: American Porter
- Beer Advocate Rating: 98
- Star Average: 4.4
- ABV: 10.0
Red Chair Vitals:
- Style: American Pale Ale
- Beer Advocate Rating: 92
- Star Average: 4.2
- ABV: 6.2
PJ's Take: Last week, I confirmed what most of you already suspected. I am, in fact, an abject failure. I'd been planning to try Red Chair when I went to Spokane last week. In fact, I was at the local grocery store within an hour of landing. What did I find? Well, I didn't find Red Chair. A panicked message to Michael Preston, followed by a quick search of the Deschutes website told me that Red Chair left the shelves in April. To top it off, I was in Spokane in March, and could've tried it then. Oy.
I tried several other Deschutes products, including Twilight Summer Ale (not bad), Cinder Cone Red (pretty good) and Fresh Squeezed IPA (really good...for an IPA), but the one I really wanted was gone. I've barked and the birds have flown. The trail is cold, if there ever was one.
EDIT: Jeff Nusser decided to go full troll mode via Twitter on June 14, sending me this:
There are no words.
The one positive that came from my trip, beer-wise, was the fact that I got to sample a few more Ballast Point offerings, including Sculpin's habanero and grapefruit IPA offshoots. They were both great in their own way. I also brought back a bomber of their Indra Kunindra Curry Export Stout. Thank heavens it survived 13 hours of flights, layovers, and weather delays. [EDIT: I tried this beer over the weekend. If you're into drinking liquid cumin, buy it immediately. I couldn't even finish it.] This is all a long-winded way of saying that Victory at Sea gets my vote as the best craft beer of the bracket. I hope it gets yours, too.
Craig's Take: I was with Nusser last night as he tried Victory at Sea for the first time and basked in its glory. He initially said, "I think I'm going to avoid anything imperial" because it was a Tuesday night or some other silly reason, but the siren song of Ballast Point's coffee vanilla roasty malt bomb could not be ignored. I think Deschutes Red Chair is a fine beer from an even finer brewery, but I'm going with PJ here. Victory at Sea is so complex, so good.