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CougCenter Craft Beer Tournament: The First Four

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The NCAA has a First Four, and so do we!

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, Cougar fans, and welcome to the first installment of CougCenter's Craft Beer Tournament. We tallied up the nominations from all of you, and now it's time to get down to business. We tweaked the process following the nomination thread, as it became pretty clear that Pacific coast beers (primarily from Washington and Oregon) were the overwhelming favorites. Imagine that! I can't really offer a counter to that, as an impromptu trip to Washington last weekend resulted in my suitcase, which weighed 36 pounds when I left home, to balloon to a whopping 56 pounds when I left Spokane. I guess seven bombers and four cans will tend to have that effect.

Given the dearth of nominees from the Mountain and US regions, we've decided to stage a First Four in those categories. The winner of each matchup will earn a spot within the Pacific and Northwest regions. In line with the NCAA Tournament, the other portion of the First Four will take place among the lowest-seeded bad beers, or as Preston has deemed it, the "Ballin' on a Budget First Four." So here is your chance to tell us which is the worst err, most budget-conscious beer of them all.

Before we get on to the voting for the First Four, let's reveal the bracket. As far as seeding goes, Craig Powers supplied a great website that we're using, called BeerGraphs. It's basically analytics applied to beer, and it's pretty cool!

Craft beer bracket

Pliny the Elder and Black Butte Porter earn the top seeds; leave your thoughts on the rest of the bracket below, including stumping for your favorite brews.

As you can see, once the First Four winners are decided, they will be seeded appropriately within the regions and facing an onerous hill to climb if they want to advance. But hey, it's an honor just to be nominated, right? Off we go! (All statistics courtesy of Beer Advocate, and all point spreads courtesy of BeerGraphs, except the bad beers, because they're not on BeerGraphs)...

Rainier Beer (-20) vs. Natural (Natty) Light

Rainier Vitals:

  • Style: American Adjunct Lager
  • Beer Advocate Rating: 63
  • Average Star Rating: 2.64
  • ABV: 4.6%
Natural Light Vitals:
  • Style: Light Lager
  • Beer Advocate Rating: 43
  • Average Star Rating: 1.67
  • ABV: 4.2
Rainier enters as the heavy favorite, for good reason, and it's also a sentimental Northwest favorite. It even has one of our region's iconic images, Mount Rainier, right on the can. It also has those old school ads going for it. If you're my age, you remember them well. I'm not joking when I say I could post at least 10 links here. Aside: Do not, DO NOT, get yourself caught in the rabbit hole of old school TV ads on YouTube unless you have a good hour to kill (Frito Bandito FTW).

As for Natty Light, well, it doesn't pack as many calories as Rainier, so there's that.

Olympia vs. Busch Light (-10)

Oly Vitals:

  • Style: American Adjunct Lager
  • Beer Advocate Rating: 62
  • Average Star Rating: 2.57
  • ABV: 4.78

Busch Light Vitals:

  • Style: Light Lager
  • Beer Advocate Rating: 46
  • Average Star Rating: 1.81
  • ABV: 4.1

This matchup is pretty similar to the first one. If you want a good dose of unintentional comedy, read the first review you see on Oly's Beer Advocate page. Now there's a person who takes their beer FAR too seriously. They lost me at "bready and biscuity." Busch Light's major advantage is that it has always been the cheap beer of choice for WSU students, dating back forever. Will the beer with the horseshoe on the can carry the day, or will the sentimental Pullman "favorite" carry the day? Based purely upon Beer Advocate ranking, Oly should be the clear favorite, but we all know that Busch Light and WSU students have a special relationship. You decide.

Southern Tier Pumking (-4) vs. Bell's Hopslam

Southern Tier Pumking Vitals:

  • Style: Imperial Pumpkin Ale
  • Beer Advocate Rating: 91
  • Average Star Rating: 4.06
  • ABV: 8.6

Bell's Hopslam Vitals

  • Style: American Imperial IPA
  • Beer Advocate Rating: 99
  • Average Star Rating: 4.48
  • ABV: 10.0 (Yowza)

Southern Tier Pumking is one of the greatest beers I've ever tasted. Like many people, I like most pumpkin-flavored things, although a line needs to be drawn before Hershey's Kisses, which are terrible. I was nonplussed by every pumpkin beer I'd had until I tasted Pumking. I think it's the vanilla. As for Hopslam, I've never had it, but if it's anything like Bell's Two-Hearted Ale, it will be a tough matchup for any beer.

Big Sky Moose Drool (-8) vs. Santa Fe Java Stout

Moose Drool Vitals:

  • Style: American Brown Ale
  • Beer Advocate Rating: 84
  • Average Star Rating: 3.7
  • ABV: 5.1

Java Stout Vitals:

  • Style: American Imperial Stout
  • Beer Advocate Rating: 90
  • Average Star Rating: 4.03
  • ABV: 8.0

In this writer's humble opinion, Moose Drool is the best that Big Sky Brewing has to offer. Though the price reflects the fact that Big Sky is very proud of Moose Drool, buying a six pack is still worth it. As far as Java Stout, let's have a little session of Story Time with PJ ...

Back when I was serving a three year sentence in Eastern New Mexico, we traveled to Santa Fe a few times. On one of those trips, I visited Santa Fe Brewing, took a tour and purchased a growler filled with Java Stout.

A couple weeks later, my wife had to fly to Florida for some company meetings a couple days before I was set to deploy. As she and my son departed on Easter Sunday morning, I had the house to myself, and not a lot to do besides pack. I lived in Portales, NM after all. Enter the growler. I figured I'd have a couple. After enjoying those pints, it dawned on me that there was no way the beer would be fresh when I got home. By the time the sun set, I'd killed the entire thing, and every drop was worth it. Happy Easter one and all!

So there you have it. It is now up to you, dear reader, to tell us who will advance into the next round.

If you're lucky enough to have tried most of all of these beers, congratulations. If you're not, here's your excuse to head to the store and stock up. After all, the more information you have, the better vote you can make. Go Cougs.