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CougCenter Craft Beer Tournament: It's Final Four time

The best of craft beer has been determined. Who will rise above?

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Welcome back to CougCenter's Craft Beer tournament. We began this little venture with 20 brews nearly two months ago, and we've now arrived at the Final Four. All three west coast states are represented, with Ellensburg's Iron Horse Brewery as the sole representative from our fine state. Our one Oregon contender hails from Bend, in the form of Deschutes. Finally, our two California semifinalists, Lagunitas and Ballast Point, call Petaluma (with Chicago roots) and San Diego home, respectively.

Last week saw one easy victory, as Red Chair NWPA was never challenged by Manny's Pale Ale. The other matchup was a bit closer, as Ballast Point Victory at Sea and Bell's Hopslam engaged in a back-and-forth battle. Ultimately, Victory at Sea secured the, um, victory, and moves on to face Lagunitas Brown Shugga. So with that, we've arrived at the point where we separate the best of the best. Away we go. The entire bracket is here.

[2] Deschutes Red Chair NWPA (-4) vs. [5] Iron Horse Irish Death

beer bracket

Red Chair Vitals:

  • Style: American Pale Ale
  • Beer Advocate Rating: 92
  • Average Star Rating: 4.1
  • ABV: 6.2

Irish Death Vitals:

  • Style: American Strong Ale
  • Beer Advocate Rating: 86
  • Average Star Rating: 3.84
  • ABV: 7.8

PJ's Take: It's a clash of ales and styles (pale vs. strong) for a spot in the championship round. It's no surprise that Red Chair is here, as it was the 2-seed. As for Irish Death, the fact that it's still alive is not a huge surprise, but the ease with which it advanced certainly is. Ever since the folks at Iron Horse publicized our tournament, Irish Death fans have heavily supported the American strong ale. Without having tried Red Chair in a long time, if ever, and since I had an Irish Death or two recently, I'm going to declare Iron Horse's product my beer of choice in this matchup. It is an outstanding product.

Craig's Take: Do you like hops? Then you are probably voting for Red Chair. Prefer your beers on the malty side, and with a little more ABV, then Irish Death is your likely choice.

This is a battle of breweries that have discovered this tournament and shared it on social media. Deschutes has many more followers, but it chose to share on Twitter last time. Tweets don't hang around on people's feeds nearly as long as Facebook posts. If both those strategies hold, I see Irish Death advancing to the title. Take note marketing folks!

[2] Ballast Point Victory at Sea (-4) vs. [5] Lagunitas Brown Shugga

beer bracket

Victory at Sea Vitals:

  • Style: American Porter
  • Beer Advocate Rating: 98
  • Star Average: 4.4
  • ABV: 10.0

Brown Shugga Vitals:

  • Style: American Strong Ale
  • Beer Advocate Rating: 90
  • Star Average: 4.03
  • ABV: 9.99

PJ's Take: This is the classic NoCal vs. SoCal battle. Both bring a ton to the table in terms of quality and kick. Brown Shugga has strong hints of, you guessed it, brown sugar. Incidentally, brown sugar makes up half of the greatest oatmeal flavor in history: maple and brown sugar. I don't know if I'd deem Brown Shugga the greatest beer in history, but it's really good. I've waxed poetically about Victory at Sea in this space more than once, and its stature in my eyes hasn't gone down at all. You can't lose with either of these, both in the taste and the ABV department. Choose wisely.

Craig's Take: Both these breweries have done an excellent job at maintaining quality as they've scaled up production, which is a big reason why they've went deep into this tournament. Both these beers are excellent, but if I had to choose one, I'd go with Victory at Sea. It's probably the best-done vanilla porter I've ever tasted. It's also been highlighted by the Internet's most adorable beer blogger, Baxter.