Malt Madness! Which brew wins the beer bracket?

March 22, 2013 at 1:09 PM ET

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March Madness is upon us, and this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship has me thinking (as always) about beer.

What would happen if we took the top teams in this year’s tournament and paired them with a popular craft brewery from their hometowns? Which basketball/brewery squads would dominate, based on the quality of the beer?

It’s time for Malt Madness!

Click here to see the full brackets and outcomes as well as a spreadsheet with all the data used.

The players

I’ve limited the competition to the top 16 teams in NCAA tournament, focusing on the four highest seeds in the East, West, Midwest and South regional groups.

Each basketball team has been paired with a local craft brewery that has the greatest number of beer ratings on BeerAdvocate.com.

If a local brewery didn’t have at least 100 beer reviews on the site, the search was expanded until I found one in the nearby countryside that did. Chain breweries like Gordon Biersch and Rock Bottom were excluded, as they’re not truly “local” establishments.

Here are your 2013 Malt Madness teams:

Jim Gallligan

The game

Just like March Madness, the teams will pair off and each brewery will be represented by a single beer from its portfolio -- the one that has the most reviews on BeerAdvocate.com. The beer with the highest score will be declared the winner, and its brewery moves on to the next round, where it will be represented by their next-most reviewed beer, and so on until a champion is crowned. The winner gets a checkmark, the loser gets sent packing.

Jim Galligan

In the Midwest, St. Louis University and Schlafly Pumpkin Ale, that sublimely earthy autumnal treat, won the day with its rich threads of vanilla goodness and spicy pumpkin pie flavors.

Meanwhile, Michigan State and Darkhorse Brewing Company score a victory with their Crooked Tree IPA, a beer that starts with a bready malt backbone and tropical citrus notes, and finishes with a lingering bitterness, even when it wins – some beers are never happy!

In the West, Kansas State and Tallgrass Brewing Company surely perspired as their beer Buffalo Sweat, a sweet stout brewed with cream sugar for smooth mouthfeel to complement its roasty chocolate taste, won by the closest margin in the competition – a mere .02 points!

It was almost as close for Ohio State and Barley’s Brewing Co, whose Alexander Russian Imperial Stout won by a tenth of a point, thanks to its solid sweet and roasted malt base and hints of coffee, chocolate and vanilla.

The South saw Michigan and Arbor Brewing Company’s Sacred Cow, a well-balanced American IPA, narrowly avoided being put out to pasture, while Swamp Head Brewery’s Saison Du Swamp made Florida Gator bait out of the competition with its dry and zesty farmhouse charms.

Finally out East, it was Syracuse and Empire Brewing Company’s rather run-of-the-mill Empire IPA managing a victory with the lowest winning score in the entire tournament, a 3.68.

Elsewhere, Miami clearly benefitted from the lack of a robust brewing scene in Vice City, as we had to go all the way to Boca Raton to find Funky Buddha Lounge and Brewery. Their Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, a sweet, earthy and smoky juggernaut, was just too much for Marquette and the Lakefront Brewery to handle.

Jim Galligan

Three IPAs and a brown ale found success in round two of Malt Madness.

In the Midwest, one of my favorite beers on the planet, Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout, was bested by Darkhorse’s Double Crooked Tree IPA, a hopped-up version of the beer they rode to victory in the first round.

Out West, Ohio State and Barley’s Brewing Company advanced with their Centennial IPA, a blend of piney hops, lush tropical citrus and a hint of caramel that was aged in French white oak aged to celebrate Barley’s 100th batch of beer.

Down South, Florida’s Swamp Head Brewery and their Big Nose IPA hammered the competition with sultry tastes of citrus hops, tangerines and mangoes, and just enough caramelly malt to balance the attack.

In the East, Miami and Funky Buddha’s No Crusts American brown ale dazzled with unconventional tastes of peanut butter and jelly.

We’re down to four contenders for the crown:

Jim Galligan

Michigan State and Darkhorse’s Plead the Fifth Imperial Stout, an 11 percent ABV monster that bathes the palate in complex flavors of coffee rum, molasses and vanilla, makes an impressive showing with a rating of 4.27.

Meanwhile, the Miami and Funky Buddha continue to roll with Wide Awake It’s Morning, an Imperial version of their Maple Bacon Coffee Porter that took them to victory in the first round. It’s hard to argue with bacon, even in beer.

It’s time to declare a champion, and the winner of Malt Madness 2013 is…

Jim Galligan

Miami and Funky Buddha win it all! The buzzer beater was fired off by Last Snow, a coffee porter brewed with coconut, white chocolate and caramel. We’ll see how the actual games go, but if Miami wins it all, remember that you heard it here first.

Of course if beer ratings propelled schools to basketball greatness, the most dominate ballers in the country would be from Santa Rosa Junior College. They’re just miles away from Russian River Brewing Company, which doesn’t have a top-five reviewed beer with a BeerAdvocate score below 4.3. Go Bear Cubs!

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits. Follow him on Twitter.

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