An Extremely Successful Beer Hunting Trip!


I started writing this article back in April and all hell broke loose so I shelved it for
a while. But it’s time to get back to it, so here you go.

My beer club, the Draught Board 15, holds a March Madness IPA Challenge for
our March meeting every year and it’s obviously one of our more popular
meetings. The idea is to taste 32 different IPAs, in a bracket format of course,
until we have a winner. The following year we would bring back the Final Four
from the year before and find another twenty-eight IPAs new to the challenge. We
just completed our eighth challenge, so we’ve tasted numerous IPAs (and if that
worked perfectly the math tells that would be 228 DIFFERENT IPAs, but not if you
have a repeat winner or if we couldn’t find all the final fours to bring back each
year which has happened).

The initial couple of years we had North, South, East and West brackets and
filled them with beers from breweries as much in those geographic regions as
possible. That soon became very difficult as it’s difficult to find different West and
South beers each year here in the Northeast. The brackets are now A, B, C and
D, but don’t be thinking we’ve copped out and are just willy nilly dropping beers
into the bracket seedings; HOURS are spent looking up the beers on RateBeer,
BeerAdvocate and UNTAPPD so as to bracket them as fairly and evenly as
possible, since it’s all about the beer.

IPA was much simpler eight years ago so that’s been both a blessing and a
curse; a blessing in that both breweries and IPA have exploded in popularity and
almost everyone makes at least one IPA if not three or four so there should
always been new ones to taste, but a curse in that we initially decided to only
include the basic IPAs. We did that using the beer’s name, so any beer name that
included a descriptor, such as double would not be included. Well that works
pretty well except there are some DIPAs that just use their name, for instance
Clown Shoes Galactica. And I picked that one because it’s really a DIPA, which
can give it an unfair advantage and it did as Galactica won our challenge two
years in a row!

But as IPA has exploded so have the different styles; there are now Session, New
England, Triple, Mango, etc. etc. etc. so it’s become a little more complicated
choosing them each year. So yes, Sessions and New England are okay but
triples and mango or any other fruit for that matter aren’t. Are you thoroughly
confused, well if not you should be! In any event it’s not only complicated but
usually one or two of the DB15 Board members travels out of state to see what
they can find. A few years ago, I volunteered to look for beers in Florida as I
typically travel there every February. I’m usually tasting different beers when I go
anyway so if I find a couple I think are worthy it’s no big deal to throw them in my
suitcase for the flight home; especially since the vast majority are now in cans so
the odds of the Samsonite gorilla breaking any of them are pretty slim. And yes, it’
s easy to find new beers but I’m really only interested in bringing ones that I think
are good and can compete; why bring back a not so great beer that’s going to be
a loser??

In 2018 I brought back two beers, one Brew Bus Last Stop IPA lost in its first
match up, but the other Green Man Trickster IPA, out of North Carolina, made the
Final Four! That’s a great feeling as we going through the results to see the beer
you submitted win round after round. Hey, a little validation of your ability to taste
and distinguish great tasting beers is always nice!

In 2019 I was again in Florida in February so did some taste testing to see what I
could find and I came up with two new ones; Tampa Bay Brewing Co. Old
Elephant Foot IPA and Brew Hub’s Rome City IPA. I’ve been to the Tampa Bay
Brewing Co brewery and restaurant in Ybor City quite a few times; good food and
pretty good beer, so their Old Elephant Foot was a no-brainer to bring back. As
an aside their APA Reef Donkey is always one of my go-to beers whenever I’m in
Florida. Brew Hub is a 2012 St. Louis brewery who added another brewery in
Lakeland, FL. Their philosophy is similar to Two Roads in CT; to brew their own
beers and also contract brew for others. I found their Rome City IPA to be a very
good IPA, definitely a worthy competitor for out challenge. I had to really search
to find the Green Man Trickster so it could return as one of the prior year’s final
four. Unfortunately, 2019 wasn’t my year as none of my three advanced far.

Here we are in February 2020 and I’m in Florida again and in search of some
new (to us) IPAs for our upcoming March Madness. I’ve passed the sign for the
Big Storm Brewing Tasting Room right off Rt 54 in Odessa many times and never
stopped so I decided it was about time I check them out. I was pleasantly
surprised not only grabbing their Palm Bender Gulf Coast IPA for the challenge
but also their Arcus Southern Pale Ale and Wavemaker Amber Ale for my beer
buds to taste. Hard to believe it took me that long to stop there when it was on my
route, but hey sometimes something is right under your nose and just don’t see
it. I did some other tasting and found Bear Lasers from Hidden Springs Ale Works
in Tampa and determined it to be another worthy competitor.

I had, what I thought, were two really good IPAs from Florida but I wasn’t done
yet! I had an event in CT so stopped at a fairly large beverage store in New
London. Perusing the coolers I found a couple of interesting Maine breweries’
IPAs. Luckily, I took a look at the bottom of the can for dates and found they had
been around for months so back in the cooler they went. The mantra with IPA is
drink it fresh so why take a chance on what may be really good beers but are
possibly past their prime?? And while we’re on the topic let’s just say a word
about beverage/beer stores that do NOT pay attention to their inventory. Sorry
but that’s criminal and offensive to us craft beer drinkers who might buy an old
beer that we deem not so good only because it’s past it’s prime. With today’s
inventory computer programs there should be an easy way to track beers and
either run specials or return them…I’m just sayin.

I head to their “local” cooler to see what they have and there is a fair amount to
check out. I spot one that I’ve had before and really like, Pour Judgement from
Grey Sail Brewing in Rhode Island. I’ve been to their brewery in my travels and
really like their beers so this is another worthy competitor. Here’s another
interesting one, Flower Child IPA from Cambridge Brewing Company, Cambridge
MA. I’ve never had it but the ratings appear to be good so it’s worth a shot. The
“local” cooler does have a lot of CT beers but I guess neighboring states count
as so far I’ve picked out beers from RI and MA…

Finally, there’s a CT beer, Lizard’s Breath IPA from Firefly Hollow Brewing out of
Bristol, CT. It’s worth getting just for the name and label but my standards are
higher so yes, I check out the ratings. Awesome I just picked up three more, but I’
m not done yet! There are more breweries along the “I”95 corridor in CT and my
next stop is Thimble Island. I’ve been there before and liked their beers so I’m
thinking their IPA would be another good entry.

I head home, take pictures of them all and send them along with some info on
each brewery to see how many they can use since I really have no clue how
many they already have. They can use them all, excellent! Now my only job is to
keep them cold and bring them in a little early the day of; oh, and yes get my
taste buds ready for our upcoming March Madness.

Luckily our meeting was March 8th as about a week later all bars were closed so
we snuck this one in by the thickness of an aluminum beer can. Obviously, I didn’t
know the seating before the tasting but learned the Bear Lasers was seated 5th
in B, Palm Bender was 7th in B, Pour Judgement was 6th in C, Flower Child was
4th in D, Lizard’s Breath was 7th in D and Thimble Island was 8th in D. On first
glance it doesn’t look like I picked great beers, but there are 32 so there needs to
be eight in each region and we’re trying to get good beers so there’ve got to be
four 7 & 8 seeds no matter what. To borrow a sports phrase and apply it here;
“that’s why we taste the beer.”

Our setup is four tables so each table tastes a different region and those four
winners from each are then tasted by a different table. The last three rounds are
tasted and judged on by everyone.  We had our usual great time tasting, not
liking some immediately, loving others and we then wait patiently as they tally the
results for the reveal.
In the first round:
•     Bears Lasers in a 5 vs 4 matchup loses to Good Life Descender,which is a  
.      good IPA from OR that I’ve had before.
•      Palm Bender in a 7 vs 2 upsets Sixpoint Meltdown IPA
•      Pour Judgement in a 6 vs 3 upsets Founders Unraveled IPA
•      Thimble Island in an 8 vs 1 loses to Tonewood Fuego IPA
•       Flower Child IPA in a 4 vs 5 beats Urban Village Wrong Way IPA
•       Lizard’s Breath in a 7 vs 2 loses to Ex Novo Mass Ascension IPA

So, three of mine advance. I really though Bear Lasers was a great candidate for
a top spot but hey on a different day or at a different table…you never know.
Round Two:
•        Palm Bender in a 7 vs 3 upsets Hop Concepts Rebellion Take On Anything I
•        Pour Judgement in a 6 vs 2 loses to Odd Side Citra Dank Juice IPA
•        Flower Child IPA in a 4 vs 1 upsets Tonewood Fuego IPA (which had
beaten Thimble Island  Rd 1)

I’m getting pretty excited as two of three advance into the Elite Eight!!
Round Three – Elite Eight
•        Palm Bender in a 7 vs 1 upsets Wicked Weed Pernicious IPA
•        Flower Child IPA in a 4 vs 2 upsets Ex Novo Mass Ascension IPA

Oh baby my lower ranked beers are knocking off all the higher ranks and have
each won their region; this is awesome!!

Round 4 – Semi-Finals
•        Palm Bender in a B7 vs A2 matchup beats Surly Furious IPA
•        Flower Child IPA in a D4 vs C4 matchup beats Bell’s Official IPA

Okay now this is totally unbelievable I have BOTH beers In the Finals so I win and
have runner-up

Drum Roll Please…..and the winner is…Flower Child IPA!!!!

I really liked the Palm Bender but heck I tasted the Flower Child at least three
times in the last three rounds and probably voted for it at least a couple of times.
I must say I’m feeling pretty good at that point and of course it gets better as we
finish whatever is open and select from the unopened ones to take home; can’t
beat that.

So yes, it’s already November and at this point I doubt I’ll be going down to FL
any time soon much less February so not sure Palm Bender will be back for next
year’s challenge. Assuming we’re able to have our usual March Madness next
year. That will be a big disappointment for us craft beer IPA lovers and yes for me
as I was planning to find a couple of more exceptional entries…

Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
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