It’s finally here, the true Big Dance: the 4th Annual Maine Madness Beer Tournament, where 64 Maine beers compete for glory in a month-long bracketed tournament voted on by the public.
This year’s field of competitors is the best we’ve seen, and it’s all thanks to the hard work of everyone involved in making Maine’s beer scene world-class.
This tournament is dedicated to the Maine brewers who lug bags of grain, don Muck boots, create innovative beer recipes, climb inside brew tanks to clean spent grain and sometimes even sleep in their breweries to get up in the middle of the night to make beer.
It’s for the Maine farmers and malt houses. The brewery employees who package beer, give tours and drive forklifts. It’s for the sales reps who fight for tap handle space in a competitive market. And for the distributors who schlep kegs. It’s for the owners of bars and beer stores who work to get the best Maine beer for their patrons. For the bartenders and tasting room attendants who pour beer for the thirsty public. And for the tour buses driving craft beer lovers to breweries.
Finally, this tournament is for the craft beer fans who stand in long lines, spread the word about their favorite beers on Untapped and Instagram and spend their hard-earned dollars to support Maine’s brewing culture.
Every year, it gets more difficult to choose the field of 64 beers. Since I started this tournament four years ago, about 30 new breweries have opened, putting Maine’s total number of breweries at over 80.
My co-founding partner Tim Ebersold and I recently met at last year’s winning brewery, Foundation Brewing, to assemble the 2017 list. We toiled and argued while sipping the 2016 champion, Epiphany, until we had a field of 64 incredible beers.
We gave the public a chance to comment on our list before finalizing the bracket. Did some deserving beers get left out? Of course. It just shows Maine’s embarrassment of riches.
For fairness, the match-ups are chosen randomly, generating many big first-round showdowns.
As the tournament gets underway, one fight I’m eager to watch is Allagash Curieux vs. Orono Brewing’s Big Aristotle Double IPA. Though these two beers are vastly different styles — one a bourbon barrel-aged Belgian ale, the other a juicy imperial IPA — both are impeccably brewed and have huge fan bases.
Another battle to watch is Lone Pine’s Portland Pale Ale vs. Tributary’s Mott the Lesser. Portland Pale Ale blew up on the scene last year when it was released, receiving acclaim for its clean, drinkable hop flavor. On the other end of the flavor spectrum, Mott the Lesser is a line-invoking Russian imperial stout aged in four different barrels and blended to achieve its sumptuous flavor profile.
Other notable first round match-ups that should be tight are Orono Brewing’s Ozone IPA against Oxbow’s Crossfade Barrel Aged Farmhouse Ale, and Sebago’s Whistlepunk DIPA against Peak Organic’s Super Fresh India Pale Lager.
Epiphany from Foundation was a juggernaut in last year’s tournament. Their first round match-up is with the artfully crafted Lemonless Lemonade IPA from Foulmouthed Brewing.
Bracketologists should keep their eyes on Daikaiju DIPA from Banded Horn, Dinner DIPA and Lunch IPA from Maine Beer Co., and last year’s runner up, Swish DIPA from Bissell Brothers Brewing. Each beer has made big waves in past tournaments.
And let’s not forget the Cinderellas. Every year a new beer with a loyal fan base does some bracket-busting. Pulp Truck IPA from Marsh Island could be this year’s dark horse.
Though we will crown a champion, remember that this is a celebration of all Maine breweries. My challenge to you is to find a beer or a brewery in each round that you’ve never had, get out there and try it. Go to tasting rooms and visit beer bars and beer stores. To fully engage in this tournament, you need to vote in each round, as well as sample the goods. It’ll take some work, but I believe in you.
As I like to say in this tournament, 64 beers compete, and in the end, the true winner is the Maine craft beer fan. That’s why this tournament’s motto is: “To Drink ME is to Love ME!”
MAINE MADNESS BEER TOURNAMENT HAPPY HOUR
WHAT: Maine’s best beers at happy hour prices, the announcement of the tournament champion and raffle prizes, including concert tickets and a stay at the Westin.
WHEN: 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, March 29
WHERE: Portland House of Music and Events, 25 Temple St., Portland