March Madness Picks and Pairings!
Dateline: Thursday, March 27th, 10AM EDT.
Here at Alcohol Professor, we're keep a close eye on the NCAA tournament, following closely to see who will be crowned the nation's best college basketball team. And we thought it might be fun to offer up some "March Madness" of our own, look at the competing teams, figure out which regional distilleries and breweries we'd pair them with – and perhaps in the process, help you assemble your own gametime drink menus.
And unlike most elimination brackets, we're not narrowing this down to a single national champion… Sure, we've designated an "Elite Eight" and a "Final Four", but when it comes right down to it, each and every one of these selections is a winner!
The Elite Eight
NCAA Team: Stanford
Scouting Report: The Bay Area is known for great beer and spirits – Lagunitas, 21st Amendment, Anchor, and innumerable other world-class companies are headquartered in the region. And in the South Bay, within spitting distance of Stanford's home court, you can find the up-and-coming Santa Clara Valley Brewing Company, who are getting rave reviews for their distinctive takes on the Porter and IPA traditions.
NCAA Team: Tennessee
Scouting Report: The Tennessee Volunteers are an exciting team to watch, with a system based on big guards and fast action. Similarly, their home state is known for its quick-acting and powerful spirits – one can sample the visceral punch of Moonshine from Gatlinburg's Sugarlands Distillery, or sip on selections from Cascade Hollow's famous George Dickel company (including their brand-new and greatly acclaimed No. 1 Corn Whisky).
NCAA Team: Dayton
Scouting Report: There's been a lot of excitement surrounding Dayton hoops this year, and Ohio's liquor producers seem poised to make a similar splash in the world of alcohol. The family-owned Indian Creek Distillery makes a classically deep and nuanced Rye, and Middle West Spirits in Columbus produces top-notch vodka and whiskey.
NCAA Team: UCLA
Scouting Report: UCLA are always a force to be reckoned with, and their Southern California counterpart Stone Brewing Company has a similar reputation in the beer world – they might be best known for their Arrogant Bastard ale, but they put extra care into every one of their beers. Like the UCLA basketball program, they're a top-notch organization that knows how to produce winners.
NCAA Team: Baylor
Scouting Report: Baylor is playing at the absolute peak of their powers this year, bringing some serious hoops excitement to the Lone Star state. Rahr and Sons recently won Texas Brewery of the Year in the 2014 NY International Beer Competition. And while there's many great artisan breweries scattered throughout the state, Shiner and Lone Star are classic Texan tipples.
NCAA Team: San Diego State University
Scouting Report: San Diego has yet to create a real reputation for itself in alcohol circles, but much as the Aztecs basketball team have been one of the last few year's biggest success stories, the city's Ballast Point is making a huge splash with their range of beers and distilled spirits – their Sculpin IPA has earned top marks from tastemakers nationwide.
NCAA Team: Connecticut
Scouting Report: The Connecticut Huskies have moved from strength to strength this year, wowing fans with their ability to play both sides of the court. Similarly, Bloomfield's Thomas Hooker Brewery has a well-balanced line, offering a range of selections that plays hard and takes no prisoners.
NCAA Team: Kentucky
Scouting Report: Four Roses is a brand steeped in tradition, a name that was synonymous with bourbon for generations of Americans. And the Kentucky Wildcats possess both the highest winning percentage and the most all-time wins of any college basketball team. Both the team and the Bourbon brand are steeped in heritage and history, and they know how to deliver the goods. For beer, reach for an Alltech Lexington Brewing, named Kentucky Brewery of the Year in the 2014 NY International Beer Competition.
The Final Four
NCAA Team: Wisconsin
Corresponding Brewery/Distillery: Capital Brewery
Scouting Report: Wisconsin is one of those teams that never gives up, trying different approaches until they find a way to win. And Capital Brewery takes a similar approach, offering a variety of beers that can fit any mood or situation. They've built a strong foundation in their thirty-year history, won numerous awards, and have the depth and diversity to take on any competition.
What To Watch For: Whether you're looking for a limited-edition masterpiece, a seasonal treat, or a year-round go-to, there's bound to be something in Capital's portfolio that will do the trick. Their Dark Voyage Black Ale is a particular treat, and their Doppelbock packs a healthy punch and is well worth tracking down.
NCAA Team: Florida
Corresponding Brewery/Distillery: St. Augustine Distillery
Scouting Report: Though the Florida Gators are a well-established powerhouse, St. Augustine is a bit of a dark horse contender – a fresh face playing in a bold new style. They source local ingredients for their flagship offering, using sugar cane to produce a distinctively smooth Vodka with light hints of apple, molasses, and anise.
What To Watch For: Though they're a new company, and have focused on Cane Vodka for their initial launch, the St. Augustine Distillery is hard at work on a variety of other spirits – small batch Bourbon, Florida Pot Still Gin, and unique heritage Rums. Make no mistake, this team has what it takes to go all the way!
NCAA Team: University of Virginia
Corresponding Brewery/Distillery: Starr Hill Brewery
Scouting Report: Starr Hill's beer, much like the UVA basketball team's play, is all about the fundamentals, building its reputation on craft and precision. They lower defenses with their balanced and nuanced attacks, surprise with their depth and complexity, and have fine-tuned their playbook over the last few years to go from a regional favorite to a world-class contender.
What To Watch For: Grateful Pale Ale is Starr Hill's go-to playmaker, a easygoing dry-hopped performer with a zesty hint of citrus and light malt underpinnings – but their new Soul Shine seasonal is making a serious bid for more playing time, with its all-American light-bodied style and touch of summery spice.
NCAA Team: Louisville
Corresponding Brewery/Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Scouting Report: Both the Louisville Cardinals and Buffalo Trace Distillery perform well in any setting, a pair of Kentucky institutions with long histories of success. Buffalo Trace produces many of the world's most respected spirits, and have received great acclaim for the high quality and consistency of their products.
What To Watch For: Buffalo Trace have one of the deepest benches of any liquor company, able to get great performance from an entire range of offerings: the straightforward approach of their eponymous label, the single-barrel swagger of Elmer T. Lee and Blanton's, the rough-hewn elegance of Sazerac Rye, and the rounded wheaty tones of Van Winkle (if you're lucky enough to find it.) No matter your stylistic preference, they know how to deliver the goods.