It’s the gimmick that won’t die. If you’ve read these particular articles during the previous spring and fall, you know the drill by now. If not (and if we’re being realistic, you probably haven’t), allow me to recap things for you: my totally-subjective local dishes NBA bracket fell short in choosing who would take the title (Memphis lost in the conference finals), but I subsequently rebounded with two questionably-scientific (yet mostly-objective) beer brackets that accurately crowned the Blackhawks as Stanley Cup champions and the Red Sox as winners of the World Series. Clearly, beer is the answer. Since I have a bit of a win streak going right now, I decided I would ruin it with another bracket designed to pick the winner of our fourth major American sport.
As usual, an explanation is required for the methodology of this exercise. I had to switch things up for the NFL as there are no playoff series, replaced instead with single-game eliminations each weekend. For each matchup, I took a look at the highest-rated beers on Beer Advocate for the specific style assigned to each round (more on that in a moment), and used a football-inspired scoring system to determine a winner. Since the playoffs are a lead up to Super Bowl XLVIII, I assigned 7 points (a touchdown plus an extra point) to every beer that was ranked in the top 48 (XLVIII) of each category. For any beer that received an average rating (minimum 10 reviews) of greater than 4.0 out of 5.0, the appropriate team was awarded with an additional 3 points (a successful field goal). When everything was tallied up at the end of each matchup, the team with the most points was the victor. In a perfect world this would have produced football-like scores, but once the wildcard games were finished, things got a little out of hand. Perhaps one could rationalize the large numbers with an argument along the lines of “pass-wacky offenses” or “offense-friendly rule changes”, but at a certain point, not even Baylor would put up points like the ones you’ll see below. Bottom line: the final scores listed are merely being used to determine a winner, not to predict an accurate score for gambling or other purposes. But you (hopefully) already knew that.
In regards to assigning points to each individual team, I allowed for any beer produced in that team’s state – whether it be at a brewpub or standard, bottling brewery – to be counted in the score, with a few notable exceptions. In similar fashion to the fall, I was forced to split California roughly in half along an east-west axis, with the Chargers claiming everything south of an imaginary line between Monterey Bay and Fresno and the 49ers keeping the remainder of the state. To stay congruent with the NFL’s everlasting desire for parity and competitive balance, I also made the executive decision that each team would represent only the specific state in which they actually play their home games. This primarily meant that the Patriots could only play with Massachusetts – rather than the entire six states of which New England is comprised – but also clarified the potentially-ambiguous “Carolina” Panthers to be just North Carolina. Hypothetically, this also meant that if the Jets had squeaked out a playoff spot they would have played as New Jersey, and if the Redskins had overcome being the Redskins they would have received points from Maryland breweries.
Since the NFL playoffs occur during cold-weather months, the different rounds focused on the darker, richer beers that are often associated with winter consumption – winter warmers to “warm up” for the competition during wild card weekend, barleywines to up the intensity in the divisional round, porters to carry teams forward, and stouts to ensure no one else could claim the title. Keeping with the NFL’s commitment to staging mediocre “home” games in London, I included both English and American styles of barleywines, porters, and stouts in the later rounds; if that sounds confusing, it will (hopefully) be explained more clearly in each subsection. And on that note – ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL???
Wild Card Round – Winter Warmers
#3 Cincinnati: 58, #6 San Diego: 10
If San Diego had made it out of this game, I have a feeling they would have cleaned up in the later rounds. Unfortunately (or depending on how you look at it, very fortunately), they were foiled in winning a winter warmer battle by their utter lack of a winter. Cincinnati, meanwhile, comes from a state that borders Lake Erie and specializes in cold misery. And speaking of Lake Erie, the Bengals were propelled by Great Lakes Brewing Co. and their Christmas Ale, with other notable ales such as Thirsty Dog’s Barrel Aged 12 Dogs of Christmas and Hoppin’ Frog’s Frosted Frog, the second of which is aged in Pappy Van Winkle Barrels. Mercy.
#5 Kansas City: 10, #4 Indianapolis: 7
It was a battle of defenses that was decided by a field goal, which perhaps is a little unexpected for a game in a dome. Football is hard to predict. While the Colts came out strong with Crown Brewing’s Winter Warlock, it was ultimately Boulevard’s Nutsack Ale that put the Chiefs over the top. Check that – it was a battle of defenses that was decided by a nut sack.
#3 Philadelphia: 7, #6 New Orleans: 0
BOR-ING! For two teams known for their offense, this was a snoozer. Philadelphia actually borrowed a beer from Pittsburgh’s East End Brewing Company to even score at all. On a semi-related note, if Chip Kelly had managed to enter the playoffs with his previous year’s team (the Oregon Ducks), he would have CLEANED UP in this beer bracket.
#5 San Francisco: 17, #4 Green Bay: 0
Kaepernick-Rodgers III didn’t go any better than the first two attempts for the Packers. One would think that Wisconsin, of all places, would have a few well-regarded ales for warming oneself during the winter, but alas, they did not. Quite a shame, too, since virtually anyone from the NFC North would have done quite well had they advanced to the subsequent rounds.
Divisional Round – Barleywines (American, English)
#3 Cincinnati: 52, #2 New England: 49
What an upset! The perennially-contending Patriots were surely hurt by their inability to borrow Vermont and New Hampshire in this one, but still produced a mighty effort with Cambridge Brewing’s Blunderbus and Arquebus. In the end, however, Andy Dalton and the gang were far more balanced, getting touchdown-level contributions from three different breweries. These were highlighted by Fat Heads Brewery’s Liquid Courage, the perfect recipe for success.
#1 Denver: 39, #5 Kansas City: 6
KC’s offense continued to sputter, but its stout defense couldn’t bail out Alex Smith during the barleywine round. Colorado’s many fine beer-making establishments were on display here, including Great Divide’s Old Ruffian, which seems like a mildly appropriate thing to call Peyton Manning at this stage in his career. And if you think this was a blowout, imagine if it had been a WEED bracket.
#3 Philadelphia: 75, #2 Carolina: 13
This score doesn’t do any justice for the up-and-coming North Carolina beer scene, as in the real world there are some great things coming out of the Asheville area. In fact, had this been the porter round, this result would have been much different. Unfortunately for the Panthers, sometimes matchups mean everything, and Philly’s high-powered offense woke up against the usually strong Carolina D. Kudos to Tröegs for always producing excellent beers, as well as to Voodoo for their #1-ranked K13 on the American side of things.
#5 San Francisco: 71, #1 Seattle: 26
Having recently moved back to Seattle this past November, this one crushed me. Having made that move from my previous residence in the Bay Area, I (sadly) understood. Don’t get me wrong – there are many, many excellent beers being produced in the Pacific Northwest. Black Raven – a hidden gem just outside of Seattle – came through with a top-10 offering in that of Old Birdbrain, but with multiple beers from Sierra Nevada and a Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine from Almanac, the 49ers were just too much in an obvious revenge game.
Conference Championships – Porters (American, English, Baltic)
#1 Denver: 72, #3 Cincinnati: 58
Two cold-weather playoff victories in a row for Peyton Manning! This will definitely prevent fans from criticizing his performances in these types of games AT LEAST until he plays in another one! The Bengals had continued stellar production from Great Lakes – which is technically located in Cleveland and would go to the Browns if they ever make the playoffs again – including the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, but the folks at Crooked Stave in Colorado dominated the Baltic subcategory with their Nightmare on Brett series. Advantage: Broncos.
#5 San Francisco: 54, #3 Philadelphia: 49
This was another matchup that came down to the wire. The Eagles used their lesser-known weapons well, including Yards Brewing’s bourbon barrel-aged General Washington’s Tavern Porter, a nod to the nation’s founders that inhabited the region. The 49ers countered with a brown-liquor offering of their own in that of Mad River’s Steelhead Scotch Porter. In the end, with the likes of the world-class Russian River in the mix, San Francisco took the NFC crown for the second straight year. But don’t hang your heads, Philly fans – at least you lasted longer than Andy Reid!
Super Bowl – Stouts (American, English, American Double/Imperial, Foreign/Export, Russian Imperial, Milk/Sweet, Oatmeal)
This round was as complex as an NFL playbook. Believe it or not, despite the excessive diversity of the stouts listed above, all of these styles are considered to be either American or English. In fact, the only stout subcategory listed on Beer Advocate that was excluded was that of the Irish Dry Stout. With all the potential for scoring, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that this matchup was a shootout of epic proportions. All the big-name heavy hitters were present – on one end, Sierra Nevada’s simple “Stout”, 21st Amendment’s “Marooned on Hog Island”, and Anchor’s “Flying Cloud San Francisco Stout”; on the other, Avery’s imperial “Tweak” and multiple varieties of Oskar Blues’ “Ten FIDY” (comes in standard, Whiskey Barrel, and Oak-Aged!). Ultimately, however, the sheer volume of northern Californian breweries overwhelmed the Broncos, with SF getting additional (and multiple) contributions from Fiftyfifty Brewing’s Imperial Eclipse Stout series. When push came to shove, a stout defense, a stout offensive line, and a stout running game meant yet another Super Bowl trophy for the 49ers.
#5 San Francisco: 170, #1 Denver: 126
Take the over.