Because I'm the ultimate team player, I took the bullet for John and went in his place. There were eight delicious beers, hops heads from all over South Florida, and at least one soccer mom who gets very chatty when she's drinking.
A brief rundown after the jump.
When I showed up, I met Jonny Rose, the marketing specialist at Whole Foods who organized the Beer-Offs. He was wearing a Dan Marino jersey, had black marker under both eyes, and was carrying a six pack in each hand. The judges assembled in the dining area near the front of the store, at tables lined with popcorn, pretzels, bottled water, and tall stacks of little plastic cups.
Before the tasting everyone had to sign releases that absolved Whole Foods of any liability should something go wrong, and promised to judge the beers thoroughly and honestly. Some people were even betting in NCAA-ish pools, where each person in the group drafted the beer they thought would win the competiton.
The tournament consisted of four preliminary rounds, then two semi-final matches, then the final showdown. The first match up was between two India Pale Ales, one from Stone Brewery in California and one from Shipyard Brewing Company in Maine. "An east coast-west coast battle," Rose called it. Shipyard took the battle of the IPAs by a healthy margin.
In the next prelim, Rose put Lindemans Kriek, a cherry-flavored Belgian brew, against Three Philosophers, a Belgian-style blend made in America. The biggest betting group (sitting next to me) felt like Lindemans' victory was the biggest upset of the day. Apparently the cherry brew, which kind of smelled like Robitussin, barely edged out the American opponent.
Now, after four healthy doses of thick beers, a few people were already acting buzzed. There was a little more laughter and a little more volume to the great beer debate: "How can you like Lindemans more than this? Is your tongue broken?"
The next match up had He'Brew Messiah Bold, from Shmaltz Brewing Company, facing Downtown Brown, from Lost Coast, both brown ales. Both were fantastic, but like the majority of judges, I went with Downtown.
For the final prelim, Rose had two chocolate beers face off: Young's Double Chocolate Stout and Rogue Chocolate Stout. Young's was closer to milk chocolate, Rogue's dark chocolate. There was some loud debate at the other end of the table, but I couldn't hear anything over the drunk Jewish soccer mom next to me (she did have some interesting, sorted suburban tales though). Winner: Rogue.
Then Shipyard and Lindemans faced off, with the pale ale beating the cherry beer in what Rose called a "curiously close" ballot. And Downtown Brown beat Rogue in the second semi-final.
By the time Downtown Brown and Shipyard IPA went heads-up, there were empty bottles stacked high in the recycling bins and abused plastic cups gathering all over the place. The bracket makers were talking trash to each other.
The final tasting was methodical, deliberate. Knowing it was the last round, I made sure to try several tiny cups worth of both beers. (Yeah, I may have confused them a few times...but there was alcohol involved.)
For most people there, it didn't matter which beer had the most votes in the end. It was a fun Saturday afternoon with strangers and the products of several fantastic breweries. Though Downtown Brown ended the day with the most votes, the real winner was: me.
Hope you're feeling better John. If you need me to drive any luxury cars or spend some time in a quaint Italian villa, just let me know.