A Little Bit Of March in September: A Recap of Saturday’s Rounds at Brew Bracket’s ‘Experimental IPA’ Tournament

A Little Bit Of March in September: A Recap of Saturday’s Rounds at Brew Bracket’s ‘Experimental IPA’ Tournament

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By Joel Bozman of Indiana On Tap

Brew Bracket is a must-attend event for the craft beer drinker looking for something new. I had never been to one of these tournament style tastings before, but was excited for my first opportunity to be a beer judge. Combine that with two of my favorite words, “Experimental IPA,” and a chance to spend some time in the always charming Tomlinson Tap Room in downtown Indy, and I was chomping at the bit.

If you aren’t familiar with Brew Bracket (as I wasn’t) let me tell you a little about it. This was an 8 brewery format where all 8 are randomly paired up in a head-to-head blind taste testing with a never before sold beer. Each round, “flight attendants” bring beer to your table and pour a sample in your orange glass and a sample in your grey glass. After a few minutes to taste each one you place your vote by dropping a Brew Bracket bottle cap into either an orange or grey bucket also brought to each table. The winner of each of the first 4 rounds advance to the semifinals, two more rounds narrow it to the finals, and a champion is then chosen. Only after a champion is chosen is it revealed which breweries brewed which beers, and what they used to achieve the flavors in that particular brew.

In an effort to let you experience what that’s like, I’ll share with you my notes as I was tasting them, and then share the actual info from the brewery at the end.

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Round 1:
Orange Glass - Heavy fruit IPA. Good blend of sweetness and hops, but possibly too sweet for most.

Grey Glass - Extremely hop heavy. Experiment must have been with new hop varieties or increased quantity.

I voted for Grey and Grey advanced.

Round 2:
Orange Glass - Something is lessening the bitterness of the hops from a normal IPA. It’s balanced, but I doubt it will advance among a group of true IPA fans.

Grey Glass - Dark IPA with a purple head. Berries maybe? Kind of tart, but very sweet. Unique and tasty.

I voted for Grey and Grey advanced

Round 3:
Orange Glass - More floral in taste than most so far. Something else is sweet, but I can’t place my finger on what it is.  Possibly my favorite so far.

Grey Glass – Unfiltered pepper beer. Hot and spicy. Least favorite so far. Lots of conversation around the room from this round.

I voted Orange and Orange advanced.

Round 4:
Orange Glass - Clear and light. Cleanest and easiest to drink IPA so far. Hard to get a good taste on this after the pepper beer clobbered the taste buds.

Grey Glass - Unfiltered beer that has a unique taste. Pumpkin maybe? Points for being different without being spicy.

I voted Grey and Orange advanced.

After a ten minute break we moved on to the semifinals.

Round 5:
Orange Glass - The grey “hop-bomb” from Round 1. By far the hoppiest beer and odds on favorite to win, in my opinion.

Grey Glass - The grey “berry” IPA from Round 2. I think the winner of this round will win the whole thing.

I voted Orange and Orange advanced.

Round 6:
Orange Glass – The Orange winner from Round 3. Clean and crisp. Still can’t figure out what’s giving it the good flavor. Might not be hoppy enough to win this, but I like it a lot.

Grey Glass - I voted against this one in Round 4, so on principle I had to vote against it again. It’s definitely not a bad beer, but I had to stick with my guns.

I voted Orange and Orange advanced.

Another 10 minute break and the buzz in the room is growing (both literally and figuratively). Get it? Ok, good.

Round 7 – The Finals:
Orange Glass - The grey from Round 1 and the Orange from Round 5 and the one I’m calling the “hop-bomb” to help keep them straight. Still very strong and has to have been dry-hopped to have that much bite.

Grey Glass - Orange from Rounds 3 and 6. Smooth, and it is bothering me that I can’t figure out what makes it have that unique, very-drinkable flavor.

I voted Orange.

At this point there is a lull, while all of the votes are tallied. More beer is available from Tom’s Tap Room and a couple of the food options from City Market are available while we await the announcement. 

Before the winner is announced they reveal to everyone what all of the beers were and what ingredients were used to create the “Experimental IPAs”.

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Photo used with permission from Brew Bracket
This part can make you feel both very smart and very dumb. My palate needs some work, and while I feel like I got a decent feel for the beers, I am far from being able to pick out all of the actual ingredients. The largest crowd reactions here were over the announcement of Triton’s use of Jolly Ranchers in their beer to give it the sweetness, and Flat 12’s use of NO HOPS in an IPA contest. I would say I was embarrassed to have picked Flat 12 to advance (even though they didn’t), but I was trying to give points for creativity on that one, and it turns out they were indeed the most creative.

Next they revealed which of the above beers faced off against each other and how they advanced in each round, until the big reveal of Bier Brewery’s DFGIPA Extreme (aka Hop-bomb for the purposes of this story) as the Champion.

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Photo used with permission from Brew Bracket
After the tournament concluded, it was also revealed that our raffle ticket, given to us upon entry, was good for one half-pint of any of the 8 beers in the competition over at the bar. A great way to end a great night.

Thank you to Brew Bracket for a great event based on an outstanding idea. I look forward to many more of these in the future. I was told they will try and do 3 each year, including a 16 brewery tournament at the State Fairgrounds. Stay tuned for future dates.



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