Illinois Craft Beer Bracket: Crowning the Champion


March is a very special time of year, as it’s one of the most exciting and interesting months on the calendar. March madness coincides with the Illinois Beeracket, created by the Illinois Craft Brewers guild. We started, on Big Ten Tournament weekend with the craft beer field of 24, narrowed it down to the tantalizing 12, the sensational 6, and so forth.

Now on Final Four/National Championship weekend, we crown the craft beer champion! Which was our favorite beer of all? We’ll get to that One Shining Moment, but first let’s review some of the other craft beer offerings in the field.

Fat Pug Oatmeal Milk Stout, 5.9% ABV, 26 IBUs

I can see why this one was so popular, and it advanced pretty far in my bracket. It’s kind of a craft beer that strikes the right balance- just strong enough, just dark enough, flavor notes that are sufficient, but not too extreme.

Liquid Love Brewing Co. Saw Them at Fireside American Lager, 4.5% ABV

Really drinkable and refreshing. The “comfort food” brew of the Illinois craft beer bracket.

Songbird Pilsner, Finch Beer Co. 5.2% ABV, 80 IBUs

The German malts and Michigan hops make this Chicago brew go down smooth. Don’t let the 80 Intetnational Bitterness Units number fool you, this goes down a lot smoother than that rating would indicate.

Triple Berry Wild Sour Series, Destihl Brewery, 5.2% ABV, 8 IBUs

Tastes a little like a wine cooler or hard seltzer (that’s meant as a complement, but I do understand why some would consider that an insult), an interesting sour ale with notes of blackberries, blueberries and rasberries. It advertises lactose and creaminess, but I don’t feel or taste it. I do love the “boycott bland, support flavor” slogan featured on this crraft beer from Normal, IL.

#6 Triptych Brewing Co. Imperial Stout 

This Savoy, IL offering says it has notes of chocolate sandwich cookies, milk, sugar, and Madagascar vanilla, but I didn’t feel all of that. It sounds like a wonderful dessert beer, when you add up all those flavors, but this really isn’t all that sweet. It’s actually kind of middle of the road, mediocre, at least to me.

However, I know plenty of others who loved this one.

Brother Chimp Brewing Co. English Brown Ale, 5.3% ABV

Our runner-up! A very drinkable and tasty brown ale, as good and authentic as you’ll find outside of the UK.

Noonwhistle Don’t Worry Be Gummy Hazy IPA, 6.8% ABV

This one is interesting, but just not my bag baby. I can see why other palates would be impressed though. I mean this isn’t Goose Island Bourbon County Stout Kentucky Fog, which is something that I just can’t imagine anyone anywhere ever enjoying.

That beer is an abomination.


#8 Nik & Ivy Fresh Brewed Beer, 5.1% ABV

Born and raised in Lockport, this one had my heart before even popping the top, as I’m originally a Palos Heights native. As the only southwest suburban beer in the bracket, they got an automatic bye to the next round. But seriously, I love the freshness date and serial number being handwritten in marker on the can, it’s a little thing, a minor touch, but it goes a long way.

“Fresh” is the perfect word to describe this. I really can’t think of another beer in a can that tastes like it comes out of a tap; astounding. The ivy, the foliage and the earth tones evoke spring, and the mention of Lockport takes me back to my upbringing, and when we would play the Lockport Porters in football (I played for A.A. Stagg) and they would absolutely crush us.

But anyway, still fun, and someday I’ll have to make it out to the central business district of Lockport, visit the Nik & Ivy tap room, then take in the vistas of the Des Plaines River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Congratulations Nik & Ivy, thank you to everyone craft brewery who participated, and the utmost of gratitude to everyone in the Illinois Craft Brewery Guild for making this happen for me. Loved it!

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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