The Best Breweries of March Madness

March 13, 2019

By Jared Paventi, March 13, 2019

Fans of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team travel so well you could mistake its games in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, played on neutral courts, as home games. The Big Blue Nation parachutes into cities from coast to coast to support the Wildcats, one of the favorites to win the 2019 title.

They are not the only fervent fan base planning to invade cities across the country for March Madness. Duke University’s Cameron Crazies and The Grateful Red from the University of Wisconsin have a knack for taking over arenas.

March Madness is here, and with thousands of fans crisscrossing the nation between the opening games on March 19 and the championship game on April 8, finding the best craft beer in each host city is almost as important as the games themselves. Thankfully, there is plenty of it to go around in the 2019 tournament host cities.

Photo courtesy of Warped Wing Brewing Co. on Facebook.

First Four (March 19-20)

Dayton, Ohio (University of Dayton Arena)

Dayton’s British settlers built breweries in the early 1800s to replicate the alehouses from back home. The city’s historical association operates Carillon Brewing Co. as a brewpub and museum. Beers are brewed to 1850 standards in charcoal-fired kettles with brewers ladling wort into the boil by hand. Downtown’s Warped Wing Brewing Co. has the largest distribution reach of the area beermakers. It boasts a barrel-aging program for its Baltic Argonaut porter, which sees versions resting in Tennessee whisky, rye, and port barrels.

First/Second Rounds (March 21-24)

Columbia, S.C. (Colonial Life Arena)

Columbia’s first three breweries since Prohibition opened within a short ride from one another. Established in 2012, Conquest Brewing Co. is the oldest and located a block away from Williams Brice Stadium, home of the University of South Carolina football team. It makes the standard bill of pale ales, IPAs, and stouts, as does its neighbor Swamp Cabbage Brewing Co. (the rear side of their buildings abutt one another). The latter opened in 2013 and produces a very enjoyable red IPA called Rubrum, bursting with Centennial, Chinook, and Cascade hops. River Rat Brewery, a manageable 30-minute walk away, offers the most eclectic menu of trendy styles; think pastry stouts, peanut butter porters, and adjunct-infused IPAs.

Photo courtesy of Iowa Taproom on Facebook.

Columbus, Ohio (Nationwide Arena)

Columbus is a football-first city, but basketball holds its own here. So does its brewing scene. The magnet for beer drinkers is Hoof Hearted Brewing, about 30 minutes north in Marengo, which has opened a brewpub in Columbus’s Italian Village neighborhood. The tap list includes adjuncts galore; think a lager with marshmallow fluff and Teddy Grahams or a sour IPA with blueberry, blackberry, lemon, and milk sugar. Our favorites, the $60 Nachos Double IPA and the Are We Having Fun Yet? IPA, are regulars on the taplist. There’s a ton of personality at this place, from the beers to the staff to the menu, which is worth a start-to-finish read.

Des Moines, Iowa (Wells Fargo Arena)

We associate Toppling Goliath Brewing Co.—located more than three hours away from the arena in Decorah—with Iowa, but allow me, if you will, to divert from breweries for a second and direct you to the Iowa Taproom. The riverside bar with 120 taps of Iowa-brewed beer only pours beer made in the Hawkeye State. The bar staff is well-educated about the beer scene and the food is pretty good as well. Once you finish there, head over to Confluence Brewing for a pour of its Milk Man milk stout. With any luck, it’s available on nitro.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Hooker Brewing Co. on Facebook.

Hartford, Conn. (XL Center)

Stuck in the same region as Vermont and Massachusetts, Connecticut’s contribution to New England brewing is easy to overlook. Thomas Hooker Brewing Co. has a production brewery and taproom north of the city in Bloomfield. Its Colt taproom sits on the Connecticut River, about one-and-a-half miles from the XL Center. Hooker brews multiple IPAs, but our favorite is Farm to Can, a crushable light lager.

Jacksonville, Fla. (Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena)

The two dozen craft breweries calling Jacksonville home (not including the massive Anheuser-Busch plant on the Northside, which is closed to the public) have Bold City Brewery to thank for starting the movement in town. Founded by a mother-and-son duo, the Downtown taproom is a 15-minute walk from the arena. (Its production brewery and taproom is across town in Five Points.) Duke’s Cold Nose, a smooth brown ale with a nutty finish, is worthy of your time. While in town, make your way to Goozlepipe & Guttyworks on King Street in Riverside. Its Belgian Basement bar has 24 Belgian beers on draft and hundreds of vintage bottles stored in its catacombs; think Boon Geuze and Cantillon bottles dating back to the last decade.

Photo courtesy of Hermitage Brewing Co. on Facebook.

San Jose, Calif. (SAP Center)

The team behind Hermitage Brewing Co., located about 15 minutes from the SAP Center, opened one of California’s first brewpubs in 1987. While Hermitage’s Maltopia Scotch Ale was a World Beer Cup bronze medalist in 2016, it specializes in barrel-aged sours and mixed fermentation. The American Sours series blends fruits and flowers with beer before aging in oak for up to three years.

Salt Lake City, Utah (Vivint Smart Home Arena)

Epic Brewing Co. came about in 2010 after changes to Utah laws permitted brewers to make higher-alcohol beers. Its calling card is the Big Bad Baptist series, a hand-blended beer comprised of multiple stouts aged in whiskey and rum barrels. The stadium is a 10-minute car ride away in the West Drive area. Go 10 minutes in a different direction and you will find Uinta Brewing Co., makers of the nationally distributed Hop Nosh IPA and the most excellent Baba Black Lager. Both are on tap there, but ask about the brewery exclusives and the recently introduced line of Brett beers. We really like Cahoots, Uinta’s interpretation of a Flanders red.

Photo courtesy of Prairie Artisan Ales.

Tulsa, Okla. (BOK Center)

Oklahoma doesn’t really scream “craft beer,” but right in the middle of town is the Prairie Artisan Ales’ brewpub, where Bomb! is always on draft. Prairie is headquartered about 90 minutes away in Krebs, but the Downtown Tulsa pub features 16 of its beers on tap and more in bottles and cans. Beer traders regularly chase bottles from American Solera, which has two locations in Tulsa: A production brewery sits west of the city on the southern banks of the Arkansas River and its Riverview tap room is a six-minute drive from the arena. The brewery uses the solera style of aging found in Spanish sherry; older barrels are topped off with younger barrels of beer to create unique blends.

Regional Semifinals/Finals Rounds (March 28-31)

Anaheim, Calif. (Honda Center)

Two of the best barrel programs on the West Coast reside in Orange County. In Anaheim itself, Bottle Logic Brewing is nothing short of world class. Fundamental Observation, released annually, is a highlycoveted barrel-aged vanilla stout. It is part of the brewery’s Stasis Project line of beers that “celebrate the barrel as a fifth ingredient” beyond hops, malt, water, and yeast, according to a bottle we recently drank. The Bruery is known for Belgian-inspired sours and barrel-aged stouts. In fact, it uses seven different types of barrels in its program, from new American and French oaks to tequila and Scotch. Brewing and barrel-aging takes place in Placentia, just off the Orange Freeway north of Anaheim. Bruery Terreux, a few miles away off the Riverside Freeway in Anaheim, houses the farmhouse and sour program.

Photo courtesy of KC Bier Co. on Facebook.

Kansas City, Mo. (Sprint Center)

It’s a 10-minute car ride from the Sprint Center to Boulevard Brewing Co. and why wouldn’t you visit the largest brewery in the Midwest? Grab a tour for $5 and spend time at the uber-chill Beer Hall. Core and rotational beers are available, as are a handful of test batches. The yeast strains used at KC Bier Co. come from Bavaria, linking the brewhouse to its German roots. It also imports its hops and malts from Germany to provide the most authentic German beers possible: dunkelweizen, hefeweizen, Munich-style Helles lager and a northern German pilsner.

Louisville, Ky. (KFC Yum! Center)

Against the Grain Brewery is a 10-minute walk from the stadium. Known for its colorful beer names and can art—for instance, The Brown Note (brown ale) and Citra Ass Down (a double IPA with Citra hops)—the taproom has 20 beers on draft and some of the city’s best barbecue. And, if you’re seeking some eye candy, Against the Grain has one of the only functional Victorian-style systems in America. The copper-clad kettles rise three stories above the dining room.

Photo courtesy of Churchkey on Facebook.

Washington, D.C. (Capital One Center)

The nation’s capital has a highly underrated beer scene. Our personal favorite is Right Proper Brewing Co., which has spots in Brookland and Shaw and makes some righteous foudre-aged beers. Check out Diamonds, Fur Coat and Champagne, a tart Berliner weisse with elderflower and grapefruit peel. Churchkey is a world-class beer bar near Logan Circle with 50 taps and a 500-bottle list including vintages from around the world. Aslin Beer Co. is worth the ride to Herndon, Virginia if you have time and transportation, as the nearest Metro stop is two-and a-half miles away.

Final Four (April 6-8)

Minneapolis, Minn. (U.S. Bank Stadium)

Surly Brewing Co., located near the University of Minnesota campus, built its empire on hoppy ales like the Furious IPA, but has evolved since its 2006 opening. The release of Darkness, a Russian imperial stout, has grown into a weekend-long party revolving it and its variants. Fair State Brewing Cooperative in Northeast Minneapolis was named one of’s best new breweries of 2015. Check out Roselle, a Lactobacillus-infected sour brewed with hibiscus that tastes like adult Kool-Aid. There’s also a fruited version with raspberry. If pastry stouts are your thing, The Duke is liquid pecan pie, made with vanilla, maple syrup, and whole pecans.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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