2024 NCAA Tournament Beer Guide: The perfect round for (almost) every round – The Athletic

The Athletic College Basketball StaffMar 19, 2024

The NCAA Tournament is upon us in all its perfection. It is, quite simply, an event that does not need to be changed or expanded.

But we can do both and keep you refreshed all the while.

Behold: The Athletic’s fourth annual NCAA Tournament Beer Guide.

In previous years, we’ve assigned a brewery and a recommendation to each team in the men’s tournament. This time, we’re focusing on the host sites and the fans traveling to them, identifying the best spot to watch the games and grab a quality beverage. And for the first time we’re including the regional sites and Final Four for the women’s tournament, too.

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(Given the variability in hosts for the first weekend of the women’s event, we decided to start with the Sweet 16. If your team is a home team, feel free to help out your fellow imbibers in the comment section.)

A couple notes: The breweries chose the beer. THE BREWERIES CHOSE THE BEER. This is important. And when we couldn’t reach someone for a rec, we took our best stab at the pick. (Those ones you can blame us for.)

Let’s toast to the Madness …

Men’s First Four

Dayton

The brewery: Branch & Bone

The beer: Spectral Alphabet

Branch & Bone brews a wide variety of rotating beers, but Spectral Alphabet is the only mainstay. This New England IPA was one of the earliest options when the brewery opened in 2018 and quickly became a fan favorite.

“Since pretty early on, this one has been a regular for us,” says co-owner John Joyce. “A couple months back we basically just made it a permanent option.”

Brewed from Citra and Mosaic hops and with 7 percent ABV, it’s a classic hazy IPA that’s juicy and tropical, available on tap and in cans. Stop by before and after the First Four in Dayton’s historic South Park district, just north of the university’s campus and only a five-minute drive from the arena. Branch & Bone doesn’t serve food, but you’re welcome to carry in or order whatever you want, unless you prefer to stick with the liquid diet. — Justin Williams

Men’s first- and second-round sites

Brooklyn

The brewery: Wild East Brewing Co.

The beer: Patience & Fortitude

About a 10-minute walk from Barclays Center is a stretch of blocks in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood in which breweries are plentiful. In late 2019, Wild East launched and settled into the area, seeking to do something a little different from the acclaimed East Coast establishments around them. Tyler March, one of its three co-founders, says that Wild East has drawn acclaim for its varied tap list: “You won’t find a more diverse and rounded tap list from any breweries nearby.” Co-founder Brett Taylor adds that “having the nuance of the different ingredients really helps us stand out.”

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Wild East relies largely on ingredients and processes native to the beer they are making. Patience & Fortitude, for instance, is a Czech-style pilsner, brewed using authentic Czech Saaz hops in a traditional Czech method. Wild East serves English-style brown ales, Italian-style and German-style pilsners, West Coast IPAs, Czech dark lagers, foeder-aged farmhouse ales … the list, and processes, go on and on. And the literal fermenters used are fully visible to customers, towering behind a clear glass wall. “Being able to see the brewery was very important to us,” March says. “You want to be immersed by the idea that the beer you’re drinking is coming from 20 to 30 feet away.” (This sampler/ writer can confirm that he was struck by not only the varied offerings he tasted but also the towering barrels in-site.)

Wild East also stands out because the majority of their offerings are low in ABV. Food pop-ups are present pretty much every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And although Wild East has to turn on its projector to air sporting events of the moment, the beer offerings are worthwhile even if it means a visitor is forced to use a personal device to stream multiple games at once. Ben Pickman

Charlotte

The brewery: Wooden Robot

The beer: Good Morning Vietnam Coffee Vanilla Blonde Ale

First brewed in 2015, Good Morning Vietnam quickly became “by far one of our most popular beers,” says marketing and communications director Jacki Keating — and after one sip, you understand why. Locally roasted Ethiopian coffee from nearby Enderly Coffee Roasters combines with rich Madagascar vanilla beans to form one of Charlotte’s best, most unique flavors. (Which is really saying something, in a region with more than 75 breweries.) “An epicurean awakening,” Keating adds, “leaving our guests coming back for more.” Like the 1987 Robin Williams film of the same name, Good Morning Vietnam goes down incredibly easy — almost too easy for its 5.0 percent ABV. And while neither of the brewery’s locations are in Uptown, near Spectrum Center — the site of this year’s NCAA Tournament games — it’s well worth the short drive (or light rail ride) to visit. And if you’re not a coffee fan? Try either the Overachiever Pale Ale (5.3 percent ABV) or really kick things up a notch with the What He’s Having IPA, which hits perfectly for a 6.5 percent ABV with juicy citrus hops.

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Plus, not to ruin a fun vibe, but the brewery could use some support right now. Co-founder and head brewer Dan Wade unfortunately passed away in February after an accident at Wooden Robot’s South End location. Good Morning Vietnam, and all of Wooden Robot’s delicious offerings, are part of Wade’s lasting legacy in the Charlotte community. — Brendan Marks

Indianapolis

The brewery: Taxman

The beer: Deduction

Everyone here agrees this is the best time of year. As college basketball writers and enthusiasts, we center our calendars around March Madness, jet-setting around the country from conference tournaments in early and mid-March to weeks on the road for the NCAA Tournament and, finally, to the Final Four. Then we return to our homes, do inordinate amounts of laundry and check back in with reality. It’s at that moment we all have the same realization.

“Oh, s—, I have to do my taxes.”

For that, we raise a glass to Taxman Brewing Company, a Belgian-style brewery based out of Bargersville, Ind., just outside Indianapolis, but easily snagged while downtown.

The go-to choice is Deduction (get it?), a true Belgian Dubbel that hits you right in the feels — sweet, warm, a little peppery, a little malty. The profile is perfect for this time of year (kind of cold, kind of not, kind of wet, kind of nice) and the 8.0 percent ABV eases the pain of having to give the government so much of your hard-earned money. You can find Taxman in establishments in Indy or, even better, use the day between games to head down to the brewery’s farmhouse facility 20 miles south of town. — Brendan Quinn

The Tiny Bomb is light but powerful. (Courtesy of Wiseacre Brewing Co.)

Memphis

The brewery: Wiseacre Brewing Co.

The beer: Tiny Bomb

Brothers Kellan and Davin Bartosch opened Memphis’ first taproom in 2013, and their first beer, a 4.5 percent ABV American Pilsner called Tiny Bomb, won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival just a few months later. Now, Kellan says, it is the best-selling Tennessee-made craft beer and No. 4 craft pilsner in the country. The honey-spiked pale lager made with German pilsner malt got its name because “it’s tiny alcohol but a flavor bomb,” Kellan explains. And it’s only 129 calories, which essentially makes it a craft light beer.

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“When my brother was brewing in Chicago, he talked to a lot of customers about what they liked and didn’t, and so many would say they loved the way craft beers tasted but just couldn’t drink more than one or two,” Kellan says. “He just saw that as a problem he could solve by making a great-tasting light beer.”

The secret ingredient? Apparently, it is the incredibly soft water that flows from the Memphis Sand Aquifer, an underground source of pure, ancient water. “Pilsen, Czech Republic (from which the pilsner style was born) has the softest water in the world,” Kellan says, “and we have the softest water in this country, so that’s definitely like a little cheat code. But you can have great ingredients and still make terrible food. You still need a great recipe, great equipment and a great cook. So we’re very proud of Tiny Bomb.”

Not only is this craft beer incredibly crushable — drink ’em through an entire day of games — but Wiseacre’s downtown location houses Little Bettie pizza (recently featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”) and is easily walkable from FedEx Forum, where Tiny Bomb is also sold. — Kyle Tucker

Nebraska may be flat, but the Fairy Nectar IPA never is (Courtesy of Kros Strain Brewing).

Omaha

The brewery: Kros Strain

The beer: Fairy Nectar IPA

This is no typical IPA. The signature brew at Kros Strain, canning beers and emptying taps since June 2017, Fairy Nectar is “approachable,” says Kros Strain general manager Doug Verskerna, with heavy mango and grapefruit hops brewed in a hazy, New England style. “The hops shine through,” Veskerna said. It is “Nebraska’s IPA” and the top craft beer in the state, Veskerna says. Kros Strain keeps 10 beers consistently available and showcased about 75 at its tap rooms last year. Fairy Nectar has always rated as a favorite. “People just gravitate to it,” Veskerna says.

In 2021, the brewery added a location at Millwork Commons, a short walk to the north from the CHI Health Center, set to host games Thursday and Saturday. At the Millwork location, Kros Strain caters to baseball fans annually during the College World Series, played directly across 10th Street from the basketball venue. It will expand its space for the basketball tournament and aim to serve large and small groups.

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Fairy Nectar is widely available. It’s served in 16 ounces of goodness, freshly canned, at the arena and at many hotels, eateries and bars nearby. And it’s a perfectly suitable brew to enjoy at a steakhouse, a dive bar and while watching hoops. — Mitch Sherman

Pittsburgh

The brewery: 11th Hour

The beer: New Cult IPA

You know what’s not overly easy? Finding a Pittsburgh brewery with a pretty good television setup for this exercise. Maybe we need to spend more time scouting the Steel City scene. Feel free to offer up suggestions in the comments for, uh, journalism. But 11th Hour comes recommended by our Pittsburgh sources for having good beer, a solid rotation of food trucks from Thursday through Sunday, a couple of televisions visible from more or less anywhere inside the taproom, outdoor seating for those needing fresh air and board games for members of your group who somehow do not care about the NCAA Tournament. (As a follow-up: If you are friends with such people … why?)

You can run the beer gamut here: pilsners, a Kolsch, a coffee milk stout called Nocturnal Rainbow that can keep you going, in every sense, at 5.6 percent ABV. But owner Keana McMahon’s recommendation is the New Cult IPA, a New England/hazy concoction that’s a “reimagined take” on the first hazy the place ever brewed. “A pillowy soft mouthfeel with almost no bitterness” certainly is enticing, and the 7 percent ABV isn’t too overwhelming. — Brian Hamilton

Salt Lake City

The brewery: Level Crossing

The beer: Suss It Out Rye IPA

There is no shortage of bars within walking distance of the Delta Center in downtown Salt Lake City, but Level Crossing’s new secondary location is only a 15-minute walk from the arena for those who want a beer break between sessions in the first and second rounds.

“Suss It Out is the perfect beer for March Madness,” says Level Crossing head brewer Chris Detrick. “This double rye IPA has a modest 6.9 percent ABV, allowing you to enjoy copious pints as you watch your teams cruise through the first few rounds. Brewed with the holy trinity of hops: Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe, Suss is not your ordinary IPA. It’s a delicious Rye IPA. The only thing Suss about this situation is your buddy’s bracket.”

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Suss It Out has also won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival. — Christopher Kamrani

Spokane

The brewery: Brick West

The beer: Brick West pilsner

After doing some in-person scouting of this city during the regular season, we’re pained to choose just one spot. (So we won’t. More on that in a bit.) Brick West, though, checks the boxes: Good beer. Multiple big-screen TVs. And if the weather cooperates? A massive patio for grabbing fresh air and halftime sips. We had a Brick x Brick IPA on-site, and it might be one of the best West Coast versions we’ve sampled. But the pilsner is one of the more popular pulls and, at 5.1 percent ABV, might be better suited for hours of game-watching. It showcases German malt and noble hops and — if Brick West does say so itself — it is “the epitome of balance, simplicity, and flavor.”

But Brick West doesn’t have to be your only stop. Lumberbeard has a large, crisp space and beer and food menus deep enough to satisfy a group — just be warned that there’s one TV, which may make prime viewing real estate hard to come by. Iron Goat is a very short walk from Brick West; we didn’t see any TVs inside, but the Sheep Go To Heaven IPA is a good starter before settling in elsewhere for games and lighter offerings. — Hamilton

Women’s regionals

Albany

The brewery: Fort Orange Brewing

The beer: Fort Orange IPA

In October 2017, John Westcott, and his friends Jim Eaton and Craig Johnson, took a leap and opened a brewery in Albany. For years, the home brewers would gather and try out different flavors and styles. In their business, they sought to bring out the best characteristics of other places they had visited, of other beers they had sampled. Westcott says that Fort Orange Brewing utilizes their taproom space — around 2,500 square feet — to create a family-friendly environment. They regularly host community events — birthdays, retirement parties, even a weekly cornhole league — and have food trucks present a few times per week. They also produce a varied beer list. “Any given week people could go and try something new they haven’t tried before,” Westcott says.

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Still, Westcott recommends its flagship beer — the Fort Orange IPA — which is a staple, featuring balanced notes of citrus and a little bit of pine. It’s a classic. But Fort Orange additionally offers a flight of its 10 beers on tap. By going that route, one can get a sense for all its offerings; consider it the equivalent of streaming multiple NCAA Tournament games at one time before narrowing down on one to select. “That,” Westcott says, “has become pretty popular for folks on their first time coming in.” — Pickman

Breakside Brewery in Portland is known for its fresh IPAs. (Courtesy of Breakside)

Portland

The brewery: Breakside

The beer: Breakside IPA

You’ll have no trouble finding amazing beer in Portland, a compact town that at last count was home to over 70 breweries. And while just about every style is represented in the Rose City, you might as well drink what the region is truly famous for: wildly fresh IPAs. And there’s none better than Breakside’s flagship offering, a Citra and Chinook blend that has been honored three times in the American IPA category at the prestigious Great American Beer Festival (gold in 2014, bronze in 2018 and silver in 2024).

“We try to focus on the full constellation of hop flavors,” says brewmaster Ben Edmunds, who introduced Breakside IPA in 2010. “The balance between sweet citrus, those pine, evergreen notes and tropical fruit is essential. A lot of other IPAs, including some of ours, can get a little bit more angular, more pointed in their flavor. They’re heavy on tropical, heavy on those dank, diesel notes. Breakside IPA covers those three bases really well.”

Freshness is key, as Breakside doesn’t distribute outside of the Pacific Northwest, much to the chagrin of this former Oregon resident. Portland breweries are notorious for their lack of TV options, but Breakside’s Slabtown location, conveniently located less than three miles from Moda Center, has three large screens where you can pair hoops and hops. And while you can always snag a can to go, there are few better experiences than tasting this legendary beauty poured straight from the tap. — Brian Bennett

Men’s regionals

Boston

The brewery: Trillium Brewing

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The beer: Congress Street IPA

We’ve only personally visited Trillium’s Fort Point location, but well-placed Boston spies confirm there are now multiple sites for adult beverage enthusiasts to enjoy. (We’d still recommend Fort Point, for what it’s worth. Parking isn’t great, but the atmosphere is — and on what should be a busy hoops weekend in Beantown, it’s a bit removed from the fuss of downtown proper.) At this point, over a decade into its existence, Trillium might be more than just the best brewery in Boston; we’d hear arguments that it’s the best in the entire state. There are, oh, more than a dozen offerings at each watering hole, but the Congress Street IPA with galaxy hops is Trillium’s flagship. (And at 7.2 percent ABV, it packs a healthy punch.) Personally, we’d also recommend whatever Daily Serving is on tap. The Daily Serving, basically, is where Trillium takes its baseline Berliner Weisse and brews it with whatever seasonal fruits are available. The result? Some of our favorite sours, especially those of the berry inclination. But really, Trillium has something for everyone. We’re hoping to do some on-site scouting in a few weeks — especially at their Fenway location, conveniently situated next to Time Out Market, a bougie food hall of sorts. — Marks

Dallas

The brewery: Peticolas

The beer: Irish Goodbye red ale

Don’t fret over the field trip a few minutes outside of downtown Dallas and to what seems like an innocuous industrial area — it culminates in an ideal situation for this exercise. Whether it’s on the first level with board games and multiple big screens or the second floor with ping-pong tables and some foosball — plus more TVs — Peticolas provides an ideal environment for multiple hours of hoops and other distractions.

What to drink while on site? Founder and owner Michael Peticolas understands the debate. “Which beer is best to drink during this time of year?” he says. “Which one can you crush in multiples throughout the day? Which name has the most application to the tournament itself?” That brings Peticolas to the Irish Goodbye red ale. Having sampled the product itself — we’re just doing our job as serious journalists, people — the 6.5 percent ABV pour is absolutely repeatable over a long day of madness.

Other quality options abound. But we also appreciate that an afternoon of the Sit Down Or I’ll Sit You Down imperial IPA — which is terrifyingly drinkable at 10 percent ABV — might lead to some challenging day-afters. So if a red ale isn’t your speed, we’d suggest the Golden Opportunity Kolsch. It’s one of the better iterations of that style we’ve encountered. — Hamilton

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Detroit

The brewery: Brewery Faisan

The beer: Fog on the Barrow-Downs

This is for my people, those who believe the hazy revolution has jumped the shark and just want a perfect, delicious IPA. Fog on the Barrow-Downs is, in my opinion, the best IPA brewed in a city loaded with wonderful brewery options. A classic, full-bodied, West Coast-style double IPA. Save room in the luggage for a four-pack.

I was told on a recent visit that the name, Fog on the Barrow-Downs, is a nod to a chapter in one of the volumes of “Lord of the Rings.” That’s great, if you’re into such things. I am very dumb and thought it sounded like a Tom Waits album. Mule Variations, Nighthawks at the Diner, Fog on the Barrow-Downs.

You’ll go a bit off the beaten path to visit Brewery Faisan, but it’s only three miles from Little Caesars Arena and absolutely worth a trip. A good place with good people. It’s dog-friendly and relaxed. (My pup Aurora might’ve accidentally run behind the bar not too long ago. Sorry again, guys!) After hitting the brewery, head to Eastern Market for a bite to eat, some shopping and another pint or two. — Quinn

You’ll love El Lay. (Courtesy of LA Ale Works)

Los Angeles

The brewery: LA Ale Works

The beer: Bengal Brew coffee Kolsch (A.M. games) and El Lay Pale Ale (P.M. games)

It’s not exactly walking distance … but at the risk of playing into the worst stereotypes, nothing is really walking distance from anything in Los Angeles. Which makes LA Ale Works as good a choice as any, with multiple venues to choose from. If we had to pick between the Culver City or Hawthorne locations, we’d likely go with the latter for the large outdoor beer garden and 25 rotating taps that will suit any taste. But as managing partner Andrew Fowler points out, the Culver City location is a short light-rail ride away from Crypto.com Arena and downtown. (And has just as many tap options.)

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The setup for games? Can’t miss either way. Hawthorne has six indoor televisions with a large projector, and another three TVs on the patio. Culver City has four TVs visible inside or outside. As for the libations? Depends what time you get there. “We’re mighty proud of the fact that we are L.A.’s sports brewery,” Fowler says, “and will of course be opening early for the games.” If you’re in the door in the morning, it’s the Bengal Brew, a 5 percent ABV Kolsch collab with Equator Coffees. “It’s light-bodied, coffee-forward, fully caffeinated and perfect for a 9:15 a.m. tipoff,” Fowler says. For the rest of the day (and night?) go with the El Lay, another 5 percent offering with “a restrained bitterness and hoppy notes of lime zest and tropical fruit,” per Fowler.

Also, we should note that Lunar Kitten West Coast IPA has been … vetted. Personally. If that style is your particular cup of suds, have at it. — Hamilton

Men’s Final Four

Glendale

The brewery: Pedal Haus

The beer: Day Drinker light lager

Sprawl is a buzzword during any major event held in the greater Phoenix area. If you’re downtown? You’re still more than 16 miles from State Farm Stadium and the games. Stay in Scottsdale, and the trek is closer to 30 miles. And these are all reasonable places to camp out as the men’s college basketball season reaches its crescendo. But it’s simply not the hyper-centralized Final Four host city that, say, San Antonio or Indianapolis are.

The Day Drinker from Pedal Haus could be a popular choice during the men’s Final Four. (Courtesy of Pedal Haus)

So the ideal brewery serves disparate crowds. Enter Pedal Haus. The Arizona brewery of the year in 2024 — per the Arizona Craft Beer Awards — has three locations: Phoenix, Tempe and Chandler. There should be roughly a dozen in-house options on tap at each spot, ranging from a hard seltzer to double IPAs to an imperial stout. Pedal Haus suggests the Day Drinker light lager for the long haul, which maybe makes sense for at least semifinal Saturday; with an ABV of 3.6 percent and an IBU of 12, it’s what the brewery calls “extremely crushable, low-carb, low-cal and gluten-reduced.” To be fair, we’d probably start with a Kush IPA or the White Rabbit hazy wheat IPA before dialing it back, but to each their own.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Greenwood Brewing and its downtown Phoenix taproom as worthy of a visit, if for no other reason than Greenwood beer is very, very good beer. SanTan Brewing Company and Four Peaks Brewing Co. are more ubiquitous within state lines — these are the Arizona beers you can pick up just about anywhere, basically — and they also have taprooms set up nicely for game-watching. — Hamilton

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Women’s Final Four

Cleveland

The brewery: Masthead Brewing Co.

The beer: Lean West

The hopheads at Masthead take a trip to the Pacific Northwest every autumn to meet with local hop growers, share ideas and bring some of the harvest back home to Cleveland. Those trips were the inspiration for the Lean West double IPA, brewed in the West Coast-style with that distinctive, hoppy pungency and notes of stone fruit, orange and mango. Available on-tap and in cans, Lean West is also the latest brew Masthead has added to its permanent lineup, clocking in at a hearty 8 percent ABV.

The brewery, opened in 2017, is housed in a former 1920s car dealership right downtown, offering Neapolitan-style pizza and an outdoor patio. It’s just a half-mile walk from Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, which should be tolerable by early April, even in Cleveland. — Williams

GO DEEPER

Dandy dozen: The 12 teams that can win the men’s NCAA Tournament

Illustration by Eamonn Dalton / The Athletic; Photos Courtesy of

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