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How to Throw a (Pumpkin) Beer Bracket Party

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Every year I throw a gathering that focuses on pumpkin beer and tasting it. Since that is not fun enough, I usually throw in some assessing activities (ranking, voting, etc). The past two years, which you can read about here, and also here, focused more on evaluating each beer through many criteria (pumpkin spice taste, overall flavor, drinkability, etc).

This year, however, we kept it simple: two beers match up against each other! The voters are blind to which beers are matched up against one another! Winners progress through a bracket format!

And I enjoy food themed brackets.

It’s the 2015 Pumpkin Beer Blind(ish) Bracket!

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Organizing it and implementing it requires a bit of work, but it is very fun in the end.

Read below to see how to organize your very own food/drink bracket party.

Go to the bottom to see the winners of this year’s pumpkin beer bracket!

How to throw your very own beer bracket.

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Step 1:

Figure out how many beers (or drink/food entries … we’ll be using “beer” from now on but this bracket party can be for anything, really) you want in the bracket.

We used a 16-team bracket. We were going to have 16 beers but we had 15, so one had a bye-week. This number of beers (with the number of people invited) seemed to be perfect for two people to organize.

I believe the smallest bracket you can do is 4 beers, but I think 8 beers would be a good minimum. You CAN do 32 beers, but have fun paying for them and drinking all of that beer in one evening.

Step 2:

Figure out how many people you want to invite to your party.

This is important because this determines who can help you purchase all of this beer and how much beer you will need. If it is only four of you, you don’t need that much of each beer, but that means each of you will have to purchase 4 beers each.

I had 10 people over, so each guest brought one, and the co-organizer and I each got 3-4.

Step 3:

Buy poster-paper or have a huge white board to display the bracket. Draw the bracket!

This is a fun visual. When every guest entered the house and saw our bracket on the wall, they became very excited.

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Step 4:

Buy many cups! Small plastic cups or Dixie cups.

You will need to pour a LOT of cups of beer (usually 1 oz or a little less for each match-up).

Since the tastings were blind, we labeled cups either A or B. For every match-up (Beer A vs. Beer B), each guest got one cup for each beer.

Step 5:

Coordinate with friends regarding the beers they will purchase so the bracket does not repeat beers.

You can be specific and ask them to get certain beers, or you can leave it open to them (as long as it was pumpkin).

Step 6:

Once you figure out what the beers actually are (ideally you find this out ahead of time), determine the match-ups in the bracket.

We tried to have each “region” a particular type of beer. On the left side of the bracket we had the lighter beers face-off against each other, and we had darker ones on the right. We tried matching up porters with porters, for instance. We had a shandy and a sour ale that we put up against normal ales.

Step 7:

Begin pouring for the first match-up!

Whoever is doing the pouring/serving, they will need to know which beer corresponds with which letter (A or B). The guests will NOT know what beers those letters represent, even though they can see the match-ups written on the wall. You decide which match-up you will have your guests taste test first.

Once you determine which beer is A and B, pour those beers in the correctly labeled cups, respectively. Because there were 10 of us, we had 20 cups to pour and serve every match-up!

Because we had 15 beers, we had  7 match-ups for the first round (again, there was one beer that automatically moved on to the second round because it was not matched-up with anyone)! That means we had to pour and serve 140 cups of 1 oz. beers to our 10 guests in Round 1 ALONE! That’s a lot of pouring and coordinating, but with two people doing the pouring and serving, it’s very doable.

We had about 150 small clear plastic cups, half labeled A and the other half labeled B, so we were fine for the first Round. We simply washed all of them and quickly dried them for the second Round, when we only needed to pour 80 1 oz. cups of beer.

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Step 8:

Serve the beers one match at a time.

While your guests are taste testing and determining which beer they like better, begin to pour the for the next match-up.

Step 9:

Collect the winners and losers.

I walked around the room and the guests handed me the cup of the beer they preferred out of the two. I put those cups in one pile and then counted up how many times cup A appeared and how many times cup B appeared. Whichever cup was in that pile more times was the winner.

(Also collect the losing cups, so they are not confused for the next round. Your guests should always have two cups at each time, no more).

Step 10:

Repeat steps 8 and 9 until the first Round is over.

We decided to reveal the winners of each match at the end of the Round.

That means the guests (blindly) determined the winners of 7 match-ups without hearing about the winner until all of those match-ups were complete.

Step 11: 

Write the winners of Round 1 on the board for everyone to see, and repeat the process for the remaining Rounds.

We got tipsy pretty quickly, so be careful.

2015’s Pumpkin Beer Bracket Winners

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This year we had 15 beers in total. There was only 1 Oktoberfest.

The winner of the entire bracket: Anderson Valley Fall Hornin’ Pumpkin Ale

Runner up was also from California’s Anderson Valley: the hilariously named Pinchy Jeek Barl, a Bourbon Barrel Pumpkin Ale

The other Final Four beers included Schlafly Pumpkin Ale and Starr Hill Pumpkin Porter.

The beers that advanced to the Elite 8 but did not make it any further included Pumple Drumkin from Cisco Brewers in MA, New Belgium Pumpkick from CO, Southern Tier Warlock from NY (the bye-beer that got a free pass to this round) and Long Trail Imperial Pumpkin from VT.

The rest of the beers lost in the first Round, which include Hofbrau Oktoberfest from Germany, Funky Pumpkin from Boulevard Brewing Co from KS, Leinenkugel Harvest Patch Shandy from WI, Dogfish Head Pumpkin Ale from DE, Epic Brewing Imperial Pumpkin Porter from UT, Southern Tier Pumpking from NY, and Pumpkin Hunter from Devil’s Backbone from VA, or that pumpkin beer you find in Trader Joe’s.

In a huge upset, the two-time defending champion Pumking got knocked out in the first Round! Warlock was also surprisingly knocked out right away.

The sour ale (Funky Pumpkin) only lost by one vote, which is better than I expected.

Before you berate me for my pumpkin choices or the lack of amazing pumpkin beers, know this:

I asked my friends to bring a pumpkin beer to the party. Any one they wanted. Once I learned what everyone was bringing, I purchased a few more that I thought needed to be represented (and ones that were at the store). You can be more specific with what beers need to be purchased for the bracket, or you can just leave it up to your friends so they don’t stress about it!

This was a lot of fun and we’ll be doing this again (probably with Christmas/holiday beers).

Have a safe and responsible Halloween when drinking!

 

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