While there’s nothing like attending the NCAA finals in person, your couch does have one big advantage over the seats occupied by fans in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium: You can enjoy a beer with the game.
Sales of beer — or any other alcohol — are prohibited in the general seating areas of NCAA-sponsored events (though big spenders in the luxury boxes often get an exception to that rule).
Given the passion this annual tournament elicits from fans, it only makes sense to fill your fridge/cooler with something from the home state of your favorite team. Fortunately, there are some terrific choices.
Admittedly, restrictive beer laws might make it hard to find some of these at your local liquor store, but … who knows? Maybe if you do, that’s a sign from the basketball deities that you’ll win your bracket.
For fans of the Kentucky Wildcats:
Kentucky’s better known for its bourbon than its beer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good beers to be found.
Against the Grain’s Rico Sauvin – This IPA, made with New Zealand’s Nelson Sauvin hops, offers hints of a Saison in its tart, fruity initial bite. Despite the nice bitterness at the finish, it will likely bring to mind a white wine. Those hops, after all, are named after the Sauvignon Blanc grape. (ABV: 8%) (Also, if you can find it, grab ATG’s Bo & Luke – a gigantic smoked whiskey stout that’s aged in Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels.)
Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale – A biotech company that’s best known for its animal feed is, admittedly, a strange player in the craft beer world, but don’t let that keep you away from this company’s offerings. This flagship ale sits in freshly decanted bourbon barrels for six weeks, infusing the beer with a strong hint of the liquor along with vanilla and oak. Like bourbon, it’s a sipping beer. Drink a couple of these too fast and you’ll be fast asleep before the final shot clock runs out. (ABV: 8.19%)
For fans of the Wisconsin Badgers:
Wisconsin, also, has yet to make a real splash on the craft beer scene, but locals consistently point to two breweries as the local leaders in the field.
New Glarus’ Wisconsin Belgian Red – New Glarus is the king of fruit beers in the upper Midwest – and offers several year-round offerings in the category, so it’s a fielder’s choice. The Belgian Red explodes with cherry flavor (the brewery says one pound of local cherries are in every bottle). Not a cherry fan? The Raspberry Tart and Serendipity (which is flavored with cranberries, apples and cherries) are critical favorites as well. (ABV: 4%)
Central Waters’ Mudpuppy Porter – If you prefer something a bit more traditional, this porter sticks with the basics – toasted malts, chocolate hints and the familiar charred taste. You’ll also pick up hops at the finish. (ABV: 5.5%)
For fans of the Michigan State Spartans:
Michigan is beer country – and has a thriving craft scene. You’ve got a wide variety of options to choose from if you’re a Spartans fan, no matter where you live.
Founder’s All Day IPA – We’ve previously sung the praises of Founder’s Canadian Breakfast Stout (and if you can find that, get it), but the company’s session ale might be better suited for a day of watching basketball. It has the wonderfully complex taste of an IPA, with pleasing aromatics and a nice hoppy bitterness, but a lower ABV, meaning you’ll be able to enjoy a few more without regretting it the next day. (ABV: 4.7%)
Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza – A Belgian ale that embraces the spices and yeastiness, this Bière de Garde has a wonderful funkiness and a nice complexity. Despite all this, though, it’s lighter than you might expect from a beer of this style (or with this alcohol level). (ABV: 8%)
For fans of the Duke Blue Devils:
North Carolina is the state to watch in the craft world these days. The number of breweries has more than quadrupled since 2006 and several of those have won some prestigious awards. (If you’re visiting, Asheviile and Charlotte are the craft hubs.)
NoDa Hop Drop ‘N Roll – The winner of the 2014 World Beer Cup Gold Medal, this is one you want to put on your beer bucket list. Filled with a citrus-y, hopsy flavor that explodes on your tongue and a nice piney finish, this is a big beer that can hold its own against more well-known IPAs. (ABV: 7.2%)
Natty Greene’s Southern Pale Ale – You’ll get a lot more citrus than pine in this ale, but the hops are the real star of the show. It’s earthy and shows some hints of sweetness before the bitterness takes over. All in all, it’s a very well-balanced offering that goes well with a burger or other meaty dish. (ABV: 5.2%)