East bracketBoston: Samuel Adams' Boston Lager
It's tough to pick just one in a town that's also home to Harpoon Brewery and a region home to countless other craft choices, but Sam's national presence and notoriety made the decision a bit easier. The fact that Boston Beer (SAM - Get Report) still makes dozens of beer styles when it could just coast on Boston Lager only strengthened the argument. Craft beer fanboys argue constantly over whether Sam is still considered craft, but Boston Lager's easy-drinking 4.9% ABV and lovely balance of hoppy aroma and malty flavor makes a strong argument all its own. Boston Beer founder Jim Koch made the first batch of Boston Lager in 1984, and it's been a craft beer gateway brew ever since.
Hear that, Columbus? That's the sound of a bunch of PAC-10 alumni laughing at the thought of an Ohio IPA. Don't wait for Urban Meyer to take Ohio State back to the Rose Bowl to exact revenge on those hopheads. Just hand them a bottle of this 6.5% ABV, 50 IBU beauty and let them get a sniff and sip of those citrusy Simcoe hops. Then note the look of shock on their faces when it reaches its none-too-bitter finish while providing just enough malt to make them ready for more. That's right: Ohio can work its way around a hop without making drinkers feel like they've swallowed a grapefruit coated in lawn clippings. It has since 1988. The Town doesn't need the Buckeyes to take on the best the West Coast has to offer. Just try the IPA. Pittsburgh: Penn Brewery's Penn Gold
Cans of Iron City Beer or bottles of Rolling Rock may have their place in Western Pennsylvania's beer history and iconography, but Penn Brewing's beers are in the region's veins. Made in the tradition of brews brought over by German settlers in the late 19th century, Penn Brewing pilsner, marzen, weizen, weizenbock and Oktoberfest beer has been as much a part of Pittsburgh as Primanti Brothers sandwiches and the Steelers since 1986. Its Penn Gold, however, is in a class by itself. A Munich-style beer with 4% ABV, a light color and none-too-heavy body is the essential all-day beer. It has all of the flavor of a beer garden stein full of much darker stuff, but all of the weight of dad's lawnmower beer. Nashville, Tenn.: Yazoo Brewing's Dos Perros
You can play it as safe as Taylor Swift with your craft beer and still find an audience, but Yazoo has been taking more chances since it was founded in 2003 than the city's country music industry has in years. We would have included the brewery's malty Sue porter, with a malty texture ensconced in enough smoke to make Tennessee BBQ seem mild by comparison. Unfortunately, that bad boy weighs in at a hefty 9% ABV. Instead, we give you Yazoo's take on Mexican brewing that combines a whole bunch of Munich, English and Chocolate malt with two forms of hops and just a hint of maize flake. The result is a light, sessionable 3.5% ABV brew that matches up mighty well with some spicy BBQ, Thai dishes or a big plate of cheddar-and-jalapeno arepas. It's what people who lie on the beach in beer commercials would drink if they could get their hands on better beer.