Midwest bracket

Dayton, Ohio: Great Lakes Brewing's Edmund Fitzgerald Porter
The other town with a bye week in our bracket, Dayton lacks a strong craft presence of its own but is surrounded by an increasingly craft-heavy state in Ohio.

Instead of choosing Dayton's representative by proximity, however, we simply chose the best Ohio brew available in its taps and fridges. That's Edmund Fitzgerald Porter by a wide margin.

If you're a St. Patrick's Day-only Guinness drinker or a dark-beer pro who likes their porter to resemble motor oil as closely as possible, this is going to meet your needs. With lots of chocolate and roasted malts pairing with just enough English and Cascade hops, this mild English porter is far more sweet than it is bitter.

Sugar, caramel, chocolate, coffee -- all of those flavors make this more confection than beer. There's just a bit of hops on the tongue at the end to remind you what you're drinking, but this is as flawless an example of a porter as you'll find on these shores.

With all due respect to Mr. Gordon Lightfoot, this is a well-crafted tribute to a tragic loss. The Edmund Fitzgerald and its 29-person crew have been gone for more than 35 years, but this is as good a way as any to keep their memories alive.

St. Louis: Schlafly Beer's Dry Hopped APA
If you're going to open a craft brewery in Anheuser-Busch's backyard, you'd better not bring some weak brew that tastes like glorified Michelob.

We had doubts about Schlafly Brewing when we first encountered a stray bottle of its special-release Pumpkin Ale in Chicago a few years back. Yet just as New Belgium and Avery breweries have flourished in Coors' long Colorado shadow, Schlafly has thrived as a craft alternative to the big brewery for more than 20 years.

Its Christmas Ale full of orange peel, berries, ginger, cardamom and clove is one of the best holiday seasonals in the country, but it's the regular lineup that's really made inroads -- even securing some tap space during Cardinals games at Busch Stadium. It boasts a simple, sessionable 4.4% ABV Pale Ale as its flagship beer, but the showstopper is a Cascade and Chinook hop-heavy Dry Hopped American Pale Ale. Just hoppy, bitter and aromatic enough to provide more punch than the standard Pale Ale, but sweet enough to prevent big-beer converts from recoiling in horror.

It's on the smaller side for an IPA at 5.9% ABV, but that's not such a bad thing if there's more than one in your future. Visit the Anheuser-Busch brewery, see some Clydesdales, but if you want more hops and malt than you'll find in a Bud, Schlafly should be your next stop.

Louisville, Ky.: Bluegrass Brewing's American Pale Ale
It's understandable for barflies from beyond Kentucky's borders to turn their thoughts to distilleries instead of breweries when it comes to imbibing in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky supplies 95% of the world's bourbon, which accounts for $1.1 billion in U.S. exports and $2 billion of Kentucky's economy.

Where a bourbon lover looks at a bourbon barrel and see's God's gift to whiskey, a beer brewer sees it as a challenge. Oak barrel conditioning and aging is nothing new in the brewing world, but Bluegrass Brewing takes it a step further by procuring its barrels from the Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg and serving four barrel-aged brews at a clip.

We heartily recommend any four of these, which rotate in and out on a seasonal basis and typically have a higher ABV than the standard brews. If you're seeking consistency, however, there's no better place to start than with the Dark Star Porter. Not only is it a smooth, dark, chocolate-and-caramel concoction that warms the chest without scorching the tongue, but this 5.6% ABV is a nice gateway to BBC's 7.5% ABV Bourbon Barrel Rye Porter. We suggest checking into the St. Matthew's location on Wednesday night for some prime picking during their Bluegrass Jam and for a pint of near-perfect porter that could blacken the blue moon of Kentucky.

Which first-round beer in our Midwest bracket would you prefer?

Schlafly Beer's Dry Hopped APA
Bluegrass Brewing Company's Dark Star Porter

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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