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Of hops and hoops

College basketball’s March Madness officially kicks off today with the first NCAA tournament play-in games.  But two local tap houses – Manito and The Lantern – already are in the second week of their liquid versions.

Manito’s second annual March IPA Madness again pits 16 Washington-brewed examples of the style against each other, with the winner receiving a permanent tap handle for the coming year.

This year’s format is a bit different, though. Last year, the Sweet (er, Hoppy) Sixteen was trimmed to an Elite Eight based on head-to-head matchups in Facebook and Twitter polls. Then the champion – which turned out to be No-Li’s Born & Raised – was chosen by customers through blind tastings of all eight at once.

This time, while social media voting was used to help establish the field, the competition consists of four blind taster flights each week for four weeks, with the weekly winners then facing off in a Final Four round.

And to keep everything on the level, after concerns arose last year, brewery and distributor employees are prohibited from participating this time (under threat of having their beers banned from Manito for a year).

Week One saw a near-upset of that round’s top seed – Georgetown’s beloved Bodhizafa, which won the ultra-competitive IPA category at last fall’s Great American Beer Festival – by this year’s new and improved version of River City’s Riverkeeper IPA.

Bodhi squeaked by with 42.3 percent of the vote, compared to Riverkeeper’s 38.5. Boundary Bay’s Cedar Dust and Twelve String’s Batch 201 finished well off the pace.

You won’t know which beers are in this week’s round until you’ve tasted and voted on them, which you can do through Sunday.

On the other hand, The Lantern’s Month of Madness Craft Beer Bracket is a series of open, head-to-head popularity contests among 16 contenders in four stylistic regions: Dark, IPA, Light/Pale and Amber/Red.

You vote by buying pints of your favorites (at a special price of $4, or $3 during happy hour and $2.50 after 6 on Tuesdays). The competition continues Tuesday through Friday this week and next, with the Final Four showdowns among regional winners on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 28-29.

Today’s pairing pits HUB’s 7 Grain Survival Stout against Grand Teton’s Bitch Creek Brown in the Dark Region. The winner will join last week’s regional winner – Black Raven’s Scotch Ale, which dispatched Pelican’s Tsunami Stout – in the Elite Eight.

Then on Wednesday, it’s Fort George’s Vortex versus Bale Breaker’s Topcutter in the IPA Region; on Thursday, Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pilsner taking on Georgetown’s Johnny Utah in the Light/Pale Region; and on Friday, Boundary Bay Amber against Laurelwood Free Range Red in the Amber/Red Region.

Last week’s other winners were Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA (over Double Mountain Hop Lava), Breakside Pilsner (over Iron Goat’s Garbage Pale) and Boneyard’s Diablo Rojo (over Beer Valley’s Owyhee Amber).

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