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Brave Little State

Who won 'Vermont March Madness'? Your votes named our state's biggest cultural icon

A March Madness-style bracket on a green background that converges with the winner on an outline of the state of Vermont
Laura Nakasaka
Vermont Public
In the spirit of college basketball's "March Madness," Vermont Public and Brave Little State devised a tournament to determine Vermont's biggest cultural icon. Voting played out over a full week in Vermont Public's Instagram Stories. The results of this collaborative experiment are depicted above.

A March Madness-style approach to celebrate our state's outsized cultural impact.

College basketball’s “March Madness” recently came to an end. It was a chaotic, month-long tournament featuring buzzer beaters and legendary upsets. (Both the University of Vermont men and women earned a spot, though they bowed out in the first round to powerhouse opponents.)

Meanwhile, Brave Little State is Vermont Public's listener-powered journalism show, and we thought it would be fun to collaborate with our listeners on a March Madness experiment of our own!

In the spirit of our latest episode about the many examples of Vermont’s cultural impact (and in the spirit of fun and friendly competition), we devised a bracket featuring 64 of Vermont's biggest impacts on today's culture. Our goal? To determine, once-and-for-all, which Vermont phenomenon has had the biggest impact.

Voting played out in our Instagram stories over the course of a week:

  • Round of 64: Monday, March 27 to Tuesday, March 28
  • Round of 32: Tuesday, March 28 to Wednesday, March 29
  • Sweet 16: Wednesday, March 29 to Thursday, March 30
  • Elite 8: Thursday, March 30 to Friday, March 31
  • Final 4: Friday, March 31 to Monday, April 3
  • Championship: Monday, April 3 to Tuesday, April 4

If you missed out, you can still participate by filling out your own bracket. Here is a printable PDF. Email it to when you're done!

The Results

We broke our bracket up into four regions: Pop Culture, Food & Drink, Outdoors and Politics. And, after a week of debate, voting, and fierce competition, one winner was crowned Vermont's biggest cultural icon! A prestigious recognition if there ever was one.

Here's how it all played out:

Pop Culture

Laura Nakasaka
Vermont Public

Winner: As expected, #1 seed Phish swept the Pop Culture region. Along the way, the famous jam band from Vermont took out #16 seed Newhart, #9 seed Grace Potter, #5 seed Bernie's Mittens and #14 seed White Christmas.

Notable underdog: #14 seed White Christmas, the 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, proved to be the dark horse of the entire tournament. It had an improbable run, overtaking #3 seed Anais Mitchell, #6 seed Shirley Jackson and #2 seed Noah Kahan, before bowing out to #1 seed Phish in the Elite Eight.

Did you know: Noah Kahan's hit song, "Stick Season," was actually the original inspiration for our episode about Vermont's cultural impact. That's the episode that, in turn, inspired this bracket game:

Best matchup: In the Sweet Sixteen, #2 seed Noah Kahan & "Stick Season" faced off against #14 seed White Christmas. It was a matchup featuring dramatically different portrayals of our brave little state: snowy, idyllic holiday Vermont vs. stick-filled, ugly, barren Vermont. Seeding aside, I guess it shouldn't be much of a surprise the former depiction won the day.

Food & Drink

Laura Nakasaka
Vermont Public
The people spoke and declared #1 seed Maple Syrup victorious over #2 seed Ben & Jerry's in the Food & Drink region of our bracket to determine Vermont's biggest cultural icon.
Graphic: Laura Nakasaka
Screenshot: Anna Ste. Marie
The people spoke and declared #1 seed Maple Syrup victorious over #2 seed Ben & Jerry's in the Food & Drink region of our bracket to determine Vermont's biggest cultural icon.

Winner: The Food & Drink region was arguably the most stacked section of the bracket, from beer to cheese to ice cream. In the end, though, it's no surprise that #1 seed Maple Syrup emerged victorious. Vermont is practically synonymous with maple syrup (just don't tell Canada).

Notable takeaway: No alcohol-related culture icon made it to the Sweet Sixteen: In the first round, #14 seed Creemees beat #3 seed "Heady Topper" and #6 seed Dairy Farms beat #11 seed Hard Cider. Then, in the second round, #4 seed Cabot Cheddar beat #5 seed Craft Beer. Meanwhile, three of the four Sweet Sixteen representatives from this region were dairy products! It seems the dairy industry still takes precedence in these parts over the more recent craft beer and cider boom.

Food for thought: Where would #16 seed Craft Cannabis be ranked in five years? 10 years?

Best matchup: The Elite Eight saw a heavyweight showdown between #1 seed Maple Syrup and #2 seed Ben & Jerry's. Some pundits thought the winner of this matchup would go on to win the whole tournament! More on that below...


Laura Nakasaka
Vermont Public

Winner: #1 seed Foliage cruised to victory in the Outdoors region of the bracket, overtaking #16 seed Snowflake Bentley, #8 seed Covered Bridges, #5 seed Burton and #7 seed Green Mountains along the way.

Notable Takeaway: This region featured some of the most enduring Vermont images, from foliage and cows to ski resorts and covered bridges. But it was #7 seed Green Mountains that went on perhaps the most impressive run to the Elite Eight, overtaking #10 seed The Long Trail, #2 seed Cows and #3 seed Ski Resorts, before eventually bowing out to #1 seed Foliage.

Did you know: #11 seed Morgan Horse, Vermont's state animal, is featured in a poem called "The Runaway" by #4 seed Robert Frost. The Morgan may have lost handily in the first round to #6 seed John Deere, but at least it has that.

Best Matchup: In the second round, #4 seed Robert Frost faced off against #5 seed Burton. It was a classic battle of contrasting styles, old versus new, culture versus counterculture. In the end, snowboarding powerhouse Burton won decisively. And that made all the difference.


Laura Nakasaka
Vermont Public

Winner: No surprises here. #1 seed Bernie Sanders faced little resistance on his way to winning the Politics region, dispatching three other notable Vermont politicians in the process: #16 seed Chester Arthur, #8 seed Calvin Coolidge and #5 seed Patrick Leahy.

Notable Underdog: #6 seed Marriage Equality was hardly a big underdog, but it made it further than any other policy impact, including #7 seed No Billboards, #12 seed GMO labeling and #15 seed Land Use.

Did you know: President Calvin Coolidge's 1928 speech in Bennington, given in the wake of the devastating floods of 1927, is the origin of the name "Brave Little State."

The Final Four

Laura Nakasaka
Vermont Public

The Mount Rushmore: In the Final Four, we were left with the tournament's four #1 seeds, the Mount Rushmore of Vermont's cultural iconography: Phish, Foliage, Bernie Sanders and Maple Syrup. Sure, you might have a personal Mount Rushmore that looks a little different, but there's no denying the incredible impact of these four Vermont icons.

Graphic: Laura Nakasaka
Instagram Slide: Anna Ste. Marie

Maple Syrup vs. Phish: In the first Final Four matchup, there was no contest. Perhaps Phish Heads just didn't turn out to vote, or perhaps Vermont's sweetest export was simply too overwhelming, but maple syrup cruised to victory here, capturing 86% of the vote!

Bernie Sanders vs. Foliage: The second Final Four matchup was the type of competition that lives up to the "madness" moniker of March Madness. By a total of just four votes, Bernie Sanders edged Foliage. I like to imagine Bernie draining a three-pointer over the outstretched branches of a tree at the buzzer must have clinched it.

The Championship: Bernie Sanders vs. Maple Syrup. Goliath versus Goliath. A clash of Vermont cultural titans. In the end, there was no denying the crown from maple syrup, an early tournament favorite that simply dominated the competition, stringing together six straight victories to claim the unofficial yet highly prestigious recognition as Vermont's biggest cultural icon. Cheers to that.

The Honorable Mentions

Vermont's cultural impacts stretch far beyond this collection of 64 highlights. Here are a few of the cultural phenomena that just missed this edition of the bracket:

Food & Drink: The von Trapp family, Von Trapp Brewery, Long Trail Brewery, Magic Hat Brewery, Catamount Brewing, Otter Creek Brewery, WhistlePig, Woodchuck Hard Cider, Citizen Cider, Lawson’s “Sip of Sunshine,” Vermont Creamery, Grafton Village Cheese Company, Lake Champlain Chocolates, Skinny Pancake, dilly beans, fiddleheads, oyster crackers, switchel, venison

Pop Culture: Francois Clemmons, Me, Myself & Irene, Ed Koren, Julia Alvarez, Howard Frank Mosher, Kat Wright, Eugene Hütz, Ray Vega, Sam Amidon, Pete Sutherland, tUnE-yArDs, Morgan Page, Gabi Elnicki, A Moose For Jessica, Pollyanna, John Irving, Grace Paley, Galway Kinnell, Louise Gluck, Reeve Lindbergh, Helen and Scott Nearing, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Kekla Magoon, Archer Mayer, Jason Chin, Harry Bliss, Tillie Walden, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Northern Stage, The Sex Lives Of College Girls (HBO), Super Troopers, Circus Smirkus

The Outdoors: Elle Purrier St. Pierre, Kevin Pearce, Lea Davison, Ben Ogden, the Cochran family, Skida, Concept2, Ken Squier, Vermont Lake Monsters, Colchester Causeway, Thunder Road Speedbowl, Quechee Gorge, old barns, summer camps, flannel, Camel’s Hump, Mount Mansfield, catamounts, “coydogs”

Note: You can fill out your own bracket by downloading this printable PDF. Email it to when you're done!

In the interest of full disclosure, The Alchemist, King Arthur and JAG Productions have been recent supporters of Vermont Public. They in no way influenced this exercise!

Brave Little State Brave Little StatePop Culture
Josh Crane is part of Vermont Public's Engagement Journalism team. He's the senior producer and managing editor for Brave Little State, a podcast based on questions about Vermont that have been asked and voted on by the audience, and runs Vermont Public's Sonic ID project.
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