Category Archives: sierra nevada

One Time Only

When everything in the beer world seems out of sync, often with questionable nonsense being offered as the latest examples of superior beer, I only have to turn to Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest collaborations to remind me that are still breweries, as Carol Stoudt once famously said, that still remember and respect “the integrity of the beer”.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest 2017 is the latest German collaborative brew, this time with Brauhaus Miltenberger, known as Faust Miltenberger in Germany, but because the Faust brand is a trademark owned by AB-I it is not allowed in this context. So be it, this Oktoberfest 2017 is a malt forward recipe that is wonderfully complex and simultaneously quite drinkable oktoberfest2017bottlepint using the finest German malts and hops. this is yet another outstanding example of Sierra Nevada collaboration project success. This from a very large family owned brewery, “owned, operated and argued over” now producing beer on west and east sides of the country.

But the true magic of these collaborative efforts is that each of these Oktoberfests are one time only. Enjoy this great 2017 Oktoberfest while it is available.
The Beer Doctor


Craft Has Become A Meaningless Word

First a review:  roundhouserenderRed Ale has a long history in the artisan brewing movement. Red beer was a favorite during the last decade of the 20th century. Now days, most red ale productions involve the hoppy concerns of India Pale Ale. So it is not surprising that Bell’s Roundhouse is referred to as an India Red Ale.
Roundhouse has all the modern concerns for tropical fruit notes, in this case, enhanced by the use of honey. Luckily there are enough malts present to keep this drinkable, with a dry hop finish. But to be honest, despite the robust growth in the IPA category, I find this approach to be downright boring. I have tried so many American India Pale Ales and they range from what could be called lupulin warrior concoctions, to what the ever so ambitious folks in marketing distribution call approachable IPA.
According to the folks who keep tabs on sales, the IPA category has quadrupled in the last 4 years.This is an over $800 million concern that makes up 75 percent of the so-called craft beer segment, with fruit and citrus forward IPAs leading the charge. Personally I find this a rather dismal comment on the state of artisan brewing in the United States. None more so than this:sidecar-can-180x300Sierra Nevada’s latest attempt to catch that audience for tropical fruit beer. This time (to be released in January 2017) a pale ale brewed with oranges. This supposedly is to kick up the west coast style of pale ale a bit. There is also on their schedule tropical-torpedo-300x289 giving their famous Torpedo IPA a tropical twist.

This is all fine and dandy if you like drinking this stuff all the time, but I have become weary of spending money on this style anymore, and because of its marketing dominance, there is not much else coming out. A brewing example of Gresham’s Law, where tried and true recipes have been abandoned, in the name of more market share. Nobody seems to know when enough is enough.
How strange after all those talks about what is craft beer and what is not, it really all comes down to market share. Independent breweries do not have the economic muscle of the Mega-Macro Breweries, but their desire to increase sales remains the same. I am afraid that the humble nobility of beer has become quite lost, in all this idiotic market-driven bullshit.

Because It Tastes Good

I recently started doing my own version of customer research by asking people purchasing beer why they chose their particular brands. The answer, time and again?  Because It Tastes Good.
Mind you, the vast majority of folks who purchase and drink beer of all types, care precious little about what the folks at whatever beer geek club have to say about the beer they love to drink, and rightfully so. As beer writer Norman Miller has pointed out, just because you do not care for a particular beer does not mean that somebody else should not. Thousands of bottles and cans go flying off the shelves of retail stores, not because of television advertising or celebrity endorsements, but simply because people like to drink them.
I know that is hard for some to understand. Especially for those who upon discovering the artisan approach to brewing, think they have discovered the secrets of the universe. Also known as beer snobbery, this is something I am familiar with. A state of mind found along the road of beer discovery, that eventually I had to dismiss. To quote the Gospel according to Bob (Dylan): “But ah I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” 

Which also helps to explain there is nothing really out of place when I observe someone buying some Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA along with a 12 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Or of a lady who informed me that she buys Yuengling’s Lord Chesterfield Ale, because “it hits all the right taste spots”. Which is all good, because beer, is above all about freedom. Which I take that to mean having respect for other peoples choices.

Which leads me to offer a finalist for this year’s U.S. beer of the year. Geographically speaking, this would have to be Christian Moerlein Exposition Lager, an outstanding malt generous example of the Vienna Amber Lager style, which is a Beer Doctor personal favourite tradition. That of course, is just my preference. If you do not like malt-forward styles of beer, this may not be for you. But variety can be the saviour of us all. Cheers!

The Annual Return of an American Classic

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale, the name itself invokes legendary status. “Bigfoot captures the imagination, and its character is as big as the name implies, ” so said the late great beer writer Michael Jackson, quoted on SNB’s own website.  This is a beer with stories even longer than the finish.
Take the one many years ago when one barleywine style enthusiast used his accumulated frequent flyer miles to make a special trip to Chico, California, in order to purchase a couple of cases. Back in those times, Bigfoot was mostly only heard about rather than consumed. Its unavailability only contributed to its legendary status.
There was also the business about its alcohol strength. At 9.6% abv, it was a totally unknown animal in states like Ohio, where beer, by law, could not be above 6 percent. This lead to some awkward moments for light lager drinkers who soon discovered that this was an ale to be consumed gently, very gently.
But what makes Bigfoot the remarkable beer of legend is that this is Sierra Nevada Brewing’s new world take on traditional English barleywine, where West Coast hops add surprising support for a massive malty base. Even after many years, this recipe never fails to astound me with its delicious gargantuan approach. I could chew on this sip for a very long time.

Old And New Brews That Are True

One of the benefits of being a beer seeker for 30 years is you get to experience trends in brewing that have been in decline, suddenly appear brand new. Take the style known as Roggenbier, a medieval ale, as the German Beer Institute points out, made with rye malt. Abandoned for centuries, this ale style is undergoing a revival in the United States, and now receiving national attention, through the introduction of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s latest seasonal, Ruthless Rye IPA.

The use of rye malt in brewing has quite a history. In Finland, Sahti is produced using rye combined with juniper berries. In Eastern Europe, Kvass was created as a very low alcohol drink that existed before the invention of modern soft drinks. Rye malt has been around for a very long time, although mostly unnoticed.

With Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA, you have a dark copper-coloured pour with a spicy nose. With a first drink, the rye becomes quite apparent. Sierra Nevada’s famous hops personality is given a twist here. The peppery notes from the rye abound in this recipe, while the extensive use of whole hop cones, combine with the malts to deliver a complex tasting experience. This has a bit of a bite in the long dry finish, which may be somewhat of a shock to a younger hop focused audience. Thankfully there is also full malt support for the hops abundance. Very well achieved flavour complexity that is astounding in its uncompromising quality.

The old and new combine in interesting combinations. Nowadays, there is all the talk about the craft can beer revolution. But I think back to 20 years ago when friends I knew could not believe I was enjoying beer out of a can. And when they tried what I was drinking, they were quite surprised to find they enjoyed it too. That was Genesee Bock Beer from Rochester, New York. They could not believe such a tasty beer came out of a can. I offered up the thought that the Ball corporation made very good aluminum cans, but that wasn’t the answer. The recipe dated back to 1951, but that was just modern production history, for actually Genesee Bock dates back to 1878.
What a joy it is to have this year’s batch of what is quintessentially an American classic. A flavourful can of beer, long before that notion was even considered cool.

Whenever I Think Of Steam

I recently had the pleasure of returning to sample an old favorite, indeed what could easily be called the original craft brewed classic: Anchor Steam Beer.  It maybe difficult for younger beer enthusiasts to imagine what it was like back in 1965, when a young Fritz Maytag became a fledgling brewer, purchasing an operation headed for oblivion.
What was the appeal? Well at that time the American brewing industry was chiefly concerned with moving “product”, which basically meant cereal based concoctions now commonly known as American lager. What brewers call adjunct lager. The pale golden coloured beers loved by so many millions of people, and, despite any inroads from the craft beer segment, are not going away anytime soon. The fact that Bud Light is 25% of the world beer market is really all that needs to be said.
The revival of regional recipes, the so-called retro movement, has reintroduced many of those all grain lagers, before marketing greed had corrupted their formulas. Thus beer brands remembered with nostalgic fondness have returned. Beers consumed at baseball games by a generation’s parents or grandparents, or once again available. In the case of Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Old Style, it never left.

This throws me back to when I was 10 years old, attending a Cincinnati Reds game at Crosley field. In those days, beer vendors lugged around cases of bottled beer, expertly pouring the entire bottle into paper cups, using sales pitches such as: “get moody with Hudy!”  and what now would be considered irresponsible “One for the road!” since there was no cut off point for selling beer in those days: beer for all 9 innings.

So bland tasting, sometimes foul smelling adjunct lager was an accurate description of the American beer scene in 1965, when Fritz Maytag began the arduous task of keeping alive Steam beer, an all barley malt beer linked to the West coast of the 19th century. It wasn’t until 1971 that the modern Anchor Steam was first bottled. Years before Sierra Nevada and Samuel Adams even existed. So is Anchor Steam the grand daddy of them all? I would have to say yes.

A sampling of Anchor Steam reveals a beer with enormous character. It is most certainly wise not to serve this beer at the taste numbing temperature called ice cold. In fact, at a warmer temperature, Steam pours with luxurious natural carbonation. In other words, do not hurry when enjoying this beer. This beer produces what in old school language can be called a rocky headed pour. But what truly makes Steam the remarkable beer that it is, can be found in the dry finish. A gentle bitterness that is oblivious to a culture acclimated with soda pop.
The evolution of flavorful beer has seen the explosion of aggressively hopped beers. Perhaps the grace and nuance of recipes such as Anchor Steam are missed by a younger generation of beer drinkers. In fact I  have heard people display an aversion to anything called lager, Which is unfortunate because this denies the possibility of experiencing an expertly made pilsener, or an exquisite rendition of bock. And of course, the lager referred to as California common, trademarked in San Francisco as Anchor Steam Beer.

Bock Until The End Of The World

A brief respite from winter found myself recently sitting in neighbors’ backyard, where I said: “Of all the beer recipe styles, I think bock might have the most spiritual dimension.”
Part of this of course, was due to the Lenten Monk’s ‘liquid bread” connection. But that is only part of it. Another aspect is the connotation of bock being a celebratory, arrival-of-spring libation, designed to leave behind the heavy physical and emotional lifting of winter. All of this will do. Just seeing the return of these seasonal beers is a reminder that even before the so-called craft beer revolution, all American lager was not bland in taste.
In my own neck of the woods, Hudepohl-Schoenling, part of Christian Moerlein, has brought out Hudepohl Festival Bock, a pure beer recipe using Munich and Vienna malts, beautifully constructed by The Lion Brewery of Wilkes Barre, PA, for the Cincinnati based company. Complete with graphics of a beer goblet holding silhouette of Pan, America’s Great Small Brewery announces “Bock To Our Lips Spring In Our Souls”.
And a very tasty bock it is. Fresh and bright
, the malts are given ample hops support, making this a lively, pleasant drinking experience.

At this time of year, it would not be spring forward without the arrival of Genesee Bock. Always a shocker to those who never saw the funky green Ball aluminum can, with a young goat springing about in a patch of yellow flowers. An American classic, nearly 60 years old, modestly priced for abundant enjoyment, I have often realized: My God what a beautifully made recipe.

Another tradition being established is the annual arrival of Sierra Nevada Glissade, a Mai Bock (golden colored) presentation, uually associated with late spring, this is a very fine take on the style, with the nectar-like quality found in Munich versions such as the one made by Hacker Pschorr. The depth of brewing skill is revealed here, demonstrating that Sierra Nevada, despite a hop-centric personality as a brewer, has enough respect for brewing history to produce this great traditional style beer.

One of the great surprises this week, was not a bock, but the surprising appearance of Stevens Point Brewery’s 2012 Black Ale. This is a tribute to the end of the Long Count Calendar (1 year, 10 nonths, 2 days… as of this writing) from the Mayan Civilization, scheduled to end on December 21, 2012. As the label on the bottle states: The ancient Mayans developed a “Long Count” round calendar that ends ominously on December 21, 2012. This date is the inspiration for the name of this ale.
An incredibly smoothly balanced black beer. So easy to drink it is almost scary. Point well made.
Cheers and of course thank you.