Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Sampling of Sierra Nevada's Many Offerings

As a Northern California native, I always feel like I should be more of a Sierra Nevada guy.  The brewery, located in Chico, was one of the major brewers behind the craft beer surge of the past couple decades.  I remember in college hearing excitedly from a couple friends how Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was on tap at some nearby bars and restaurants, yet I just kind of ignored that information.  Beer sucked, at least in my narrow-minded point of view.

Eventually I learned otherwise, but it wasn't when I was in California, where Sierra Nevada is fairly ubiquitous.  Living primarily in the east and midwest since really discovering my love for good beer, I haven't often seen Sierra Nevada on tap in bars--if it is, it's usually the Pale Ale, which I fear I've kind of underrated or overlooked over the years--and when buying six packs or singles, I tend to go for more local beers or ones I deem, for whatever reason, more exciting than the Sierra Nevada available.

But this summer, that changed, in part thanks to my trip out to the west coast in June.  K's family had visited the Sierra Nevada brewery just prior to our visit to their home outside Las Vegas, and had generously saved a few bottles for me to try while out there in the desert.  Those, along with one I picked up at a Total Wine back home in Northern California, and one I grabbed shortly after I returned to Albany, made for a fine and wide-ranging sampling of some of Sierra Nevada's more unique beers.

Old Chico Crystal Wheat

Brewed in tribute to the Old Chico Brewery, which operated in Sierra Nevada's home town during the 19th century, this is the lightest beer offering from Sierra Nevada and only available locally.  So getting a couple bottles of this--one of which I packed into my suitcase and brought home with me--was pretty exciting.

As evidenced by its name, Old Chico is a pale wheat ale, and would serve as a great transitional beer for someone used to drinking the big breweries' adjunct lagers.  That's not to say Old Chico is anything like those beers, but like most pale wheat ales is not hoppy and does not contain a strong alcohol presence, at just 4.8% ABV.

I found it to be a very satisfying beer, particularly when sitting outside on K's parents' patio on a typically sweltering Las Vegas night.  With moderate carbonation and a light body, it's fairly quenching in that regard, and it doesn't lack character.  Similar to a solid lager, the wheat presence is somewhat in the background, and there's a bit of spice.  It's a nice beer to have around--though that's not likely to be the case unless you're in the Chico area.

Ovila Abbey Saison

I've had a number of saisons this summer, and hope to write a recap of those soon, but this was my first of the season.  It certainly looks impressive--so many bubbles!  And the smell is promising: you get notes of citrus, maybe a bit of yeastiness.

The best saisons, I've found, bring a little bit of funk from their yeast, along with notes of sourness and citrus flavors.  Sierra Nevada's Abbey Saison--brewed in conjunction with the Monks of New Clairvaux--sounds on the surface like it's going to really have a lot of flavor, considering it's brewed with mandarin oranges and peppercorns.

Unfortunately, as I've found to be the case with a number of the saisons I've been trying this summer, it doesn't live up to its billing as a real flavor bomb.  There are hints of mandarin orange, yes, but not much more beyond that.  It was relatively mild--not much yeast in the forefront, not really any peppery spice, and the alcohol was pretty well-masked.  Not a bad beer in any way, just...not particularly exciting.

Ovila Barrel Aged Dubbel

Ah, now we're talking.  Another beer kindly purchased for me by K's parents at the Sierra Nevada Brewery, and another beer made with the help of the Monks of New Clairvaux.  I don't know that I've ever had a dubbel I haven't liked, but that doesn't mean there aren't levels of how good these beers are.  And with the added benefit of aging the beer in wine barrels, this Ovila dubbel from Sierra Nevada represents quite well.

It's that aging in wine barrels that really adds extra depth to the flavor of this dubbel.  As I said, I always love the dark fruit taste of these beers, the vibrant interplay between malts and yeast, but to then have an oaky background with hints of Merlot in there means this beer is something else.  Just strong enough at 8.5% ABV, there's a small alcohol heat presence, but that melds extremely well with the flavors and strong carbonation of the Barrel Aged Dubbel.

If you come upon this beer, it would be a mistake to not bring at least one home with you.

Hoptimum Imperial IPA

From the world of serious double/imperial west coast IPAs, the 2013 version of Sierra Nevada's well-known Hoptimum series certainly lives up to its promise as a "hurricane of flavor."  I've sampled a number of west coast imperial IPAs this year, and Hoptimum represents well.  It's maybe a bit stronger and bolder than my favorites, like the Firestone Walker Double Jack, but I don't mind that in this case.  Anyone picking up this beer shouldn't be surprised by its intensity, and in many ways it works quite well.

The dry-hopped flavors come through nicely here, a combination of citrus and pine and resin.  Hoptimum does carry forth a moderate amount of bitterness, I'd say, but not an overwhelming amount.  I do think the malt flavor may be a bit overwhelmed in this beer by the strong presence of the hops and the 10.4% ABV, so the balance isn't as ideal as on what I'd call the best strong IPAs, but that doesn't mean it isn't a very good beer and a strong representative of this style.

Brux Domesticated Wild Ale

Though I was only able to get a small sample of Russian River's beer while back on the west coast, I found a special little treat shortly after returning to the Capital Region: the Brux Wild Domesticated Ale, a collaboration between Russian River and Sierra Nevada, on sale at Westmere Beverage.  When I read the description on the bottle and saw the markdown, I was instantly sold.

Described as a "dry and complex Belgian-style ale refermented in the bottle with Brettanomyces bruxellensis," I was a little late to the party on this one, as I believe it was released about a year earlier, hence the sale price.  That being said, I don't think the beer suffered much from sitting around over that time.  The flavors were still lively and bright, with moderately tart notes up front followed up by some spice and fruit.

I don't have much experience with beers containing the wild Brett yeasts, but it's beers like this--which I've read falls on the lighter end of the Brett sour/yeasty spectrum--that make me want to dive further into that world.  It may be hard to find at this point in time, but it's worth grabbing if available, and it also makes me hope for more collaborations between Russian River and Sierra Nevada going forward.

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