Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Last Night's Tipple

Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico, California is one of the founding fathers of American craft brewing. It was founded in 1979 by two home brewers, it has grown into an eight hundred thousand barrel per year enterprise. Not only that, but they have been tremendously influential. They helped to pioneer the heavily-hopped full-bodied American IPA style that has become a mainstay in the American craft brewing industry. (And yes, although it derives from the British IPA, American IPA is distinct.)

And hoo, boy, are Sierra Nevada beers heavily-hopped. The Pale Ale, which is the original Sierra Nevada beer and still the brewery's flagship, is hopped to a level of 37 IBU (international bitterness units). That's pretty high. But most of Sierra Nevada's other beers are hopped to a higher level, often significantly higher. The Big Foot barleywine is hopped to 90 IBU, for example. The Harvest ale isn't quite that high (60 to 65 IBU), but it is unique. Where virtually all beers are hopped using pellets of dried hops, Harvest uses fresh hops. It could be that my nose is playing tricks on me, but I think that I can smell the difference. It's fresher, more flowery, sweeter-smelling than ordinary beer. It's bitter, but not overpoweringly so. The hops add to the experience; they don't turn it into a one-dimensional one. Sierra Nevada brews this once a year during (amazingly enough) hop harvest time. I should pick up some more of this before it's gone for the year.

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