Tag Archives: Sierra Nevada

Drinking Local in the Second Quarter of 2019

Here is what my beer purchasing looked like in the second quarter of the year:

second quarter beer.png

I want to apologize to the brewers at Barn Town Brewing for forgetting exactly which of their beers I drank following a spring bike ride in April.  It was an IPA and it was hazy.  After that my  memory has completely failed me.

A couple of things stand out.  First, I went a little overboard with the cans I brought home from Summit County.  There is no way to get Outer Range Brewing or Broken Compass Brewing beers except in the high country.  Plus, I wanted to share the experience with some people back home so I loaded up the cooler and acted like an old school bootlegger.  Twenty four cans of beer does not exactly make me a bootlegger, but let me have my moment.

Second, I bought a lot of so-called “middle craft” beers from brewers like New Belgium Brewery, Sierra Nevada, Firestone Walker, and Lagunitas among others.  Normally I would have little reason to choose a national craft brewer over something more local but a combination of grocery store sale pricing and rebates via the iBotta app changed my behavior.  The combination of the two often meant that I was buying a twelve pack of Sierra Nevada Hazy Little thing for less than $14.  That would compare with a local beer selling for $18-20 for the equivalent number of cans.

Once the summer rebates and pricing go away so does my interest.  Plus, Big Grove Brewery is carpet bombing the retail beer landscape here in eastern Iowa with twelve packs now.

Giving Credit where Credit is Due

One of the good things about people knowing that you are a “beer hound” as I am is that your gifts tend to center around beer during the holidays.  Seems logical right?

When someone comes from Colorado or Minneapolis they tend to bring me a few 22 ounce bottles of something I cannot get in Iowa or a trunk full of Surly Coffee Bender—thanks to my brother who really came through this past weekend with a nice delivery of Twin Cities-centric beers.  However, what does someone local do who wants to bring a host gift to a little holiday season get together?  The answer appears to be a Samuel Adams sampler pack:

Sam Adams Sampler Box

Offhand I kind of scoffed at the idea of Sam Adams.  Why?  I have no idea, honestly.  I put them in a category of craft brewers who have gotten so big that they have left behind some of the craft and adopted some of the macro.  I think that this is an unfair characterization.

No, this is not a New Year’s resolution to be a kinder and gentler me.  Rather, it is a realization that there is a lot of credit due to the vanguard of craft brewers who have ridden a wave of popularity to become quite large in the last few years.  I usually think of New Belgium and Sierra Nevada because both of these breweries were at the forefront of my awakening in terms of beer—the transition from Pabst Blue Ribbon and Hamm’s to Fat Tire Amber Ale was a jarring life transition—but Sam Adams should be on that list as well.

Perhaps more than any other craft brewer, Sam Adams and the parent Boston Beer Company has done more to propagate improved beer throughout the United States.  Furthermore, the vanguard of craft brewers has really opened up the minds of beer drinkers to different styles and ingredients in a way that would have been unimaginable without their efforts.  Can you picture one of the macro giants pursuing a sour ale brewing regimen?  Nope.

Let’s start with where it all began:

Boston Lager

It is hard to imagine a beer world where Boston Lager is not part of the landscape.  This beer has moved out of the purely craft domain and become something different.  When you are an option on the menu at Red Lobster you have reached a certain critical mass.

The beer is good.  It’s like a historical exhibit on where the craft beer movement started and you can understand how the movement evolved in one glass.  Here is a beer that came out in the late 1980s that had a full, foamy head, a dark color, and a considerable—for the time—hop profile.  At a time when people considered Michelob to be a premium beer, a pint of Boston Lager must have been a slap to the teeth.

Boston Lager stands up well to the times because it is well executed.  The Winter Lager feels like an evolution of Boston Lager:

Winter Lager

Utilizing a single variety of hops, Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Winter Lager has an easy drinking flavor that pairs well with the season.  Unlike a lot of “winter seasonals” this beer lacks the overpowering spice aroma and flavors that brewers pile on to make a beer for the cold months.  Dare I say that Winter Lager is a subtle brew?  I think that I would.

Old Fezzwig Ale is like a cousin to many of the homebrewed ales that I make:

Old Fezzwig Ale

Using Hallertau Mittelfrueh and Tettnang Tettnanger, the same in Boston Lager, produces a beer with a hop profile similar to what I make in my basement.  I mean that as a compliment, by the way, because I have an unabashed love of the beers I craft myself.

The inclusion of an ale is a nice counterpoint to a lager.  What’s the difference?  Ales and lagers represent the two families of beers whose primary difference is the type of yeast used for fermentation, which dictates the method of fermentation.  The primary supposed difference is that lagers produce fewer yeast derived flavors as opposed to ales because of lower fermentation temperatures allowing for a better expression of malt and hop flavors.  Considering that the variety of styles with the ale and lager families are so varied this distinction is becoming less important every day.  Let it be known, however, that the Miller Lite you hosted at that tailgate was a lager.

Holiday Porter is another ale:

Holiday Porter

It’s a pretty well-executed porter.  This style of beer is great during the cold months if the components are balanced.  Too often, a brewer will use the dark base as a platform to showcase a lot of alcohol and a lot of bitterness.  I have seen porters—and stouts for that matter—with IBUs above 100 and ABVs over 8%.  That is a lot of beer.

In truth, I would have liked to see Holiday Porter with less alcohol—blasphemy says the peanut gallery.  Hear me out.  Beer makers are tripping over themselves to make stronger and stronger beers—witness Bud Light Platinum—without really considering if it something that people really want.  I am not advocating for a hard cap on the alcohol in beer or anything, but brewers could learn that a little less alcohol can go a long way to providing a nice canvas to show some unique and subtle flavors that might get lost in a bigger beer.

Two of the beers included in the sampler pack were not so successful: Chocolate Bock and White Christmas.  I’ll address them in a descending order of approval with the bock first:

Chocolate Bock

This beer totally lacked any bitterness to counteract the sweetness that hits the tongue from the inclusion of cacao nibs.  There is a fine line to be walked with very dark beers when it comes to the interplay between sweet and bitter.  It is one of the reasons that I usually dislike milk stouts.  The inclusion of a non-fermentable sugar gives the beer a sweet thickness that I find unappealing.  This beer has many of those same characteristics.

The Chocolate Bock was a winner in comparison to White Christmas:

White Christmas

Sold as a white beer with spice notes for the holidays, White Christmas is one insipid liquid.  First, at 5.8% ABV there needs to be some body and bitterness for balance.  However, there is none.  The beer is very light in body—as you can see by the color—and lacking completely in bitterness.  So, there is a strong alcohol flavor and aftertaste that ruins everything from the first drink.

White ales are a hard beer to execute well, in my opinion, because the brewers instinct to go over the top is not rewarded as it might be with a stout or an IPA.  What usually results is a beer that is less than the sum of its parts in a major way and ends up getting poured down the drain.

Weekend Beer Thoughts

It’s the weekend so what am I doing?  Drinking and thinking about beer of course…

American Ale II Wheat Beer

My latest American Ale II Wheat is out of the bottle and into the glass:

Pretty good flavor, balanced hop notes, but a little forgettable.  Like a completely competent car–it gets good gas mileage, handles well, you can find the buttons, etc.–it was nothing that inspired or fired up the imagination.  I would call it the winter equivalent of a lawnmower beer.

This was the first beer that I had brewed with Wyeast 1272 American Ale II.  Some people have commented that it finishes quite different than Wyeast 1056 American Ale.  I do not really know if I could make that statement.  The beer was clear owing to the highly flocculant nature of 1272, but that is about the only difference I could notice between the two. I am going to brew two batches that are the same except for the yeast to really tease out the differences.

Adding Grain and Going Organic

In the past, I brewed one batch of beer with organic malt extract and it turned out well.  Going forward, I am going to try and incorporate as much organic content into my beers as possible.  It’s one way I can make my brewing greener.

I have also moved up to using steeping or specialty grains.  One complaint about extract beers is that the extract can leave beers with a flat flavor profile because of the freshness or lack thereof.  A way to counter this problem is to utilize freshly crushed malted grains to impart some of that fresh flavor back into your wort.  For my latest batch I did just that.

It is very easy to steep specialty grains.  Just fill a muslin bag with your grains, steep like tea in water between 140 to 160 degrees for thirty minutes, and remove before proceeding with your extract recipe as normal.  I really noticed a pronounced malty smell in the kitchen as I steeped the grain.  I am hopeful this ca give my homebrew some of the “pop” it has been lacking.

Here is what the recipe consisted of:

  • Specialty Grains: 1 lbs Organic Briess C60-L; 30 minutes of steeping
  • Malt Extract: 6 lbs Organic Light
  • Hops: 1 oz Cascade @ 50 minutes; 1 oz Cluster @ 20 minutes
  • Yeast: Wyeast 1272 American Ale II
  • Other: Whirfloc tablet added @ 15 minutes

This is the recipe I am going to use to compare 1272 to 1056.

Drinking Trader Joe’s

I am not drinking the bottom shelf at Trader Joe’s.  Thankfully, Will Green over at Serious Eats has already taken care of that task.  Instead, on my last trip to Trader Joe’s I picked up a pair of interesting looking beers: Mission Street Brown Ale and Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale.

Mission Street is a brand at Trader Joe’s brewed under contract by Firestone Walker.  I have tried the Hefeweizen brewed under the Mission Street aegis and found it agreeable.  Not great or really memorable, but agreeable.  The same came be said of the Brown Ale.  It’s color and head are appealing:

The flavor is a forgettable, but not bad in any way, brown ale.  Have you had a Newcastle?  Than you know what I am talking about.  It hits the notes that separate it from a red ale or lager.  You could drink these all night and not really remember anything the next morning save for a few scented burps over breakfast.

The Vintage Ale was a totally different story.  It poured dark and there were a lot of aromas wafting from the head of this beast:

Beast is about the best way to descrive this beer.  It reminded me of overly hopped and high gravity beers that are made just because someone can.  Sure, you can brew a beer with a high ABV and IBU that are off the charts, but if it tastes like day old warthog rectum there is really no point.  Not to say that this beer tastes that bad, but I was left thinking that I drank someone’s ash tray chased by a burnt PBR.

Sierra Nevada Going Eastward

Sierra Nevada, which according to CNBC is the second largest privately held craft brewer in the U.S., is going to be expanding its operations eastward.  With one facility in Chico, CA and a planned facility in Mills River, NC Sierra Nevada will now be able to address the large coastal markets without massive shipping costs in terms of dollars and carbon.

This move is sure to be echoed by other “craft” brewers.  In October when I visited New Belgium Brewery the place was abuzz with rumors about the potential expansion in the east, which would give that company a longer reach into those huge markets.  No word yet on that news.