As I begin to write my 250th straight beer column, someone in our office suggested that I write about an aged beer to mark the milestone. Okay, I can do that. A couple of our brewery sales reps, lately, have been asking what we think we can do to promote the concept of session beer. Okay, I can do that, too.
Today I shall examine both ends of beer’s spectrum while paying tribute to the brewery that – arguably – put craft brewing on the map in the first place and, therefore, is one of the first I tried way back in the day, putting me on this very path. Let’s talk Sierra Nevada.
They’ve done something smart. Whether or not it was intentional, I hope it serves as a vehicle for beer drinkers to find that session beer isn’t a bad thing at all. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: session beer means big flavor and lower alcohol allowing one to enjoy more of a good thing in one sitting.
The last couple of years have found craft brewers coming out of their high-gravity haze and re-connecting with session beer. The problem is everyone has been making session IPA shortly after they turned on a whole new generation of beer enthusiasts to the idea that big hops and high ABV combine for the best bang for the buck. Ergo, if it’s an IPA it’d better be above 6.5% or it ain’t getting touched.
Okay, then. How about retaining a big hop presence but utilizing it in styles already known for their lower alcohol contents? If everyone is already accustomed to lager/pilsner, show them what it’s like with an IPA-like hop profile. Once they realize that they’re enjoying the beverage for its flavor and not its ability to buzz, the hard part is over. Sierra Nevada has two they’ve just released; one seasonal and a new year-round.
Their re-brew of the 2014 Beer Camp Across America Hoppy Lager is very light-bodied with flavorful notes of bready malt, spicy and lemony hops and a touch of honey in the finish whereas their Nooner Pilsner is crisp with biscuit malt and an elevated grassy/peppery hop bite.
Now, at the complete opposite end of the scale is barleywine. This is as un-session as they come with ABV ranging from 8 to 15%. Intense yet drinkable now, barleywine can age for a number of years with collectors paying a premium for them. They’re boozy, sticky and packed with powerful flavors… and we’ve just tapped a keg of Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barleywine for the first time ever. Oh, and for comparison we’ve got some of the 2013 vintage cellared for you.
The 2015 is defined by chewy notes of toffee, raisin, wheat bread crust and honey with very earthy, leafy hops steering through like on a slalom course.
Aim high or low, drink it now or wait a while. Right now Hopjacks and Sierra Nevada have your preference covered.