Tasting: December 10, 2011
The term “microbrew” was the first phrase I had heard used to describe what I’d call an alternative beer. If you put a production value to the phrase, it was used to describe breweries that produced less than 15,000 barrels of beer each year. But quickly, many of these early microbrew producers blew past that annual threshold. Years later, I began to hear the phrase “craft beer”. But, I just read that there are also production limits set for this designation as well — 3,000,000 barrels of beer a year. Wow — that’s a pretty wide path. Look at Boston Beer company — they produce about 1,400,000 barrels/year and to me they’ve saturated the market with product. Sierra Nevada is another mega producer and they come in at about 800,000 barrels/year. Compare that to Dogfish Head at about 75,000 barrels/year and it puts these two “craft brewers” in perspective with the rest of the market.
Let me create my own definition: A craft brewer is a brewery that is totally free of shareholders (directly or indirectly). Further, this brewery is inspired to create beer in a wide variety of styles that are innovative, unique and tasteful. In my definition and by volume, that leaves Sierra Nevada as the top producing craft brewer in the United States. They are privately held and have been brewing since 1981. They make a wide variety of beers in quite a few styles and are truly creative in a lot of their efforts. Off the top of my head, the first thing that comes to mind was their summer camp series. They invited bloggers and home brewers to their brewery in Chico for a Willy Wonka type experience and to create their own beer. Then Sierra Nevada released the best results of all their summer camps.
I think the concept in this ale is unique as well. They’ve grown all the ingredients on their own land at the brewery in California. They call it organic and note that it’s wet-hopped. It’s a beautiful presentation package with a natural paper label with a green wax-dipped neck. It pours a little darker than I expected – really looks nice. Tart hops on the nose. First few sips and it’s easy to tell this is a hop-centric beer. Bright with grapefruit, lemongrass and a strong black tea finish. Even though I like strong hops in a beer – I also like when I get some malt or sweet backbone. There’s very little here. This really reminds me of their Northern/Southern Hemisphere release. It actually has the same ABV as both of those ales. This is a nice beer and I can easily put an 85 on this one.
Read my review of Sierra Nevada’s Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere Here