Sierra Nevada, Fritz and Ken's Ale

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Grade: A

The first in Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary series, Fritz and Ken's Ale is a rich, dark stout bottled in caged and corked limited edition 750ml bottles.Yours truly has acquired two of these unique beers, one to try now for all you adoring readers, and another to stow away in some dark, dank cellar to try again in the future (hopefully the distant future, if my willpower allows). Why call this beer Fritz and Ken? Read on.

Fritz Maytag is the owner and founder of Anchor Brewing Company in California, one of the cornerstones of American Craft Brewing. Sierra Nevada is also considered one of those cornerstones, so for their 30th Anniversary, they decided to release a series of collaborative beers to highlight the "Pioneers of Brewing." Ken Grossman, the founder and owner of Sierra Nevada teamed up with the "godfather of brewing" to make a robust dark stout, like the ones that turned both Fritz and Ken on to craft beer in the early days. The result, needless to say, is outstanding.

An incredible tan head leaps up from the glass, despite a careful pour. The foam cascades like I've only seen Guinness do, which I suppose is due to the bottle carbonation. Obsidian black, not a bit of light penetrates it. The foam leaves amazing lacing on the glass, and looks like it's going to stay put until the last sip. Roast and coffee in the aroma, with some brighter hoppy notes as well. A little citrus from the hops, thankfully not too much though, as I think it would compete with the darker malt aromas. A little toffee and caramel, and what might possibly be some alcohols, but my mind may be playing tricks.

A medium heavy mouthfeel that coats the mouth fairly well. The carbonation is there, but subtle enough not to add too much acidity, but just a sparkle at the end of the sip. Coffee and chocolate are in the flavor, with sweet caramels and some spice from the hops. It is solidly bitter, which is a very nice counterpoint to the bigger body and slight sweetness. The finish is not sweet, but the fullness of the body cannot be denied. You are left with quite a lot of this beer on your palate as you drink it. Certainly drinkable now, but I'm very eager to see what this beer becomes as it ages.

An almost perfect example of what an imperial stout should be. The alcohol isn't tasted or even felt until you (try) and stand up. The roast and coffee balance perfectly with the chocolate and caramel, leaving neither acrid bitterness nor cloying sweetness. The body is big, rich, and full, but completely drinkable. This beer was expertly designed to be perfectly drinkable right now, or in two to three years. It is easy to see how two founding fathers of brewing in America could come together and make something this solid, true, and downright tasty.

I must admit, I have a soft spot for Sierra Nevada. They have rarely ever let me down, and more often than not have completely exceeded my expectations. While collaboration brews aren't always successful (I'm looking at you, Dogfish Head), the next three in this 30th Anniversary series are going to be on my must have list. Who's next on the list? Well, let's see. There's Charlie Papazian and Fred Eckhart, the fathers of homebrewing in America, credited as the men who "launched a thousand breweries." After them it's Jack McAuilffe, whose New Albion brewery was light-years ahead of it's time. And the third is a Sierra Nevada exclusive: borrowing from the idea of blending wine from different barrels to gain the best example of a vintage, the last release will be a blend of Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot barleywine, the Celebration ale, and the flagship Pale Ale, generously dryhopped and aged in oak. I just had to wipe the drool from my keyboard.


Aaron said...

I just tried this after reading your recommendation. It was one of the best beers I've ever had.

Mike R Lynch said...

Wow, glad I could help. That's what I'm here for!