Sierra Nevada, Estate Homegrown Ale

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Grade: A

Estate is one of Sierra Nevada's annual releases, using the newly certified organic hops (and now barley) that they grew themselves on their own farmland. This beer, from beginning to end, was made by the brewers. Winemakers have long appreciated the idea of regional impact when it comes to ingredients. Cabernet grapes grown in France are not the same as Cabernet grapes grown in California. In the brewing world the ingredients all come from maltsters and commercial hop growers, sometimes from many regions. Therefore one brewing company may be using the exact same ingredients as the next one. Up until now the only way to differentiate between breweries was based on how they put those same ingredients together. Sierra Nevada has decided to do everything themselves, from growing barley from seed to harvesting their own hops. That means that the contents of this bottle are unique, and not reproducible anywhere else other than the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California.

Pours a light amber, nicely clear with an offwhite head that laces up the glass something fierce. The color is a bit darker than some Sierra Nevada ales, mahogany and gold mix to make a combination much like the crystallized amber sap you see pre-historic insects trapped in. The aroma is absolutely, positively, irrefutably about hops. Pine, citrus, grass, grapefruit, resin, peach; it's like a hoppy wonderland. All the aromas are so pronounced, so floral that it really takes me aback. I have only had one or two beers that have smelled so wonderful as this, and I think one of them was a Sierra Nevada.

Medium to light mouthfeel, with a restrained level of carbonation. While the aroma completely blew me away by it's unabashed celebration of the hop in all it's glory, the flavor is oddly subtle. The bitterness is not overwhelming at all, in fact it drinks a lot like a normal pale ale, maybe even less bitter than that. This doesn't mean that it's weak sauce, instead the focus seems to be in the flavor and aroma areas. Citrus, peach, and a general "floral" flavor are here, mixing ever so perfectly with a toasty malt balance that I've rarely experienced.

I've written before about balance, and more often than not Sierra has been my example of what that is. Here is yet another facet of balance that Sierra yet again takes the lead on. Some brewers (and beer drinkers) equate "hoppiness" with bitterness, and to some extent that is true. But anyone can throw a bunch of hops into a beer and call it hoppy. It takes skill and years of experience to coax out the subtleties and nuance of the hop, to make it more than just a function of "bittering units" and treat it like the delicate and flavorful ingredient that it is. Sierra has succeeded in making a balanced, hoppy, flavorful, and most importantly in my book, drinkable beer. The tendency in the beer industry is to go big with your special releases, to blow the doors off your competition (and the tastebuds off consumer's tongues). Sierra has instead endeavored to make what can only be called a delicious beer, approachable by the novice and respected by the expert.


William said...

Hello Mike,

You've got a great blog here with some interesting articles and reviews. I'm involved with something similar in Australia, namely an online craft beer store and blog. As such I would be keen to swap links with you if you're interested?


Leigh said...

Now THAT is a lovely label. Outstanding!