Bigfeet: '09, '10, '11 Vertical Tasting

I wrote not to long ago about a vertical tasting I did of Sierra Nevada's Celebration, and came to the conclusion that just because a beer has the same label year to year, doesn't mean what's in the bottle is the same year to year. Building off of this idea, I reached into my cellar and brought a few bottles of Bigfoot into the light. Granted, this is one of my favorite beers from one of my favorite breweries. One might think this makes me biased, and I'd have to admit that I am. However just because I've already passed judgment on this beer and found it outstanding, there still is much to learn about how beer develops over time, and the role hops and malt play in that development.

Grade: A

Pours fairly cloudy, very nearly opaque, with a nice dark auburn color and highlights of red and gold. The head is a foamy light tan that recedes into a coating on the beer after leaving nice lacing on the glass. The aroma is powerful, to say the least. Malt leads here, dark molasses and something like darkly toasted rye bread come out. There's a bit of candy-like sweetness in the aroma as well, most likely from the high alcohol content. There are still some lingering hop elements that smell earthy and spicy, maybe a touch of pine as well. The aroma is complex and intriguing. Mouthfeel is a bit creamy, little carbonation, but it finishes nicely dry. The most interesting thing I find about the flavor is how balanced this is. The elements of dark toasted bread, caramel and molasses, and earthy hops combine to make this one of the best aged beers I've ever tried. One thing I find (pleasantly) odd is I don't taste any of the prune, plum, fig, or raisin flavors your normally associate with an aged beer. I like it even more as it warms, the alcohol is so well restrained that even at 55 degrees it still doesn't taste hot or harsh. This is an absolute pleasure, and I'm sad that I have to put the bottle aside to try the others before my palate is blown.

Grade: A-

The head comes up a little more readily than in the 2009, and with a slightly lighter color as well. This beer is much clearer than the last, with a much more rich deep red color. Aroma is much more subdued here, which I find odd. Some of the same toasty, caramel-like elements are there, and there are herbal, slightly spicy hop aromas too. Overall I'm hunting for the nose on this beer. Not quite as creamy of a mouthfeel, the carbonation is a little more alive here, but as ever a dry finish. The flavor in this beer more than makes up for it's lack in aroma. Sweet toffee and caramel are juxtaposed against tropical fruit and peach flavors from the hops. The alcohol takes a back seat, except for that tell-tale warming sensation that lets you know you're drinking a 9.6% abv beer. A completely different flavor profile than that of the 2009, but just as balanced and drinkable. The hops are much more flavorful here, and while the bitterness is there, it's countered by the massive amounts of sweeter malts. The result allows you to taste multiple nuances of the ingredients, the caramel and toast from the malts, the peach and stone fruit from the hops, and the crisp bitterness that scrubs the tongue and gets you ready for another sip.

Grade: A-

The tan head comes up with a bit of coaxing, but falls into the beer more completely than the other two. This beer a very nice red hue, with a bit of brown that makes me think of mahogany. It's also the most clear of the three, I can read this post through it. The nose is full of floral hops, combining with a toasty and slightly cereal malt presence. There is a little sweetness in the aroma, which makes me think of a double IPA (which when fresh, this beer is commonly referred to as). The carbonation is much more lively here, scrubbing the tongue and adding an acidity that the other two beers did not have at all. Hops are bursting in the flavor; floral, earth, pine, peach, and grass. The malts are certainly there, but the toast and caramel that I tasted in the other two are certainly taking a backseat to the hop flavor. Bitterness is also higher here, aided by the acidic carbonation. While this is a different animal entirely from both the 2009 and the 2010, I'm seeing how the ingredients in this beer change over time.