Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, CA & Asheville, NC
BY Steve Lonsway
When we were first presented the opportunity to write beer articles, my mind immediately went to the many (and I mean MANY) wonderful beers I have had from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. The problem is I think people would get bored reading about them every single month. So my approach was to wait it out and give us the opportunity to search out their next extra special release. Fortunately Stone Arch Brew House is somewhat of a magnet for unique beers.
Whether one of our guys shot across state for a kayak trip or a member of our mug club just returned from vacation, interesting beers appear in our laboratory refrigerator quite frequently. This is where we found the Barrel Aged Bigfoot Barleywine from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.
This rare find is housed in a 22 ounce bomber bottle boasting a screen printed label. Sierra Nevada’s use of packaging is as diverse as their beers. We have seen their products available in all sorts of beer vessels, from 12 ounce bottles, 12 ounce cans, 16 ounce cans, 22 once bombers, 750 ml wine-style bottles, and specialty bottles as well. Typically their offerings come with very vibrant colored labels; this one is really on the bland side with the use of only two pale colors. It is easy enough to spot though with the all-familiar Sierra logo.
After a brief warming period, our team poured the samples into snifters. The color was a very welcoming deep copper/ruby and was topped with nice lacing of tight bubbles. As the glasses were raised, words explaining the nose starting flying faster than I could write. Dark fruit, whiskey, tobacco, caramel, toffee, oak, dark malts, baker’s chocolate, alcohol, piney are the few words I managed to scribble down. Yes, this beer has an amazing nose, with all the above descriptors popping out simultaneously.
The flavor of bourbon is upfront with an oaky finish. Dark fruit, plum and brown sugar sweetness is evident as the pungent hop character sends in the bitterness to round it all off. The alcohol content leaves a warming sensation as the sip subsides. A slightly bitter/dry finish awaits. The finish lingers on the palette for a while which is a good indicator that this beer will pair well with hearty meats and strong cheeses (yet to be verified). Overall the Barrel Aged Bigfoot carries a lot of flavors from start to finish and creates a challenge to pinpoint all of the characteristics. An extremely interesting brew!
Now let’s look into the history of this very inspirational brewery. First opened at a time where Pale Ales, Porters and Stouts were unheard of in the sea of American lagers. 1980 was the year and Ken Grossman was the man. Boasting the name of Ken’s favorite hiking grounds, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company was born.
With a brewery masterfully cobbled from scrap dairy equipment and hops purchased directly from hop farms after long drives to Yakima, Washington, and a keen eye on consistency and quality, the American craft beer movement had begun. Sierra Nevada calls Chico, California home and rewards the state with an absolutely beautiful brewery, restaurant, pub and 350 seat auditorium. Renewable resources sets their tone right from the get-go. From their Solar panel parking garage with panels that rotate to follow the suns path to gather as much sun light as possible, to having the nation’s largest private solar panel array and of course their four massive co-generation hydrogen fuel cells. Plus the fact that they are able to divert 99.8% of their waste from landfills! This cutting-edge care for the earth has inspired the entire brewing industry to find more ways to lessen our carbon footprint.
Being located in a college town really helped the initial growth of the brand and sales gradually grew. Eventually distribution made it to the San Francisco Bay area and caught the eye, or should I say palette, of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. When word got out about Jerry’s affection for Sierra Nevada’s Porter, the many loyal Dead fans made it a point to search out these wonderful craft beers. Followed up by a pair of magazine articles, demand increased from both coasts. Through extremely hard work, persistence and a relentless approach to quality and consistency, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company was here to stay and craft beer became a destination for beer drinkers united.
Distribution growth has ever since been growing for Sierra Nevada to the point of outgrowing their brewery in Chico. A second brewery was recently added near Asheville, North Carolina and rumor states that it is as beautiful and sustainable as their original brewery.
Final word: You will never be disappointed with any beer that Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is involved in. Whether it be a collaboration with Dogfish Head Brewing or a project with the Trappist-Cistercian Abbey, or their own seasonal releases throughout the year, Sierra Nevada is synonymous with top-notched craft beer. The Bigfoot Barleywine release is always outstanding especially this rare find that was aged in whiskey barrels. SEARCH IT OUT!