Dedicated to those of you who thought Sierra Nevada only made Pale Ale,* and for those of you who think that Sierra Nevada’s best beers are their big, showy anniversary and collaboration ales.
Origin: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, Chico, CA
Style: American Porter
I drank this: flopped on my butt at home out of a Jayhawk-bearing pint glass** while watching the British version of Top Gear, because that’s how we roll around here
Right. So we all know the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one of those beers which helped put American craft beer on the proverbial map. And they’ve got a phenomenally kickass Barleywine. But they do other things – normal, easy-to-drink beers – that are also excellent. Their Porter is in the excellent category, at least in my mind.
The thing with Porters is that, like Brown Ales, they’re one of those beers that breweries screw up. Brown Ales have a tendency to end up being watery, flavorless also-rans, the beers that the brewers threw together in a few moments so that they could go back to playing with something showier - an Imperial IPA or Double Dry-Hopped Imperial White Ale*** or whatever. Porters tend to end up sadly out-of-whack – one possessed of an overbearing hop profile, another completely hopless, another lacking in any body or interest whatsoever.
Sierra Nevada manages to avoid all these Porter pitfalls.+ As you would be able to see in the pic above were the pic of decent quality, the beer is a rich, deep brown. It’s not quite all the way to black (though I’ve had some Porters that were), and it’s translucent enough to let an auburn light come through when held up to a lamp. Scent-wise, it’s primarily toasty malts and milk chocolate with a run of herbal hoppiness on top.
Drinking it: mouthfeel comes first. It’s smooth and creamy and lovely at first, and then balances it out with a sharp bite of hops (remember: American Porter is hoppier than London Porter – American in the style name *always* denotes a higher hop level) before going slightly foamy. The malt profile is milk chocolate and malt – like malted milk ball-flavor – with hints of toasty-roasty bits (that is a real flavor, I swear) and a *slight* hint of toffee. The hops are that sort of sharp style that comes across as more feeling than flavor, but add a sort of herbal top note to the malts.
The balance of this beer is superb – it’s nicely chocolatey and rich, but still sharp enough to read as a Porter rather than a Stout. It’s a great Fall beer, likely to be one of my fallbacks when it’s 55 and raining and I’m not in the mood for wine.
*I should point out here that I’ll never review a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, because you should already have had one, just like you should already have had a Sam Adams Boston Lager and a Guinness. I’m starting to think I should put together a (highly subjective) list of beers that are standard bearers for their style, so that you can drink one and have a fairly good idea of what a particular style is supposed to taste like. Anyway. That will be a post for a moment when I’m feeling particularly argumentative, because I’m pretty sure no one’s going to agree with me on all points.
**Jayhawks are the bestest mascot of all best mascots EVER. This point is non-negotiable.
***To my knowledge, I just made this up – the closest thing that I can think of would be the Boulevard/Deschutes White IPA Collaboration Ale that came out back in late July or early August. That said, were someone to double dry-hop an Imperial White Ale, I would totally drink one.
+ *headdesk* My apologies for the alliterative phrasing (I tried three different versions – they all sound stupid). After two days of holiday product meetings last week, there’s some niggling part of my brain that’s still functioning in some sort of weird marketing speak. It’s making me NUTS, y’all. SAVE ME.