Sierra Nevada is not the sort of beer company to rest on its hoppy green laurels. Even though its ubiquitous Pale Ale is the second-best selling craft beer in the country behind Samuel Adams, the Chico brewery continues to push the boundaries of the American craft brewing industry as it has since it was founded by Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi in 1980.
Sierra’s 13 year-round, seasonal or special ales and lagers range from a 4.8% abv Kellerweis Heffewiezen all the way up to its 10.2% abv Life and Limb collaboration with Delaware’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Sierra recently held a tasting of three of its most current ales at Lucky 13 in Alameda. Beer distributor Chris Baker (above) paired his barbecued ribs with Sierra’s Celebration IPA, Estate Ale and the aforementioned Life and Limb.
Life and Limb literally brings together two of the country’s most influential craft brewing companies, combining Sierra Nevada’s estate grown barley with pure maple syrup from Dogfish Head owner Sam Calagione’s family farm in Massachusetts. The yeast is a blend of both breweries’ house strains. The strong, dark ale is naturally carbonated with birch syrup from Alaska and it’s bottle conditioned. At first sip, Life and Limb explodes on the palate with flavors not typically associated with beer, but it goes down dangerously easily. It’s available at selected locations on draught and in bottles. A beer from the second running, called Limb and Life, was brewed in very limited quantities on draught.
Celebration Ale is yet another example of how well SN balances its smooth Pale and English Caramel malt with Chinook bittering hops, and Cascade and Centennial hops for finishing and dry-hopping. The dry-hopped ale has very floral and forward hops, but it’s also very drinkable. It’s widely available all over the Bay Area in reasonably priced 12-packs ($12.99 at BevMo) and deserves a place in every serious ale drinker’s fridge.
It’s hard to believe, but next year will be SN’s 30th anniversary, and considering the amount of beer it sells, the “craft brewery” moniker seems out of date. Although Sierra Nevada has established a signature flavor, thanks in large part to the success of its Pale Ale, the company always seems to have something new up its sleeve. It’s no wonder whippersnappers like 14 year old Dogfish Head want to work with Sierra Nevada. SN has charted the success arc for craft brewers all over the country. It combines tradition, like its legendary Bigfoot Barleywine, with risky ideas such as Life and Limb. Some of them will be commercial successes and some won’t. But they’ll all be interesting.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
1075 East 20th Street
Chico, CA 95928
Taproom & Restaurant: 530.345.2739
Gift Shop: 530.896.2198