We live in a new world. I like to think of it as the post-Anheuser era. The neo-beer years where we are no longer shackled by watered-down lagers as the only option in our drinking lives. The store shelves are lush with a varietal of craft-brewed beers.
As with all great eras in human history, it’s easy to lose sight of the battles fought to get us to the good years. It’s important in our opulent days to remember our brethren who made these hoppy times possible.
Thus, I’d like to take a moment and give Sierra Nevada Pale Ale its propers.
Sierra Nevada first brewed this beer in 1981. 1981! Imagine the desolate beer-scape in 1981. Homebrewing wasn’t legal in the United States from 1919 to 1979. (Thanks, President Carter for H.R. 1337.) This means that it was illegal for innovative Americans to perfect recipes in their kitchens to ready their ales for commercial scale.
Sierra Nevada must have busted on this beer scene like a hot chick in an all-dude dystopia. Some dudes feared her, some embraced her, but they all wanted her on some level.
How Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi were able to get their hands on cascade hops as homebrewers in the early eighties is beyond me. I’m sure they didn’t have the luxury of popping into a local homebrew store for a convenient homebrewing experience. Beyond just acquiring the ingredients, think about what it would take in 1981 to build a commercial micro-brewery. Today, setting up a microbrewery just takes a trust fund and a few phone calls. Grossman and Camusi pieced together Sierra Nevada’s first brewery with used dairy equipment and scrap metal. WTF indeed.
It’s mind boggling that they were able to create an American Ale thirty years ago that can still hang with today’s over-the-top American Pale Ales. And why can it still hang — and hang hard, I might add? They perfected the malt-hop balance that has driven the American Ale experience for the past three decades. I’ll go out on a limb and say they invented the American Ale malt-hop balance all good ales in this fine country rest upon.
And what is that malt-hop balance? Any good Pale Ale or IPA brewer worth their weight in whole-cone hops knows that the success of their beer lies in creating harmony between the sweetness of the malt and the bitter from the hops. Too much sweetness and the bitter is lost. Too little sweetness and you get a mouthful of pine. Ipso facto, the malt-hop balance.
Sierra Nevada gave us the template. In fact, when I homebrew, I often start from the Sierra Nevada recipe of grains, malts, and yeast and work my way out from there. It’s never served me wrong.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is, indeed, the gold standard of American Ales. It’s the beer that took us out of the lean years of American swill and brought us into the sumptuous times we now enjoy. Have a Sierra Nevada and celebrate the American beer renaissance it made possible.