Craft Cans

Classic Beer of the Month June 2013: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

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Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 5.6%

I've been browsing the shelves of the major supermarkets lately and much of what I have seen has been disappointing.

Sierra Nevada Pale AleSure, the ranges are considerably better than they were 20 years ago, and there are some excellent beers now being stocked, but, if I were to write a school report, I would conclude it with the words 'can do better'.

Am I being too demanding? I don't think so. It's more than ten years since Safeway (RIP) in the UK attracted beer connoisseurs with some remarkable beers for a chain store. I don't think supermarkets have really lived up to that standard since.

One bright spot in my recent research was finding Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in more and more outlets.

I concede that this Californian beer may seem a little tame compared with the spiky, brash pale ales that are now being shipped in from the States to specialist beer bars and off-licences, but it's always worth a place on any shelf for me, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it's one of the pioneer beers of the US craft beer movement. First brewed in 1980, it opened doors to bars and liquor stores previously concerned only with big brewery beers. It encouraged countless brewers into the business and it predates the equally influential Samuel Adams Boston Lager by five years.

Secondly, it's the archetypal American pale ale. Along with Anchor's Liberty Ale, it was one of the first beers to showcase in any significant way the Cascade hop, which is added for aroma after Perle and Magnum have contributed most of the bitterness.

The impact of Cascade on world brewing, never mind American brewing, has been immense. Arguably, all the zingy, zesty, pithy and pungent pale ales and IPAs you've tasted lately stem from this one beer.

Great Converter

Thirdly, it's a great converter to quality beer. Being bottle conditioned, it is fresh and inviting, the luscious citrus and floral notes instantly making anyone who exists on a drab diet of pasteurized, boring bitter sit up and pay attention. Importantly, though, it's not aggressive, which means no one is scared off after a few sips.

Finally, SNPA is just a great everyday beer, whether as a wonderful accompaniment for seafood, Mexican dishes or curries or simply on its own when you're looking to wind down.

I love the delicate, faintly toasted malt base that provides ample support for the those juicy hops with their grapefruit, lime and pine flavours. It's clean, it's crisp and, at 5.6%, always satisfying.

Sierra Nevada has come a long way since the early days in 1980 when the brewhouse was constructed out of any materials founders Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi could lay their hands on.

From humble beginnings in the university town of Chico to operating state-of-the art breweries on both coasts of the USA, it's a mammoth success story.

And, while Sierra Nevada now produces a host of truly great beers, its much-copied, seldom-equalled Pale Ale remains at the heart of the business.


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