It’s been more than 13 months since Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. led craft beer aficionados and brewers across the country to its new facility in Mills River, North Carolina. The Chico-based brewery organized several beer festivals under the Beer Camp Across America banner and invited as many craft brewers as possible.
I wasn’t able to make it to any of the festival stops, but I was able to get the next best thing. As part of the celebration, Sierra Nevada collaborated with several breweries on unique one-of-a-kind creations. Twelve of the collaborations were released in a special 12-item case. I waited too long to buy the special case and they were pretty much sold out when I tried to purchase one. Thankfully, I had a second option.
Living about a mile away from the Chico brewery means that I have easier access to some of Sierra Nevada’s releases. The cases were gone, but they had single bottles of each beer, so I could make my own six-packs. I quickly seized the opportunity and grabbed the bottles before they flew off the shelves.
And then I waited to drink them.
I know that I shouldn’t wait too long to drink most beers because they’re not made to stay on shelves and refrigerators forever. I was reluctant to crack open these bottles. I had already tasted some of them before, at the tap room, at festivals and elsewhere, but when I finished drinking these bottles and cans, they would be gone forever.
So over the last 13 months, these beers have been in a relatively cool, relatively dark place (my bedroom). They sat by me waiting for the moment … and now it’s here.
I have just moved and I’ve figured that it’s now or never for these beverages.
After I moved, I placed the bottles in the fridge. I resolved that the next time I took one out, I would drink it. Over the next few days, I’m going to share some brief notes about each one.
These aren’t going to be full reviews — there are certainly some beer rating sites that have tasting reviews down to a science, putting my earlier attempt to shame.
Also, neither the fridge nor my bedroom are perfect storage places and that will probably affect how each of these taste.
Some of the beers may have held up better than others based on their style and preparation. I shared my tale with a fellow traveler in the tap room. He estimated a third of the 12 beers could probably have been safely stored this long.
Without further ado, here’s the first one I tasted:
1. Yvan the Great
(50 IBU, 6.3% ABV) A year ago, I wanted to save this for last, but now I want it to be first. If I can no longer save the best for last, I may as well start with a blast.
Brewed in collaboration with Russian River Brewing Co., Yvan is a Belgian-style blonde made to honor Belgian brewer Yvan De Baets, according to the label. He was a friend of Russian River brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo and Sierra Nevada’s Brian Grossman.
On the pour, it looked like it had retained a lot of carbonation although the head quickly dissipated. I loved the light, golden hue of the cloudy liquid. I smelled a pleasant floral note.
I could also taste that note when I took a drink, although it also seemed a little pine-y. Repeated sips unveiled some citrus and It had a mildly tart finish. On appearance and taste, it seemed reminiscent of white wine.
I would totally agree with label notes that state the ale blends the yeast character of a farmhouse ale with the citrus taste of American hops. I definitely reminds me of some of Sierra Nevada’s more recent farmhouse ales, although those draw in elements from other nations.
On the bottle neck, it reads that “This hoppy Blonde Ale blends the dry, complex yeast character of Belgian farmhouse ales with the bright, citrus-like profile of American-grown hops.”
On the back, it notes “As longtime friends, Russian River brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo and our own Brian Grossman are no strangers to brewing experiments. For this collaboration, they honored their friend and renowned Belgian brewer Yvan De Baets. This Belgian-American mash-up harmoniously blends Yvan’s penchant for yeast with Vinnie and Brian’s affinity for hops.” (opened Sept. 2, 2015)
2. Torpedo Pilsner
(45 IBU, 5.2% ABV) My second selection was the hoppy pilsner brewed in collaboration with Firestone Walker Brewing Co. This is a slightly less bitter beer with lower alcohol content, so I’m a little worried that I may not enjoy the full flavor after Yvan the Great. However, I’ve cracked open the bottle so I’m committed.
The label states “This hoppy lager features intense fruity and floral notes from fresh New Zealand hops balanced against a crisp and clean malt body.”
I guess we’ll see how fresh hops fare against Father Time.
The golden color looks similar to Yvan the Great. Still a decent amount of carbonation.
I swirl the sample glass to get a better sense of the pilsner’s smell. I’m not detecting much, maybe a faint echo of the fruity note that it’s supposed to have.
After taking a drink, it feels lighter than Yvan, but it’s still flavorful. A lot of the flavor is toward the front of my palate. It definitely seems more flowery than Yvan.
I’m not totally satisfied by the finish. Overall, it may not be as balanced as it once was. It’s fine, but I was hoping for a little more oomph.
The back of the bottle states: “Torpedo Pilsner is a hop-forward take on the crisp, classic lager. We and the folks at Firestone Walker share a passion for New Zealand hop varietals, so we loaded our legendary Hop Torpedo with the southern hemisphere’s finest hops for a fruity, floral twist on the pilsner style.” (opened Sept. 2, 2015; bottled May 29, 2014)
3. Chico King Pale Ale
(45 IBU, 6.5% ABV) Chico King is a pale ale brewed in collaboration with 3 Floyds Brewing Co. I actually had a couple tastes of this about a year ago at a brewing festival. If I recall correctly, it was good but didn’t sing to me.
The bottleneck label states “This pale ale stacks plenty of bright, fruit-forward resinous hop varietals atop a robust malt body.”
When I opened the bottle, I definitely got a strong whiff of hops with a sweet scent slowly emerging. It makes me giddy to have a sip.
Tasting it, it definitely tasted like a pale ale. It doesn’t seem to knock my socks off, but it was pleasant with most of the flavor standing out on the finish. Put another way, I seem to taste the malt first and then the hops. There also seems to be a hint of heat from the alcohol.
Overall, it seems well balanced. Nothing seems to knock my socks off, but there’s a lot of flavor there.
On the back of the bottle, the label says “3 Floyds has a reputaiton as the Midwestern kings of alpha (hops), and it seems our flagship beer helped lure them down the lupulin-paved path. Chico King is a mash-up of our mutual passion for hoppy pale ales and we suspect you’ll find it fit for royalty.”
(Tasted Sept. 7, 2015; bottled May 15, 2014)
(38 IBU, 5.3% ABV) This is a Belgian-style pale ale brewed with coriander. It was made in collaboration with Allagash Brewing Co. The bottleneck label states “This Belgian-style pale ale combines the best of our two breweries. Intense piney-citrus hop notes counterpoint the complex fruity spice of Allagash’s Belgian yeast.”
It definitely sounds intriguing. When I poured it into the glass, it had a light amber hue. The scent wasn’t fairy strong, but it smelt a little of pine with a bit of spice.
When I took a gulp, it didn’t seem to make a huge impact on my taste buds. There was carbonation, but the head dissipated quickly.
After a couple of sips, I could feel a little bit of the spice. It seemed to blend well with the hops and kind of reminded me faintly of gingerbread.
It’s pleasant enough, but I don’t know if it did enough for me to select it as a standout.
On the back label, it states “This collaboration honors Myron Avery, a founder of the Appalachian Trail which spans our North Carolina brewery and Allagash’s home in Maine. We share a great love of the outdoors, and Avery and the AT are great reminders of the wild spirit of exploration that connects us both.”
(Tasted Sept. 9, 2015; bottled June 3, 2014)
5. Electric Ray
(70 IBU, 8.5% ABV) This India pale lager was brewed in collaboration with Ballast Point Brewing. The bottleneck label states “This nautically named India Pale Lager combines intense citrusy, floral American hops with the clean, classic male body of a blonde lager.”
Right out of the gate, I was a little worried about this one — there was some cloudiness on the bottom of the bottle, plus some suspended in the liquid. It’s probably fine, but I’m definitely keeping an eye on it.
When I poured it out, whatever was creating the cloudiness appeared like the burnt orange that I saw when I held onto my Bell’s Oberon for too long. It gave the liquid a pleasant, fiery appearance that made it opaque — probably the most opaque of the ales and lagers I’ve had so far.
My first impression was an oaky scent. It had a heat from the alcohol and it felt heavier than the Myron’s Walk. It seemed like the malt and floral accents had merged together.
On the back of the bottle, it states: “As ever, San Diego’s Ballast Point looked to the sea for inspiration. A play on the fish’s scientific name—Torpedo californica—Electric Ray pays homage to our Hop Torpedo, the source of much of this beer’s big flavor. Its massive grapefruit and floral notes deliver a high-voltage hit of hop flavor.”
I’m not quite sure I detect the grapefruit, but it’s certainly robust.
(Opened Sept. 9, 2015; bottled June 3, 2014)