The beer I selected for this week is a favorite of mine from the old, dependable Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Sierra Nevada was founded in 1979 by Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi, two homebrewers who wanted to turn their hobby into a career. The company started in Chico, Calif., and draws its name from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where Grossman enjoys hiking. Their original brewing system was pieced together from scrap metal and dairy equipment, but in 1988 they were able to upgrade to a larger facility with a 100-barrel brewhouse. At this time, they were distributing to seven states, and growth has continued steadily since then. Now they distribute all the way to the East Coast and produce 780,000 barrels per year. Last year they announced that they will open a second production brewery in North Carolina, which is expected to open in early 2014, to ease production and shipping strains.
The beer that I grabbed this week is Torpedo Extra IPA. This is an American IPA, and interestingly enough, it is is available in both 12-ounce bottles and 16-ounce cans. Now, many people look down on cans because of the beer that is normally packaged in them, but cans have a couple of advantages. First, they don’t let in light or oxygen like bottles do, making the beer more shelf stable. Second, they don’t shatter if I accidentally drop them in the river while canoeing.
This beer is rather bitter, so I would recommend pairing it with a sharp cheese (honestly, it needs to be at least as sharp as a sharp cheddar), or perhaps a spicy one like pepper jack, and strong-tasting food such as a curry or a bacon burger. IPAs are sometimes served in a goblet, mainly so that the bar can give you less of it, but a pint glass is more traditional.
The beer poured a hazy, golden brown. I’m honestly not sure whether the haziness came from it being a (relatively) unfiltered beer or from a chill haze, but I suspect that it was the former given Sierra Nevada’s brewing expertise. The head formed as two fingers of light tan foam, which had a very fine texture; it was so smooth that it actually reminded me of nitro beers. The retention was very good, with a pillowy surface reminiscent of Belgians, and the lacing was some of the best I have ever seen in a beer. The aroma was actually quite low, which is odd for an IPA. The main component was a fairly earthy hop character, although I also caught pine and citrus hop notes accompanying a malty sweetness. The mouthfeel was very creamy with a low carbonation. The moderately thick body carried the creaminess long into the finish, which was also quite odd for an IPA, at least in my experience. The taste of this beer was totally dominated by a massive hop bitterness, which hit immediately and continued the whole way through. There was an interesting spiciness up front, which quickly gave way to a malty sweetness, but the level was low enough that it just couldn’t compete with the bitterness. A significant earthy hop taste provided some depth to the flavor, but overall this was a very bitter beer.
Overall this beer was a very good American IPA. These tend to be bitterer than I prefer, but when I do decide to go with an IPA, it’s often this one. The availability is good, and Sierra Nevada appears to be increasing its production at this point, so it will likely be around for a while. It’s definitely worth trying, but don’t go out of your way to find it; if you like IPAs you will encounter it sooner or later anyway.