Tonight is the first installment of a very long term two-part series. I picked up two bottles of each of two ales celebrating the anniversaries of two breweries. I will try one of each tonight; the other bottles will go in my cellar for a year. The breweries are Sierra Nevada in Chico, California, and Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri. Sierra Nevada is celebrating their 30th trip around the sun, Boulevard their 21st.
For this occasion Boulevard has chosen a pale ale brewed with fresh hops. I anticipate this will be tasty today, but the hops probably won’t stand up to a year in the cellar. Sierra Nevada went with a barleywine, a style much better fitted to ageing, given its strength and body.
The 21st Anniversary Pale Ale is a deeply hazy rust-colored beer. The sandy brown head is quite creamy, but there just isn’t very much of it. The nose is quite elusive. A light pepper and tangerine hop aroma comes first, followed by a variety of spices including cinnamon and fennel. Some straw and a light breadiness from the malt before more hoppy citrus comes as oranges and lemons.
The flavor is likewise ephemeral. A rich spiciness from the hops just seems to be asserting itself as it fades into citrus and a malty sweetness. This, too, passes, leaving just a bit of a lingering bitterness and perhaps some of the spice. Coriander, black pepper, and anise make up this spice, and lemon and tangerine the fruit. There is enough residual sugar to give a bit of a body, but it is remains very light. As the beer warms, the flavors linger longer and the bitterness becomes a bit more pronounced.
Now the barleywine. This is actually part of a series Sierra Nevada made in collaboration with four pioneers of the craft brewing movement. Unfortunately this is the only one I saw around here. If you have one of the others I’d gladly trade for it. Jack McAuliff (of the legendary New Albion Brewery) came out of retirement to brew this barleywine with Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada.
Jack & Ken’s Ale pours a black most dark, with a generous creamy bronze head. The nose is rich and sweet. A strong roasted malt character and rich nuttiness meld with a caramel malt sweetness and just a bit of fruit from the hops. The alcohol comes through with a faint bite. This beer is exactly what an American barleywine is supposed to smell like.
The flavor is likewise big and roasty, but the hops will not move aside for the malt. The rich nutty and roasty taste is balanced by the strong yet supple alcohol character. The blend of coffee and alcohol flavor and full bodied creaminess make this beer taste quite a bit like a white Russian. The acridity of the roasted malt and sweet hazlenuts and toast remind you that it is, in fact, a beer. Subtle grapefruit flavor from the Cascade hops marks it as an American one. Though the palate is full and the malt rich, there is just a bit too much alcohol flavor, making this beer taste excessively boozy. With another year I would imagine that will subside.
Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Jack and Ken’s Ale
Boulevard 21st Anniversary Fresh Hop Pale Ale