We're drinking the flagship craft beer from every state in the Union, counting down from 50-1, to find which is home to the President of Beers.
#18: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico, California
State: The biggest, baddest state of all. California has more people than Canada—something I won $5 for knowing at breakfast this very morning.
Brewery: Chico’s Sierra Nevada, which is north and west of the mountains that gives it a name. California’s largest brewery is an eight hour drive from the prettiest parts of the Sierras—you won’t confuse the Sacramento Valley for the Owens Valley—and possibly the most interesting thing going on out in the hinterlands north of Napa and south of Eugene.
Difficulty of Obtaining in Oregon: Very easy here or anywhere else in the country.
Rating: A very respectable 68.66. (I gave the beer its highest score, 90, which was one of my highest ratings of our blind taste test.)
PHOTO: Cameron Browne
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was my first beer. Ever. I wasn’t a teenage drinker, and started, oddly, with wine. So this is where I started, the familiar green label purchased from the Magic Stick in Detroit and sipped at a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club show.
If I’d listened to my friend Brian that first beer would have been a Miller Lite—billed by him as “in my experience, the least piss-tasting beer”—but I thought a “pale” beer sounded even smoother, so that’s what I got. Of course this beer is actually far beerier than Miller Lite, and all those Cascade hops were quite disagreeable to my young, dumb self. I did not enjoy it. Years of Blue Moon and Coors Light followed.
Coincidentally, Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Wet Hop Ale was the beer that got me really interested in beer. The crisp, fresh, green flavor of the Yakima hops rushed down to the brewery back in the Harvest Ale’s red label days blew me away. The Harvest is now three beers—Northern Hemisphere Harvest, Southern Hemisphere Harvest and Estate Harvest, which uses hops grown at the brewery—and the quality varies by year. But the simple Northern Hemisphere simple ale is still possibly my all-time favorite beer. Though I bring a Russian River growler to beer bars for street cred, I have a Sierra Nevada keychain, made a pilgrimage to Chico and put the hops I grew at my own house into a homebrew clone of the beer. Yup, I’m a Sierra Nevada guy.
Is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale the best flagship beer America has? No. But is it impressive that the best-selling craft beer in the country can beat out the majority of a Pale Ale heavy field in a contest like this? Yeah, I think so.
I’d still grab this beer out of a cooler—especially with BMRC blaring from a shitty stereo.
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