Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sierra Nevada presents Hoptimum

The Avenue Pub hosted a Sierra Nevada tasting to celebrate the release of the only 2 (small) kegs of it in Louisiana. No other bars have it, and it's not in bottles here either. Apparently Texas didn't get any at all!

You know what this means, right? THAT I AM SUPER EXTRA COOL!

Anyway, enough of that, although I am willing to discuss that fact at length at a later time.

The Hoptimum was the grand finale in a SN tasting that started with the 2011 Bigfoot Barleywine, the 30th Anniversary Grand Cru, the 30th Anniversary Fritz & Ken's Ale, Torpedo, and finally, the Hoptimum. While it was driving me somewhat crazy to wait so long, once I tried it, the finish made sense- as an Imperial IPA, that was palate-blowing. Delicious, but quite overwhelming.

OK, the beers: the 2011 Barleywine. Eh. It was fine, but too fresh. Usually "beer" plus "fresh" equals optimum drinking experience, but in my opinion, the opposite is true for barleywines. Unaged barleywines just are too sharp and hot for my tastes. The Bigfoot has a lot of complexity that I can just fight to pick out among the alcohol burn and intense hop bitterness, but ultimately, although I'll drink a 2 oz. taste, I had no desire to have any more than that. This was, however, much more heavily hopped than you find with most barleywines which made for a bit of palate confusion!

In comparison, Tom and I found a few 2008 Bigfoot bottles while shifting stuff around during Tom's recent homebrewing adventures and brought one along to taste and compare. We split it 4 ways with Polly and Kirk, the Sierra Nevada rep that was there talking about the beer. It was lovely. Age had mellowed the burn to a very pleasant warming barleywine that had delicious caramel flavors and a lovely maltiness that held just a hint of hop spiciness in the background. This was the kind of subtle and complexly layered barleywine that you can just picture sipping from a snifter beside a roaring fire and just feel the delicious warmth spread through your body...

So, yeah. Tasty. Mmmm.

Anyway, after that, we had a short pour of the Sierra Nevada Grand Cru, which I've had before and enjoyed greatly. I've had it at the Pub and we've had it at home. It's an American Strong Ale and it's one of my favorite "big" beers. I highly recommend picking up a bottle if you ever come across it. It's just so drinkable and balanced and flavorful- really beautiful use of hops. You can taste the booziness, but it works with the flavors instead of distracting from them. We only had a little bit last night, because Polly thought she'd have 6 or 7 bottles to pour, but they sold all but 2 the night before the tasting. I was happy to have my couple of sips though.

Next up was another 30th Anniversary beer- Fritz and Ken's Ale, an Imperial Stout. A big ole stout, but very well crafted. Woody flavors balanced with bittersweet roasty chocolate notes. I enjoyed it.

OK, I thought, finally, it's Hoptimum time! Alas, no. But my disappointment was cushioned by the fact that we were warming our hoppy palates with Torpedo, Sierra Nevada's stellar "Extra" IPA. Man, that's a tasty beer. Deliriously hop heavy with the aroma and taste of the stickiest kind bud of West Coast hops. I swear. Floral and citrusy but CLEAN tasting and dry and delicious.

And Sierra Nevada hopes to improve upon this with Hoptimum????

Well, to be fair, the 2 beers are pretty different. I finally got my mitts on some Hoptimum and admired its lovely copper-orange color and floral yet remarkably musty aroma. The taste was nice- balanced with a distinct malt presence that became more assertive as the beer warmed to room temperature. I liked it- in fact I had another glass of it after the tasting - and appreciated it on an intellectual level. I was grateful to have had the opportunity to taste it and form the opinion that... I wasn't really blown away by it. It was good, though. Maybe if I hadn't had that Torpedo first... heh.

Tastings like these are like an embarrassment of riches. I mean, seriously. These are some serious beers, and Sierra Nevada is a hell of a brewery.

I salute you, you magnificent bastard!

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