Rambling Reviews 1.23.2018: The Sierra Nevada Hop Edition

Welcome to this special installment of Rambling Reviews, covering three recent hop-driven releases from Sierra Nevada. One of the earliest pioneers of craft brewing from the early 80’s, Sierra Nevada has evolved into a multi-billion dollar company while still remaining at or near the forefront of brewing trends normally driven by smaller, nimbler breweries.

If you don’t that’s impressive, consider both of Sierra Nevada’s early craft brewing counterparts, Anchor Brewing and Boston Beer (Sam Adams). Anchor Brewing is still a respected name, but their recent releases have been hit or miss, suggesting more of a game of catch-up. It’s also worth noting Anchor was recently bought by Japanese brewery Sapporo and is considerably smaller than Sierra Nevada, which is still owned by founder Ken Grossman who shows few signs of slowing down. Boston Beer is basically a messy corporation fighting declining stock prices, distracted from their brewing operations as they pump out uninspired ciders and alcopops with seemingly no real idea where to go beyond their flagship Sam Adam’s Vienna Lager released decades ago.SN Hazy IPA

OK, on to the reviews. With considerable fanfare, Sierra Nevada has jumped into hazy IPA race with its new national year-around release, Hazy Little Thing.  Given the notoriously short shelf life of hazy IPAs, it’s pretty ambitious national roll-out fraught with risks.  (It’s worth noting the much maligned Boston Beer is also rolling out a hazy IPA .) As you may know, when it comes to hazy IPAs, I generally hate those things. My take on Hazy Little Thing is….well, it’s OK. It definitely has the orange juice thing going, with a pith note on the aftertaste in otherwise, simple uncluttered brew. I’ve done some soul searching as to why I rarely like the hazy IPAs others adore. I can deal with hazy but huge amounts of detritus in suspension is pretty off-putting. I also miss the bright, sharp hop flavors that get muddled in the haze, and besides, late hop additions create juicy flavors just fine without all the floating crap. I’m not really the right guy to be reviewing this, but I suppose if I find any hazy IPA to be OK, that’s a ringing endorsement. So if you like beer with a bunch of crud floating in it that tastes like muddy orange juice, you’re going to love Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing.

A far more successful release in my never humble opinion is Sierra Nevada’s new spring seasonal Hop Bullet Double IPA. Now this is an IPA, and without that hazy shit. There’s some sweetness to it, with light citrus and soft pine that harmonizes effortlessly, the neutral malt quietly supporting it all in the background. In Hop Bullet, Sierra Nevada uses plenty of Magnum, which are overlooked, underrated hop that really shine in this brew. At 8.0% abv, it’s not one of those booze-bombs Double IPAs, it’s just a very solid beer, well put together.

IMG-4918We finally come to my favorite of the trio, Sierra Nevada 2017 Estate Ale, an IPA made with both Estate-grown hops and barley. Beer terroir is nebulous, emerging concept given that most beers throughout the United States are brewed with barley and hops coming from the same place:  The barley from the high plains of central North American and hops from the Pacific Northwest. Sierra Nevada’s Estate IPA, made with ingredients grown in Northern California, has flavors all of its own. It’s a very balanced brew, with  black current dominating with a gentle piney background, a slight caramel note from the toasted malt, with a touch of resin emerging at the finish. A unique combination of flavors that suggests a lot of great opportunities are in store as new regions for barely and hop growing start flourishing.

 

Clandestine Brewing Sneaks Back into San Jose

When Clandestine Brewing opened the spring of 2014, it quickly established itself as one of the Bay Area’s quirkiest breweries. It was really more of a home brewing collective of four brewers selling a sprawling selection of brews out a small, cramped tap room in a   small industrial space in South San Jose. It was always packed. Problem was, there was some weird rift they had with their landlord and  finally a year and a half later, they had to close down, always vowing to reopen. It took about a year, but Clandestine’s second act started last fall, just south of downtown San Jose in a bigger and more comfortable space. I’ve been itching to return to the reborn Clandestine and finally got the chance this past weekend.

Good news, the beer is arguably better than before. I always felt that at the old Clandestine with their rapid tap list turn-over that maybe 50% of their beer was good to great, 30% of it OK, and the remaining 20% were clunkers with noticeably flaws or flavors that just didn’t work. That never bothered me too much, since they were always doing something unique. Even tasting a couple failures, all I could think of was “Well, that was  interesting.” But then, not everyone would be so forgiving if handed  a pint of some hot phenolic mess so I always told people to taste a lot of brews at Clandestine to find something you like.

It’s always a little risky judging a brewery on a single visit but it seems like they’ve really upped their brewing game. Everything I sampled was good to great, and thankfully, the crew hasn’t lost their playful, anything goes attitude, which never degenerates into silly gimmicks or weird homebrewing experiments.

Hands down, my wife and my favorite Clandestine brew that afternoon was their “Roger St. Peppers“, a smoked Pale Ale with Jalapeno. Chile beers are dangerous, but Clandestine found the absolute perfect level of heat, and the Jalapeno slowly picking up steam to become slightly noticeable at the end of each sip. It’s just a lot of fun to drink. I also loved the “Choco-Conaught“, a dark Lager, with liquid chocolate and toasted coconut. That could turn into like some big horrible disaster, but all the flavors were well balanced and worked together well in a wintery Lager. Other notable beers I tried were “M-Rations” IPA, “Hopothetical Idaho 007” Pale Ale, and their popular “Milky Way” Stout that I was always a big fan of.

Clandestine is back, better than ever, and looks like they’re here to stay for a long time.

Checking out the Hop Dogma taproom

Hop Dogma Brewing in many ways fails to deliver on the premise of their name, and for that, we should be grateful.

Merriam-Webster defines “dogma” as “something held as an established opinion; especially a definite authoritative tenet”.  Given the rapidly evolving nature of hops in the brewing industry, one could argue a “hop dogma” in today’s brewing simply doesn’t exist. For a brewery with “Hop” in their name, there were only three IPA’s on the tap from a line-up of more than ten brews the day my the wife and I visited their El Granada tap room on the shore of Half Moon Bay.  Three IPA’s out of 10+ taps is a welcome sight, in my opinion, given that IPA’s often completely dominate selections throughout the Bay Area.  In another refreshing change, they had as many Lager beers as IPA’s available, with plenty of malt forward Stouts and Porters as well. Yes, I’m taking the name way too seriously, but I never figured out the dogma of Hop Dogma.

Oh yeah, how was the beer? Pretty damn good. Sorry, no fancy schmancy tasting notes here from samplers I tried. But starting with “We’re All Going to Helles”, a solid Helles Lager and other excellent brews like “Lean Mean Vanilla Bean Porter”, it was pretty much one impressive beer after another. Now at 8.2% abv, “Lean Mean Vanilla Bean” might not be so lean, but the vanilla level was just where it needed to be noticeable, adding itself to the mix without screaming “I’m HERE!” like many vanilla additions do.  And yes, they do hoppy beers at Hog Dogma, my favorite effort being “Nelson Mosella”, a Double IPA brewed Nelson Sauvin, Mosaic, and Ella hops full of bright tropical character. I also took a couple sips of “Honest Intuition” one of those hazy, New England IPA’s I typically despise and…..must admit it has a few redeeming qualities.  “Le Monk Da Funk”, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale finished with Brettanomyces, was an arresting dry ale with lots of popping yeast-driven flavors. I’ve become a recent fan of Hop Dogma’s gleefully unbalanced IPA Alpha Dankopotamus, even though I kept needing help from the bar tender to correctly pronounce it.

The Hop Dogma tap room is on the ground floor a majestic old wooden house on the corner in El Greneda, giving it a feel like you’re sharing beers in somebody’s living room. The ocean views are nice, too. The cold wet afternoon we stopped by, lots of locals filled the place, chatting away and slowly sipping pints of their favorites. I bet it’s packed on hot summer days.

We’ll be back.

piller point
Strolling on the beach, not too far away from Hog Dogma’s tap room