There are many folk, like me, who cut their drinking teeth in the days before a decent beer was known as ‘craft’ that will recall with joyous clarity the first time their taste buds were engulfed by the fresh fruity, bitter flavours of American hops. I took a trip to the west coast of America in the early 90s and was surprised by how many small bars brewed their own beer and impressed at just how good the majority of them tasted. But I don’t remember any of those beer names, and can’t quite recall exactly what they were like.
I do, however, have a very strong recollection of the first time I tasted a decent American beer in back home in England several years later. It was in a wine bar, all fake leather and pretentious wall art, entered for its convenience en route to a train station and somewhere I could grab a quick beer and bite to eat.
It was a horrible place (it didn’t last long) and the drinks menu was awful. No local beers. No British beers. Just a typical array of nasty imported lagers. A waiter hovered over me while I was trying to decide what to order, irritatingly chatty and eager to share his knowledge about anything available behind the bar. I noticed a brewery name I’d not seen before, Sierra Nevada, and although I’d already made up my mind it was going to be as crap as the rest asked him to give me the lowdown.
He enthused about it. He boasted how new it was. He probably said it was “awesome”. Despite not believing him I ordered a bottle – better to have something new and crap than something crap I’d had before.
Of course, Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is one of the World’s greatest beers and a benchmark for US-style hoppy pale ales. I still remember that first taste: the stunningly fresh citrus aroma, the rich but clean amber malty base and the huge amount of flavour from the hops. I loved hoppy beers, but English brewers were mostly reluctant to extract maximum bitterness from them. Here was a beer that crackled with spicy hops and a whole bunch of flavours I’d not previously experienced in a beer.
Sierra Nevada is now mass produced and available at most UK supermarkets. But it still tastes great and is still switching people on to the joys of American brewing. If you’ve never had one before, grab a bottle now and rejoice that we’re living in such globally beer enlightened times. Not least because you won’t have to visit a crappy old wine bar to enjoy it.
Brewery: Sierra Nevada, Chico, California
Beer name: Pale Ale
Hops used: Magnum, Perle, Cascade