Drinking It All is a document of my attempt to try every beer in circulation. It’s a Herculean and tragic attempt at best. But it’s the means, not the end that counts here.
Today I’ve got Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, which damn near unarguably holds the place as America’s standard pale ale. It’s a beer you can find at most restaurants/grocery stores that carry more than just the big three domestics, and it’s green label makes it pretty instantly recognizable. So it’s not necessarily a rare find as far as beer goes, and the tendency may be to discount its quality because of its familiarity. But to discount this beer would be a very silly thing to do.
Sierra Nevada’s one of the big, important craft breweries in America. They were/are an integral part of the craft beer movement, and they make a solid little line-up of beers, of which the Pale Ale is probably the most well-known. I’ve already lauded their Torpedo Extra IPA, but somehow still haven’t written up the Pale Ale any of the times I’ve had it at the house. Blame familiarity and the fact that I always just put it off until the next 6-pack. Not anymore.
This pale ale is a solid work-horse of a beer. It’s hoppy the way good pale ales should be, and, to be honest, it’s borderline hoppier than many IPAs. The beer features Cascade hops pretty prominently, and the hop flavor heavily resembles grapefruit. This is the kind of fruit beer (i.e., a beer that’s fruity without using actual fruit) that I can get into. And there’s just enough malt character to balance out the significant amount of hop flavor that the beer is known for.
The color is pretty standard for a pale ale (which may be due, in part, to the fact that Sierra Nevada has had such a hand in establishing the standard in American pale ales), and the smell is a strong, fruity hop smell–again, Cascade hops.
(A good friend of mine has told me more than once that he’s not a fan of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. He’s a bartender, so I’m always (even though I’ve heard the story before) interested to know why. (His response to the question brings up an issue that I’ve not yet really addressed on this here blog, so let’s get into it briefly here with the agreement that we’ll tackle it at length later.) As a bartender, his experience has been that some beer drinkers (of the slightly higher-held nose variety) will ask for a beer that the bar doesn’t have. (Given the place I live, it’s not hard to imagine a bar not having whatever specific beer you want to drink–we’re pretty limited by alcohol level in this state.) When they can’t get what they want, they’ll apparently ‘settle’ for just a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, usually with the stipulation that they be given a glass. And while this seems like a perfectly reasonable request, the problem is that it’s always presented as the kind of third-string, ‘if you don’t have anything else’, last resort of the beer drinker instead of a good alternative to whatever beer they’d initially had in mind. This kind of passive aggressive snobbery is likely to be enough to turn anyone off to a beer, and it’s not exactly a positive reflection of Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale in terms of quality. I’m not sure I’m explaining this that well…
Basically, Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is a first rate beer. To have to condescend to drink it implies a certain amount of insecurity on the beer drinker’s part (yes, I’m talking about being an insecure beer drinker). Sorry that the bar doesn’t carry the specific style of beer you had in mind when you sat down. Life’s a real bitch, ain’t it? Guess you’ll just have to pick another beer and suffer through it. If you can’t order a good, well-made beer without indirectly pouting about it not being your first choice, well, then I’d rather not hear about your first choice, much less actually drink a beer with you. I have a feeling you’d make my brain hurt.
To get back to my friend, I think a large part of why he doesn’t like Sierra Nevada’s pale ale is that he’s just not nuts about the way it tastes. Which, good. If you just don’t like a beer, then just don’t like it. That’s the inarguable position that is every beer drinker’s right.)
So this pale ale is a good, solid example of what’s really good about American beers. And in particular, American pale ales.
Thumbs up or thumbs down? Thumbs up. This is the Fender Telecaster of American pale ales–does exactly what it does just as well as any other beer (guitar) and does it simply without a bunch of hoopla. There it is: this is a hoopla-free beer.