Sierra Nevada v Sheffield
The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) conference and Beer X festival has been on all week in Sheffield; meaning a few thousand beery visitors have been stomping the streets.
One such visitor was Steve Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. As Sierra’s official Brewery Ambassador, Steve travels the world sharing the story of how his family business progressed from its roots, via his brother Ken in the late 1970s, to developing into the influential American craft brewery it is today. After attending the SIBA conference as a keynote speaker during Thursday a tap takeover at DaDa continued into the evening. Hitting the taps were Ruthless Rye 6.6% – a black pepper spicy herbal IPA, their heavy hitting darkly roasted Imperial stout Narwhal 10.2%, aggressively hopped barley wine Bigfoot ale 9.6% (both from the High Altitude series) and a rare appearance on draught in the UK of their strong dark wheat beer Weizenbock 6.6%. Exposed beer blogger Jules Gray caught up with Steve between a few beers to talk about Sierra’s iconic pale ale and the American craft brewing landscape:
Q: Can you share a moment of insight about working with your family at Sierra Nevada or the story how you became to be involved?
I introduced Ken to his original partner Paul Camusi after I exposed Paul to the world of home brewing. I started working with the brewery in the early days doing sales in Southern California and helped set up the first distribution network in that market as well. I left a full time position after a few years to pursue other interests but continued to do events for the brewery on a regular basis. I returned to the brewery full time 16 years ago working with our distribution network. My role eventually evolved into my current responsibilities as Brewery Ambassador and Export Manager.
Q: I've heard that your flagship beer Sierra Nevada's pale ale equates to up to 70% of your total sales. What do you think it is about this beer that it has become so iconic and loved by beer drinkers?
Pale Ale has most likely endured the test of time due to several factors. The malt/hop balance is outstanding, affording the beer to be very flavorful and eminently drinkable at the same time. The signature Cascade hop profile still resonates with drinker’s palates and the complexities from the bottle conditioning add to the flavor profile. Finally, due Sierra Nevada’s overall quality and consistency, consumers know they can rely on Pale Ale to always taste great.
Q: It's clear from the beers brewed at Sierra Nevada that bold, hop-forward intense flavours and aromas are high on the agenda. Initially in the early 80s you were one of a few recognised with innovatively pushing the American craft beer boundaries. Can you give us an overview of the American beer scene back when you started and how/if it's changed in the most recent years?
When we started in 1980 there were only 45 breweries left in the US. Out of those, less than a handful were making what we would consider intensely flavored beers. Of course Anchor and New Albion were brewing some exciting beers, but that was basically it for full flavored beers at the time with the exception of Ballantine’s IPA which was a standout in the early 70’s. In 1980 our Pale Ale at 38 IBU’s was one of the most hop forward beers available. Over the last several years however, the landscape has certainly changed with over 2600 operating US craft breweries and pubs and IPAs being represented as the number one style with many examples in the 80-100 IBU range.
Steve and Thornbridge head brewer Rob Lovatt joined forces once again to brew their collaborative pale ale – Twin Peaks. An Anglo American pale ale at 5.5% using Sierra Nevada hops and UK malts. For first pour follow @Thornbridge and @SierrraNevada