Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review: Sierra Nevada Chico Brewer's Harvest Estate

Every so often you get lucky and find something special. A rotator brew that isn't loaded with godawful raspberry flavor, or a new local micro that simply blows you across the room with it's specialty.

Thursday night at The Flying Saucer ( ) is “tap night” – this means they've formulated a deal with a brewery for a single keg something special.

I had no intention of going to the Saucer tonight – I was tired, work was exhausting, and I figured a quiet night at home with the kids, wife, and an early bed timer. She was particularly agitated: school wore her out today.

The Saucer was her idea.

Well, hell. Twist my arm.

So we went, and lo and behold, it's tap night. And the special something? Look here:

I have three words for you: Damn, that was really, really good.

They opened the tap it at 7:00, and I waited until 7:30, to allow the line to die and the keg to settle. I was served in a short-stemmed ¾ pint glass, decanted with about ½ inch of head. I pondered the name while it was poured: I believe Chico, California, is known for having a prison. Not much else. Perhaps I need to learn more about the area, but these are the thoughts you push out of your head when you're trying a new beer.

Nose: it's like wild grass. Herbal, not lawnmower-grass, but something earthy and a little bit like good pot and a spring day. It smelled so good I just sat with my node in it for a while – the aroma hops were obviously well selected I discovered later.

First sip: not a bold blast of flavor, a normal pale ale swell, a fairly rapid build of malty power, ultra-dry and powerful hops, and tart flavors. This changes quickly to a really surprising little period of molasses-sweetness, maybe a little bit of honey. This is then gone in a flash, and the big Pale Ale takes over: robustly hopped, maybe a little too much, but all the other flavors finally gel into a finish that lasts...well, I can still taste it, and as mentioned earlier, coupled with the aforementioned aromas this is not a terrible thing.

They planned this.

I worked the glass slowly, and (dread, dark music here) had a meal in the meantime: The Flying Saucer has particularly good bratwurst, and the meal today was brats (2 kinds) with sauerkraut, a little slightly toasted cheap garlicky French bread, remarkably good mustard, sweet German potato salad, and a blah pickle. Bar food, but the brats steal the show. Anyway, a dumb newcomer mistake, as I will outline shortly.

Ongoing: Specialty crafted beer with dinner is just stupid if a review is pending, especially with brats and kraut and mustard and pickles, and this beer made no exception of that rule. The first sips were absolutely lovely and surprising, but I was hungry, so I sipped and ate, and in the end it was a waste of beer: all that flavor competed with the typically delicious Saucer brats, so I stooped drinking until I was done eating.

Still ongoing: the beer went back to very wonderful, although I had occasional moments of not-as-pleasant-as-I'd-like bitterness that was out of place with the rest of the beer. I think it was the beer, but let's face it – after that meal, who knows what I was tasting. Duh.

Finish: I mentioned I can still taste it: this is not one of the myriad over-hopped monstrosities the micros throw together and call something silly like “Crush Your Testicles With Thermonuclear Hops Pale Ale From Hell!” While it is a hop-heavy ale, it wasn't...stupid. It is careful and symphonic and crafted, few mistakes, and utterly delicious. I want to say it is strongly hopped, gently.

Sierra Nevada is not a dime store beer; it's squarely middle-ranked alongside many favorable brews I an ever growing market of (unfortunately) similarly created offerings. This is a renewal of my faith. Just delightful and sip-able, drinkable too, but you want to savor it. From a brewery with an evident seriousness and intent, it is a firm, solid, artful effort, and I will try it again.

I hate to do it, but I will leave my review as an anecdote with some basic ratings, since I obviously screwed up the hell up by eating brats and mustard and sauerkraut like an idiot.

Still, these guys have been around a long time, longer than some far more famous beers, and they've weathered very well. While they have several specialties out there that I've yet to try, this offering is the best thing they've done that I have tasted, and it has renewed my interest in the brand – it's not every day that you get something special, after all.

Sierra Nevada Chico Brewer's Harvest Estate
Tasted 10-22-2009
Unrated: all I can say is what I wrote above, I rate this about an 8 out of 10, and strongly recommend it to anyone.
ABV: 6.70