Is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Suddenly Too Tame?

There’s a great piece over at Chow.com entitled “The Beer with the Green Label” (and no, not ‘green’ as environmentally-friendly, although they do plenty of that too) which describes the sort of fall from grace that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has seen among beer aficionados across the country and how the brewery has been dealing with the backlash.

It’s an interesting point being made — not that anyone thinks that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a bad beer, in fact far from it (the article also describes that it was either that beer or the brewery in general which inspired some of the country’s favorite and most adventurous brewers, a la Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione and Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo, to start brewing) — but that the country’s beers (and beer drinker’s palates) have just become so off-the-wall that the once pioneering Pale Ale is now too tame. Says Chow.com author Roxanne Webber,

“perfectly balanced” is having a hard time competing with macadamia nuts. Now that hundreds of small-batch and wacky beers are being made (often trying to outhop each other with extremely bitter flavors), the moderately hoppy, medium-bodied ale seems boring by comparison. You can get it at any corner liquor store. It’s on tap next to MGD at nearly every bar. It’s too mainstream for somebody who wants exotic, and too ubiquitous for somebody who equates quality with rarity.

The article then goes on to quote some people who wonder,

“Has the recipe [for Sierra Nevada Pale Ale] changed?” muses Joe Carroll, co-owner of the craft beer bar Spuyten Duyvil in Brooklyn, New York. “Have they dumbed it down to get a larger audience? Or are we so used to drinking super-hopped-up beers in the last decade so now Sierra Nevada Pale Ale seems like Budweiser?”

When the fact is that no, of course it hasn’t. The recipe for Pale Ale is the same as it always was – bottle conditioned, and whole-hopped. However, other than some seasonal specialties like the Christmastime favorite Celebration Ale, before this year, Sierra Nevada had not added a new beer to its year-round lineup since 1992; before that, 1980.

So has Sierra Nevada lost some of its value, its street cred?

“We are used to being cynical. When something gets big, it’s usually not very good anymore,” says Dave McLean, owner of Magnolia Pub in San Francisco. “But that cynicism shouldn’t apply in this case. Among people that appreciate good beer, [Sierra Nevada is] still every bit as important to today’s beer landscape as it was 30 years ago.”

I don’t think so either. While sure, I love trying new, exciting and “extreme” beers and often pass over a Pale Ale to get to them, it’s absolutely a beer (and a brewery) which never fails to please. When I saw the Sierra Nevada Kellerweis on the shelves for the first time this summer, I jumped all over it (and was very happy I did – it’s a great beer) and always love picking up the first 6-pack of Sierra Nevada Celebration every holiday season. So what do you think? Do you still enjoy a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale every-so-often, or is it just too boring in the new world of extreme beer?

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6 comments

  1. Granted, I will opt for other, more hoppy, beers if they’re on the menu. But, it is still a personal favorite and standby if I’m feeling like a nice simple, tasty pale ale.

  2. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a great beer. For me it is one of my “go to beers” (I have a few… good to have choice). I know what I am getting when I purchase it, and I know it will be good. Also if I’m out in a place I do not know, or the beer selection is lacking, Sierra Nevada is still probably going to be there. Do I buy it every time, no, but it is good knowing that it is there. Being able to choose a small-batch beer is great, but having a “go to beer” is also key.

    Also you left out the best quotes from the article… the quotes from the Google workers. Perfect epitome of beer snobs and tickers.

  3. SNPA is definitely tame compared to some of the other big pale ales out there, such as Firestone Pale 31. However it is readily available and a quality beer at that. I have to agree with everyone that it is a go to beer.

  4. Well, sure – compared to, say, Dogfish Head 90, it’s tame. But sometimes you just want to have a beer. Not something to take your head off with hops; not something so dark and tasty you could chew it for bread – a beer. And as far as I’m concerned, SNPA is one of the greats.

    Extreme is great, every once and a while. But I’m finding myself too old to sit down with friends and put away more than a couple Belgian Trippels.

  5. I agree with the opinions here. It’s been “Ole Reliable” for some time now.

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