You’d think that after reaching the behemoth level of Sierra Nevada, the brewery might sit back and relax. Rest on its laurels. Kick it. Sell some of that uber popular Pale Ale and reside happily within the envelope, so to speak.
And yet, Sierra Nevada continues to push that envelope. They collaborated like crazy this year, partnering with a dozen smaller craft breweries for their Beer Camp series and putting out some innovative brews in the process. They recently installed a small pilot brewing system inside their new brewery in Mills River. This tiny system is where Sierra Nevada will do R&D and produce draught-only one-off beers. Most of us will never get a chance to sample these limited run experiments. Luckily, the brewery does mass produce some outside-of-the-box beers.
Case in point: Sierra Nevada explored the fringes of hops this year with their Harvest Series. Each IPA in the five-part series took a different approach to hopping methods, starting with a single hop IPA (which really gives you insight into what a single hop strain contributes to a beer) and finishing with this wild hopped IPA, which uses a feral hop with multiple cone heads recently found in the hills of New Mexico called, appropriately, NeoMexicanus Medusa. Harvest Wild Hop is the first beer to give NeoMexicanus a national stage.
First impressions? Zing!!!
The beer smells like the rind of a cantaloupe—vaguely sweet, but also good for you in a way, if that’s possible. You get a punch of citrus when you finally take a swig, with a good bit of sweetness but not the bitterness you might expect from an IPA packing 55 IBUs. But the defining characteristic of Harvest Wild Hop is how tingly the damn thing is. Each sip is like a thousand tiny bubbles in your mouth. Kind of like mixing Pop Rocks with Coke. But for adults.
Meanwhile, Sierra Nevada also recently released their annual Christmas Jam Ale, a session beer on the other end of the spectrum that falls squarely into pale ale territory. Nothing terribly innovative. Just a solid, easy drinking beer that benefits a good cause (proceeds go to the Warren Haynes Foundation). But maybe that’s how you get to be a brewery like Sierra Nevada. You play well on the fringes and in the center.