Beer O’ the Moment – Sierra Nevada Harvest

Sunday, October 15th 2006 was a watershed day for yours truly, for it was the first time I tried the 2006 version of the Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale. Our Albany bureau chief Bojangles had secured a large, fancy growler of it — and not the screw-cap kind, mind you, but the kind with the rubber stopper flip-top and an ornate silver handle. I was visiting Bojangles for the weekend and on Sunday morning — before the Bills lost to the previously-winless Detroit Lions — he offered me a pour.

This was in the early years of beer geekdom, and to me, Sierra Nevada was far too mainstream a brewery for my liking. Basically, if I had heard of it, I didn’t want to try it. And I was sure that a brewery like Sierra Nevada had sold out to the American populace and dumbed down its recipe. Don’t try to sell it to me, cuz I’m not buyin’, maaaaan.

In short, I was an asshole.

Suffice it to say that the 2006 version of the Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale was — and I have repeated this many time since — the single greatest pint of beer that I had ever had. It was my first experience with the “wet hops” of a harvest ale, and brought the idea of an IPA to a completely new place. It actually changed my life. I never doubted Sierra Nevada’s brewing chops again. In fact, Mr. Bojangles once had a long and virulent discussion

The problem is, as with that first hit of heroin [secondhand knowledge], you are always chasing that high again. I had looked for the Sierra Nevada Harvest ale, and though it wasn’t particularly hard to find, I had always ended up just missing it. I had had the Southern Hemisphere version — which ostensibly was created to react to the hop shortage — but it wasn’t quite the same. I found the 2007 version at a local watering hole, but it didn’t match up. This year, I called several local beer stores, all of whom said they would have it; they all lied.

Finally, on a fateful trip to Beers of the World on Thanksgiving weekend, I serendipitously found a twenty-two ounce bottle of the cumbersomely titled Sierra Nevada 12th Release Harvest Wet Hop Ale. Being that I already was spending an embarrassing amount of money on all the other beer I was lugging to the register, I gladly took a flier on this one.

And folks, I have finally caught the elusive dragon.

There is nothing I don’t love about this beer. First — and maybe I’m just biased or using revisionist history — it looks amazing. It’s a clear copper orange. Infinitesimal little bubbles shoot up like little glass elevators. The head is huge: three chunky fingers worth, fluffy and white, like an ice cream float. The rings of lace around the top of the glass resemble a redwood more than a red-ale.

Take one whiff and prepare to be hooked. The hops in the nose are simply magnificent. They are a complex blend of major oily citrus, and a hint of resiny pine. It’s a sweet, flowery perfume. All that sweet-n-spicy is balanced out by what I can only describe as burnt firewood.

The sip was a reward for two years of patience. Again, a bitter perfume. It’s sweet and citrusy, but with a real bite on the back end. Some crucial roasted malts come through in the taste, without which this beer would collapse under its own hoppy weight. It’s nearly the perfect IPA, and I don’t know that I’ve had a better one. That triumphant triumverate of sweet estery hops, bitter citrus/pine hops and roasted malts make this an all-timer.

Combine the strangely bubbly, fizzy feel with these strong flavors and you got yourself a drink right there! It’s bitter, yes, but it’s balanced. And it’s superior.

It must be said that this beer is closest in style to Stone Ruination and Flying Dog Double Dog, at least as far as my humble palate was able to ascertain. I would give the ever-so-slight edge, however, to the Sierra, only because of those inimitable “wet” hops.

My beer-drinkin’ buddies are glad that I finally found this beer so that I would stop talking about, and bitching about how I can’t find it anywhere. Pound for pound it’s probably my favorite beer in the world. So go grab some, email me your address and expect a self-addressed stamped box within three business days.

~ by William H on December 12, 2008.

2 Responses to “Beer O’ the Moment – Sierra Nevada Harvest”

  1. If you have Sierra Nevada, there is simply no need for anything else.

  2. You may have heard by now that Sierra Nevada also released their “Estate” Harvest from their Chico hop farm. This was previously released on draft only and formally named 20th Street Ale. It quickly disappeared but I was able to secure 7 bottles. I think it actually tastes a lot different than the regular Harvest release. And I tried it both on tap and in bottle. It might sound crazy but I actually enjoyed it in bottle more than in tap.

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