03 May 2008

Don't screw up

Every time I approach a bottle of Sierra Nevada beer, I smile. "Fresh seal cap" it says, "use bottle opener". As opposed to what? Yes I'm aware that American beers frequently have twist-off crown caps. I even remember the days when our Miller Genuine Draft came direct from Milwaukee in such bottles, before Beamish & Crawford acquired the rights to make it in Cork. But a childish sense of glee derives from images of lazy gits shredding their fingers trying to screw off the cap from a bottle of Beer For Grown-Ups.

Schadenfreude aside, this evening's beer is Sierra Nevada ESB: yet another new arrival from the US. The first hiss from the cap gave me a very American jet of hops aroma. The pour also produced a satisfying rich orange coloured ale, leading me to expect the same sort of hoppy surprise I got from the brewery's Anniversary Ale.

Denied! The first sip left no doubt that this is a malt-driven beer. The hops are a mix of English and US varieties, but I'm pretty sure that the former are in the ascendancy, imparting dryness rather than real bitterness. The malt flavour adds candy notes which come close to cancelling the hops out. The sum total of all this is really not very much, and I see no excuse for a hefty 5.9% ABV.

This is the sort of beer which would work well by the pint, cask conditioned, with a little over half the alcohol. As an imported baby bottle, proper cap notwithstanding, it's just not working for me.


  1. I suspect your criticisms could be levelled at American ESB's in general. They took the concept of English bitter, raised the alcohol, gave it an American malt profile and took away the cask conditioning resulting in a weighty but character lacking beer that's to strong to session.

  2. I wouldn't regard "ESB" as a beer style. Sierra Nevada Early Spring Beer is not remotely like, say, Fuller's Extra Special Bitter. I doubt if it's intended to be either.

    I'm not saying this is some badly-mutated ersatz-English beer. I'm saying this is a 100% American beer that could be improved if it were slightly different.

  3. I had a bottle of this during the week. I rather enjoyed it, but it was over carbonated, and as you say, would likely be very nice on cask. I thought the hops definitley English with a decent malt character, but the fizz threw it out of kilter. The ESB thing is curious. Are any American ESBs Extra Special Bitters or are they all Early Spring Beers?

  4. I started looking this up on the BeerAdvocate listings but got bored very quickly. I think brewers just like the letters. Maybe I should send them my electricity bills.

  5. We had this a few months back and I think thought pretty much the same as you. I especially agree about the 5.9% - what's the point in making the beer that strong if it doesn't have the complexity to justify it?

    Still, it had come a long way.

  6. The higher than everage alcohol content just seems to be the way with most American brewers. It doesn't seem to matter what the brew, it'll be a percent or two higher than a similar beer in Europe. It could be a tax consideration they don't have to worry as much about.

  7. Brendan2:47 pm

    Well there was a big to-do about the new caps. People complained when SN went to twist offs, then they complained when they went back to pop offs. What a load of hooey about nothing that was!

    Concerning ABv, most beer in the US is sold at the supermarket or liqour store, so session/cask beers are not really marketable. The carbonation issue is definitely cultural as I've heard this one before.

  8. "Overly Carbonated" is a comment I hear, and make, frequently toward American beers. How ironic that the typical American beer drinker (an even bartender I dare say) tries to avoid any head whatsoever on a beer.

    Regarding ABV, finding flavorful beer that checks in below 5 - 5.5% is tough here. Sad really.