High in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of central Nor Cal rests one of the most successful breweries in the U.S: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Ok, not really…it is located in the college town of Chico, CA, but it sure sounded good. It does brew the second best-selling craft beer in America, according to Wikipedia. It is a beautiful site and brewery. It sits in a mostly urban center of the city, ringed by picturesque mountains of the Sacramento Valley. Getting to the place was not difficult, though finding parking might become so at busier times. We had to park about a block away in what felt like overflow parking under an overpass. People spilled out of the doors to the tasting room and restaurant. There was a wait, so I went exploring both the grounds and the bar.
The tasting room had a very warm feel, with lots of stained wood, polished copper and stained glass. It felt a little upper-crust for my taste, but I ignored that and headed to the bar. There were many beers on tap, which may have been part of the reason the tasting area was jam-packed with people. I picked a flight of four tasters: Draught-Style Pale Ale, Kellerweis, Oliva Abbey Tripel and Old Chico Brand Crystal Wheat. Normally, I would not order two of the same style of beer, but I wanted to compare them to see what I could pull out. They did not bring them in order of light to dark, weak to strong, despite how I ordered them. I decided not to hold it against them and dove right in.
I started with the Draught-Style Pale Ale, which poured a golden amber color, with thin white head and little lace on the glass. It smelled slightly sweet with some fruity flowers. With smooth mouthfeel and little carbonation, the first flavors to come through on the taste were flowers, then some malts. The middle brought some bitterness and if finished sweet, with some of the bitterness trailing afterward. Not a particularly dynamic or flavorful beer.
Next up was the Kellerweis. It poured a bright, cloudy, pale yellow color, with thick head and lace that characterizes most wheat beers. This one was a bit thicker, though, due to the open fermentation tanks in which it is brewed. This allows open air into the beer as it ferments, giving it a wilder, fruitier character. It smelled sweet, with lemons and…banana. I am not a fan of banana flavors in my beer, so this immediately turned me off to this brew. The first flavor to come through was lemon, but then the bananas came on strong. It was very smooth with medium mouthfeel, but there was not much flavor through the middle of the drink. Bananas came back to finish this one out. Bananas killed it for me, but still some interesting dynamics:
I then moved to the Oliva Abbey Tripel. This poured a rich, clear, golden-yellow, with small, loose head that did not leave much on the sides of the glass. Rich aromas of sourness and yeastiness came from the glass on the smell. The taste surprised me with a lot of malty sweetness that verged on sugary up front and some yeasty grain afterward. Medium carbonation broke up the richness a bit, but it finished with a sugary yeastiness and only a touch sour.
I finished up with Old Chico Brand Crystal Wheat. This poured very clear, pale yellow, with persistent bright white head and strong lacing left on the glass. Not much to the smell, with only a little malty sweetness. The taste was smooth, with light bitterness and some hops. Light grainy wheat flavor characterized the middle, but hoppy bitterness served to drown this out. It finished light, with a touch of grainy sourness. This was much lighter than the Kellerweis and was awarded bonus points for keeping banana out of it.
All in all, I did not choose the most dynamic set of tasters I have ever had, but still enjoyed the experience. It really was a beautiful brewery and is worth a trip if you are ever in the area.