Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Review Date 12/9/2001   Last Updated 6/24/2020   By John Staradumsky

Beware reader! There's nothing more dangerous than a sentimental beer geek, and you're reading the musings of one right now. At 37 years of age I have been drinking craft brewed beers for about 16 years now. Back in my early days, there wasn't really much you could get. Bass. Guinness. A few German Lagers. Anchor. And, of course, Sierra Nevada. Anchor and Sierra Nevada were the most widely available domestic microbrews, though nobody called them that at the time. Sierra Nevada was usually the better choice as far as freshness was concerned. The little bit of yeast in the bottle was an oddity to most, but it kept the beer from oxidizing as quickly as Anchor could, especially the Steam Beer, and gave Sierra Nevada Pale Ale a long shelf life.

Today, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is widely regarded as a classic. It has stood the test of time, and the brewery has undergone expansion in brewing capacity just to keep up with demand. It's not considered a microbrewery (and hasn’t been one in a long time); rather it's a regional brewer now because of the large volume of beer produced. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is the flagship of the line. It’s not heavy bodied, making it a great choice for the beginner, but it has enough character to make it the classic that it is and beloved by beer enthusiasts everywhere.

One of the great things about this beer is the delicate nature of its palate. The flavors are all easily recognized but don’t overpower each other, combing to accentuate each other perfectly. This is just a wonderful example of the brewer’s art that is recognized widely as a world classic. Established in 1981, Sierra Nevada rapidly expanded its distribution and now can be found in all fifty states. The brewery is located in Chico, California, and has a taproom and a gift shop. The draft version is delightful and a fine companion to good food. It has a good availability and is widely distributed too.

I recall drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in the early to mid eighties when a wizened liquor storeowner in my neighborhood recommended it to me. I learned a lot about beer from the brews he brought in to his store, and he always tried to educate me and others that beer was much more than the Bud and Miller on the top shelf. I’ll always associate this beer with him, and every time I sip a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale I thank him for helping to set me on the path to Bruguru status all those years ago. Ironically, he was a wine aficionado who drank relatively little beer, but he did appreciate the well made over the mass produced.

In turn, I introduced a lot of people to craft brewed beer through Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The fact that it’s not overpowering means it won’t scare the newcomer away, yet it still has more than enough flavor to interest their taste buds and give them a glimpse of the Other Side of beer. The next time you have a megabrew drinking friend over, keep some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale handy and offer them one. The results will surprise you, and you’ll be doing your part to further the cause of good beer.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has an alcohol content of 5.6% by volume and an original gravity of about 1.052. It is fermented with a yeast strain that is favored by many brewers for its consistent results. Top quality two-row malt is used with a little Caramel malt thrown in to add body and flavor. Perle hops are used for bittering, while Cascades are used for flavor. They do add some spiciness to the beer, but are rather restrained. Compare this ale to a bottle of dry-hopped Anchor Liberty Ale to see what I’m talking about.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale pours to a light golden color with a crisp malty nose. The palate is packed with fresh biscuity malt notes and fruity yeast character. The brew is delicate but complex, with a slightly citric, slightly bitter minty hop buzz in the finish. This is truly an excellent pint. It goes great with old memories and fond remembrances. Oh and it's great with just about any dish as well.

Update: August 1st, 2013: I wasn't at Kroger to buy beer, at least, that's not why I went there. No, I went there for groceries, but when I saw a glistening 24 ounce bottle of this classic American ale before me, could I resist? And for a mere $2.99 at that? Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has been one of my most beloved brews for 30 years now. It is arguably one of the best beers on the planet. I say it is, anyway, and if you argue the point with me, you will lose.

Deliciously malty up front with chewy caramel and galore, quickly followed by piney-citrus Cascade hop aroma and finally, at the last, a minty hop buzz and lingering light bitter dryness. It's amazing to me that my bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale tastes so much like my sample 12 years ago, and costs about the same too. Come to think of it, it tastes just like it did 30 years ago, too. But there I go again, an old beer geek waxing sentimental again. Better watch out for that, but don't let it stop you from trying this absolutely wonderful brew.

Update April 1st, 2015:  Snuck into Taco Mac today for a beer and enjoyed a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, a beer I had had here a few times before but this was offered as a new credit again as part of their "Credit Madness" event. Basically 15 beers you've probably had before get you a new credit in your studies. I love that they do this, and I love that they included one of my very favorite beers ever. Just a beautiful dance between moderate caramel malt and Cascade hop aroma and flavor. Beautiful beer, and my first draft brewed at the new Mill River facility in North Carolina. Tastes like Chico to me......

Update 9/13/2018: Sierra Nevada beers are featured as beers of the month at Taco Mac for September! I'm enjoying a mug of the classic Sierra Nevada Pale Ale with its delicate soft malt and subtle fruitiness. $5.72 for 23-ounces and a free logo glass, too.

Update 6/24/2020: Classic beer, classic label, even a classic cap! Sierra Nevada Pale Ale turns 40 in 2020, and for a limited time Sierra Nevada has revived the retro label the first bottles sported four decades ago. The beer is still wonderfully full in body for the style with caramel malt, but is it just me or are the Cascade hops popping more than ever? Cascades are the only hop variety ever used in this beer, and I would not have it any other way.

From the retro label:

When we first ordered labels in 1980, this funky rainbow showed up. The colors were off, but we lacked the cash for another print run. Thankfully, the beer is what mattered. Bold with notes of pine and citrus from Cascade hops, Pale Ale sparked the American craft beer revolution and remains a classic today.

And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.

*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.