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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Testing Out a Theory

I harbor a theory I may incorporate into the book: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a foundational beer in American brewing and was instrumental in setting the course for craft brewing.

I could argue the point, but let me instead just let it sit there as a hypothesis. Anyone care to bolster it or knock it down?

33 comments:

Andy Crouch said...

Very daring work this book...

Best,

Andy

Andrew Self said...

I think the revolution should be credited with one part Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and one part Anchor Steam.

Zoomzit said...

I like Sierra Nevada and it is probably the first craft beer that I ever picked up.

However, it seems hard to state that Sierra had a big influence without also acknowledging that Anchor had an even bigger one.

So, yes I think the Sierra Nevada pale was a foundational beer, but it is (and rightfully so) overshadowed by Anchor Steam greater impact on the microbrew scene.

Anonymous said...

I'd say the American Beer Revolution started with the Albion Brewery in California, but Anchor's release of Anchor Porter in 1974 and Sierra Nevada's pale ale in 1980 would have to be the earliest revolutionary beers.

Jared said...

Anchor Steam wasn't necessarily a revolutionary beer. I thinks the argument is Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale set a course for the first 30 years. The pale ale as a style was a trickle in the craft brewing market that has now become a raging torrent.

While I don't think the idea of a pale ale was revolutionary I would agree that Sierra Nevada set the original standard for the west coast and definitely was influential in popularizing the style. Especially as they brought consistency and accessibility to the market

Anonymous said...

When I saw your original question, Anchor Steam also came to my mind first thing. Maybe it's because I'm a geezer (and it's not much of a mind, o' course!). But when I think of the first craft beers that ever cropped up around where I am (Seattle, a pretty crafty town all in all), Fritz Maytag's product comes to mind.

Greg said...

Like everyone else here, I agree with the hypothesis.

I think what's a little interesting is that, now that its influence is over, how many people forget how good and important a beer it is.

Every time I'm in a conversation about underrated beers, I bring it up and it seems like everyone agrees. It became so successful that now it's written off and many craft beer people have largely forgotten they like it.

Good luck with the book...

Anonymous said...

Being that Steam was a revived local beer that is basically an Alt, I's have to say Anchor Porter would of been a more revolutionary beer for the USA. Not taking any 'Steam' out of Sierra Nevada's Pale ale, just adding a different Anchor angle.

Jared said...

I think what people miss is that he wasn't talking about revolutionary breweries or ideas, but beers. You could get an import on par with Anchor porter back in the day. Where could you get a pale ale like Sierra Nevada though? Sure there were pale ales, but Kent put a spin on it that became a standard in the northwest.

Zoomzit said...

I don't think that the fact that Sierra Nevada is a pale and Anchor is a "steam" should give the nod to Sierra as a foundational brew. No matter what, steam beer would have never been a widely replicated style, whereas pale is a natural west coast style due to our hop production.

I think the more important question is which beer got more people (consumers and future brewers) to think about craft beer. I'd have to imagine that the nod goes to Anchor Steam.

Long story short. I'd contend that Sierra Nevada Pale may or may not have popularized a style, but Anchor Steam started a craft industry.

joe said...

Yes, foundational in the sense that if you were able to trace the genetics of Total Domination back to its North American roots, it would lead you back to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and not Anchor Steam.

Although both the Anchor Steam and SNPA trees were planted at roughly the same time, the SNPA tree dropped little helicoptors that the wind picked up and planted in other regions.

Zoomzit said...

Joe, interesting comment.

Beyond Sierra Nevada Pale being one of the first widely distributed American pale ales, how would you attribute current west coast IPAs and Pales to what Sierra Nevada started?

Derrick Peterman said...

Since you are asking, it seems to be a West Coast Centric viewpoint. Living in the Midwest in the late 80's and early 90's, Sam Adams was a lot more available and opened up lots of opportunities for other craft brewers to follow. I'm not sure what our East Coast folks will think.

And you haven't asked the question as to whether there can be one foundational beer. I don't think there is just one.

American Brewing has a far greater debt to the legalization and subsequent profiliferation of homebrewing than any one beer, but of course, you didn't ask us that, and it may not be really relevant to whatever you are trying to write.

Æsop said...

Anchor Steam was always there when I was growing up in California, but you couldn't find it everywhere.

Sam Adam had the hops, but contract brewing meant that quality was all over the map. One good experience could easily be wiped out by the next three being bad.

I lived in Virginia from 1992 to 2007 and traveled all over the country for my work. You could always find Sierra Nevada everywhere, in any size (12oz. to keg), and the taste and quality were always spot on.

I have always held that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale changed the taste of the nation.

- Æ

Jeff Alworth said...

Andy, this question isn't super central to the book, though I do think it's an important one.

On the influence of Anchor. I have always wanted to give Fritz his due and I'm happy calling Anchor the first micro. But I don't see the argument that it was influential. After Fritz rescued Anchor, it took ten years for another brewery to start--and almost none of the 1500 micros brew a steam beer. (I do think trademarking that name was a terrible business decision.)

I tend to land where Jared, Joe, and Aesop do: the ubiquity of Cascade hopped, saturated citrus-flavored beers can be traced in a straight line back to SN Pale. Boston Lager and Anchor Steam are great beers, but they are not heavily emulated. In SN Pale, Ken Grossman struck a tuning fork that still vibrates in the beers you can find across the country. Would the next brewery in line have made the same decision? Could be, but we'll never know; but we do know SN Pale did, and so many others borrowed the template.

Anonymous said...

Seriously? Next theory: Water -- important for life?

Brady Walen said...

As I read comments about Anchor, I think it would be interesting to look at the feedback by generation and location. One commenter, self-described as a "geezer" in Seattle, points to Anchor. However, I'd throw out another point to consider: across generations (or at least the last few), Sierra Nevada has had a more widespread and sustained impact (than Anchor, or any other) in setting the course for craft brewing, and more importantly--- creating craft beer enthusiasts across age groups and geographies.

timgray said...

When I was going to the UW in Seattle during the mid-seventies, I often slipped off campus to a deli on The Ave, for a corned beef/pastrami on rye and a couple bottles of Anchor Steam to go. I'd sit on the grass back on campus and really enjoy those beers. This was when Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve first came out too. We used to save at least on bottle from each bottling, as they were numbered. That said, Anchor wasn't as "foundational" as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. As @joe said, I believe you can trace the genetics of Total Domination back to SN.

Zoomzit said...

Brady,

I'll cop to that. My "formative" beer drinking days were in San Francisco. That certainly gives me a bit of an Anchor bias.

what we’re drinking said...

When I left Seattle in 1995 for graduate school in Buffalo, Sierra Nevada helped with the transition, since it was already readily available in Buffalo. None of the other options (Bass, Saranac, Labatts, or Sam Adams) really appealled to me, although that was undoubtedly influenced by my West Coast beer upbringing. Once Ommegang and Southern Tier came around, things got better, but before that I had a couple of lean years supported by Sierra Nevada and Rolling Rock.

john_gaugler said...

I think it started out as a regional thing that has spread. On the west coast almost every brewery now produces a pale ale and SN's overly hopped pale lead directly to the west coast style IPAs. If you go to Texas almost every brewery brews a bock because Shiner had been brewing bocks for a long time before the microbreweries started coming. On the east coast you had Yuengling brewing a good lager so then the micros, Sam Adams and Brooklyn, started out brewing lagers before going on to other styles. It was the same way in Europe before lagers began to dominate the market.

otherFred said...

...and what role did bottle conditioning play in making SNPA the standout that it became?

Schammy said...

It was the first "crafty" type beer that I came to love. It doesn't have enough kick for me these days. I love me a good PNW IPA.

Matt said...

I think it's one of a small group of beers that are collectively responsible for starting the craft movement. Others would be Widmer Hefe, Redhook ESB, Blind Pig IPA, etc. I think a section on Landmark Beers would be interesting.

Seanywonton said...

Absolutely, and for 3 main reasons:
1) The choice of a clean, neutral ale yeast as opposed to a more estery yeast or one that leaves a lot of residual sugars. This yeast is now the most ubiquitous craft ale strain in the U.S.
2) The use of Cascade hops, and the fairly aggressive use of them, helped set the tone of the American hop palate.
3) The commitment to quality and consistency makes it, to this day, a standout beer that would go on my personal top 10 "desert island" beers.

So..I guess you can tell I'm a S.N. Fanboy.

Mr. Murphy said...

If you want to be west coast centric then go with SN. However, I would take a good look at Samuel Adams history first and determine what influence it had. I'm not sure of the timelines of those two breweries so you would have to look into it. I know SA has been putting out many different labels for a long time. Many years ago I remember seeing SA in the East and Midwest but not SN. Particulary in smaller towns. I think in those communities SA was probably first.

Mr. Murphy said...

If you want to be west coast centric then go with SN. However, I would take a good look at Samuel Adams history first and determine what influence it had. I'm not sure of the timelines of those two breweries so you would have to look into it. I know SA has been putting out many different labels for a long time. Many years ago I remember seeing SA in the East and Midwest but not SN. In those communities SA was probably first.

Erik said...

I've heard, though I haven't looked into it much, than Sierra Nevada is considered the inventor of the pale ale style. If there's any truth to that, then your hypothesis sounds like a good one.

Erik

Mr. Murphy said...

SN if you want to be west coast centric.

However, Samuel Adams...

I beleive in the "old days" it was much more available in the east and Midwest than SN was.

Mr. Murphy said...

Sorry about the multiple posts. There seems to be a posting malfunction.

R.I.P Big L said...

I agree with SeanyWontonSoup

Brett Porter said...

Jeff,

What was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale's Foundation? Could it have been Anchor's Liberty Ale--a beer brewed in 1975 with all Cascade hops? Why don't you ask Ken Grossman and Alan Kornhauser (the guy who came up with the Liberty Ale recipe for Anchor)? They were collaborators in the early days, good friends now, and the two best qualified to examine your hypothesis.

Jeff Alworth said...

Brett, I did speak to Ken Grossman as I considered this thought experiment.

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