Beer like most foods, comes from the ground. However while enjoying a brew it is an easy fact to forget.
Sierra Nevada does a great job at reminding you that beer is an agricultural product. Last month I went to Chico, California to drink Sierra Nevada and party like I was still in college. I went to a birthday party at the brewery and restaurant. At Sierra Nevada Brewing Co I was thoroughly surprised how many beers they had on tap; 14 at the time. Naturally, with such a selection I asked every bar tender and waiter what was the best beer that Sierra makes. Unfortunately, my question was too broad. The #1 answer I got was Sierra's Harvest Ale, which was not on tap at the time. As it's a seasonal beer. For the record; the traditional pale ale is so fresh there it is to die for.
I was excited when the latest version of the harvest ale came out recently in bottles, since I had heard so much about it. It's a little more expensive than other one bottle brews. But its a 24 oz bottle. So you get your liquid worth. Back to the beer, Sierra Nevada wrote the book on Harvest ales. Literally. They invented the idea. A harvest ale, for all intents and purposes, is a pale ale brewed with fresh hops. Eleven years ago, SNBC picked their hops (they ship in most but have their own field too), and then instead of drying them (think the Sam Adams TV commercials with the brewmaster with the piles of dried hops) brewed a batch of beer with the fresh hops. Most breweries didn't have the size, money, and capability to pick their own hops, ship 'em to their brewery, and install the proper filtration system to make it all work. But for the past 11 years Sierra has been making it happen.
The harvest ale does look and taste like a traditional american pale ale. Darker golden color, with a bitter taste that you want from a pale. However, the best feature of this ale is the resins from the hops are more flavorful because they do not lose their flavor in the process of drying. Sierra also claims that keeping the hops fresh adds aromas and spices. I actually disagree (no extra aromas or spices in my opinion), but you can taste the hoppy resin. According to Sierra staff, only 7 other breweries last year made harvest ales. Most agree that Sierra Nevada is doing the best job because their vast experience in this unique ale. However, this beer is good but not as great as hyped. I really like SN and was hoping it would be a top 10. No luck. But it is a fun taste and a twist on the traditional pale. And this beer also reminds you that at harvest time Sierra Nevada is taking 8,000 pounds of hops and making it into beer in a 2 day period. Which is a cool concept. Beer comes from the ground, who knew?