After weeks of bracket-busting and upsets—did you expect Yuengling and Shiner Bock to make the semifinals?—our readers finally crowned a worthy winner in the inaugural Men’s Journal Final Pour Beer Bracket tournament. Amid a field of limited edition double IPAs and bruising imperial stouts, the winning entrant was not a hyped upstart but rather a household name. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale bested the 63 other entrants, demonstrating that some legendary beers definitely do get better with age. The California-born beer has triumphed over taste buds since 1981, when it helped chart a citrus-scented, hop-propelled course for modern American brewing. Even today, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale tastes as vibrant and vital as it did nearly 40 years ago, a testament to the power of a timeless recipe and years of refinement. Here’s a closer look at the very delicious victor.
Home, Sweet Home
In 1976, a beer-obsessed college dropout and bike mechanic named Ken Grossman decided to open a homebrew supply stop in downtown Chico, California. The store’s easy-to-remember name? The Home Brew Shop.
A Cut Above the Rest
Today, homebrewers can order top-quality hops by logging online. Back in the 1970s, though, prime hops were hard to source. So Grossman drove to Yakima, Washington, the lush heart of America’s hop-growing industry, and convinced brokers to sell him brewers’ cuts, the choice samples that professional brewers use to select their favorite crop.
A Dark Start
Sierra Nevada’s first commercial beer was a stout, predating the now-iconic Pale Ale. Its recipe remains relatively unchanged to this day.
Down in the Dumps
The first official batch of Pale Ale was brewed on November 21, 1980. Grossman drained his bank account dumping around 10 batches of beer before arriving at the right recipe, released to the public in March 1981.
In the early 1970s, the USDA hop-breeding program unveiled a new variety called Cascade. The varietal’s pronounced fragrances of pine and citrus give Sierra Nevada Pale Ale its aromatic signature that continues to distinguish the brand today. Today, Cascade is one of America’s top-selling varieties of hops.
A Conditioned Approach
Most beers are force-carbonated, meaning that breweries add bubbles by artificially introducing carbon dioxide. Sierra Nevada bottle-conditions Pale Ale by adding a touch of sugar prior to bottling, giving lingering live yeast a fresh feast. The process creates a more delicate, all-natural carbonation. Canned versions of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale are also carbonated in this manner.
In 2014, Sierra Nevada opened a second brewery in Mills River, North Carolina, located just outside the brewing hotbed of Asheville. The brewery cost around $175 million to build, a small price to pay considering that no matter where you live in America, a delivery of super-fresh Sierra Nevada Pale Ale might be mere days away. And that’s what we call a win-win for everyone.
To learn more about Sierra Nevada’s history, check out Grossman’s book, Beyond the Pale. Naturally, we recommend reading it accompanied by a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.