Sunday, November 21, 2010

BEERflections ~ Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Celebration

Birthdays are special affairs that come around once a year every year, each one different than the previous. Life is sacred, a blessing enjoyed in contemplative solace or in jovial communion. We the people of the United States of America celebrate all birthdays big and small, far and wide, and on November 15th 2010, we the people celebrated 30 years of craft beer independence by Ken Grossman and his family of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Located in Chico, California, when Sierra Nevada grew from a dream in 1979 to a brewed and true reality in 1980, the heartscape of beer and beer drinkers alike was forever changed. Even though I would have been only 3 years old then, our paths were destined to cross in a flurry of united passion and shared creativity. On this, our most sacred of eves, candles of inspiration were in each and every one of us who celebrated the Sierra Nevada birthday bash at Vine & Barley.

In further celebrating the spirit of collaboration, Vine & Barley teamed up with Chef Wayne of the West End Grille for a grand evening of food and beer. The beers were none other than the four Anniversary Collaborations, the first ever cork and cage beers to bear Sierra Nevada’s proud name. A finer tribute could never have been if it wasn’t for the cooperative genius of fellow industry pioneers Fritz Maytag, Charlie Papazian, Fred Eckhart, and Jack McAuliffe. Together with Ken Grossman, they blessed our palates and cellars with these tangible fruits of burgundian wisdom.
  • Fritz and Ken’s Pioneer Stout is a luxurious dip into the dark side. Smooth as velvet, melted chocolates, roasted grains, and vanilla bean are just a few of the interlocking layers of flavor unraveling in savory reverence.
  • Charlie Fred and Ken’s Imperial Helles Bock is a personally pleasing treat. Traditional helles bocks are neither imperial nor cellarable, but these wily gents took their brewing savvy and turned a German classic successfully on its head. Stewed succulent apricots, peaches, and plums smother moist chewy breads, mingle with spice, dance with honey, and finish with gentle floral warmth to divine and to soothe.
  • Jack and Ken’s Black Barleywine Ale gives a deserved nod to the Grandfather of craft beer, Jack McAuliffe. A pioneer’s pioneer, he foresaw our sudsy revolution of beer diversity and quality with the first post-prohibition micro brewery, New Albion. Though Jack was ready for us, we were not ready for him. As the doors unfortunately shut on his dream, new doors were opened within the hearts and minds of dreamers like Ken, Fritz, Charlie, and Fred. Resurrecting a New Albion summer solstice classic, new life was breathed into a black Barleywine of epic proportions featuring bittering hops, stewed fruits, warmth, wood, and spice.
  • Our Brewers Reserve Grand Cru represents the best Sierra Nevada has to offer. A fantabulous blend of Oaked Bigfoot, Celebration, and fresh Pale Ale, she starts sweet, stewed, and spiced, skirts the edges with oak, and finishes with a flash of dry-hopped attitude tempered by a lingering glow. A wee bit rough around the edges, I look forward to future tastings contemplation.

Being bottle-conditioned ales, all four 30th Anniversary special releases are fine specimens for cellaring. While not always a perfect science, half of the fun (if not more) is the actual adventure beer cellaring will take you on. Savor one fresh and relish the rest with time, curiosity, and a dash of mystery.

Vine & Barley’s first beer and food pairing event, Mark Carbone, Tim Hebeler, Andrew Bradley, and West End Grille worked together to pull off a truly one of a kind birthday bash. Conspiring since the release of Pioneer Stout, with each subsequent release an extra keg was safely squirreled away. It takes a special and flexible mind to think outside the box in planning such an advance event, so to everyone involved, double pocky thanks. Limited to fifty tickets ala RSVPs, while not sold out a solid representation of beer peeps gathered about the bar inside before moving outside to our fanciful dining mecca. The weather couldn’t have been more pleasant and as we gathered round our tables, special attention was paid our centerpiece of whole hop cones and Sierra Nevada tulip pint glasses layered in variously roasted malts topped off with more whole hop cones. Smashing! As much of a visual treat as the chalices brimming with beer and plates flashing food porn, our evening slowly unfolded amidst jolly laughter, merry banter, spirited debates, and endless smiles.

Keeping me company that night was my lovely Laura while we were joined at our table by Mark Boland, Howard Steinberg, and a young gentleman whose name escapes me right now. A table of awesomeness if I do say so myself…and I do.

Speaking of names, I must offer my sincerest apologies to a good friend and fellow Vine advocate, Cindie. Names are not my strong point, but tis no excuse to see you twice in less than a month and on both occasions not remember your name. It is not embarrassing insofar as it is offensive and insulting to you, Cindie, and I am sorry. When next we meet, the first beer is on me.


Beers are great and all but what about the food? With four big boys lined up in a row, there needs to be four comparable courses lined up in a row to both parry and marry the procession of flavors. In the carefree spirit of “why not”, the course pairings were:
  • Fred and Ken’s Imperial Helles Bock and deviled eggs stuffed with fresh crab meat, mascarpone cheese, pickles, scallions, and dusted with the always classic Old Bay seasoning. ~ Different to be sure, they were a tasteful indulgence of two personal loves: devilled eggs, cheese, and crab meat. Okay, technically three but what’s in a number anyway. They needed a smidge more crab but overall a successfully eclectic pairing.
  • Our Brewers Reserve Grand Cru and mahi baked in red curry coconut milk, served atop fresh bib lettuce tossed with cilantro, watercress, cucumber, scallions, cashews, and appropriately dressed in more Thai curry dressing. ~ My personal and the overall crowd favorite pairing despite or in spite of the heat. Sweet and spice danced about my tastebuds in orchestrated harmony while the cashews added a pleasantly soothing nuttiness.
  • Fritz and Ken’s Pioneer Stout and hickory smoked beef brisket slathered in gravy of its own juicy desires were accompanied by roasted garlic fingerling potatoes. ~ Tasty brew aside, the brisket smelled droolerific in long passed preparation within which lay the core problem. Cold brisket, cold gravy, and cold potatoes make for a cold beer ambassador reception, indeed. Maybe next time.
  • Jack and Ken’s Black Barleywine Ale and banana stuffed wontons are deep fried, then drizzled with a chocolate ganache and dusted in powdered sugar. ~ The banana was soft and creamy, the wonton just crispy, and the sweet chocolate ganache created a banana cream menagerie. Whereas I initially doubted this pairing, I fell instantly in love.

Being big beers in flavor and alcohol, we wisely enjoyed our beery dinner in savory leisure. On the flipside, a wee bit of tweaking on timing may have saved the third course from arctic doom. Overall though, an evening without regrets. Not only did we lucky few who RSVPed enjoy brimming glasses of Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary beers matched with four unique flavorful courses, we also took home our commemorative ticket, a special 30th Anniversary chalice, and a bottle of Fred and Ken’s Imperial Helles Bock. Wow and wow! As I savored a cigar and the last of my Black Barleywine Ale amidst friends and my loved one, I was reminded again of just how lucky I am. Life is good because we’ve got each other and that’s all we need. To health, loved ones, and memories more, cheers!

(an original written work by Kristyn Lier. plagiarism is not tolerated)

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