Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sierra Nevada Tumbler - Seasonal Brown Ale From Our Friends in Chico

New this season, our friends from Chico, CA developed a Brown Ale for us to enjoy.  This time of year, I'm used to malty Oktoberfests from German brewers, and of course, the local favorite, Sam Adams.  The maltier fall brews, are a nice foreshadower to the high gravity, winter warmer brews lurking around the corner that last us through the cold season until the warming breezes of spring bring us light and refreshing Lagers and Pilseners, that carry the bright outlook of a new year.

From the website:

"As the nights grow cool, the leaves on the valley oaks begin to turn and fall. In honor of this yearly dance, we bring you Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale and invite you to enjoy the show. We use malt within days of roasting at the peak of its flavor to give Tumbler a gracefully smooth malt character. So pour a glass, and grab a window seat to watch as the leaves come tumbling down."

Cool.  Couldn't have been a timlier introduction of a new Brown Ale for me.  Lately, I've been putting in a lot of work investigating the family of Brown Ale's.  I've kinda overlooked them for some time.  I've started seeing posts on blogs and message boards by Brown Ale lovers, that really have a passion about Brown Ale's, and I thought it was time to see what the hoopla was all about.  I have had a Newcastle now and then, and maybe it's my geographical location, or just that it was a slow seller then, but I couldn't honestly say I had consistent experiences with "Newkies".  I don't ever remember a bad experience with one, but just not consistent.  I recall Diacetyl every now and then.  Sometimes sweetness, sometimes dry.  Sometimes biscuity.  Never the same beer twice.

I should take the time to say this now.  In reality, I should probably re-write my about me post.  I was scared witless for my initial blog posts, but now that I have a couple under my belt, I'm getting more and more comfortable with posting, I feel the need to have an over-reaching story arc.  Again, I'm going off the beaten path here.  Since the eighties, I've been "the guy" in the group of friends that always likes "the better" beers.  I'd show up at a house party or football game with a twelve pack of Newkies, Molson, Pacifico, or what have you.  Craft beer wasn't available as it is now, so imports ruled the beer aisle.  Local purchasers at the stores were more apt to order imported beers to bolster their beer case with "high end" offerings.  I'd run the gamut of the brands available.  Searching for a brand to identify with, but really couldn't.  Throughout all my searching, I found something out.  By diversifying my beer palate, I had the freedom to make a choice at the beer case on a Friday night, and it all depended on what I had a hankerin' for.  I wasn't shackled to one particular American Light Lager brand.

I knew nothing of styles.  I didn't know how a certain beer was supposed to taste.  What to expect when I drank it.  Was it strong?  Mild?  Or a session beer?  Was it supposed to finish dry?  Or finish sweet?  Why were Heineken and other green bottled beers skunky?  I didn't know.  I simply didn't understand or know what the heck a Pale Ale was, nor why it wasn't pale when poured in my glass.  My first Bass, I expected something the color of  Michelob.  You can imagine my surprise when I saw and tasted one for the first time.  No one around me knew anything about "fancy" beers.  Fans of Bass couldn't speak as to why it was called a Pale Ale.  No one I knew could explain the difference between an Ale and Lager.  Is a Stout always to be poured from a Nitro tap?  I knew none of this.  So when I had my Craft Beer awakening so to speak, I've had to go back, and start all over again.  I approached familiar beers armed with a critical eye and palate.  Where once I might have dismissed a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for it's taste, I'd now learned to look at it from a critical point of view.  Educate myself on how it's supposed to taste, and deconstruct it on my tongue.  Decide if I like it, and more importantly, learn from the experience.

I'd learned to approach a drink critically, somewhere around '01.  I had been introduced to Single Malt Scotch.  I couldn't see what all the fuss about "hooch" was.  So I set about educating myself as to what it was exactly that I was supposed to taste or experience while sipping a Scotch.  Applying this method to beer, opened up a whole different world for me.  In a way, it pissed me off because I've apparently squandered many good years on crappy beer or under appreciated "good" beer, that could've been better spent delving deeper into the diversification of styles.

Which brings us to this little gem.  Lately, since I've been focusing on Brown Ales, I stumbled across the Lost Coast Brewery's offering, "Downtown Brown".  A little hoppy, but a nice lactose sweetness on the finish.  It sits really well with me and my tastes.  Unfortunately, for the competitors, Lost Coast hit a home run with me right off the bat, and I've had to stack them all against it.  To me none comes close.  Until, I tasted Sierra Nevada Tumbler.

Not to say the Tumbler is going to knock Downtown off the number one spot in my scorebook, but it's a worthy second.  If not only for taste, but the sheer availability of Sierra Nevada.  I can get a Sierra Nevada in a local chain grocery store.  Lost Coast, I have to map a strike attack to whichever bottle shop I can remember had it.

When I cracked the bottle and began the pour of the Tumbler.  I saw the expected rich, dark colors fill up the pint glass.  A tight brown tinted one finger head formed, and managed to stay intact, with nice lacing being left on the sides of the glass.

The aroma was very, very, very enjoyable.  Slightly sweet smelling, a bit of a hint of nut in there as well, and of course fresh malt.  It was so enjoyable to smell, I was afraid to actually drink the brew for fear that it would ruin my initial impressions.

The first taste wasn't memorable.  It wasn't what was expected.  The beer, freshly poured, seemed spicy, and the disappointingly the roasted malts were too sharp.  The spiciness I could live with, because as opposed to the normal Sierra Nevada way of doing business, this ale was not overhopped.  Instead of showcasing the hops, they, I believe, were looking to showcase the malt in this beer.  As I tasted it some more, I wrote in my notes, "not a knockout".  "Just average".  I remember feeling a bit of disappointment.  I still told myself to reserve final judgment until I have a couple under my belt.  I reminded myself that Brown's are supposed to be sessionable, and each one is probably not supposed to knock your socks off with an over the top brew in each bottle.  I'm finding, that when I come across a beer like that, I don't tend to finish a sixer of them.  I think we're getting so out of focus looking for the next big thing, that we're missing the point of a solid workhorse of a beer that you don't get sick of after a couple.

I didn't have to wait too long before I had another change of heart.  I was watching my Rays fight their way to the Major League Baseball post season, and was engrossed in the game, which allowed me to slow down my drinking of the beer, and allowing it to warm up some.  When it warmed up, the harshness seemed to fade a little, and the complexity of this beer really started to show.  The bitterness and sharpness yielded to hints of dark fruit, and a bit of lactose sweetness that was really enjoyable.  The nose changed slightly as well, but before I could get my head wrapped around the change.  I was done with the beer and got up and poured another.

Which of course, led to another, and another, and another.  A few in, my judgment got a little clouded, but another realization struck.  This is a sessionable beer!  What seems boring or a bit of a let down with just one bottle, becomes a welcome brew to drink one after another while watching a game or whatever with your friends.  At 5.5% ABV, it's not a hammer that'll put you out, but it's still got a sneaky little punch to it that can take the unwary by surprise.  After a few, I became pleased with the beer, and soon found I was out, and immediately started looking forward to the next time I get to try these.

This solid workhorse of a Brown Ale is one that improves or changes with temperature increases, and does not become cloying or annoying the more you drink in a session.  Thank you Chico!

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