Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
June 9, 2009 9:28 PM   Subscribe

Have they changed the formula for Sierra Nevada Pale Ale without telling anyone?

A week ago, I'm at the Liberties in San Francisco, and I ordered a Sierra, my favorite favorite favorite beer of all beers. The waitress brings me a pint and I returned it saying :" umm, you should check the keg, 'cause this isn't Sierra". I didn't sound as much like an asshole to her as I did just there.

Aaaaanyway, I got a bottle of Sierra this afternoon, (I'm in Colorado now) and lo: it's got the same not-quite-sierra-more-like-Fat-Tire lemony weirdness to it.

I like to think I'm pretty attuned to what I like about Sierra. Has anyone else noticed this? Has it happened before?
posted by asavage to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps they gave you the summer ale? I saw a pic of them brewing a belgian-style brew, but haven't tried it yet. Perhaps there was a mixup with the labels on the bottle as well.

Unlikely, but if you have to buy a few sixes to compare, well, worse things have happened.

I haven't had any SNPA in the last few weeks so I can't say, plus I'm on the east coast so distribution channels are no doubt different.
posted by KenManiac at 9:38 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm seconding checking if it was the Sierra Nevada Summerfest lager. I've seen it on tap at an usually large number of bars for a seasonal beer, but I really enjoy it so I'm not complaining as pale ales are usually a bit too hoppy for my tastes.
posted by meowN at 9:48 PM on June 9, 2009

Has Sierra Nevada outsourced their brewing and bottling operations? When Sam Adams and Victory started changed their brewing operations to cope with expanded demand, their Lager and Hop Devil beers were never as good — and have since never been the same. Perhaps SN has grown past the point where they can maintain consistency.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:48 PM on June 9, 2009

Well, this is just anecdotal, but a couple of friends and I had pints of Sierra Nevada the other day (at Zachary's Pizza in Oakland), and I didn't notice a difference in taste. Neither of them mentioned anything about the taste, either, and we've probably all been drinking it for years.
posted by JenMarie at 10:00 PM on June 9, 2009

Summerfest is a good idea. It's lighter, and they seem to be distributing that quite a bit. But if you asked for a "Sierra Nevada Pale Ale" you shouldn't have gotten that, so...
posted by salvia at 10:03 PM on June 9, 2009

Perhaps the hops shortage forced them to change their brew?
posted by Netzapper at 10:04 PM on June 9, 2009

that's my beer whilen in the states (well that and Harpoon IPA) and I've not noted a diffrence. I haven't had any tapped in awhile, but a lot of the bottles. I'm pretty sure a Sierra Nevada drinker would notice if the bottle was different...the labels are a whole nother color.
posted by dawson at 10:16 PM on June 9, 2009

Response by poster: To be clear, it's not any of the other varieties of Sierra. I also bought a six pack the other day and it tasted fine.
posted by asavage at 10:21 PM on June 9, 2009

Well, now that you mention it, I have noticed it, but thought it was just me. Less crisp and hoppy? More...wheaty, I guess? I'm not a beer expert, but it has seemed less distinctively "them" overall. Missing the kick. For about 6 months now, perhaps, but that's a guess.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:34 PM on June 9, 2009

I've always found Sierra Nevada Pale Ale taste to vary a great deal based on what temperature it's served at..
posted by iamabot at 10:44 PM on June 9, 2009

FWIW, the last few Sierra pints I've had have tasted weird to me as well. I thought maybe I was crazy or my taste in beer had just been changing, like maybe thats what happens as you age, till you get super old and only drink like one kind of either really bland or really extreme beer. I had a couple in SF week before last, I remember noticing it then specifically.
posted by jeb at 10:52 PM on June 9, 2009

I've been afraid to mention this since Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has been one of my top three beers for like 10 years and it makes me feel crazy to even think about. I'm actually glad you posted this, big relief. Its like finding out your disease has a name I guess.
posted by jeb at 10:53 PM on June 9, 2009

I've drank Sierra Nevada for many years and always found it to vary some. This could be based on tap* vs. bottle, serving temp, or who knows what.

If you want consistency, drink Bud.

* btw, next time you complain to your server about a beer, explain that it doesn't "taste right" and don't imply that they brought you the wrong thing... tap beer can and will taste off given age, dirty (or recently clean) lines, or other factors.
posted by wfrgms at 11:01 PM on June 9, 2009

Sierra Nevada started making a year-round IPA this year. I just had it for the first time recently. Anyhow, I've drunk plenty of Sierra Nevada lately and haven't noticed a difference.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:13 PM on June 9, 2009

It is likely that Sierra Nevada, like many beers around the world, has had to adjust its recipe in the wake of the great hops shortage of 2008. I live in Colorado, the state with most breweries and most gallons brewed in the US, and I know that a number of my own most favorite beers here (New Belgium, 90 Shilling, etc) have had to adjust their recipes with varying results.

Since hops are a major component of flavor, this shortage has meant the largest varying in the taste of beer (in my estimation) in quite some time.
posted by koeselitz at 11:27 PM on June 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Uhhh, while everyone knows there is a hop shortage, the breweries tend to get the goods while the homebrewers are left in the cold...not to say they have not changed their formulas...

Honestly i think the answer is pretty simple. Sierra Nevada is one of the few state side breweries that uses the "open fermentation" technique. In other words the idea is that the air randomly introduces wild yeast into the mix which adds a certain amount of unpredictability to the brew. Perhaps some farms in the area have changed what they grow or perhaps they are letting more/less "wild air" in to the fermentation areas? Something along those lines?

Could also be something they have done to the processing / secondary fermentation stage (when the beer gets its carbonation). Most breweries go through a lot of filtering steps and then inject CO2 into the beer for bottling...just like soda. If you look at the bottom of the sierra bottles you will see the yeast which means there is none to little filtering (high in vitamin complex B!!!) and then they add priming suger to the bottles/beer before they get capped.

i dont guess is the open fermentation.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 11:57 PM on June 9, 2009

I haven't really thought of it, but it certainly merits research. Lots of research.

I recall Sierra Nevada Pale Ale having a taste more similar to Bass Ale, but now I think the last time I had it, it did taste more like Fat Tire. Hmm.

Note that beers off of a tap will taste different; tap lines can become rather filthy, full of stuff like mold and slime. If your local suds dispenser hasn't cleaned theirs out in the last month or so, it'll make the beer taste different. I know people that stick to ordering drinks in bottles only when it comes to unfamiliar restaurants. I don't know if that's the issue.

But, like I said, this merits research.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:43 AM on June 10, 2009

Say it isn't so! I've had a few here in London of late and it does seem to have lost the top of the over-hopped flavour on tap, bottle tastes same though.
posted by wingless_angel at 12:59 AM on June 10, 2009

Holy cow! Yeah, me too. I noticed it last month.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:55 AM on June 10, 2009

Maybe someone should ask them?
posted by orme at 3:32 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Count me in for joining the MeFi Precision Drinking Detective Squad. I have not had one in awhile, but I have a very distinct impression of what Sierra should taste like. I'll try a few today and report back.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:22 AM on June 10, 2009

I had a couple on Sunday at Mad Dog in the Fog (Toronado was closed for a private party, can you believe it?), and it did taste a little different to me, but not so much that I said anything to the bartender. It was on tap and I was eating a duck sausage with sauerkraut and onions, so I figured the difference was due to one of those factors.

I've got some of their new IPA in the fridge. It's good. Not as hoppy as Lagunitas, though.
posted by rtha at 6:07 AM on June 10, 2009

I haven't noticed any difference, but I'm on the East Coast, not sure if that matters.
posted by electroboy at 6:31 AM on June 10, 2009

Maybe call tthe home office in Paradise and ask?

Who knows, they might even send you a six pack for your trouble.

*Also haven't noticed much difference in flavor.
posted by notyou at 7:06 AM on June 10, 2009

Er, the home office in CHICO.

Did they used to be situated in Paradise?
posted by notyou at 7:21 AM on June 10, 2009

To add data points, I'm in the northeast and noticed the difference from a keg but none from the bottled beer.

I've always found it to be a really consistent beer, which is one of the reasons I've noticed. Sierra Nevada always tastes like Sierra Nevada.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:27 AM on June 10, 2009

I noticed what I think was a difference in bitterness last time I had a sixer, but it could be that it was hot outside and I'd have rathered a cold lager.

Their current page for the pale ale lists the same BU's, hops, malts, etc as the page from 2004.
posted by IanMorr at 8:14 AM on June 10, 2009

I filled out their online contact form and sent them a link here. Maybe we'll hear from them.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:02 AM on June 10, 2009

I noticed it in keg beer a while ago - but had a couple of bottles that tasted just fine. Maybe a bad batch?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:55 AM on June 10, 2009

I've noticed a slight change in the SNPA, but I haven't been drinking it as religiously as I once did. I just chalked it up to drinking a similar tasting but slightly different Schlafly APA more often. I'll take a closer taste next time I'm out.
posted by schyler523 at 10:24 AM on June 10, 2009

YES YES YES! I've been noticing the change in SNPA for a couple months--from both keg and bottle. I thought I was just developing a more hop-loving palate, but I think it's definitely got less flavor than it used to.
posted by alohaliz at 10:57 AM on June 10, 2009

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (affectionately called the "green beer" among my friends) is my favorite beer, and I *never* get it on tap. Too much depends on the establishment when you get a fresh pint. If the lines are dirty it tastes like total shit.

The bottles here in MD don't taste different to me, but I am further away from where it is made so it might be older stuff still in supply around here.

Also, mmm the ESB this spring was really frickin' good.
posted by frecklefaerie at 12:34 PM on June 10, 2009

I have been drinking Harp Lager at my local pub for years, but switched to Stella because I wasn't enjoying it as much as before. I blamed it on my having quit smoking earlier and my newly hyper-sensitive taste buds, but then the bartender told me the other day that sales of Harp had been tanking because apparently, they had changed the recipe.

It wasn't so much that it was less hoppy, it just seemed to have a rather metallic aftertaste all of a sudden.
posted by monospace at 1:01 PM on June 10, 2009

I posted this question over at Beer Advocate where there are more people with tons of beer knowledge, got this answer from SierraNevadaBill:


That thread is chock-a-block with misinformation, conjecture and hearsay.

I'm not even certain where to begin.

First off, the recipe has not changed... really the only things that have happened in nearly 29 years are:
1. the progression away from cluster hops and into a clean bittering variety such as Magnum...and
2. a dialed back bottle-conditioning dosage resulting in less sediment on the bottom of the bottle.

In fact, over the past years, we've dialed back on things like filtration, and concentrated more on centerfugation to preserve flavors and subtleties already inherent in the beer. We still use LOTS of whole-cone Cascade hops...we still bottle condition, we use the same malt-bill that we ever have.
The only difference between the original Pale Ale and today's Pale Ale is that now we make more if it...

I think if anything, the taste preference of the public has changed more than the recipe of the beer. People are used to bigger and more hoppy beers now more so than back in the early days. IPA is not something foreign and exotic...every grocery story in America has at least one "craft" brand of beer.

The hop shortage never really affected us... We had iron clad contracts in place, and in fact, gave thousands of pounds of hops back to other craft brewers so they could make it through the year.

It's true that the draft version and the bottle version are different products... but they have been that way since the dawn of time. Nothing new in the past few months.

I can say, with all of my heart and soul, there has been no drastic change to Pale Ale. We have one of the most popular craft beer brands in the country. Why would we change it? If it were a money thing, why would we launch two brand new year-round beers which are exponentially more costly to make?

The argument doesn't make sense.

I would suggest these folks give Pale Ale another go... Maybe it's not as familiar as they might think.


posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:20 PM on June 10, 2009 [12 favorites]

I think if anything, the taste preference of the public has changed more than the recipe of the beer.

I think if that were the case, everyone would be reporting it in bottles, too, but I think the consensus has been that it's keg product, not bottled, that has changed.

I'm not saying SierraNevadaGuy is lying, I think he's sincerely telling the truth -- I think something's changed for the suppliers that has an impact on the keg product.

Maybe they're cutting the hops with oregano.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:45 PM on June 10, 2009

I think the consensus has been that it's keg product, not bottled, that has changed.

"The consensus?" This is a handful of people on the internet who are chiming in to say they have a similar recollection about the changed flavor of a popular beer. I'd bet you could reproduce that consensus if you asked about the flavor of absolutely anything. The fact is the beer hasn't changed.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:54 PM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

gee kind of sounds like what i said earlier...
posted by Black_Umbrella at 11:01 PM on June 10, 2009

I did some Due Diligence last night ("No, honey, I'm not getting drunk! I'm doing research!") and sampled Sierras on draft at multiple bars, then picked up a sixer and went home to try that. I'd have tried to get my own keg (yay, home draft system), but that would take some time and expense.

There was some variation in how the beer tasted between bars, but I suspect that may have more to do with clean lines than anything. The newest bar, which opened three weeks ago, had the draft that closest matched the bottle.

Is there a spike in Sierra Nevada Pale Ale consumption in the spring/summer? I wonder if the change in draft taste is because of seldom used tap lines or people switching from maltier winter beers to Sierra.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:53 AM on June 11, 2009

Perhaps some sort of scientific investigation to get to the bottom of this 'myth' might be in order!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:37 PM on June 11, 2009

Black_umbrella, what makes you think that SNPA uses open fermentation?
posted by craven_morhead at 1:15 PM on February 22, 2010

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