Nov. 15, 1980: 26-year-old Ken Grossman brewed his first commercial beer, four years after launching his home-brewing hobby. There were just 40 breweries of all makes in the country, with sales dominated by Coors, Miller and Budweiser. From modest beginnings on a 10-barrel brew system, Grossman now owns and operates the largest independent brewery in America ― Sierra Nevada Brewing produced 1 million barrels in 2014 — equal to 331 million 12-ounce bottles. Grossman’s first batch, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, boasted 36 IBUs, at least thrice as high as Bud Light. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone sat they tried a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on a whim in the 1980s, and that was all she wrote. Sierra was their introduction to the world of craft beer. The bitter hops were a palate shocker — a proverbial beer awakening.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale ‘s balance and trumped-up Cascade hops with kisses of citrus and pine, kicked off last night’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Beer Dinner at The Swiss Restaurant and Pub.
Swiss Chef Jacob Thacker yet again surpassed my expectations and knocked it out of the park. As I arrived, The Swiss staff scurried about the small kitchen, prepping their four-course dinner.
Once everyone arrived, Swiss manager Stephen Dixon pulled the group’s faces out of their Pilsner glasses full of Pale Ale to introduce Sarah Tomlinson, the South Sound’s Sierra Nevada Brewing area manager.
“Let’s have a beer. Let’s get social,” said Tomlinson. She launched into the Pale Ale’s ingredients and accolades, warning the alcohol by volume and bitter levels will “go higher and higher throughout the night.”
First Course: Canapes – Paired with Nooner Pilsner. After snapping some pics, I dived into this delicious appetizer with gusto and was in awe of the complexity of flavors. Made with fresh beer bread and a smothering of Point Reyes Blue Cheese, the dish was sweet and savory, thanks to the creamy and tangy cheese paired with fresh cherries and candied nuts. The classic German-style, gold-medal winning Noon Pilsner was the perfect pairing, as it was light and floral with a dry finish, and helped cleanse the pallet after each bite. The noble hops shined.
Second Course: Quinoa salad – Paired with Ovila Belgian Style Abbey Saison brewed with Mandarin Oranges, which was just released. The Ovila Saison was a last-minute change after the scheduled Ovila Golden wasn’t ready for release. Oranges, jicama and orange vinaigrette energized the salad, which covered a bed of butter leaf lettuce. The dish was a welcome cool down on this very warm evening. I did love the little treasures of texture from the jicama. It was a well-received dish and the beer paired well with the earthy, grassy Saison with lots of bright citrus, zippy pepper and mellow yeast notes. Fun fact: Nevada’s Ovila Series benefits a neighboring Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, Calif., where the beer’s ingredients grew on New Clairvaux’s nearly 600 acres of farmland.
“The Ovila Belgian Style Abbey Saison was brought in special for this dinner. It’s not on the market. This is the only keg in the area,” explained Tomlinson.
An Intermezzo beer is standard at The Swiss. Last night, Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest cut the beer dinner in half. Just released, the Oktoberfest was a collaboration with German brewery Brauhaus Riegele, with the Grossmans on premise. Active since 1386, the brewery is run by Master Brewer Dr. Sebastian Priller-Riegele and his son, Sebastian Priller-Riegele, similar to the family-owned Sierra Nevada. The Brauhaus Riegele version is malt forward, with caramel notes.
Third Course: Prosciutto Wrapped and Stuffed Chicken Breast — Paired with the aggressive hoppiness of Hoptimum.
Of course the chicken needed to hide in a prosciutto blanket. I would too if I saw a 100 IBU, 10.2 percent ABV Imperial India Pale Ale headed straight toward me. The brewery aggressively hopped, dry-hopped, and torpedoed the beer with Magnum, Chinook, Simcoe and a new experimental hop variety exclusive to Sierra Nevada, with a sturdy malt backbone unaccustomed to such a big IPA. Chef Thacker soaked the chicken breasts in a Hoptimum marinade, then stuff it with cranberries and garlic Parmesan stuffing. Delish. I dove into the mound of delicious spaghetti squash tossed in brown butter and herbs.
Fourth Course: Vanilla Cream Stuffed Tartlet – Paired with Bigfoot Barleywine. The IBUs came back. Bigfoot boasts a whopping 90 IBUs. Add that flavor punch to the strong malt backbone, with its caramelized/fruity sweetness and touch of alcohol warmth, and you get a huge, complex-tasting beer. The grain bill is 60 percent bigger than the brewery’s flagship Pale Ale. The Bigfoot is a dessert alone, with notes of gingerbread, toasted coconut, walnuts and toffee. Chef Jacob’s buttery tart filled with pastry cream, dotted with fresh berries sent me to the French countryside … with a bottle of Bigfoot, of course.
As the dinner concluded, the crowd lingered, exchanging email addresses and chatting up the Swiss’ announcement that Two Beers Brewing and Seattle Cider Company will team up for the next dinner. Eventually the crowd dispersed and it was time to go, and it seemed there was a general feeling of not wanting to leave, as it was one of the best times I’ve had at a beer event. It was controlled, well executed; there was a steady supply of food, beer, and everyone acted like adults doing adulty things. Cheers to Tomlinson and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. for killing it with their beers and a bow to Chef Thacker, and the Swiss staff.