Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Chico, CA

Style: Barley Wine
ABV: 9.6%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (World class.)

Pair With:
Nigel hates hype. I absolutely f-ing despise things that are talked about as though they are the greatest thing since Jesus or Michael Jordan. Sorry- I was so anxious to start bitching, I forgot to greet all of you loyal Beer Dorks and thank you again for reading another Nigel review. Hello, fellow Beer Dorks, and thanks for supporting Nigel's rants... er, uh reviews. Now, back to the rant. I WILL NEVER watch an episode of American Karaoke, or any other reality show for that matter (except for The Real World- it has a grandfather clause). I WILL NEVER shop at Wal Mart. I HATE all sports teams from New York, Los Angeles, and Boston (and the Chicago Cubs). I HATE ALL macro brews. I HATE Tiger Woods. I HATE Peyton Manning. I HATE Starbucks, Subway, McDonald's, and Quizno's. I HATE all sports programs at Ohio St. and Texas, I HATE Oklahoma football, and I HATE Duke basketball. I HATE fortune cookies that have the same lame saying on them every time you get the $5 lunch buffet. I DESPISE pop music. To make a long story longer, I hate anything that is popular just because Joe Blow American feels like its cool to follow the mindless herd. After all, if it sells well, it MUST be good, right dipshit? Don't even get me started on Republicans, because I could go on forever about that.

What's the point of this rant, you ask? Well, Nigel likes to frequent many of the craft brew websites/blogs out there on this new thing called the "internet", and hundreds of fellow Beer Dorks seem to salivate every time Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. puts out their winter seasonal, Bigfoot Ale, a Barley Wine that everyone talks about as though it's the brew Jesus drank at the Last Supper (that's not true- he undoubtedly drank an Imperial IPA, as he MUST have been a Hophead). By the way, does anyone know why Muslims don't drink alcohol? Well, as a Historian, Nigel can answer that. Muhammed and his followers were on a caravan from Medina to Jerusalem, and stopped off at a local oasis to rest and have a bite to eat. The group was parched from their desert trek, and Muhammed ordered a beer. The waiter said all they had was Budweiser, and Muhammed, always open minded and unfamiliar with this particular brew, was willing to try it. Needless to say, Muhammed was a VERY smart prophet, and the next entry in the Qur'an was to refrain from all alcohol after tasting the swill that was forced upon him that day. Can't say I blame him. If we only could have gotten him an IPA...

Anyways, back to the Bigfoot. Nigel is always leary when he hears nothing but widespread praise for something, but I had to give in to the populace this time and try it for myself. Sierra Nevada, despite its somewhat remote Northern California location, has spread quite rapidly throughout most of the nation. Even here in the Midwest, many retailers with only a nominal selection of craft brews carry Sierra Nevada's flagship brew, Pale Ale. I've had this on a few occassions, and would say it's pretty good- probably in the top third of Pale Ales I've tried, though WAY overmarketed. Sierra Nevada's Stout is decent, their IPA (an English IPA) is so-so at best, and their Porter is, well... it's a Porter. The only other Sierra Nevada brew that I've had is their Celebration Ale, which is an American IPA that inundates stores around the Holidays, and is actually quite good. As for Bigfoot, I will say that it's a very rare example of a widely marketed Barley Wine, which, in my opinion, is one of the most unique styles out there, one that is VERY hard to perfect, making it either a fantastic brew or complete crap, depending on who's brewed it. I've had limited experiences with Barley Wines due to their overall rarity, but I've had a couple that were phenomenal, and one that was one of the worst beers I've ever had (feeling kind on this snowy April night, Nigel will withhold names... for now).

So- what's my impression of Bigfoot? Roll the hype machine, because this beer is fantastic! I must say that I'm very pleased with the various Beer Dork bloggers out there who heap loads of praise on this brew, because they hit the proverbial nail right on the head. Bigfoot Ale captures all the complexities of a Barley Wine to near perfection, making for an orgy of flavor that makes for a difficult, but VERY rewarding drink. To prove that point, realize that Sir Nigel, who sucked it up to prove his English manliness by drinking an entire sixer of Hop Wallop over the course of one night (not recommended for amateurs- ok, not recommended for ANYONE), can only tolerate two Bigfoots at the most in an evening, and it takes me a good hour plus to drink one 12 ouncer. As fantastic as this beer is, you had better either drink it slowly and in small doses, or be prepared for a night in detox.

Bigfoot Ale pours beautifully, a sign of what's to come. Lightly carbonated, it pours a deep amber hue, with a very mild white head that dissipates to a nominal lace. The smell is as complex as the flavor. To begin, it is the first Barley Wine- check that, the first brew, period- I've ever had where you can detect a hint of barley. While barley is one of the staples of all beer, regardless of style, unlike hops, malt, yeast, etc., it's not something that's easily recognizable. As a grain, it's very mild in both aroma and flavor, but Sierra Nevada seems to have done the impossible, and made barley a noticeable ingredient (this may be aided by the fact that Nigel's Sugar Mama's father is a farmer who grew a large amount of barley this past summer, giving me an insight into the entire process of barley cultivation, including the pleasant smell of freshly harvested barley). In true Barley Wine fashion, hops are very detectable in the aroma, as is a dark malt- Sierra Nevada has a darker take on Barley Wine than many brewers out there. The combination of barley, hops, malt, and yeast make for a very sharp, yet somewhat earthy aroma- not quite as hoppy as an IPA, but much hoppier than any darker, maltier beer out there. The taste is fantastic, though VERY complex. One of the keys to making a fine Barley Wine is to balance the flavors as much a possible, and Sierra Nevada has done that. Hops are easily detectable on the first sip, though it's a hop addition that doesn't overwhelm. The hops are quickly tempered by a sweet caramel malt, with a mild citrus tang that perfectly balances the biterness of the hops and the sweetness of the malt. Surprisingly, there is little hint of any alcohol, which is usually the downfall of the always powerful Barley Wine. At 9.6% abv, Sierra Nevada isn't as strong as many Barley Wines, which probably helps accentuate the overall flavor. The worst Barley Wines I've sampled have gone overboard in the alcohol department, tasting essentially like a bottle of moonshine. Sierra Nevada has made a balanced, tasty, yet powerful brew, one that goes down remarkably smooth for the style, though is still best drank in small doses- if you ever find a Barley Wine that's considered a session brew, let us know, because it'll be the first. The aftertaste is obviously strong, but to be expected with this type of brew.

Barely Wines are noted for the fact that they can be cellared (hence, the wine name) and improve with age. This was a 2007 edition Bigfoot in a 12 oz. twist-off bottle, so I've set aside a couple for aging purposes, hoping to compare them to the 2008 edition next year for another lame Nigel review. It's getting late in the season, but if any of you Beer Dorks should see Bigfoot Ale at your local retailer, pick up a sixer or two (warning- probably gonna be $10-$12) and enjoy it like any other fine wine- slowly, with an appreciation for the complicated process it takes to brew such a fine ale. Kudos to Sierra Nevada for making a fine brew that all of us Beer Dorks are sure to enjoy.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on April 12, 2007.
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