Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman touts innovative new IPA

Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Courtesy Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Craft beer legend Ken Grossman was in Berkeley Wednesday night to talk about the latest line-up of beers at Sierra Nevada, the company he founded in 1980 in Chico with recycled dairy equipment.

While the brewery has become one of the leaders in craft beer, its emphasis on innovation has never waned. That was on display at the brewery’s Torpedo Room in Berkeley, where Grossman told a small media gathering about three new beers, including Hop Hunter, an IPA made with oil steam-distilled in the field moments after the hop harvest.

The oil creates a vibrant wet hop style of beer at any time, even though the hops harvest is limited.

Grossman explained that Sierra Nevada started making fresh-hopped IPAs about 15 years ago (standard IPAs use dried hops) and wanted to be able to duplicate the wet hop style for a year-round beer. To do that, they came up with the steam-distilling process. Freshness is also an important factor with IPAs – they are generally at the best in the first days and weeks after being brewed, and their flavors and overall quality diminish if they are not consumed relatively soon.

“A lot of this has to do with timing and having people who can judge when the aroma quality is just perfect to extract the oil,” Grossman said. “Hops are not like too many other crops. ... They have a pretty narrow window. The whole hop harvest takes place in about six weeks. The time when a variety first starts to mature and when it is overripe might only be three or four days.”

The result is Hop Hunter, a bold, very fresh IPA with a vibrant hop aroma that is lively but very smooth to drink.

When I chatted with Grossman, he was sipping on a Nooner Pilsner, a German-style pilsner with spicy hop flavor notes that is refreshing and intended to be sessionable. The other beer introduced at the event was the Beer Camp Hoppy Lager, which will be available in stores for a limited time.

Grossman also spoke about the company’s new brewery in North Carolina, Sierra Nevada’s ongoing emphasis on innovation and his take on what the next craft beer trend will be.

Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.