Sierra Nevada 2010 Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale
There is no question about it, this beer has its fans. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a detractor among serious beer aficionados. Sierra Nevada changes the recipe for its Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale every year, and people debate the merits of one year over another. They are collected and cellared, and are often said to improve with age – though I don't share that opinion. These are huge beers made for big beer drinkers. They aren't for the Waterbeerlite crowd. These are the kind to savor slowly. In a snifter. On the warm side. Probably one in a sitting. That should scare off most of the American beer consumers.
Bigfoot is a little scary, and its fans like it that way. It has even scared me off on occasion. I'm not one of those over-the-top hopheads that want their beer jam-packed with as many hops as a brewer can shove in. That's the way Bigfoot seemed to be for a while. There were more obnoxiously hopped beers out there, but not many. I would sample a Bigfoot here and there, but essentially decided they were good for what they were, but they weren't for me. But, this change in 2010 actually is working out for me, Sarah.
Bigfoot Ale even looks formidable. A dark, almost reddish amber with a decent, but quick, tan head. One sniff, and you realize you have something to be reckoned with. In the past, that first sniff was often almost pure hops. They aren't gone. It still smells like a drive through a pine forest, but this year there are some surprises along for the ride. Some malt adds a bit of biscuit, and a host of unusual fruits and berries are tucked underneath, such as orange, strawberry and raspberry.
Even though this ale packs a a hefty 9.6% alcohol, that isn't what you notice – not always a safe thing. There are no surprises in the flavor. It tastes like it smells. I still expected to be bombarded, as usual, with hops, but the barrage never quite came. There are still plenty to keep all but the most fervent hopheads happy, but there is now enough malt to knock some of the edge off them. These flavors seem to mingle rather than fight. They aren't balanced. The hops still dominate. There's a brief, sweet, malty interlude in the center, but the end is still crisp, dry and bitter. Hoppy, sure, but this isn't one of those relentless, tongue-pounding monstrosities. So, it is possible to brew an over-hopped beer that is still enjoyable and tasty. Too bad more brewers don't bother trying.
I doubt anyone is going to want anything to eat with a Bigfoot. Nibble on some strong cheese if you're starving, but this beast will stomp all over dinner. It feels like a meal anyway. Thick, rich and heavy. You almost chew it as it is. One will usually be plenty, and should take a while to get through. If you stupidly bring a 12 pack of this over for the game, don't expect to make it to halftime. You'll be bloated and dozing but, on the other hand, happy whatever the outcome.
In the past, Bigfoot Ales were about the only Sierra Nevada offering I didn't really enjoy. They had their merits, and I could see why they appealed to some others, they just weren't quite my cup of tea. I'm sure there are going to be a wave of old fans a little disappointed with the tweaking on the 2010 batch. But, I couldn't be happier. The new Bigfoot still brings a ton of hop flavor, but competently adds enough other flavors to the mix that it doesn't feel like work to slog through a glass.