Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and its tragically-unused tap handle

I’m not going to get properly into the whole “grey market” (or “gray market”, if you’re American) debate here. I’m sure I will do so more fully at a later time, when it inevitably flares up again. I’m actually pretty sympathetic to both sides — which is rare.

My own particular concerns are these:

  • “Grey market” strikes me as an unfair term, which loads the dice against the “unofficial” importers, since it carries its connotations of being kinda black market — but grey market imports are legal.1 It certainly doesn’t seem like a neutral term that both sides would use, so it’s probably not a good phrase for commentators to go on using as a label for the debate.
  • The quality concern should be paramount, but I often get the suspicion that it’s used as window-dressing for a more knee-jerkish desire for good old-fashioned control.2 The opposition to parallel importing often seems oddly dogmatic — I just can’t imagine some of the most-vocal opponents actually changing their tune and make an exception were some perfect, quality-guaranteeing dream importer to emerge.
  • And finally, I’m just not invested enough in this debate to become someone’s martyr. I don’t see the “anti-grey” side as being so obviously right that I’d be willing to join a boycott and deprive myself the change to try something I might never otherwise be able to sample. Yes, yes, I know there may be quality issues — but I’m accustomed to navigating them with everything else as well and can accomodate those possibilities as part of the tasting experience.

Anyway: Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, on tap in the Little Country. This is a “grey market” import, in case you were wondering why I went for a spin along that particular tangent — it was basically a “test keg”, actually, to see if kegs of Sierra Nevada would start heading this way just like bottles have been for a good few months now.

I thought it travelled very well, though some local Beer Folk seemed to bubble towards the opinion that it’d been beaten up a bit — I suspect an element of that was the somewhat regrettable pack mentality that sets in when someone “noteworthy” makes an early pronouncement (negative or positive), with maybe also a touch of that phenomenon where it becomes moderately fashionable to knock something once it reaches a certain level of success. In the main, it went down a treat; we blammed through that pilot keg in very short order (possibly helped too much by me, on one particular night).

The only let-down was that we didn’t make enough of a fuss about it, and I don’t even really know why we didn’t. It turned out that we actually tapped our keg — the very first in the country — on the actual goddamn thirtieth birthday of the beer. How neat is that? And it was totally accidental, weirdly. I tried to lobby for the awesomely-ostentatious oversized tap handle to be installed, too. The reasoning was that one big silly handle would look out of place among all the normals — but surely that’s precisely why you do it. Sigh. That said, Peter’s note on the blackboard — written “in Californian” — was awesome.

Verbatim: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale! 15/11/10 apparently the first keg to make it to the Little Country. A bit of a travel test, after which it may become a fixture on tap here @ work. Some of the Beer Snobs have already yeah-yeah-ed themselves into agreeing that it hasn’t travelled well. I say nonsense; is lovely. Maybe, maybe slightly muted. But still its delicious self. I suspect people are confusing it with its gruntier relatives.

— and then a lot / too many more the next night. I discovered that the 15th is the brewdate Birthday; so we tapped ours on its 30th! Worth celebrating, so we did.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale announcement
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale announcement
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap
Diary II entry #35.1, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap
Diary II entry #35.2, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

1: Greg Koch, one of the founders of the Stone brewery, made a spectacularly arse-faced appearance on the forum in which he characterised a parallel import of his beer as “black market” and “illegal” several times in a short span. That lost him a lot of my sympathy, and it was very hard not to read his comments without uncharitably starting to think they were decidedly sour grapes, given that they were spurred by a negative comment about his beer. Illegality is a serious accusation to fling at someone so casually — even if there’s a question of whether one of the middlemen had broken a no-exporting deal, that’d just be an issue of breach of contract, not the proper breach of statute that his terminology and outrage imply.
2: To return to Greg Koch (from footnote 1), he quite-casually throws around the phrase “fresh-and-as-intended, or not at all”, which does set me wondering just where he wants to get off that train; what else gets smuggled into “as intended”? I really hope he took Stu’s quoted song lyrics to heart, and calmed down a bit.

8 thoughts on “Sierra Nevada Pale Ale”

  1. I thought it was really tired but still drinkable and worth the $ for a look (I don’t think I was influenced by anyone, noteworthy or not, and hope I didn’t influence anyone myself).

    Your “grey” opinions are exactly the same as mine, as you’ve probably gathered. Greg Koch’s argument isn’t even sound, let alone true. There is a simple solution… it’s the one used by Ballast Point, Green Flash, Coronado, Southern Tier, Bear Republic, Flying Dog, Meantime, Fuller’s, Rogue, Brew Dog, Mikeller, Nogne and more.

  2. Didn’t get to try it but agree on the grey thing (ie. pretty much on the fence, leaning towards “if people want to buy it, so be it”). What I want most is to not have to care. It bugs me that it’s becoming an issue when there are so many larger issues to deal with. I think the answer (if an answer is needed) is simple – drink local, and if you don’t want to, be aware that beer doesn’t always travel well. That goes for beer travelling and being stored in poor condition in NZ just as much as it does for the latest hop blast from San Diego. Caveat Drinkor! 😉

  3. The great news is that the argument should be redundant now that good quantities of top class beer are now being imported using methods that the breweries approve of. (Of course I’m saying this because I’m the one bringing them in.)

    The discussion so far has rarely mentioned price. I visited a certain Wellington supermarket this morning, held my nose and blew $21.99 on a Green Flash IIPA. You can walk into Hashigo Zake and take away a super-fresh, reefer-shipped bottle of the same for $16.40. Something is awry when a bar can undercut a supermarket.

    We’ll be doing a taste test shortly – I’ll reveal our findings.

  4. I do like that there’s a nice little team forming in the Sensible Middle Ground, and that involves people of such diverse politics and positions within the beer game — drinkers, brewers, publicans; and combinations thereof.

    For the record, Stu, you weren’t the influencer (or among the influenced) that I was thinking of. I just saw one group seemingly in the sway of one person’s opinion, and it made me a little sad. Unfortunately, it’d probably stretch my beloved impertinence just a touch too far to ‘out’ them.

    And Stu and Dom are absolutely right: the best way to kill this over-done argument is to ruin its central assumption — that the choice is between somehow-perfect brewery-controlled imports and totally-careless just-some-guy imports. That forgotten option of a bar (or other end-retailer, rather than some random middleman) arranging with the brewery (not some other random middleman) for a careful shipment is brilliant. Malthouse did that to great result with our BrewDog and Thornbridge shipments, and I’d love to see us do more of the same. Dom and Hashigo, meanwhile, deserve to be bought a beer for their efforts, but I suspect they have almost more than they know what do with (or where to put). So we should go buy one from them, instead.

  5. YES! This SHOULD have been better advertised! Seeing as how I am quite possibly the only person living in Wellington who has resided within crawling distance to/from the Sierra Nevada Brewery, attending your Pale Ale tapping WOULD have been a monumental affair. That’s okay though, Phil, don’t worry. You can make it up to me. My family (who currently lives within crawling distance to/from said brewery) is here between 9-23 Feb, and I am SURE they’d appreciate a New Zealand beer tasting led by you, oh humble Beer Aficionado.

  6. Aha, a mate from the states and I recently spent a week searching for a kiwi version of Sierra Nevada. He only drinks Sierra and that was also my drop when I lived in the states. And you have it. Where are you located as I’m coming to drink?

    1. Well, I don’t work at the Malthouse anymore (as of relatively recently), and they don’t have on tap it at the moment, only in bottles. But you can fairly-reliably find it here in New Zealand, courtesy of a fairly-busy gray market. It’s at a few local cafes / restaurants, and in a couple of bottle stores. If / when you’re in Wellington, you can look it up on using their handy “now pouring” search-thing.

      But equally, if you like Sierra Nevada Pale, New Zealand makes a whole lot of things you (and your friend) might love. Try Epic Pale Ale (which really introduced the local scene to the style), Tuatara APA (made using only local hops), or even 8 Wired’s ‘Hopwired’ IPA (which is a more-full-on American-style pale, again using only local hops). And that’s just for a start!

      1. I can reliably report that LBQ and Crumpet also have bottles of Sierra Nevada. I’d also say that they aren’t worth parting money for in my opinion; particularly if you’ve had it fresh in the States.
        A local offering on the APA style is a smarter choice. It’ll be fresher and better value. Like Phil says, Tuatara and Epic are good bets but also Croucher Pale Ale.

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