White Horse in Parsons Green kicked off last Tuesday with a beer-food pairing meal, hosted by Steve Grossman, from the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. I haven't tried a great deal of Sierra Nevada beer before, except for the pretty-widely-available Pale Ale, often found on tap in South West London hostelries.
In fact I realised that I knew very little about the company at all, other than that I liked the Pale Ale, and that it was Californian (based on the name!). Steve Grossman is the brother of one of the two co-founders, and he gave a whistle-stop tour through the history of the brewery, which now produces almost a million barrels a year (it will probably exceed that in 2013 with the building of a new brewery in North Carolina).
Steve talked a bit about the company and accompanied his words with some nostalgic pictures, including that of their first ever brewing kettle back in 1980, helped by the welding skills of one of the founders, since there were no suppliers of such equipment readily available. He sped through the history for a bit, and then we tucked into the first course, deep fried mac and cheese balls, accompanied by a Kellerweis-Heferweisen, at 4.8%. The banana and spicy notes worked perfectly with the crunchy balls.
He then moved on to talking about the beers that were accompanying the food, giving some detail on the hops used, bottling, and growth of the brewery. The second course was a delicious seared tuna accompanied with Celebration Ale jelly and avocado puree, washed down with the current season's Celebration Ale. Each year they wait until they get the first of the freshly-harvested hops and produce this annual beer. Apparently this year was one of their best, and they've been brewing it since 1981. It's one of the earliest examples of an American-style IPA.
Northern Hemisphere IPA. In addition to the seasonal Celebration Ale, they also produce IPAs with fresh hops depending on which hemisphere has them in season; Sierra Nevada has "a love affair with hops". This one was made with fresh hops picked in Washington state and into the kettle within 24 hours (the first time they did this they chartered a couple of planes, at a cost of $25,000 - I guess they've got their transportation sorted out a bit better these days).
The last words from Steve were about the ecological impact of the enormous operation that Sierra Nevada has now become, having grown massively in the past ten years. They've installed solar panels, a water-treatment plant, everything seems to be recycled, and ten months ago they started packaging some of their beer in cans, which weigh half of what the equivalent measures weigh in glass bottles. They make continuous efforts to reduce waste, reduce water consumption, and recycle as much as they can. They built a rail terminal in order to transport their beer by rail, which is more efficient than by road. They look after their staff well (their staff medical programme is aptly-named HOP - Health Opportunity Programme). They run an annual beer camp, where they invite beer producers from around the world to come and make some new beer. The new brewery being built in Mills River, North Carolina will be surrounded by recreational land - hiking trails, cycle tracks, etc... and will cut down on transportation costs to the east coast.
After an inspiring story, we ate an interesting chocolate mousse with poached prunes, accompanied by a wonderfully rich imperial stout called Narwhal. For those who didn't know, one of Steve's entourage gave us a bit of background on what a narwhal is (a toothed whale - the tooth looks a bit like a unicorn's horn). They've recently discovered that narwhals lie on their back and use the tooth to help them feed, very close to the bottom of the ocean. Why they called the beer after the strange creature, who knows.
A few of us hung around afterwards, as usual, having a little more beer
and a little more chat. The crowd was the usual eclectic lot - a wholesale beer and pub manager, a guy who runs
pub-crawls for backpackers and a beer blogger were on our table, while a prolific
beer writer sat on another table. The familiar faces of a few regulars were visible too.
I might have been inclined to stay a little longer but my ongoing cough was getting a bit irritating and I wanted to get back to the poor puppy home alone.