Tracking Bigfoot: Cryptozoology or Zymology?
Four years of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot were compared...
Styles & Seasonals
January 30, 2003
Written by pivo
Sierra Nevada is a classic West Coast brewery with a great range of beers. Their Pale Ale stands as yardstick against which other pale ales are measured. The stout and porter are dark, rich and full of taste. Bigfoot, a barley wine, has a character all its own: heavy malt body, aggressively hopped and high in alcohol. There’s nothing quite like it in my opinion. And compared to most of the traditional European beers I have access to in Germany, Bigfoot appears insane, unsophisticated, and has a arrogant New World attitude.
That’s why I love it.
In fact, it is one of my favorite beers - a hophead’s delight. I’d been stashing away several six-packs of Bigfoot for a number of years now and decided it was time to crack a few open. The question was: how well does Bigfoot age? Do the flavors blend and mellow out with time? Well, here is what we found:
Yogi_Beera and I hosted the event in our apartment in Hamburg. Joe (Arnoud) and Shelly Veehoff brought the jury up to a total of four.
At about 8 pm on the day after Christmas 2002 we cracked open the first bottle of Bigfoot for this vertical tasting.
Four years of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot were compared - 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002. The big gap between 1995 and the others was not at all planned - it was just what we had available. It made for an interesting comparison, though.
Bigfoot - 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002
The vintages were stored in a cool basement for their respective life spans. I brought them to Germany from America a month before this tasting. I’m not sure if the journey effected the beer in any way, but we are assuming there was no significant change due to the transport.
Each beer was tasted and rated individually at first, with enough of each left over to do a side-by-side sampling later. All four of us did a blind taste test of the beers presented in random order. Yogi_Beera got 50% correct and mixed up the 2000 and 2001, as did I. Shelly also got 50% correct and confused the 2001 with the 1995. Joe only guessed one right: the 1995, which seemed to be the most distinct of the night.
We used the RateBeer scale to evaluate the beer collectively. After the initial sips and tasting notes for each, we discussed the beer as a group. The scores and ratings varied for sure, and the numbers below represent an approximate average of all scores.
Aroma: 8, Appearance: 4, Flavor: 8, Palate: 5, Overall: 17, Total: 4.2
This vintage starts with a syrup-like nose with hints of dates and raisins backed up by a a good waft of alcohol. The color is a murky, ruddy brown and there is essentially no head or carbonation. Thick and sweet, the 1995 resembles sherry at times, with chocolate and nut tones in the middle. It wraps up with a long, pleasant bitterness at the very end, though not as bright in hop character as the younger years. Overall we enjoyed a good blend of tastes that were mellow. It reminded me of Thomas Hardy Ale in many ways and was the most distinct of the bunch. This was mine and Joe’s favorite of the night.
Aroma: 8, Appearance: 5, Flavor: 8, Palate: 5, Overall: 18, Total: 4.4
A big, fresh hop nose rises up from a clear reddish-amber colored body to greet you. Unlike the 1995, this year has a nice frothy head. The big malt body is underscored with traces of citrusy fruits, like lemons. A full body supports an aggressive hopping that leaves you picking the hops from your teeth. The sharp bitter finish is almost astringent with the initial sips, but loosens up through the glass. Yogi_Beera and Shelly enjoyed this vintage the most.
Aroma: 8, Appearance: 5, Flavor: 8, Palate: 5, Overall: 16, Total: 4.1
The nose on the 2001 is complex with hints of oranges and even coffee. Again, a powerful roasted malt body up front is followed by a crisp hop finish. This vintage had a slightly thinner body, though, and more fruit flavors than the older years. It resembled the 2000 much more than it did the 1995.
Aroma: 8, Appearance: 5, Flavor: 7, Palate: 4, Overall: 15, Total: 3.9
The hop character dominates the landscape of this flavor profile, starting with a clear and fresh hop nose. The bright hop resolution in the body overshadows the sweet, fruity malt flavor. The bitterness also lasts longer than the other vintages, well past the swallow. Certainly attractive with a clear amber-red color and tall lacy head, this Bigfoot seemed the thinnest of the them all. Compared to the 1995 this vintage could be considered unbalanced.
Commonalities between the years include:
<LI>Hops. All were aggressively hopped with a pronounced bitterness
<LI>Alcohol. The alcohol was noticeable in all, starting with the nose and following through into the swallow. It heightened the taste sensation and seemed to play a primary role.
<LI>Long Profile. All had tastes that lingered in the mouth seemingly minutes after each sip.
<LI>Malt taste. The basic malt character was heavy and fruity. A definite similar direction was noticeable in all vintages.
I don’t believe that the basic recipe for Bigfoot changes from year to year. Therefore, any differences we noted could be attributed to aging. These included:
<LI>Bitterness. While all were bitter for sure, the 1995 was much mellower and rounded than the younger years, which tended to have a crisp, almost astringent bitterness.
<LI>Appearance. The color definitely got clearer as we moved from old to young. The 1995 was nearly opaque; the 2002 very clear. We also saw a greater amount of carbonation and a bigger head with the younger years.
<LI>Palate. The 1995 was simply much thicker than the other years, with the 2002 being the thinnest of them all.
A row of Bigfoot samples. Notice how murky the 1995 is (far right) with no head.
So, here is what we can say about how Bigfoot ages:
There is definitely a change in flavor and balance over time - for the better. The most obvious observation is that he bright hop character mellows out over the years. We started seeing this even with the 3-year-old 2000 vintage. We definitely saw this with the 1995, which was thick and syrupy with rounded edge. The 1995 was also pretty well balanced, though perhaps too far in character from the younger Bigfoot we normally enjoy.
We would have loved to have had a 1998 and 1999 in the mix, though. Based on what we tasted, we believe these would have been the best. Therefore, you can store this beer safely for 7+ years, but the best length of time to put it down and still maintain Bigfoot’s characteristic flavor is probably around 5 years. With a 5-year-old Bigfoot you should get a dark, thick beer with a better blend of malt and hops.
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A full body supports an aggressive hopping that leaves you picking the hops from your teeth.
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