This week’s installment of Tasting Notes has us revisiting an old favorite as we get into a pour of the iconic Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale (2017) from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (Chico, California).
The legend of Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot started in 1983 and has since grown to establish this beastly Barleywine as a cult classic in the American craft beer community. This strong and robust American-style Barleywine reached this status by showcasing “bold flavors of bittersweet malt and heaps of aggressive whole-cone Pacific Northwest hops.” Since it weighs in at an imposing 9.6% ABV and possesses a substantial hop bill, Bigfoot can either be enjoyed fresh or it can age “like a fine wine, developing new flavors and character as it matures in the bottle.”
Although we are stepping back a year in time for these Tasting Notes, the 2018 vintage of Bigfoot is available now in 6-packs of 12 oz. bottles and on draft at select craft beer establishments located in Alabama, Florida, California, North Carolina and throughout the rest of Sierra Nevada’s expansive distribution area.
Now that we have covered the history of this classic, let’s grab a glass and sit down to some Tasting Notes with the Bigfoot.
Tasting Notes for Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale (2017) from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Appearance: Bigfoot fills the glass as a dark caramel-colored brew that has a reddish undertone to it. When held to direct light, that caramel tone softens a bit and its red hue shifts to become more of a vibrant copper. The beer is pristine in clarity and shows a good amount of tiny bubbles streaming skyward. The pour produced just over a finger of tight, sandy-colored foam that has fantastic retention and thoroughly coats the glass with chunky gobs of lace.
Aroma: The aromatics on this beer are gorgeously distinct and aggressively storm the nose as soon as its cap is removed. There is a firm earthy layer up front that is both floral and piney. Those notes are then followed by sweet tones of brown sugar, caramel, and toffee. A touch of dark fruit and a bright burst of citrus character smooth it all out to close the profile.
Taste: Resinous pine strikes the palate first with a hoppy bite that is then quickly tempered by a sweet and sturdy malt backbone of toffee and caramel. Dark fruits – mostly reading as sticky, caramelized dates – then emerge and bring with them some more earthy and floral characteristics from the hops. Gaining a second wind, the hops assert themselves once again by saturating the finish with a parting dose of grapefruit-laced pine. Absolutely delicious.
Mouthfeel: Full-bodied with a mild carbonation, Bigfoot has a hefty weight to it and sticks a bit on the palate. Even after a year, the hops still have a good amount of bite to them, but an underlying sweetness is there to do what it can in providing some balance. As expected, that 9.6% ABV brings with it a building heat that settles in the throat and radiates down to the belly. The aftertaste is a long lingering note of pine.
Final Thoughts: There is a lengthy list of reasons for why Bigfoot is so respected and beloved, but its unwavering degree of consistency must be near the top of that list. Year in and year out, fans of this American-style Barleywine just know that it is going to be aggressively and deliciously hop-laden when fresh but still has the potential to turn into a balanced, sweet sipper over time. Those of us who cellar beer rest easy knowing that there will be no surprises with this brew as we stash a sixer or case of each vintage away for years on end. It is just a given that our Bigfoot cache will effortlessly evolve into a steady progression of captivating flavors and aromas as the years tick by, and I think many of us take the beauty of that for granted at times. Sierra Nevada has achieved an artful level of craftsmanship with Bigfoot that unquestionably holds its own against time, and – for that reason – it has inspired countless brewers to create their own American Barleywines over the last 35 years. Bigfoot truly is a standard for its style and the craft of American brewing in general, and that is why it deserves our attention, appreciation and praise with each year’s release. That is why it is a classic. Prost!