My very first review here, introduced by The Feisty Foodie, featured the Sierra Nevada 2010 Bigfoot. I thought it appropriate to re-review today, and check how it’s come along since then.
Without following that link, I doubt you remember all the “pearls of wisdom” (ha!) I laid out nearly two years ago. Bigfoot, created nearly 30 years ago, has stood the test of time, tweaking but never overhauling the recipe for this standard-bearer of American-style barleywine: appropriately over-the-top Pacific Northwest hops, huge, full malt backbone to carry the booze and bitterness, a little bit sweet to let you know it’s a barleywine at heart, and all wrapped up in a deceptively drinkable package. In the United States, there really was nothing like it still being brewed before it rose from the vats at Sierra Nevada.
So far, I believe only once did Sierra Nevada screw with Bigfoot and put it in a bourbon barrel or something equally terrible. I consider that a sin, but it’s venial compared to the mortal atrocities done to a lot of beers out there. Sierra’s mostly done right by its little sasquatch.
As you can probably figure out, I love this beer. I mostly love it fresh — it arrives in New York each year in late January or early February — or with a few years worth of cellaring. From several months to two years is normally its “adolescent” period, where it’s trying to figure out what it wants to be when it’s mature. The hops have begun to fade, and the beer itself starts to oxidize, like any beer, developing telltale aging notes.
So of course that’s why I’m cracking one open now. Maybe I’ve just been wrong all these years. (Sure, that 1998 Bigfoot I drank early this year was a terrible, terrible mess, but I’m sure I can get someone to buy the rest off me on eBay if I have to.)
I pour my 2010 Bigfoot (sixth of twelve, I believe) into the same snifter I used for my first review. As expected, it’s copper, a tawny beer, not quite but nearly clear, kicking up a finger of soapy pale-tan foam in the small glass, lingering from start to finish along the sides as I drink. The aroma yields the telltale signs of oxidation: here, a distinct toffee aroma. The blast of grapefruity citric hop notes is diminished considerably, but quite present — just balanced by the toffee, a bit of caramel, and the heat from the alcohol.
Flavor? Oh, it’s more of the same. It’s bitter grapefruit, pine, malty-sweet, toffee, and a dose of peppery alcohol, in that order. The toffee comes to nearly dominate the bitterness as the beer warms, but until then it plays nice, balancing the residual bitterness well. The roughness of the hops never goes away, but it does settle for lingering in the background quite often.
Bigfoot finishes with a drying alcohol bite in with the malt sweetness and a bit of grapefruit, and it’s clear I’ll be sipping this for a bit this fine evening. There’s something to be said for relaxing with a nearly 10% alcohol beer instead of pounding it like a terrible alcohol shot.
Verdict? Cellared properly, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot is still a beer to reach for, especially on a cold night when the alcohol will help make you feel warmer. It’s interesting to vertical the different years of this barleywine, to get a sense of how it’s changed with age, but for today, it’s one Bigfoot.
You’ll find Bigfoot at the usual suspects around town. If years past are an indicator, it will go for about $13 per six, a much better price than you’ll find for a lot of considerably poorer seasonals that time of year. So relax, drink from your stash of aging Bigfoots — you are aging some, right? — and keep your eyes peeled for the next batch in a couple of months.
On a final note: this very beer will also be the subject of my last review here at The Feisty Foodie. I’ve greatly enjoyed my time here, and I’ll certainly hang around and keep the other family members honest. It’s been a real pleasure enlightening some, angering others, and confusing probably a great number of the rest. As always, drink what you like, when you like, and don’t make excuses. Enjoy the beer you love!