My very first experience at Sierra Nevada’s new Torpedo Room in Berkeley was a soul-crushing defeat.
My eyes opened wide when I noticed the Barrel-aged Torpedo IPA was one of their 16 tap selections. I breathlessly ordered, eager with anticipation, when my server told me they had JUST run out of it, and even held up a glass which contained the last few precious drops.
After coming to grips with my disappointment, I set about constructing my flight. Due to licensing restrictions, they do not serve full pints in the Torpedo Room, only 4-ounce pours. However, you can order as many as you’d like to create your flight. Most people choose four, and the very helpful staff will write them down on a handy sheet and put them in the appropriate tasting order for you.
I chose the French-style Saison, DevESTATEtion Black IPA, Narwhal Stout, and Bosden Stout.
The Saison was terrific, with the typical Belgian-yeasty flavors of clove, banana, peach, and maybe a bit of vanilla. But, this being Sierra Nevada, there was a definite hop bite at the end, which a hophead like me appreciated. Very nice.
I was eager to try the DevESTATEtion on tap, as I had recently had it in bottle. Regarding the name, this beer is a classic case of making lemonade out of lemons (or beerade out of beer … anyway, you get it). Each year they brew an Estate Ale, using ingredients all grown at their facility in Chico, CA. However, this past year, drought and persistent high winds pretty much killed their malt crop, so they had to improvise.
The result is an outstanding Black IPA, a wonderful combination of rich, roasty malt and their own estate-grown hops. The interplay of malt and hops is truly wonderful. If you can still find a bottle, snap it up.
The stouts were great as well. The Narwhal was rich, mouth filling, and delicious, like a dark-chocolate shake. Bosden, a one-time brew made in collaboration with the founders of the Beer Advocate beer review site, was slightly thinner on the palate, more like a porter, with more agressive bitterness. Both were great in their own way, although I preferred with richness of Narwhal a bit more.
Although my initial disappointment at missing out on the Barrel-aged IPA had pretty much abated by the time I finished my flight (good beer will do that), it turned to sheer delight when I noticed they replaced another drained keg with their Ruthless Rye IPA. I quickly ordered one, as I still hadn’t had the chance to pick it up even though it’s been on the store shelves for quite a while.
It was amazing. They were not shy with the rye, and the peppery spiciness works wonders with the ample hops. Even though I had sampled some wonderful beers during my visit, this was definitely Best of Show. Most good grocery stores should have it. Get it now.
An aside — the keg that blew was the Celebration. Are you kidding? Maybe the greatest holiday beer of all-time, and they run out of it at their own taproom on Christmas Eve? You think maybe they might have planned ahead and had a little extra on hand. You know, for Christmas.
My flight finished, it was time to pick up a growler to bring to Christmas dinner with my family. Their growler-filling thingamajig is nothing short of astounding. All 16 lines go through this contraption, the beers are selected by turning the appropriate dial on a panel. The growler is placed on a platform, which elevates it up to the filler. It is then filled first with CO2, to reduce oxidation and extend the beer’s freshness, then the selected beer is dispensed. Quite an operation.
I chose the Saison. My dad is pretty much a Coors Light guy, although he’ll enjoy the occasional Hefeweizen, Pilsner, or Blonde. (He loved it, BTW)
Speaking of the holidays, and gifts in general, the Torpedo Room carries all the chotskies you’d expect — shirts, caps, glassware, and of course, founder Ken Grossman’s new book, which is already on my bookshelf. Look for a review here once I actually get around to reading it.
Overall, there is no way I can overstate how thrilled I am to have a Sierra Nevada outpost so close to my home. Many of the selections at the Torpedo Room are limited edition brews normally only found at their Chico HQ, which is a good three-hour trip. If you are anywhere near Berkeley (or Chico, for that matter), go there immediately.
Or, if you’re close to their new brewery coming online soon in North Carolina, I’d start waiting in line now. You don’t want to be standing there broken-hearted, starting at the last few drops of a beer you desperately wanted. It’s no fun.