Deep into the belly of beer

Pouring the good stuff.

Pouring the good stuff.

Belly up to the beer lab I will not lie to you, faithful readers. There are days when my job is pretty great. Take last Friday, when by 10:30 a.m. I was taking my first sips of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and “taking notes” on how its minimal building blocks—water, a couple of varieties of malted two-row barley (pale and caramel), three varieties of hops (magnum, perle and the signature citrusy Cascade), and yeast—contribute to the flavor of the brewery’s flagship product. From my notes: “Good beer at 10:30 a.m. is good.”

The discussion of the flavor profile of the flagship beer of Chico’s home brewery was being led by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Tour Support Lead John Pearson, and we were sitting around a table set with jars of brewing ingredients during what would be an introduction to a three-hour tour of the Sierra Nevada brewery. Dubbed the Beer Geek Tour, the new feature costs $25 to join a guide and no more than five other guests on a “leave-a-trail-of-bread-crumbs” expedition.

So, given that the regular one-hour tour (which includes sampling in the tasting room) is free, what extras do you get for ponying up the dough? In addition to getting an extended excursion into the guts of the brewery with one of those naturally chill Sierra Nevada workers who know a lot about beer and are obviously stoked to be sharing their passion (the friendly Pearson definitely fits the bill), you also get to taste not just good beer, but really, really good beer. On this trip, we got samples pulled from “pig tails” (little curly-cue spouts) tapped right into the tanks of fermenting beer, including the classic Porter, a new white IPA spiked with Belgian yeast called Snow Wit, and the best Pale Ale I’ve every had, served just as it came through its final filtration through sheets of cotton. “That’s as fresh as it gets,” Pearson said. Damn straight!

And things got even better back at the tasting room, as Pearson and his cohorts brought out a pinch-yourself line-up: a sample (in a beaker!) of the upcoming pale ale collaboration with Allagash Brewing Co. (featuring the Maine brewery’s house strain of Belgian yeast); a 2-year-old bottle of Brux; a fresh sample of the honey rye ale made by winners of the public Beer Camp contest; and a bottle of the Narwhal imperial IPA aged for 10 months in bourbon barrels.

All were amazing, but the star was the barrel-aged Narwhal, which was pure rich, rum-soaked raisin-bread-like comfort. Almost a completely different beer than the regular Narwhal, and one of the best beers I’ve ever had.

Oh, and Beer Geek Tour guests will also get to take home an unfilled growler and an exclusive-to-Beer-Geek-Tourists T-shirt, so there’s your $25 back. For now, Beer Geek Tours happen on Fridays only. Call the tour desk at 899-4776 to reserve a spot.

Pete Seeger


• Freakin’: Join the CN&R this Saturday as we let our freak flags fly at the inaugural Keep Chico Weird Talent Show, Saturday, Feb. 1, 7:30 p.m. (doors 7 p.m.), at the El Rey Theatre.

• A time to weep: On Monday, Jan. 27, Pete Seeger died at the age of 94. The man rode trains with Woody Guthrie, sang for Martin Luther King Jr. and helped Bob Dylan get his start. One of the icons of American folk music, Seeger helped usher in the folk-music revival of the 1960s, and lived a life devoted to activism alongside his singing—from anti-war and labor movements in the 1930s and ’40s, to the civil-rights movement, to sitting in on Occupy Wall Street protests in his 90s. Easily one of the greatest Americans of the last century. Rest in peace.