Friday, 15 April 2016


Two of the influences behind setting up this blog come together today. One is the Open It! project started by Mark Dredge back in 2010 which is being revived tomorrow (details here). In short, the laudable aim is to get you to go to your stash and drink the beer you've been hoarding. Exactly what I've been doing here for the last few months. So obviously I need to pick something special as an official Open It! beer. Yes I know it's a day early; I'm busy tomorrow.

The core, kernel and nucleus of my beer stash is the Sierra Nevada Bigfoots I've been buying every year. The last of my 2007s went to its reward some time ago and I decided I'd keep the later ones to do a vertical tasting with a few years' worth and including a fresh one. And then I never got round to it, and then I realised I had too many Bigfoots for a single session. "I know," I thought, "I'll open every second year, odds or evens." And then I didn't do that either, and the sequence kept growing.

Well: no more. I have a blog for writing about vintage beer and an occasion to drink something particularly special, so I'm opening three of my bottles of Bigfoot, opting for vintages that are four years apart: 2008, 2012 and 2016. A Bigfoot Olympiad, if you will.

Origin: USA | Dates: 2008, 2012 & 2016 | ABV: 9.6% | On The Beer Nut: September 2007

I started with the 2016 vintage as a kind of control. My theory, based on past Bigfoot experience, was that it'll be the least enjoyable of the lot. It did look gorgeous, though: a calmly limpid crystal ruby. I expected a burst of fresh west-coast hops in the aroma but that's not there, so I guess that's one advantage of freshness which isn't going to be a factor in this competition. The hops are definitely present in the flavour, however: harsh, bitter, almost plasticky. The malt has surprisingly little to say with just a peep of sweet toffee malt, though the super-thick texture is entirely in keeping with the ABV. If you squint, there's a touch of bitter-yet-fruity Retsina but, by and large, subtlety and nuance do not feature in this beer. That does leave a plethora of edges for Father Time to shave off and smooth out.

Something must have changed in the brewery's legendary bottle-conditioning procedure between 2012 and 2016 as I didn't get anything like as clean a pour from the next-oldest bottle. Or maybe the yeast have just been busy on the quiet. As well as being cloudier, Bigfoot 2012 seems a little paler too. Remarkably, there's much more hop aroma: a distinct fruit candy smell, buoyed up by toffee and booze. The harshness has definitely subsided but it hasn't really been replaced by much. Some liquorice, perhaps, and a dark alcoholic juiciness like port or Pedro Ximinez. Palatable for sure, but I'm not sure it's worth waiting four years of one's life for. The harsh bitterness hasn't gone away and the beer doesn't have the complexity I'd have thought a four-year-old barley wine would have developed. We need to go deeper.

Bigfoot turned 25 in 2008, prompting a temporary change in livery colour from blue to maroon. It was also, Bigfoot trivia fans, the first year the bottles sported a neck label. The obligatory yeast report is that there's a veritable mudbank of sludge in the bottom of the bottle. It smells hotter than any of the others and for a moment I feared the whole thing had turned to whiteboard markers. A sip put my mind at rest: all the good features of the others are there, including the liquorice and boozy raisin, but all harshness, hotness and bitterness are gone from the flavour. Instead it's pure decadent smoothness, the flavours dovetailing perfectly with each other and creating an entirely integrated whole. Only that acetone aroma lets it down. This isn't in the same league as the best vintage beers I've had here. It lacks the complexity of Thomas Hardy's or the Rocheforts, in particular, but it's damn good drinking.

My advice, then, is that if you have Bigfoots younger than 2008, and certainly younger than 2012, leave them alone for another few years. You'll get much better value later on. I, for one, won't be rushing back to my Bigfoot collection for a while, but I'm very glad I took a reading from these samples. And if your stash isn't up to a vertical run-through like this, fear not, GrandCru Beers has you covered and a multi-vintage six-pack of Bigfoot will be available next year. Put it somewhere safe and cool.


  1. For those trying a little bit older vintages, dramatic change between 2006 and 2007 when Sierra Nevada changed from twist-off caps to pry-off caps.