Vertical Tasting: 5 years of Bigfoot


It took a while, but I finally piled up five vintages of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot. Generous, I sidestepped pounding all five of these 9.6 percenters on my own by gathering up a gang of friends from my local homebrew club, the Adams County Brew Crew (AC/BC). Together we sat down with this batch of barley wines for a lesson in age’s impact on beer.

A quick look at the BJCP guidelines for a primer on the American barleywine style, which is one of few that really lends itself to aging:

“A well-hopped American interpretation of the richest and strongest of the English ales. The hop character should be evident throughout, but does not have to be unbalanced. The alcohol strength and hop bitterness often combine to leave a very long finish.”

Appearing in a range of strengths from eight to 12 percent alcohol by volume, the style is made for sipping, and is particularly suitable for a cold winter night. At 9.6%, Bigfoot isn’t the biggest of them all, but it is a classic in the style from a classic American brewery.

So how’d they taste?


2016: Of course, this one was the hop forward pour of the day. Purchased the day before the tasting and dosed with 90 IBUs of Chinook, Cascade and Centennial hops, the aroma was gorgeous. I picked up a strong, green hop flavor here and the bittering charge held the malt in check. This was Pete’s favorite of the bunch.

2015: The hops really fell of the cliff after one year. Some caramel came up like a warm-stored or six-month-old IPA that really turns you off and makes you kick yourself for not checking the bottled-on date. Here, it’s fine, and part of the process. While this landed in the number five slot on my list, Kyle picked this as his favorite.

2014: After two years in the bottle, the second big change burst forth: oxidation. A vinous character emerged. To me the elements were a little disjointed at this point, but both Mat and Mont picked this as their number one beer.

2013: Now the changes become more subtle. The melding of the vinous notes were softened into the malt-and-hop pocket, like a baseball into a perfectly broken-in glove. Though this was the only hazy offering of the bunch (in an identically beautiful lineup of amber-leaning-toward-mahogany pours), it was my favorite of the vintages.

2012: The changes were very subtle between 2012 and 2013, with the ’12 feeling just a touch flat. No one picked this at the top of their list, but I honestly had trouble deciding where to place it. To me, ’14 and ’15 were clearly at the bottom of my list, but how to place the hoppy ’16 and this one? I put ’16 in second place for the sake of variety and for a statement on how good the brewery-fresh offering is. But I also enjoyed the ’12.

Our gang of five certainly agreed in the changes we detected in each vintage, which we tasted from youngest to oldest, but our actual preferences underscored that each person’s palate is unique. We were all over the place with our top five lists. Give a project like this a try and decide for yourself what’s right for you.

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