The highlight of the San Luis Obispo Craft Beer Festival was the opportunity to partake in a Vertical Tasting of six Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barley Wines. The premise was they would all be a decade apart, but then for good measure they added the 2015 & 2011 vintages.
Only 10 seats were available, so it’s a good job we were amongst the first into the festival as the place was packed full of beer fans. The tastings took place in a separate room.
My first impressions were just how mature the older vintages tasted. The 2017 and 2015 tasted excellent on their own, with notes of malt, toffee and caramel with a resiny hoppy bitterness in the finish, but when compared to the 2011 and 2007 editions, they came across as young and somewhat immature in their flavour profiles. The latter were richer, more full bodied with added notes of dark bread, pine and orange peel. The mouthfeel was more warming on the 2011 and 2007 too.
The 1997 vintage was the Olympic Gold Medal Winner for me. This had it all with incredible depth, richness, a soft silky body with a lovely balance between malt and hops (Sierra Nevada uses whole-cone Pacific Northwest hops for Bigfoot). With almost candy-like notes, there was more of the caramel, dark bread and toffee presence while being beautifully balanced with the Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops. Absolutely gorgeous.
The 1987 vintage gave a massive rich nose of raisins and dark caramel - by far the strongest of the aromas - but after that, it was a disaster. The flavour profile had completely broken down leaving a faint, weak, slightly malty and watery body. The hop presence had long vanished. The bottles were over 30-years old and depending on the aging, you never know what you might find.
I don’t think any of us knew what to expect from the oldest of the vintages, but however it turned out, this was a great and rare treat - and a privilege - to be able to be part of this Vertical Tasting. Thank you, Sierra Nevada.