Sierra Nevada Brewing and Samuel Adams, two brands arguably responsible for pioneering America’s craft brewing industry and forging the path for independent brewers, have continued to rack up accolades throughout the decades since their founding in the 1980s.
In 2019, Samuel Adams, produced by the Boston Beer Company, ruled in the Northeast where its beers were hailed the favorite among drinkers in New Jersey, Connecticut, and its home base of Massachusetts. While in 2020, Sierra Nevada’s flagship Pale Ale was lauded as the third-best beer in the U.S., according to a poll conducted by the American Homebrewers Association.
Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer Co. remain independently owned, making them the second- and third-largest craft breweries, respectively, in the U.S. Keep reading to learn more about what sets these two uniquely American companies apart.
Samuel Adams was founded in 1984 after Jim Koch stumbled upon his great-great-grandfather’s lager recipe and set out to recreate the beer. Initially brewed in his own kitchen, Koch debuted Samuel Adams Boston Lager in 1985. Fast forward several decades to 2019, Koch shocked the beer world after he announced a merger with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, a deal valued at $300 million.
Sierra Nevada owes its beginnings to Ken Grossman, a California-based homebrewer and the owner of a homebrew shop. In 1980, Grossman built a brewhouse with recycled dairy equipment in the town of Chico. Initially starting with several batches of stout, Grossman eventually perfected a hop-forward ale that would change beer forever.
The two brands have a wide range of products, from their flagship brews and seasonal offerings, to a collection of juicy or hazy IPAs, a new category that continues to grow.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale shows bright aromas of lemon, orange peel, and pine, with mild tropical fruit and spice on the palate, resulting in a balanced classic. In 2018, Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing IPA received top marks from VinePair, showing mango and pineapple aromas, with citrusy fruit and subtle grain. Another iconic beer, Sam Adams Boston Lager, has caramel and toasted bread on the nose, with a malty sweetness, toffee, and hints of citrus on the palate.
Grossman has long been a fan of whole cone Cascade hops with their distinct pine and grapefruit aromas, a staple of the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Bottled at 5.6 ABV, it has an International Bitterness Unit (IBU) of 38.
Hazy Little Thing IPA includes Citra, a hop known for imparting tropical fruit characteristics, and clocks in at 6.7 percent ABV with an IBU of 35. According to The New York Times, Sierra Nevada asks distributors to ship kegs of Hazy upside down, ensuring the keg has to be flipped before use, effectively “stirring up the proteins and restoring the haze.”
Sam Adams Boston Lager is made with two German Noble Hop varieties — Hallertau Mittelfrüh and Tettnang — that add floral notes and spice to the beer. The lager comes in at 5 percent ABV and has an IBU of 30. As the company proudly proclaims, Koch tastes every batch of Boston Lager for quality control.
What the Pros Think
Both flagship beers were hailed by VinePair as two of the 25 most important American beers of all time.
For Sean McCamish, head brewer at The RAM, Hazy Little Thing is the perfect beer for someone new to the IPA category, proving that hoppy doesn’t have to mean bitter. The beer “allows memorable notes of pineapple, apricots, and other tropical fruits to dominate the flavor without any harsh bitterness,” he adds.
Nicole Stufflebeme, the owner of Lupinus Artisan Ales, told VinePair that part of Sierra Nevada’s appeal lies in its consistency. “Even to this day,” she says, “if I’m out shopping and I feel like something hoppy, it’s very likely I will choose Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I know exactly what to expect from it, and I will not be disappointed.”