We homebrewers are a promiscuous lot, pushing boundaries and trying new fermentations that are adventurous, unique, and sometimes even wacky. We scan the aisles for inspiration and come up with unique beverages. Some of us never attempt to brew the same recipe twice, and that’s OK.
When I started brewing almost 30 years ago, a friend suggested that I should clone a beer I loved several times until I could repeat it faithfully. This began my initial quest to clone Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale (SNPA), which in turn begot my Nearly Nirvana Pale Ale (NNPA.)
More than 40 years ago, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. set out to create a new American style, the American pale ale. Once considered crazy hoppy, it fortunately wasn’t too far ahead of its time. Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., states that “after 42 years Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (SNPA) still resonates as a favorite with brewers and drinkers at all levels. Pale Ale started out in 1980 as an anomaly in a world dominated by light lagers with a hop-forward yet balanced style. After all these years it still holds its own in a world now accustomed to a nearly limitless range of hop-forward styles, many that can trace their roots back to the original Sierra Pale Ale.”
In 2000, a call went out to AHA members for an SNPA homebrew recipe and my Nearly Nirvana Pale Ale (NNPA) was shared with the community for that year’s Big Brew recipe. So why bring back this one for Big Brew 2023? Read on and learn…
Oscar Wilde once said that “consistency is the hallmark of the unimaginative.” I counter this philosophy and believe that to master brewing, one must start with a thorough understanding of one’s processes, systems, and ingredients, as well as one’s own limitations to achieve the desired outcomes.
I have brewed my NNPA more than 90 times because my friends and I love it. With my multiple iterations, I began a journey of discovery, tweaking the recipe one variable at a time to understand the impact. Change a mash temperature here, base or specialty grain there, water-to-grain ratio, yeast strain or amount, fermentation temperatures, and so on. By keeping all but one variable the same, I was able to truly understand its impact.
Along with NNPA’s deliciousness, its beauty lies in its simplicity. My current iteration of NNPA is a tad more malt and hop forward than SNPA, and just a skosh bigger. The recipe has been tweaked many times over the years, but my current iteration is, to me, Goldilocks—just right.