HAVING BIRTHED A craft nation in 1980 with its Cascade-driven Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada has long been the byword for American-style brewing: confidently hop-centric and bold, but still carefully crafted and complex. Their arrival happily coincided with the cultivation of new hop varieties from the American continent and the two have been inextricably linked ever since.
Yet for all the success their Pale Ale went on to enjoy (now the best-selling product of America’s second-largest craft brewery), Sierra Nevada still had no year-round IPA and was not swift in rushing one to market. Even as various seasonals garnered cult followings and became highly influential in their own right (e.g. Bigfoot, Celebration), more than a decade would pass without a new year-round brew. When the time finally came in 2009, the craft revolution had achieved escape velocity, the IPA had seen three distinct generations (the resurgent IPA, American IPA, DIPA), and newer brands like Three Floyds, Stone, Dogfish Head, and Russian River were now leading lectures in advanced hop theory.
To be sure, Sierra Nevada had acquitted themselves well in the interim, honing their brand with an impeccable ground game and stacking up honors for their limited edition brews. Yet with such a small core lineup and so long between updates it’s a little surprising that they didn’t lose (more) ground to upstarts. Chalk it up to doing something right the first time, perhaps. The reason given for all this delay was research: Sierra Nevada sought to find a way to utilize whole-cone hops in a higher-gravity, more aggressive context instead of using pellets or extract—presumably tantamount to ‘juice from concentrate’.
And so it follows that when their year-round IPA did finally arrive, updated to reflect America’s changing appetites, it featured much the same clarity and confidence that has characterized them for thirty years. The Torpedo is a full-throated American IPA of 7.2% ABV and 65 IBU—a crossover zone between American and Imperial IPAs that the brewery prefers to just call ‘Extra’. The distinction is fair, especially in the aggressive context of their other offerings.
Torpedo was also a coming-out party for Citra hops, a delightfully tropical variety of aroma hop that Sierra Nevada gave funding to develop. And yet Torpedo doesn’t actually have that much Citra in its aroma, despite the newfangled bit of dry-hopping machinery that gave this beer its name. Magnum hops overall loom large, and their oily, highly pined, and focused citric zest sideline the more luscious and equatorial tang of Citra. Caramel also come through someone on the nose, but the general malt impression here (as on the palate) is of neutral, albeit filling, cereal.
Torpedo’s color is a robust and transparent amber (a little more red than the yellow-tinged Pale Ale), well-carbonated and with a nicely frothy head. Its malts are basic two-row pale and caramel, which helps give the beer its rich color and fullness of body without drawing much attention in the flavors. Balance is not Torpedo’s aim—indeed, it seems a more hop-heavy beer than even Hoptimum, Sierra Nevada’s recent 100 IBU DIPA. The sole bittering hop, Magnum also comes through in the finish, leaving a focused impression on the palate that the body can only do so much to counter. Not that it makes much of an effort, admittedly.
So given its objectives, Torpedo is a fine example of strong American IPA and a logical addition to a year-round lineup. Sierra Nevada also deserves credit for helping develop a hop variety par excellence. But this time around doing something first was not the same as doing it best: it would take another effort—the more modern and nuanced Hoptimum—to deliver a strong IPA truly fit for the new millennium. Meanwhile, Citra’s applications elsewhere have ultimately delivered a bigger payload than the Torpedo that first launched it.
Served: 12 oz bottle