1982 Original Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

From Microbrewed Adventures by Charlie Papazian

I FIRST VISITED the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in 1986, five years after they had opened. At the time there only were a few dozen micro breweries in the United States. Beer choice for most beer drinkers was limited to dozens of brands of same-tasting American light lagers. I came away from my visit knowing that this brewery, with their original Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Porter and Stout, was getting it right America.

Sierra Nevada was brewing four to six brews a week in their 17-barrel brewery, cranking out 35 barrels on any given day. Co-founder Ken Gross man, a student of chemistry and a bike mechanic, had run a home beer and winemaking shop before becoming a professional brewer. Steve Harrison, the company’s lead salesperson, had worked as a head clerk in a liquor store as well as at a retail service center of Sears. His first job at the brewery was part time on the bottling line and part time selling beer. Ken and Steve wanted to open a small business that made high-quality beer and do something they enjoyed.

In 1986 they were planning and projecting for the future. High profit was not an original goal-survival was. They didn’t realize the size of brewery they would need in order to make money. In the beginning, the maximum they could brew was 30 barrels a week. At the time this seemed like a gold mine, but the reality of maintaining beer quality. the increasing costs of packaging and selling beer and keeping and paying their employees well and the need to make a profit in order to reinvest in their growing business became evident as the demand for their beer increased.

EVEN THOUGH they are brewing at a much higher level these days, their goal has stayed the same to make great beer. Their equipment is larger and better and their processes have become more efficient, but the beer stays true. Their production is approaching 600,000 barrels at the time of this book’s publication, and their products have every bit of the “microbrewing” integrity with which they began in 1981. This is not only a tribute to Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, but also to what passion for beer and brewing has done for our American beer culture.


While Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has remained true to its original character, there have been a few subtle adjustments over the years in order to facilitate distribution needs and brewery equipment changes. This original recipe is based on today’s flavor profile and what is known about its formulation and information published in the early 1980s, revealing original ingredients and processes used at their original small-batch brewery.


  • IBU: 38-40

All-Grain Recipe for 5 gallons (19 L)

8 lbs. (3.6 kg) 2-row American pale malt
8 oz. (225 g) American crystal malt (10-L)
3/4 oz. (21 g) Cluster hops 7.5% alpha (5.6 HBU/156 MBU) 60 minutes boiling
3/4 oz. (21 g) Cascade hops 5% alpha (3.8 HBU/105 MBU) 30 minutes boiling
1/2 oz. (14 g) Tettnanger hops (Santiam may be substituted) 4.5% alpha (2.3 HBU/64 MBU) 30 minutes boiling
1/2 oz. (14 g) Cascade hops 1 minute boiling
1/2 oz. (14 g) Tettnanger hops (Santiam may be substituted) 1 minute boiling
1/4 tsp. (1 g) powdered Irish moss

Wyeast American Ale yeast #1056

1/2 cup (175 ml measure) corn sugar (priming bottles) or 0.33 cups (80 ml) corn sugar for kegging

A one-step infusion mash is employed to mash the grains. Add 8.5 quarts (8.1) L) of 168-degree F (76 C) water to the crushed grain, stir, stabilize and hold the temperature at 152 degrees F (66.5 C) for 60 minutes. Then raise temperature to 167 degrees F (75 C), lauter and sparge with 4 gallons (15.2 L) of 170-degree F (77 C) water. Collect about 5.5 gallons (21 L) of runoff. Add cluster hops and bring to a full and vigorous boil.

The total boil time will be 60 minutes. When 30 minutes remain, add the 30-minute hops. When 10 minutes remain, add the Irish moss. When 1 minute remains, add the 1-minute hops. After a total wort boil of 60 minutes. turn off the heat and place the pot (with cover on) in a running cold-water bath for 30 minutes. Continue to chill in the immersion or use other methods to chill your wort. Then strain and sparge the wort into a sanitized fermenter. Bring the total volume to 5 gallons (19 L) with additional cold water if necessary. Aerate the wort very well.

Pitch the yeast when temperature of wort is about 70 degrees F (21 C). Ferment at about 70 degrees F (21 C) for about 1 week, or until fermentation shows signs of calm and stopping. Rack from your primary to a secondary fermenter and if you have the capability, “cellar” the beer at about 55 degrees F (12.5 C) for about 1 week.

Prime with sugar and bottle or keg when complete. The original Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was fully bottle conditioned, just like your homebrew.

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