In a wonky world like craft beer, where small-batch is often most sexy, it's easy to overlook a pioneer that's grown large with success. But don't snooze when walking past those piles of Sierra Nevada in your local beer store. This trail-blazer of the peppy pale ale, now in its 31st year and the second-largest craft beer producer in America (after Sam Adams' Boston Brewing), can still bring the flavor when it comes to seasonals and special offerings. Their Southern Hemisphere Harvest last year was one of the freshest hops-forward brews I've sipped. This season, I'm loving the 2011 edition of Sierra's Golden Bock, a mellow but well-rounded brew that delivers the long, malty richness and cereal notes of a lager framed by a bright floral pop of hops on the finish. It's a great beer for early spring, optimistically golden, but with just enough weight to take the edge of the mid-March chill.
- Craig LaBan