Sierra Nevada Trail Pass Non-Alcoholic IPA Review

Drink Reviews craft beer
Sierra Nevada Trail Pass Non-Alcoholic IPA Review

It feels like I’ve been banging on and on about the rapid improvement of non-alcoholic craft beer styles for years now … and that’s likely because I have been. My appreciation for these beers has grown on the same steady plane–I love that many of them can now provide a solid facsimile of a style such as India pale ale or even stout, and unlike many of my beer writing peers, I genuinely find most of these NA beers more interesting and engaging than hop-infused seltzer waters. Even those with zero tolerance for alcohol of any kind are being provided for, with the steady rise of the 0.0 demographic within NA beer itself.

But at the same time, when you look at the craft NA beer space, you couldn’t help but notice there were still some glaring omissions. It’s natural to expect the biggest and most iconic companies in the industry to get in on the niche at some point, which is why it was curious that for so long, there was no non-alcoholic beer brand from the likes of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. But as it turns out, that was just because the company was toiling away on the creation of this particular brand for the last five years and change. Now, Sierra Nevada Trail Pass is here, and its goal is nothing less than becoming the best version of NA craft beer on the shelves today.

The concept for Sierra Nevada Trail Pass began its life more than five years ago, with company founder Ken Grossman noting the more robust non-alcoholic beer culture available in European beer markets. Thus began a twisty process of trying to bring their own American sensibilities to NA beer, an endeavor that initially didn’t see much success. According to Sierra Nevada, development was even put on hold at one point when the company determined that no available commercial yeast was going to work for their specifications.

The limiting factor here was Sierra Nevada’s choice of how they wanted to operate fermentation for Trail Pass. Most NA beer is made by brewing a standard beer, and then using one of several common techniques to “gently” remove the alcohol, at least down under the federal maximum of .5% ABV for beers listed as “non alcoholic.” Sierra Nevada, on the other hand, wanted to create the beer via traditional fermentation, with a presumably much smaller level of fermentable sugars and a yeast strain that would simply stop itself at the right point, before the beer reached .5% ABV. They theorized that this would allow the company to deliver a more accurate, familiar take on styles such as India pale ale, but it took years of searching before a yeast strain was found that could both reliably hit the right fermentation profile and restrict undesirable off flavors. That yeast strain finally unlocked the possibility of Sierra Nevada Trail Pass.

Of course, Trail Pass is now an entire brand rather than a single beer–the company’s mixed NA pack includes IPA, Golden Ale, Hazy IPA and the rather cornily named “Brewveza.” For the purposes of this first taste, though–I haven’t had a chance to sample Trail Pass before now–I’m simply examining the core Trail Pass IPA, which is brewed with a familiar West Coast panoply of Amarillo and CTZ hops.

So with that said, let’s get to tasting this beer, which no doubt hopes to become a major player in the American craft NA market in short order.

On the nose, Sierra Nevada Trail Pass IPA comes off lightly grassy and gentle in its aromatics, with traces of biscuity malt, some more resinous tones and a significant charge of lemon-forward citrus. It has a slight earthiness as well, which combines with the citrus to suggest–to me, anyway–the character of freshly cracked coriander, which is distinctly citric but also slightly exotic.

On the palate, everything about this is gentle and pleasant. Lemon citrus is again present, supported by a bit of wheaty/bready malt character, light grassiness and hints of pine needles. A lingering, bright citrus zest remains after each sip, being definitely more in the “zesty” than “juicy” camp. Bitterness is decidedly on the mild side. This is a notably clean NA IPA profile, and it thankfully possesses none of the “unfermented” or worty unpleasantness that one used to expect to find in NA beers of this style. One are where it likewise stands out against direct competitors is with its smooth, slightly fuller texture, which has been preserved nicely.

At the end of the day, this is not a revolutionary flavor experiment, nor is it attempting to be. What it is, rather, is a rock-solid example of easygoing West Coast IPA, translated to the NA beer market. It’s another element of the argument that non-alcoholic beer is in the heart of its golden era, and things are only continuing to get better.

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
City: Chico, CA
Style: Non-alcoholic IPA
ABV: Less than .5%
Availability: 12 oz cans

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident craft beer and spirits geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin