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Go-to beer: Sierra Nevada Torpedo

Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale has been a mainstay in the craft beer market for more than 30 years, pretty much the entire lifespan of the industry as we know it. The beer continues to be a classic, and it's wide availability has exposed many drinkers to West Coast hops and a bolder brew.

Sierra's Torpedo Extra IPA is a take on the original. The name of the beer comes from the shape of the cone the brewery uses to infuse those bitter, piney hops into the brew. The process ensures maximum flavor and aroma but is a pain to clean up, with hop sludge finding the nooks and crannies of the cylinders, stubbornly resisting a good scrub.

torpedo.jpgLuckily for us we need only to worry about how the beer tastes. Available year-round, Torpedo has a higher alcohol content (7.2 percent ABV) than the Chico, Calif. brewery's flagship beer. If you're a hesitant beer geek who's tried the pale ale and liked it, give yourself a passing grade and graduate to a course in Torpedo.

Before we try it, a note about quality. Sierra is building its first East Coast factory in North Carolina. A representative from the brewery tells me the facility is just about done, but the company will go through at least six months of trial brewing on the new equipment before releasing any beer from the facility into the marketplace. Larger brewers like Sierra and Samuel Adams -- and you can even lump in macros like Budweiser -- guarantee you a high level of quality control. Torpedo is not the biggest, baddest IPA on the market, but it's also not a trial or mistake. It took a lot of "yes's" to get this beer on shelves.

I crack the top of a 16-ounce can (the beer is also sold in bottles, but who doesn't love the tallboy can format?) into a Sierra/Dogfish Head IPA glass. Torpedo appears a muted orange in fading daylight. The beer is dry-hopped for maximum aroma. Scents of damp earth, resin, pear, and baked bread waft up from the glass.

Malt sweetness, citrus, pepper, and an herbal component make up the bulk of the taste. A brewer I respect was recently quoted as saying we think about balanced beer the wrong way. Torpedo is supremely balanced, but rather than look at it as the hops being balanced by a nice malt character, we should really think of them as the backbone of this beer. Hops hold everything together here, allowing the various components to come and go at different times. Torpedo finishes bone dry, inviting you to crack another.

Torpedo is a beer to drink when you're not in the mood to over-think things. I've promised to give you more "go-to" options in addition to rare and seasonal beers, and this is high on the list.

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