Reviewed: Sierra Nevada Big Little Thing
Official description: Big Little Thing defies brewing logic. A monster ABV and booming hop character, but tame sweetness and a clean finish? This anomaly of imperial IPA starts with the mash. More than just using a huge volume of malt (and we do fill our mill to overflowing), we mash our grain aggressively to yield a higher ratio of fermentable vs. unfermentable sugars. This allows yeast to metabolize nearly all sugar, which both boosts the ABV and cuts the malt sweetness. At the same time, yeast and hops collaborate on their own magic. Dry hopping during active fermentation sparks biotransformation: yeast cells alter the chemical compounds in hops to unlock entirely new aromas—like the tropical wave that washes over Big Little Thing.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. – Sierra Nevada Big Little Thing – 12oz can served in Rastal Harmony glass – 9% ABV
Hazy Little Thing is quite possibly Sierra Nevada’s most successful new brand of the past five years. It may even be the most ubiquitous Hazy IPA on American store shelves at this point. Taking the “Little Thing” branding and running with it, Sierra Nevada debuted Wild Little Thing in 2020, a pink, semi-tart beer with nothing in common at all with its predecessor. And now we have Big Little Thing. Based on the branding, I’m guessing this is the imperial version of Hazy Little Thing. But what about Fantastic Haze that debuted last year? Wasn’t that the imperial version of Hazy Little Thing?
It’s both exciting and frightening to see Sierra Nevada push aside some classics in their year-round lineup to accommodate these three “Little Thing” beers. The graphic design is eye-catching, vibrant, but also a sharp departure from the traditional SN design language. I just hope it doesn’t end up warping the overall brand message – swapping the iconic California wilderness landscapes with soda pop.
I’m sampling Big Little Thing from a 12oz can with an easy-to-read packaging date on the bottom that reads “PKGD 120220” placing this beer around two months old at the time of review. Looking at this beer in my glass, it’s now obvious that this is not meant to be the imperial version of Hazy Little Thing. It’s a brilliantly clear, medium gold color with incredible yellowish foam that’s glossy, meringue-like, and sticks around for several minutes before slowly collapsing.
Bringing up the glass, Big Little Thing rewards you with inviting notes of piña colada. As it warms, lemon hard candies, Starburst, and even maraschino cherries come through. The nose is fairly mellow compared to other 9% imperial IPAs from my experience. Most others at this alcohol level end up smelling like orange gummy slices and cough syrup.
Flavor-wise, Big Little Thing begins with some impressive juicy pineapple and maraschino liqueur. It’s surprisingly light-bodied with good buoyancy and very little booze or sugar weighing it down. Big Little Thing is slightly alcoholic, barely sweet, and speeds through the mid-palate to finish rapidly with an odd drying effect. Ever so slightly medicinal in the finish, Big Little Thing has more of a saccharin bitterness instead of Sierra Nevada’s trademark woodsy, resinous hop wallop.
Perceived Specs for Sierra Nevada Big Little Thing
Big Little Thing doesn’t taste like any Sierra Nevada beer I’ve had before. That unmistakable estate grain flavor that unites SN’s portfolio is gone. That lovely fattiness that I adore in beers like Torpedo Extra IPA is dialed down to zero. Bitterness here comes across as feeble compared to SN’s trademark resinous, often woodsy hop power. The variety of flavors on the tongue has been wiped clean (see chart above) with the interplay of sweet and bitter closer to saccharin than a world-class IPA.
Still, I think Big Little Thing succeeds in its overall mission to break SN out of their comfort zone. It offers a far more modern, bright, dry interpretation of Double IPA. And to be a whopping 9% and still feel so light-bodied – that’s quite the accomplishment. But it doesn’t gel with the SN flavor profile I’ve come to love over the years. Perhaps that’s precisely what the “Little Thing” branding is for: Sierra Nevada beers that aren’t like other Sierra Nevada beers.
* * *
The Full Pint is a fully independent website dedicated to bringing you the highest quality reviews of today’s craft beer. Our team has no financial conflicts of interest with the beer industry in order to give you the least biased information out there in today’s craft beer world. Please use the comment section below for general comments about this beer and/or our review. For more information on how we review beer read here.