Launching a Revolution: Black Sabbath and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale • Hop Culture
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2.17.17

Launching a Revolution: Black Sabbath and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

In this series, we pair a classic album with a great brew.

Written by Drew Cranisky

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“We just wanted to be heavier than everybody else!”—Geezer Butler

Moments into Black Sabbath’s eponymous 1970 debut, it’s clear that Geezer got his wish. The album opens with rumbling thunder and ominous church bells before the band rips into a hypnotic, grinding riff. When Ozzy’s strangled vocals join in (“Oh no, no, please God help me!”), turn up the volume and hang on for dear life.

Black Sabbath was recorded in a single day in 1969. Accordingly, it’s messy and unpolished, a raw outpouring of studio creativity from an already accomplished live act. But the album is a surefooted mission statement from a quartet poised to chew up the blues revival of the 1960s and spit it out in one scuzzy, satanic blast.

While that statement did not resonate with contemporary critics (Lester Bangs wrote that it was “just like Cream! But worse”), the album was a surprise success, spending the better part of the next year on British charts and influencing generations of headbangers. As David Wells writes in his 2006 liner notes, “Thus it was that, in one frenzied, allegedly twelve-hour session, the heavy metal foundation stone was laid.”

“The Eurocentric conception of what a bitter beer could be would change forever. The West Coast was prepared to define the style for the world.”

Just as metalheads worship at the altar of Black Sabbath, hopheads bow down to the mighty Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Another paradigm shifter, founder Ken Grossman loaded SNPA with an unprecedented helping of Cascade hops. The beer launched a revolution. As Tom Acitelli writes in The Audacity of Hops, “The Eurocentric conception of what a bitter beer could be would change forever. The West Coast was prepared to define the style for the world.”

The brew ran up against some Lester Bangs types of its own—when it debuted in 1981, the American palate was more accustomed to watery adjunct lagers than whole-cone hopped pale ales. It didn’t take long, however, for SNPA to find its own devoted cult following. Today, it’s one of the best-selling craft beers in America.

Like Black Sabbath, SNPA endures, respected and revered by all those who walk the piney path it blazed. Beers have gotten hoppier and bands have gotten heavier, but the classics never die.

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