Chris Black’s Ode to Pantone 362U
Chris Black on Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
It is truly amazing how definitive and noticeable a color can be. I’m not speaking of just any color, but a specific color, Pantone 362U.
It’s been said that smell is the most evocative sense, but sometimes sight can also bring to mind a flood of memories. The particular shade of green that is Pantone 362U sends my memory straight to an aroma, a taste, an experience: that touch of crystal malt, the grapefruity scent, the literally thousands of times I popped the cap on a bottle. Ah, old friend, let’s just spend some time together. We don’t even need to talk all that much. And of course I remember the first time we met, back in 1985, the first time Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was available outside of California, the brewery having just moved to the 20th St. location.
By the time I had that first Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, I was already well-versed in the ways of beers-that-don’t-taste-like-industrolagers. At 13, my father brought home a 6-pack of Anchor Steam, a beer he fell in love with while staying at the Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francisco during frequent business trips between 1968 and 1973. He was astonished that I liked it, because after all, it was quite bitter for its day.
A trip to Germany and Austria four years later confirmed my appreciation of good beer, a quality that landed me a job at an early beer bar while attending the University of Texas at Austin. I started reading all I could for information on beers I might like – in the times before the internet, before brewspapers, almost before communication had evolved beyond seven different grunts and smoke signals – and one brewery mentioned frequently early on was Sierra Nevada.
Finally, in 1985, we started hearing from one of our distributors that they were going to carry Sierra. I couldn’t wait. I was home for the summer and went to a local mall to buy tickets for a later movie showing, stopping afterwards at a deli with ‘99 bottles of beer.’
A gentleman was there offering samples of new beer and I happily availed myself of the opportunity. He was amazed that I had already heard of the beer, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, of course, and we chatted for a bit after I had ordered a bottle. The gentleman’s name was Paul Camusi,
After Ken Grossman wrote his book Beyond the Pale in 2013, I was speaking with him at the brewery and mentioned that I had met his former partner “back in the day,” to which he responded, “Chris, there’s no way you met Paul.” I recounted the story and he stared at me in astonishment, recalling that Camusi had opened up a couple of new markets for the brewery, Houston having been one of them.
Whenever I go to Chico, California to visit the brewery, Pale Ale is always my first beer. If you come to my house, the beer drawer always has Sierra Pale. In 2019, while on a one hundred mile rafting trip on the Salmon River, with no cell coverage and little civilization, we made a mid-voyage stop at a hunting lodge with a small shop. They had a minimal beer selection, but they did have Sierra Pale. I bought a six-pack and cracked a can minutes later while floating on the river, chalking up another Sierra memory.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.