One night I was having a few beers over at my friend Mick’s place and he urged me to try Collingwood Downhill Pale Ale again, saying it was as good as a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. This was a bold statement considering that Mick knew how much I loved that particular beer. I should mention that Mick is the Toronto Rep for The Collingwood Brewery and believes very deeply in the product he’s selling. I should also mention that I’m already a huge fan of Collingwood’s Fireside ESB and use it as an example of the style in the Prud’homme classes I teach.
I had previously tried Downhill shortly after Mick started working for Collingwood. Back then it was in a white can and Mick tells me it was a different recipe and process. At that time I wasn’t overly impressed with it and placed it in the category of an “okay beer” that I wouldn’t turn down if offered to me, but not one I would seek out on my own.
My entire opinion of Downhill Pale Ale changed when Mick gave it to me to try again at his place. When I poured it in the glass it immediately reminded me of the copper colour of Sierra Nevada, which set it apart from most APAs on the market. The rich caramel and toffee aromas blended very nicely with the orange and grapefruit notes from the American hops. It smelled and tasted like marmalade on toast and was very much like my favourite beer.
It is my favourite beer for very good reason. My first taste of Sierra Nevada came when I had it at Beer Bistro several years ago while I was completing my Prud’homme Beer Sommelier Certification. It was the most amazing and well balanced American Pale Ale I’d ever had. I loved it so much that for my final project, I designed a vertical beer dinner using it for every single course including dessert. To this day I still think it is the best beer to pair with pretty much anything because of it’s balance and versatility.
My love for this beer has not diminished over the years. I’ve even been on a beer nerd pilgrimage the Sierra Nevada Brewery itself in Chico California, which was absolutely amazing. I love this beer so much I generally have some in my fridge at all times. Thankfully it’s now widely available in Ontario, so I don’t have to drive to Buffalo to get it anymore.
Because of Mick’s spirited advocacy of his beer I wanted to try them head to head and to be completely fair I did a blind comparison of both. And to ensure my senses were properly tuned, and on the advice of my friend Chris Schryer, I had a third glass poured of one of them and I was not told which. So there were two the same and one different. The goal with doing that is to pick the odd one out and determine which one was better. If you aren’t able to pick the two that are the same beer, you really aren’t able to objectively judge either of them.
So how did Collingwood Downhill Pale Ale fare against one of my favourite beers of all time?
Pretty damn good! It had the same great colour and aromas, although it’s slightly hazier than Sierra Nevada. Flavour wise they are both very similar, but it was the overall balance that set them apart… but only slightly. The Sierra Nevada is extremely well balanced with the malt sweetness and hop bitterness and they work so well together that it’s a very pleasing taste sensation. Downhill also has great balance, but the bitterness comes out slightly ahead in terms of dominance. But it is a very subtle difference and does not at all detract from the fact that this is a fantastic example of a an American Pale Ale.
Sierra Nevada is coming from California and Downhill is coming from just under 2 hours away from my home, so freshness is a major factor. I’m also a big fan of locally made beer, so it gets extra points for that.
The final verdict is that while Sierra Nevada is still my favourite APA, I’ll likely keep a few cans of Downhill in my fridge as another great go to American Pale Ale. Cheers Mick!