You can say a lot of things about Trader Joe’s. The produce quality is meh, the frozen entrees are on par with your average college dining hall and the meat is overpriced. But, they make a nice potato chip, have a great cheese selection, and have invested in their beer.
In states where beer can be sold in grocery stores, Trader Joe’s will devote about five segments of shelving to craft beer. That’s about as much space as it gives other bottled beverages in the store. Generally, half of that space features regional and national beers. For every Firestone Walker at my Trader Joe’s in Syracuse, N.Y., there is a selection from Empire or Ellicottville Brewing.
Trader Joe’s private label beers make up the rest of the beer department. Like its groceries, Trader Joe’s does not reveal the brewer of its store-brand beers. Contract brewers typically do not divulge their customers, but word tends to get around. Mission St. IPA? It links back to Uinta Brewing in Utah. The beers under the Ol’ Burro brand? Look no further than Los Angeles’ Golden Road Brewery. Canada’s Unibroue produces the annual Vintage Ale. Gordon Biersch. Shipyard Brewing and others are in on the game.
The store’s 50th anniversary has brought a number of brewers together with the chain to produce beers sold exclusively at Trader Joe’s. New Belgium’s Imperial Peach Ale is one. Green Flash and Modern Times contributed as well.
And so did Sierra Nevada.
Nearly eight hours of highway separate Sierra Nevada’s headquarters in the Northern California city of Chico and the original Trader Joe’s in Pasadena that opened in 1967. Since debuting 50 years ago, Trader Joe’s has expanded to nearly 500 stores in America and the ubiquitous green cans appear on every store shelf where beer sales are possible.
Pronto IPA is the tribute that sprung forth from the brewery, a 24 ounce amber bottled anniversary card. Originally released in May 2017, it promises mango and hibiscus; flavors as tropical as the floral print shirts worn by store employees. The beer pours to the rusty-side of amber with a soft, fluffy head that remains through the entire session. Like most Sierra Nevada beers, it’s transparent and clear as the day is long.
The nose packs tropical scents with hints of roasted malt, but the flavor does not follow. It just gets better.
You will notice subtle mango at the open with floral notes, as well as caramel malt. Herbal, floral notes appear in the transition, introducing grass and earth flavors, before rounding out with prominent hibiscus flavors. The finish is dry and spicy with some bitterness after swallowing. It’s medium-bodied with a moderate feel, enhanced by the tingle of carbonation.
The crispness of this beer cannot be overstated and that’s all hibiscus. It mimics Trader Joe’s hibiscus-flavored Agua Frescas, a drink that is part juice, part floral tea. Like the Agua Frescas, the Pronto IPA is refreshing.
Pronto IPA is available only at Trader Joe’s stores, but if you live in a state where Trader Joe’s cannot or does not sell beer (I’m looking at Delaware, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island), or where grocers can only sell 3.2% beer (Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota and Utah), you’re out of luck.
If your Trader Joe’s does sell the Pronto IPA, it’s worth picking up a bottle and toasting a half-century of the grocery store.