Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has proved to be the guiding light for the craft beer boom in the United States.

In industry, there is usually one person, or one company, to which everyone can look back and say, ``That's where it all started.''


The Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is pretty darn close to being that for American craft beer. If not the company that started the phenomenon in the United States, brewer/owner Ken Grossman's Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was certainly the beer that got Americans to start thinking about hops.


Without the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the hugely popular American India pale ale style of beer may have never gotten off the ground -- or at least would have had a much later start.


American India pale ales are one of the most common style of craft beers available -- you would be hard-pressed to find a brewery that didn't have at least one version of the hoppy style of brew. Some even have two or three.


``We had tried to come up with our own style of beer, and we wanted to do something uniquely American,'' said Grossman, who started the brewery 27 years ago in Chico, Calif. ``We featured the cascade hop early on. I do get a fair amount of brewers nodding their heads to us.''


Although not an IPA, per se, the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was one of the first American beers that used the amount of bittering hops that now is common. The English-style IPA is much more refined and concentrates more on the hop flavor than the bitterness.


To celebrate 27 years in business, Sierra Nevada last month released its 27th Anniversary Ale, a wonderfully bitter IPA.


``It's back to some of our very early experimental brews,'' said Grossman. ``It's 100 percent cascade hops, and it's dry hopped, which we don't do to all of our beers.''


Brewers will sometimes dry hop their beers by throwing in an extra amount of hops in the brewing barrel right before it is bottled and shipped. It gives the beer a more intense hop flavor.


The Anniversary Ale has a big pine and citrusy smell, but the taste is balanced perfectly with sweetness from the caramel malts used.


Breweries seem to celebrate odd numbered anniversaries -- when you go into any of the better liquor stores, you'll see many different beers with names such as ``Twelve'' or ``Thirteen,'' sometimes in Roman numerals.


But a 27th anniversary is one to celebrate. Except for the Anchor Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada and Boulder Brewing Company are the two longest running craft breweries in the country.


``We started back in the very early beginnings of the craft movement,'' said Grossman. ``I was a homebrewer back in the late '60s and early '70s. When we started, it was almost at the lowpoint of the U.S. brewing industry. In 1980, there was the least amount of breweries in existense than ever before, about 40. Now there about 1,500.


``I was very nervous. We had no idea that the industry would grow,'' he said.


Sierra Nevada has, in fact, grown immensly. In its first year, Grossman brewed less than 25,000 gallons of beer. This year, the company will produce more than 21 million gallons.


Grossman attributes beer industry growth to people wanting something different.


``It's the same as what happened in other segments of food and drink in our society,'' he said. ``People got a little bit tired of having few choices. They got sick of having the same thing. There was a lot of new innovations.''


Sierra Nevada continues to grow, mainly because the brewery does not just rely on its flagship pale ale. Each year, the brewery releases several different bottled beers, including another IPA and a stout.


It also releases several seasonals, including a summer wheat and Celebration, a double IPA that comes out during the winter.


My personal favorite is the Bigfoot Barley Wine, out in January.


``We've been doing that for more than 25 years,'' said Grossman. ``That was a style that was popularized in England. It became a drink that elderly ladies drank because it was a sipping liquor.''


Bigfoot is definitely something to sip, but that's because of its strength, 9.6 alcohol by volume. It's hoppier than a usual barley wine, but the sweet malt flavors make this almost perfectly balanced.


Fans should expect more in the coming years, Grossman said.


``I'm not ready to say what they are, but we're working on a bunch of fun stuff,'' he said. ``We've been innovating for a long time.''


Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale is widely available, including at Fifth Avenue Liquors and Water Street Wine & Spirits in Framinghan; Fannon's and Main Street Liquors in Natick; Donelan's Supermarket in Wayland; Cask & Keg and Gordon's Liquors in Waltham; the Vin Bin in Marlborough; and Liquor World in Franklin, Milford and Medway.


Party on!


On Sept. 30, Julio's Liquors will be hosting its annual fall beer fest. The event will feature more than 200 beers, free food provided by the Horseshoe Pub of Hudson and free Harpoon soda for children.


The event is free, and runs from 1 to 4 p.m.


Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, contact nmiller@cnc.com or 508-626-3823.