Thanks to the folks at Sierra Nevada, there is such a thing as Beer Camp. I didn’t even know that Beer Camp should be a thing. But it should. It so should. And it is. Every year, a lucky few spend several days at Sierra Nevada’s facilities in Chico, California, where they learn about the whole operation. Quoted from the Beer Camp website:
“Meet us in the morning as we open the gates to learn ins-and-outs of Sierra Nevada and see if you have what it takes to be a brewer. At the brewery, you will see, feel, and experience everything that Sierra Nevada has to offer. First you’ll get an in-depth tour of our facilities, including our brewhouse, hop and barley fields, cellars, and hop rooms. Then more fun: a tour on the brewery on our one of a kind, homemade 12-seater Bar Bike with stops on the bottling line and hop yard. Meet with the “mad beer scientists” in our Quality Assurance and packing laboratories to learn the science behind beer storage and chemistry.”
(You should go to their website to check out the artwork for this stuff, too. Unreal.)
Every year at Beer Camp, the newly educated campers design their own beer, which Sierra Nevada then makes. They have several beer camps every year, and they release a sampler pack of the products! Jason picked up this year’s sampler at Carrboro Beverage Company because the guy there said it had a decent IPA, and that’s generally our favorite.
As it turns out, the IPA is the least exciting one of the whole pack. Which does not mean it’s bad. It’s delicious. But the rest are remarkable. Are you a fan of sampler packs? We get a lot of them because Jason likes darker beers (even in summer), and I tend to like the hoppy ones best for summer. However, there’s almost always a weak link in a sampler pack. It’s pretty exciting to find one that’s as well rounded as the 2012 Beer Camp Sampler, but alas, it’s only temporary.
The Floral IPA: At 5.9 % ABV, it’s not a terribly alcoholic IPA, and you can tell. It’s also not aggressively hoppy. It has enough bite that you know it’s an IPA, but it’s light and floral–not at all sweet or citrusy, which is pretty expected from an IPA. It’s certainly understated, but in a good way. The hops hit you in the finish, and it leaves you with a light, summery aftertaste. It’s a great summer IPA.
The Oatmeal Stout: Holy cow. This stout made me long for cold winter nights and fires and gloves. It’s almost buttery it’s so rich and velvety. It’s a dark (almost black) chocolate color, and it smells and tastes strongly of both coffee and chocolate. My favorite part is that isn’t too malty like some stouts can be. It’s exceedingly well-balanced, and so velvety it begs to be dessert. It’s the most alcoholic of the bunch at a serious 9.0% APV.
The Imperial Pilsner: I’m not usually a huge fan of pilsners, but this one knocked my socks off. It’s super light and refreshing without being boring. It’s certainly hoppier than most pilsners, and it’s not sweet at all. It’s dry and crisp with a light malt flavor in the background. It’s an easy summertime brew at 5.6% ABV.
The Imperial Red Ale: This one is our favorite by far (which is saying a lot). It’s an amber ale, and it somehow manages to be both aggressively hoppy and very malty, but in perfect balance. I don’t think I’ve ever had an amber ale that did such a great job of that balance. Most of the time they are either more hoppy than malty, or they somehow fall short on both fronts. This one manages to hold its own on both counts. It’s a little sweet, because of the intense malty flavor, but it’s balanced by the hop choices–they’re dry and a little grapefruity. All that maltyness does bring it up to 8.1% ABV.
As far as finding this pack somewhere near you, try any small beer stores that sell specialty things or lots of craft brews. Definitely Carrboro Beverage if you’re close enough, and try something they have on tap while you’re there!