Ultimate 6er | 2016 Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Variety Pack
Take a look at the brewing notes and ingredients for this year’s Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Variety Pack and you’ll see what is perhaps the heart and soul of American craft beer.
Here, you’ll find recipes native to the regions where these breweries inhabit – 31 breweries from six different regions. You’ll find brewing processes indicative of what the craft beer drinker so craves right now – dry-hopping or fruit, tea, and coffee infusions. But perhaps most interestingly, you’ll find a suite of beers anchored by one of the most formidable of the old guard in American craft that defies expectation, typifies innovation, and proves to the naysayers craft beer in this country has barely even scratched the surface of possibility and potential.
“Beer Camp is a celebration of the rich depth of craft beer that we’re lucky to be experiencing in America right now,” says Bill Manley, Brewery Ambassador with Sierra Nevada. “There is more variety and choice and quality and availability than ever before. In every corner of the country, there are brewers making world class beers, and participating in this craft beer community like never before. Beer Camp, ideally, is an excuse for all of us in the beer world—both brewer and drinker alike—to pause and look at how far we’ve come as an industry, and take the time to stop and share a beer together.”
And the choice and variety in this year’s Beer Camp is extensive. Though reduced to just six collaborations compared to the previous release which contained 12 distinct beers, the 2016 pack includes craft breweries both large and small in size and focus. Some of the larger players include outfits like Creature Comforts, Wicked Weed, Odell, Dark Horse, Bear Republic, Lawson’s Finest Liquids, and The Lost Abbey, while the relative newcomers include outfits like Beachwood Brewing, Black Raven Brewing Company, Bayou Teche Brewing, and Mad River Brewing. Hell, even venerable heavy-hitter Dogfish Head threw its hat into the ring on one of the beers.
The breadth and scope of this year’s collaborators are reflected in the beers themselves. You’ve got a Belgian-esque table beer, an imperial session IPA and an imperial brown ale. The ingredients follow suit – grits, rye, hibiscus, cider, and wild rice, just to name a few.
“Every brewery has its unique style and character, and this pack aimed to highlight some of the regionality that exists in craft beer,” says Robin Gregory, Sierra’s social media coordinator. “This is what we hoped to celebrate with this pack—the incredible variety of great craft beer across the country.”
Yes, it may seem a little aggrandizing to call this year’s Beer Camp a snapshot of America as it exists in 2016, at least in terms of beer. Right? I mean, after all, it’s just beer. But beer, far removed from its buzz-giving and social-lubricating powers is an agricultural product born out of the ingredients and processes available wherever the brewery is located – even in today’s world where barley and hops can be sourced from thousands of miles away, brewers still depend on what’s local, what’s close to home.
So perhaps it’s not so grandiose to say this year’s Beer Camp is something of a window into the ingredients and traditions each region of the country holds dear. Perhaps, in some small way, it’s not outlandish to say this year’s pack allows the drinker to experience the essence or history of parts of the country previously unknown. And while a ranking of this year’s beers then seems a foolish exercise – is there anything to gain from pitting a rye ale brewed with apples against a brown ale made with Midwestern honey? – here’s a brief rundown in no particular order of each beer in the 2016 Beer Camp Variety Pack with a small nod to my personal favorites.
Sweet Sunny South | Southern Table Beer
Austin Beerworks, Bayou Teche Brewing, Creature Comforts, Funky Buddha, Wicked Weed: Brewed with an imaginative mixture of corn grits, black tea, and prickly pear, Sweet Sunny South pours slightly off-gold with a distinctive pink hue almost reminiscent of a light rose wine. The nose is sharp with peppercorn and pear a-la classic Belgian yeast with undercurrents of tropical fruits and husky cereal grain. The flavor is much the same with crisp, clean, and slightly tart finish that invites you back for subsequent sips. It’s a refreshing, easy to drink brew that cries out for slightly funky, creamy cheeses and outdoor patios, and it’s hands down my favorite of the six.
Moxee-Moron | Imperial Session IPA
Bale Breaker Brewing Company, Barley Brown’s Beer, Black Raven Brewing Company, Melvin Brewing, Odell Brewing Company: Imperial session IPA? So, I guess we’ll just call it an American IPA? Regardless, Moxee-Moron is a bright orange, brilliantly clear beer with three-fingers of persistent, soapy head. The aroma is grass, pine, and slightly overripe tropical fruits with small hints of dried herbs like thyme and oregano. The flavor is completely hop-focussed with a little biscuity malt backing and sweetness to help balance a fairly aggressive bitterness that accumulates over time. With the hops and bitterness of a double IPA but the utter drinkability of a session IPA – even for 7.5 percent – it’s a beer well-suited for the current IPA landscape and that warrants some good, long sips.
Family Values | Imperial Brown Ale
Schell’s Brewing Company, Dark Horse Brewing Company, Half Acre Beer Company, Perennial Artisan Ales, Sun King Brewery: In the interest of full-disclosure, this was the one beer from the pack I was most excited to try, and while it’s definitely not a bad beer, it’s one that left me wanting more. Brewed with cocoa nibs, wild rice, oats and honey, it’s a treat on first sniff – think a mix of children’s chocolate breakfast cereal and Teddy Grahams that’s then drowned in half-and-half creamer. The taste follows suit with sweet molasses-like notes up front with a healthy amount of roast on the finish. The cocoa element doesn’t have quite the staying power and while the flavors are certainly big, they’re a bit muddled and ultimately muted as they fight for dominance with each sip. Family Values ends with a hefty amount of perceived sweetness and noticeable booze note that makes it ideal for nipping in 4 or 5 ounce pours – no more, no less.
West Latitude | Session Rye Ale
Bear Republic Brewing Company, Faction Brewing, Mad River Brewing, Magnolia Brewing, Maui Brewing Company: Rye, Maris Otter, Vienna, and hibiscus give West Latitude a deep auburn or chestnut color with an aroma thick of dark fruits, floral perfume, and sweet malt. There’s a slight tea-like spice in the nose that hits first in the flavor, lending a dry, astringent finish. Medium-bodied and assertively bitter, the hibiscus manifests more in the aroma than the flavor, which is dominated by the rye. West Latitude is perhaps the beer best suited for food – robust, hearty foods like stews, roasted meats, or juicy pub burgers – and though not quite sessionable on its own, would be a go-to for parties where snacks are abundant.
Pat-Rye-Ot | Pale Ale
Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company, Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales, Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Stoudts Brewing Company, Trillium Brewing Company: The most visually stunning beer in the pack, Pat-Rye-Ot pours a perfectly clear golden straw color with perfectly white head and an abundance of carbonation bubbles racing up the glass. On the nose, this is perhaps the least appealing beer: dirt, wet earth, grass, and perhaps even a little grape must assault the nostrils. The flavor, however, is where this beer shines: slightly spiced red apples – almost like a spiked cider – with a somewhat doughy malt base and earthy, floral hops that leave your palate crisp and refreshed. Light-bodied and easy drinking Pat-Rye-Ot is something of a shape-shifter in this year’s pack that makes you work a bit to acclimate to it, but ultimately rewards you in the end.
Stout of the Union | Robust Stout
Bagby Beer Company, Beachwood Brewing, The Lost Abbey Brewing Company, Smog City Brewing Company, Societe Brewing Company: Billed as a stout that proves stouts don’t have to be so…well, stouty, Stout of the Union might fail in that regard but does succeed in being a well-made, smokey, robust stout. Far away from the most viscous stout, the beer pours a somewhat oily jet black with no highlights and a foamy layer of espresso-colored head. The aroma is bitter chocolate, espresso, roast, and a little ash with hints at a creamy or soft element. The flavor, which is more semi-sweet chocolate and brewed coffee, is bold, bracing, and bitter, with the smoke and roast lingering in the finish. A stout for the beach? No. A stout for cool fall nights around a bonfire? Indeed.