Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sierra Nevada takes us to BEER CAMP

For some years now, Sierra Nevada has been holding Beer Camp, an opportunity for industry people, contest winners, and others to visit their Chico, CA facility and brew some beer (on Sierra's equipment!) that would only ever be seen in the immediate Chico area. Over the years they brewed dozens of Sierra Nevada brews, often quirky, interesting beers that were never seen by 99.9% of Sierra Nevada drinkers.

In 2011, the brewery finally decided to make some of these beers available, releasing a Beer Camp mix pack that was, in my view, the very best mixer of the year. Every single beer was good, and several were phenomenal. Even something like the seemingly ordinary California Common, a style best known thanks to Anchor Steam, was amazing.

So needless to say, I was excited when it was announced that the Beer Camp pack would be back in 2012, this time with four totally new beers.

Here are my impressions of the four brews in this pack:

Floral IPA - This one is made with rose petals and rose hips, giving it a soft floral quality that parts ways with the pine-laden scents of Sierra Nevada's usual IPAs. This was my least favorite of the bunch, but not for the reason you may expect. The floral elements were actually well integrated. Where it fell short was in the overall balance. An uninteresting malt profile did little to intermingle with sharp hop bitterness. Though do keep in mind, unlike many American beer lovers, IPAs are not a favorite of mine.

Imperial Pilsner - I'm not sure why they went with the "imperial" tag, as this one comes in at 5.6% ABV, stronger than your average pilsner but not that much stronger. Regardless, for this this was the standout of the pack, and I say that as a guy who traditionally doesn't care for pilsners. This beer was bright, crisp, and refreshing, with a nice hop bite that gave it an edge over most pilsners. Utterly delicious and stupidly drinakable, if this came in six packs I'd be buying more of it.

Imperial Red Ale - Not a big fan of red ales. I can think of very, very few I've liked. Sierra Nevada almost gets me to like one here, with a great bouquet of hops and a robust malt backbone giving this puppy a solid 8.1% ABV, but yeah, this style continues to not be for me. If you like red ales, though, this will probably be a standout beer for you. It has bold hops coupled with rich malts and surprising chocolate notes. It's a big, big red that will please fans of the style.

Oatmeal Stout - A pretty modest name for a hefty 9% stout that is black as midnight and richer than a double chocolate cheesecake. WOWZA is this ever a desert beer. It SMELLS like desert! Huge, rich chocolate notes with the pure velvet of a great oatmeal stout. You'll taste the alcohol, making this one a decent candidate for laying down for six months to a year, but even now it's tasting pretty fantastic. Calling it a plain old oatmeal stout doesn't do it justice. This beer is huge and delicious.

All in call, Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp 2012 isn't quite as good as 2011's -- I liked all four of last year's and loved three of them, while this year I like three of four and love two of four -- but it's still a worthwhile mix pack that will expand your taste buds in good ways. Check it out while it's still available, because this will be off the shelves soon.

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