A few years ago, I managed to get my beer merit badge at Sierra Nevada’s beer camp, a weekend adventure bestowed on various industry types, bar owners, and distribution lackeys. However, I got in a different way: by entering a nationwide beer camp contest for homebrewers and superfans. I have many fond memories torturing my facebook feed for a few months, but in the end, I actually got a Sierra Nevada golden ticket in the mail, went up to Chico, then got to brew on the camp’s state-of-the-art pilot system. Crazy enough, a few months later I bought the beer I made in their annual Beer Camp 12-pack from my local Total Wine & More in Tustin: Beer Camp #94, aka Sleight of Hand.
The 2015 and 2016 Beer Camp releases included collaborations from all professional brewers across America, adding a nationwide festival to accompany the special brews, with mixed reviews. This year, they’ve released the Beer Camp Across the World pack, with six brewery collaborations from outside the U.S. and six American brewery collaborations, one of which is from O.C.’s The Bruery: an 8 percent Raspberry Sundae beer that is a touch sweet, tasting exactly like how you think it would: raspberry soft serve in beer form.
Sometimes these mixed packs contain some duds, and this year is no different. The Surley-brewed Ginger Lager and Saint Arnold Berliner-Style Weiss beers found my sink drain fairly fast. Overwhelmingly, the case has a few eye-openers, especially with Tree House East Meets West IPA and the Japanese collab with Kiuchi, White IPA with yuzu. There are some hit-or miss beers, such as the Mikkeller Thai-iced tea beer. It’s a pleasant sip, but way too much star anise and not enough tea-like character to bring it home. Some of these beers can be victims of scaling up recipes from a pilot system to Sierra Nevada’s behemoth brewhouse for wide distribution.
With this year’s pack, it’s refreshing to see collaboration breweries play on their strengths, such as Ayinger, a German brewery making a straight-laced Dunkle Weiss, with just a touch of roast to the creamy wheat beer. Duvel’s Belgian Golden with lemon peel is also very well made, adding just a kiss of citrus to the classic beer.
One of the most remarkable things about this beer pack is it gives a glimpse of what Sierra Nevada could be adding to its lineup. Exciting beers such as the East Meets West can of hoppy deliciousness they did with Tree House, or the palate-tingling thrill ride the White IPA with yuzu gave me. As one of the top-10 largest craft breweries in America, switching gears to keep up with trends can take months, as bigger brewers are in essence a victim of their own creativity, leaving consumers always looking for the next thing.
Overall, the pack is good, but buy it fast. It was quite shocking to see April 20th packaging dates on many of the bottles, yet the box just hit O.C. stores this week (two months?). I recommend drinking the hoppy beers first, drink the Ginger Beer with sushi, and give the Berliner-Style Weiss to an enemy.
Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Across the Globe is available at Bevmo!, Total Wine & More, Whole Foods, and Hi-Time Wine Cellars for a limited time.