The Best Beers At Sierra Nevada Beer Camp

Despite some initial misgivings about devoting a hot, sunny afternoon to drinking several dozen 2-ounce beer samples with a couple thousand sweaty strangers, I spent Saturday afternoon at the Boston rendition of Sierra Nevada’s roving Beer Camp festival, and I’m glad I did.

I like this sort of event in general, but maybe not always quite as much as the next beer writer does. I try to take a scientific approach to my day-drinking, and the huge variety of small portions of dissimilar beers confuses my poor tongue to the point where it’s often hard to come away with a cogent understanding of anything beyond, “Yup, drunk at 4:00 pm again.” That’s not a bad time, but it’s not journalism, either, and since I generally only attend beer fests that give me free media tickets, it seems unsporting to just get lit with no productive takeaway.

Sierra Nevada did provide me with a ticket, but I bought a full-price entry for my research director/wife, which eased any ethical qualms I had about crashing this party with no specific editorial agenda: my wife, Emily, loves beer but is terrible at gluttony, and thus didn’t drink nearly enough to recoup our investment, so we were at least moderately useful as paying customers. Plus, here I am writing about it, because Emily is a good note-taker!

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There may be folks out there who can provide detailed, precise, after-the-fact descriptions of 50 different double-sips of beer, but none of those gifted souls happens to be nursing this particular hangover right now, so despite Emily’s note-taking prowess, I’m going to keep things a bit general. I can confidently tell you which beers happened to impress me, but I can’t pretend to have tried everything there, nor even tasted the ones I did try in the best possible order, and no one gains anything via my ongoing contest to see how many times I can write “citrusy, I guess, and pine?” before my editor chokes to death on tears of boredom.

First, a note on what makes Sierra Nevada Beer Camp unique. There are half a dozen stops on the cross-country tour, plus a special Beer Camp 12-pack featuring six different collaboration beers made by teams of regional breweries that’s available nationwide. I have to confess that I didn’t buy the 12-pack this year, which is one part dereliction of duty and one part “Yo, $30 is a lot of money for a dozen beers; I’ll try ‘em at the festival.”

Anyhow, here are a few general impressions, followed by some specific beer recommendations.

Price Ain’t Bad

The Beer Camp 12-pack’s high price is somewhat justified given the logistics involved; I’m not saying it’s “worth it” from a consumer perspective, as that’s an individual choice that I’m not even qualified to make for myself this year, but when you realize there are 31 total breweries represented, you can appreciate that this isn’t just a naked cash grab. And the festival itself is very reasonably priced as these things go at $50 (plus a few bucks in fees) for a general admission ticket.

Particularly Considering Which Breweries Show Up

That’s more than fair considering the high caliber of breweries, both local and out-of-town, who attend. In Boston, we had local darlings Trillium, Other Half from Brooklyn, and Lawson’s Finest Liquids from Vermont, among other national and regional heavyweights. These are some serious, high-end, wait-in-line type joints, and while it’s true that their tents were a bit crowded, it was still the easiest group access you’re likely to find.

And They Poured The Good Stuff

Stone Enjoy-By 7/4/2016! Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion! Funky Sierra Nevada beers I’d never heard of! The Beer Camp app tells me Samuel Adams had Kosmic Mother Funk, a blended wild ale that’s probably the best beer they make; I regret not stumbling by their tent.

Not As Fruity As Expected

It seems like every other beer press release I get these days is touting someone’s new papaya session IPA, but there wasn’t too much of that stuff at Beer Camp.

Light on the Lager, Too

Craft lager may be booming, but there wasn’t much of it at Beer Camp. That’s probably for the best, and I say that as a big lager proponent. Only the most heavily hopped versions are suited to fighting through the crowd at this sort of affair. When I go to beer festivals, I duly try every pilsner available, but it’s just not a style well suited to evaluating two ounces at a time after you’ve been punching your tounge in the face with IPA all day.

My Favorite Beers of the Day

In addition to the aforementioned Stone Enjoy By and Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion, I was particularly smitten with the following:

Allagash 16 Counties: Made with ingredients from each of the 16 counties in Maine; I feared this gimmick could result in an overreach that necessitated like, moose fur from Basically Canada County and lobster shell from Slightly Southern Iceland County, but nope, the result is floral and citrusy and bready and beautiful.

Sierra Nevada Audition: Excellent straight-ahead West Coast double IPA.

Bear Republic Hop Shovel: IPA with nice rye spice and tropical hops.

Dogfish Head Festina Peche: A refreshing peach Berliner Weisse poured by Dogfish founder Sam Calagione himself.

Forbidden Root Sublime Ginger: Wheat beer with lemon, lime, and ginger. Skip all the “hard soda” garbage flooding the erstwhile wine cooler aisle and get yourself some of this honest to goodness spiced beer.

Independent Fermentations Rye and Sage Saison: Bold gambit for a small new southern Massachusetts brewery, but it works.

Tröegs Sunshine Pilsner: One of my fondest beer wishes is for the pilsner resurgence to turn this seasonal into a year-rounder.

Brooklyn Defender: So it turns out this red IPA is the official beer of New York Comic Con, which earns it a firm “no comment” to go along with the enthusiastic “nice beer!”

Beer Camp Pat-Rye-Ot Revolutionary Pale Ale: The pun is painful, for sure, but the beer is great: It’s an apple cider-spiked, exotically hopped, rye-heavy pale ale made by Beer Camp’s Northeast and Mid-Atlantic contingent: Dogfish Head, Devil’s Backbone, Lawson’s, Trillium, and Stoudts, along with Sierra Nevada. I came back to this one three or four times to take its full measure, and I was more impressed (and less confused) with each sip.

Beer Camp Stout of the Union: This came from the Soutwest team: Bagby, Beachwood, Lost Abbey, Sierra Nevada, Smog City, and Societe. My tasting notes sum up the overall Beer Camp experience. “Woah, nice!”