For participating breweries, Beer Camp may not be a week of s’mores and campfires, but the memories made—and lessons learned—will last well beyond their days spent brewing at Sierra Nevada.
This year’s Sierra Nevada Beer Camp mixes up the format from previous years. Before, 12 beers from 12 different brewers were featured. This year, Beer Camp went regional with a 12-pack of six different collaboration beers that were brewed by region, “like a supergroup or band theme,” says Jace Marti, head brewer at August Schell Brewing Co. and “frontman” for the Midwest collective.
Sierra Nevada divided the country into six regions and picked six leaders, who in turn selected another four “band members” for their creations. Schell’s was picked to lead the Midwest supergroup, completed by representatives from Dark Horse (Michigan), Sun King (Indiana), Half Acre (Illinios), and Perennial (Missouri).
“My dad [Ted Marti] and [Sierra Nevada founder] Ken Grossman go way back to the early days of craft brewing,” Jace says. “They’re still friends to this day.” And this year, the two friends and experienced craft brewers sent their kids to camp. As the representative of the Midwest contingent, Jace wanted to try something new. “I wanted to work with breweries that I’d never worked with before,” he says. To make that happen, he cold-called four beer makers he respected, not worrying that he didn’t know them personally.
Once the group was formed, the parties met to talk ideas. “At that time it was winter and we wanted to do a big heavy beer,” Jace remembers. Thinking malt-forward and high gravity, they settled on an imperial brown ale using ingredients from their respective states: Minnesota wild rice, experimental hops from Hop Head Farms in Michigan, Indiana honey, Missouri oats, and cacao nibs imported by a Chicago company. A test batch of the beer, dubbed Family Values Imperial Brown Ale, was brewed at Sun King, tweaks were made, and they later flew to North Carolina to test it again on the Sierra Nevada pilot system, exactly one-tenth scale of the final brew.
The highlights of the process, Jace says, were the networking and the equipment. “They rolled out the red carpet for everybody, that place is incredible,” he says of the $100+ million brewhouse in North Carolina. “The amount of detail, how well everything is laid out: It’s the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen.”
Schell’s, Perennial, Sun King, Dark Horse, Half Acre and Sierra Nevada brewing for the 2016 Beer Camp Sampler Pack! pic.twitter.com/VN2o3sxCNm
— Schell’s Brewery (@SchellsBrewery) October 30, 2015
They even used Sierra Nevada’s famed torpedo to add the cacao nibs into the final product—a first for all five brewers involved. Known for its use in Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo Extra IPA, a torpedo is a cylindrical vessel that helps extract aromatic and flavorful oils from an ingredient—typically hops; in this case, nibs.
“It was pretty challenging to work out the logistics and not destroy their torpedo, but it worked out really well,” Jace says. “Using the nibs in that kind of process was different and something I would definitely do again,” he continues, noting the resulting chocolate character in the beer. Besides making new friends and new beers, being part of Beer Camp is ultimately a learning opportunity. “Some of the ingredients other groups used—hop powders and extracts—were cool to learn about, and that’s definitely something we’ll do,” Jace says.
Beer Camp is now entering the Midwest market—a physical representation of the brewers’ camp experience. The five Midwestern brewers will reunite for a day at the Milwaukee Beer Camp Across America festival, on June 11. After that, they become pen pals and peers, crossing paths at industry panels and sharing techniques, remembering that one time at beer camp when they test-drove the torpedo.
Twelve-pack samplers of Sierra Nevada 2016 Beer Camp are currently available in stores under the Sierra Nevada brand. Minnesota will see extremely limited keg offerings of Family Values Imperial Brown Ale at select locations in Duluth and the Minneapolis–St. Paul market. Jace says Sierra Nevada also plans to age some Family Values in barrels for an undisclosed future release.
Below are the specs and descriptions of all six of this year’s Beer Camp beers from a Sierra Nevada press release:
- Sweet Sunny South Southern Table Beer (4.9% ABV) – An easy-drinking, malt-forward beer featuring traditional Southern ingredients.
- Pat-Rye-Ot Revolutionary Pale Ale (5.6% ABV) – A “revolutionary” pale ale inspired by classic colonial ingredients like rye and apple.
- West Latitude Session Rye with Hibiscus (5.5% ABV) – A session rye blooming with Hawaiian Hibiscus and California hops.
- Moxee-Moron Imperial Session IPA (7.5% ABV) – A style contradiction honoring the Pacific Northwest’s hop-bomb heritage.
- Family Values Imperial Brown Ale (8.5% ABV) – An imperial brown ale that embodies native ingredients of the Midwest.
- Stout of the Union Robust Stout (7.3% ABV) – The ultimate combo of rich and roasty malts from our Southern California friends.