As the summer ales begin leaving the shelves, I’d like to take a minute to talk about an annual latesummer release by one of my favorite brewing companies, Sierra Nevada. Every year Sierra Nevada gives a chance for its fans and homebrewers alike to go to beer heaven for two days at an event they call Beer Camp. At Beer Camp the “campers” get a full tour of Sierra Nevada’s facilities including brew house, barley fields, and hop room. The lucky few receive beer-tasting lessons and learn about different varieties of barley, hops and yeast.
Most important of all, the campers get to decide what type of beer to brew with the brewmasters. This is a chance for everyone to experiment with new combinations and create very irreverent brews. Love India Pale Ales? I sure do. How about a Belgian-Style Black IPA? Why not Or an Imperial Red Ale Of course. If one or all of these options sound like your thing, you have to check out the Beer Camp sampler pack. You will experience all three of the aforementioned types in one convenient pack. With all the variety, there’s a beer in it for everyone.
Moving from lightest to darkest, let’s start by looking at the IPA. I know what you are thinking: “They chose to make just a regular old IPA? Where’s the fun in that?” And I must agree with you. For so many endless possibilities that macro-craft brewery like Sierra Nevada has to offer, it does seem like quite a cop-out.
The beer pours a cloudy dark golden color with a small white head. It smells like citrus and pine with a slight malty sweetness. The taste is light and crisp, as one would expect–citrusy and slightly bitter in the beginning leading into a subtle malt backbone. It’s very drinkable.
The downside is its aftertaste: bitter, but not quite like hops. Although this flavor is minor, it almost reminds me of aspirin you can’t quite swallow that begins to dissolve in your mouth.
I’m a huge IPA fan, but this beer is a bit of a disappointment—especially coming from the hopheads at Sierra Nevada. It tastes like a stale version of their Torpedo IPA. At 6.9 percent ABV, if you drink it fast there’s no problem. Just don’t let it warm up.
After a bit of a disappointment with the IPA, the Imperial Red Ale perked me back up. With a lovely 8.5 percent ABV, this red ale delivers the goods while hiding the alcohol. It pours a beautiful dark ruby brown color with a nice inch of a light brown head that lingers. The beer radiates a malty sweet smell with dark fruit and some nice citrus hop to boot.
This beer tastes great, it is definitely my favorite of the pack. The first sip starts with a sweet maltiness with a touch plum. Then the hoppy grapefruit flavor kicks in strong. This one is much hopper than the IPA. Eventually the hops mellow out into the dark fruit toffee flavors of the malt, while still ending crisp and bitter.
The hops are intense and would have fooled me into thinking this could be a double IPA were it not for its equally dark malty taste. The brewers layered this guy expertly; the sweetness and bitterness balance each other out like a stalemate on a see-saw, leaving you floating in its perfection.
The Belgian-Style Black IPA is definitely the most unique of the bunch, a true experiment. The pour is a rich black color with a medium sized brown head. Malty coffee and chocolate notes intrigue my nose. The taste, at first, is that of a normal dark beer: a heavy bittersweet chocolate and burnt toffee flavor that’s thick and creamy, hiding its 7.7 percent ABV. This all leads into a more subtle hoppy bitterness and a spicy black pepper taste coming from the Belgian yeast. Still, it ends more sweet than bitter.
I’m not going to lie—the uniqueness of this beer threw me for a loop. At first the hops are hidden behind a complex malt body. When they come through, the match seems to work. However, the hop and malt balance is not as successful as the Imperial Red. The layering of the flavors seems a little confused. It creates an odd and refreshingly drinkable dark beer that is very unique, but isn’t entirely satisfying. Imagine looking at a marble sculpture that hasn’t been polished yet. The form may be beautiful, but it’s still rough on the edges. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it very much. I just hope there are future attempts at reworking and perfecting this unique style of ale.
Overall, the Beer Camp sampler is not something to be missed. Sierra Nevada has some delicious and fresh takes which will leave you and your buddies trading sips until you find your perfect match.
If you have any interest in going to Beer Camp you can find out more information at sierrabeercamp.com.