Sierra Nevada Beer Camp: Beer Nerd Nirvana
To promote Sierra Nevada’s new 12 beer Beer Camp Around the World collaboration beers, they’ve taken it on the road to eight cities across America and I was lucky enough to check it out when they came to Philadelphia last Saturday. With over 40 breweries bringing hundreds of beers in every style imaginable, the challenge would be how many I could try in the five hours allotted for tastings and also gather some hints for you on how to survive a day at Beer Camp.
Planning the day is just like going to an amusement park; pick out the popular rides to hit first because you know the lines will get long. Here I picked out the beers I knew were going to be the hardest to find in the NJ area and hit those first. Also I made sure to check my Untappd app to ensure I’m not having a beer I’ve tried before (no sense in using precious time and sobriety). And the mantra of the day: Drink water between each sample to make sure I keep my wits about me. I want to be able to remember the beers I was tasting.
The festival was at the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing right on the Delaware River. Six beer tents were set up and dispersed throughout the venue. This setup kept the lines very short and allowed plenty of room to converse with the brewers and savor the beer. One main tent was set up specifically for the twelve Sierra Nevada Beer Camp collaborations and one final tent for “Rare Beers,” or beers that were in short supply and once they're gone, they’re gone. Every hour one or two beers were available here. This proved, of course, to be the longest lines at the festival but it never took longer than a few minutes to get to the taps. Plus, there was a stage where two bands would play some background music for us all day and four food trucks that mostly specialized in cheese. Sierra Nevada offered a VIP ticket that is a little bit more than the regular admission but lets you get in an hour early. Once inside you pick up your very own 4 ounce taster glass (actually plastic) but there was no time for me to get the lay of the land once 12pm hit; I had a mission.
Number one beer on the hit list was Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout from Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida. This is a beer that only comes around once a year, has a 100 score on BeerAdvocate (basically the Rotten Tomatoes for beer) and can only be bought at the brewery in Tampa. The fact that it was available here was amazing. So my first stop was the Tampa section which also included Coppertail Brewing. Hunahpu had a rich chocolate and vanilla taste and it was the perfect beer to kick off the festival.
The first hour was just us “VIP’s”, which gave us a lot of space to survey the tents. Then at 1:00 pm you could feel it getting a bit more crowded, but it was never too tight. There was plenty of room, until the downpour came. Most of the day was overcast, which proved to be good since it was hot and humid and the few times the sun did poke out it was oppressive. When the skies opened up, a bunch of us fled to a little tent where someone made a chalk drawing of the event’s logo and Benjamin Franklin, Philly’s unofficial pitchman. Stuck under the tent for a good 5-10 minutes you could imagine our glasses were getting empty. Luckily, right across from us, the brewmaster from Free Will Brewing ran over with a pitcher of Micromanager Pale Ale to save us all.
Aside from the Hunahpu’s the next best beer I tried was from Fat Head’s Brewery from Cleveland, Ohio (who I was happy to see even though they weren’t listed in the app or on the website). I’m a huge fan of IPAs; Singles, Imperial/Doubles and Triples so when I saw they brought their Benjamin Danklin American IPA brewed with Centennial, Columbus, Citra, Chinook, & Simcoe hops I knew it’d be good. I wanted to break my pledge to not have duplicate beers on this one because I enjoyed it so much but I didn’t.
The third worthwhile tasting was at the Rare Beer Tent. Sierra Nevada brought with them a 2011 vintage Bigfoot Barleywine beer. Unlike some beers, barleywines can be aged like wines and the older they get the more the complex flavors come out. I knew I wouldn’t get a chance to try a six year old Bigfoot again, so I was first on line for this one. To our surprise the founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Ken Grossman, was at the tap and poured the first one to me! Bigfoot is a prime beer to have aged and these kinds of beers begin to get the feel of a port or a sherry. Tasted great and went down smooth.
Overall I conquered 26 new and different beers, 1 cheesesteak and 1 fried cheese curd in 5 hours with no hangover the next day. I would have to say the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Festival in Philadelphia was a resounding success and I look forward to attending again. There was a vast amount of beer and cider styles and breweries represented and plenty of water stations to both clean your glass and keep hydrated. Not even a little rain could dampen the craft beer spirit in Philly.
If you’d like to see all the beers I tried you can find me on Untappd at Walt Keegan (avant1963) and follow me as I reach the 1000 different beers milestone.