With the passing of Robin Williams last week, it seems fitting to take some inspiration from his advice to his young students in Dead Poets Society to “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” or carpe diem–seize the day. The beers I will be reviewing here aren’t ones that I can try again or urge you to go out and find, as I’ll explain momentarily–instead they are beers that I can only enjoy for the moment and then use as inspiration to try to expand my beer selections in new directions.
As I noted a while back, Sierra Nevada has done something different with their “Beer Camp” this year–they collaborated with twelve other breweries, some closer to their West Coast roots and some closer to their new North Carolina brewery, to produce twelve unique beers that they sold as “Beer Camp Across America” and promoted with festivals in several locations across the country. The label says this is a one-time event, and some of the collaborating breweries don’t distribute to the East Coast at all, so by the time you are reading this, these beers will probably no longer be available.
In fact, I almost didn’t seize the day quickly enough to get one of these samplers for myself. I was driving home from an errand, waiting in the left turn lane two lanes of traffic away from a new liquor store not far from my house, when I saw someone wheeling in a hand truck with maybe half a dozen of the distinctively labeled sampler packs into the store. If I had really been in carpe diem mode, I would have either careened across those two lanes into the parking lot or gone around the block and looped back to capitalize on my opportunity. I knew, however, that I would be coming by again in a couple of hours and thought, naively, that I would be able to buy my beer later, after the employees had processed and stocked it on the store shelves. To my disappointed amazement, when I returned the Beer Camp sampler was nowhere in sight and a store worker confirmed that they had all come and gone in that two hour window.
The story does, however, have a happy ending–the next day I was shopping at a much larger store in nearby Massachusetts and was able to get my hands on the last sampler at that store (which was being kept behind the customer service desk in the front of the store with the high end single malt scotch). So even though I can’t encourage you to go out and try these beers, I can at least share my impressions and maybe lead you and me to some new breweries to think about.
Choosing more or less randomly, I started with CANfusion Rye Bock, brewed in collaboration with Oskar Blues, originally from Longmont, CO and now also brewing in Brevard, NC. Oskar Blues is a pioneer putting craft brew in cans, though Sierra Nevada also now sells some of their beer in cans as well as bottles. The peppery note from the rye was quite noticeable in this beer. Many of the usual descriptions of a bock beer don’t seem to apply here, so the relatively strong 7.2% ABV is probably what puts this into the bock category—otherwise it’s a mish-mash that uses rye and wheat as the base, plus more hops than would be found in a traditional German bock. (You’ll notice I did pour this into a glass–I have been challenged to try some more good beers that do come in cans after my earlier comment about tasting more can than beer–more details to come in a subsequent post.)
Next up was the Chico King Pale Ale, brewed with 3 Floyds from Munster, IN–one of the breweries I won’t be able to explore further anytime soon since they only distribute to a few Midwestern states. The tasting notes described this as a fusion of the flagship pale ales from the two breweries. The notable feature of this beer was plenty of hops in the citrusy-sweet (orange?) end of the palette. Chico refers to the original California home of Sierra Nevada, and “King” because they say a beer this good should make you feel like royalty. (This one is pictured during the preparation stage of dinner, which, based on the pictured ingredients, looks like it might have been our favorite Cajun-style black-eyed peas.)
Beer #3 was a joint effort with Allagash Brewing from Portland, ME (a brewery that does distribute here in my hometown–Yay!). The beer is a Belgian pale ale that went by the name Myron’s Walk. Allagash is heavily Belgian-influenced and their web site says they always bottle-condition their beers, though it’s not clear if that applies to this collaboration. The name comes from Myron Avery, one of the founders of the Appalachian Trail, and honors the outdoors in general and the two termini of the AT in particular, since one terminus is near Sierra Nevada’s NC brewing operation and the other is in ME. The coriander in this beer and the Belgian yeast were reminiscent of a lot of the wheat beers that I’ve come across, but this beer had more body than those and wasn’t a hazy unfiltered beer like most of the others.
Next up was one of the more interesting-sounding beers, Double Latte, which was brewed with Ninkasi Brewery from Eugene, OR. This is another limited distribution brewery, with sales only on the West Coast, including BC and AK, plus Idaho and Montana. The lack of availability in this area is disappointing because this was a wonderful beer–maybe my favorite so far. The first couple sips really did taste like a cappuccino, though as the meal went on the other beer flavors caught up and took over. All in all it was a really good stout–maybe the most similar beer that I’ve tried would be the Brooklyn Dark Chocolate Stout from last winter.
After these four, I took a little Beer Camp hiatus while the family went on vacation (with some unrelated but fun beer stories forthcoming from that trip) but I have gotten to the halfway point in the sampler with two more brews since our return. The first of these was Electric Ray, brewed in conjunction with Ballast Point Brewery from San Diego (and their web site isn’t clear on whether they distribute to New England). This was an India Pale Lager with intense but very flavorful hops. The name of the beer refers to the electric ray species of fish which comes from the genus Torpedo, the name also referring to the hop torpedo (invented by Sierra Nevada) that was used in brewing this beer.
And the final beer in this first Beer Camp installment goes by the name Yvan the Great. Russian River Brewery (known to beer aficionados for their highly sought after Pliny the Elder double IPA and Pliny the Younger triple IPA) teamed up with Sierra Nevada to create this Belgian-Style blonde ale with a nod to Belgian brewer Yvan De Baats. The Belgain yeast came through really strongly in this beer, and though it’s probably not my favorite style, I can definitely appreciate the craftsmanship that went into it (and it went nicely with a summer dinner of pasta with pesto and fresh tomatoes plus this year’s first local corn-on-the-cob).
These six push the tally past the century mark to 101, with the other half of Beer Camp, another sampler of six beers, and an assortment of vacation-related beers that should push the tally close to 120 before Labor Day. Then it’s on to Oktoberfest, pumpkin beer (maybe?), and who knows what else before we wrap up the year. So raise a glass in memory of a gifted actor and comedian, and savor the small pleasures that come your way. Cheers!