Sierra Nevada is known primarily for their Pale Ale, a genuinely delicious and affordable beer that’s available pretty much everywhere you go, in the shittiest of shitty bodegas and in bars and restaurants that otherwise don’t offer anything outside the Bud/Bud Light realm. But what not everyone realizes about Sierra Nevada, at least not everyone outside beer nerd circles, is that they produce a huge amount of beers across a huge amount of styles, and just about all of them offer as much, if not more, than the Pale Ale in terms of flavor and value. Torpedo is an awesome example of a west coast IPA; Hoptimum is a highly sought after Double IPA; Bigfoot is a perfect introduction to Barleywines; Summerfest is a more than serviceable pilsner; Tumbler is a solid brown ale. The list goes on and on—it’s one of the most reliable breweries in the country, even if it doesn’t offer much in the way of mystique.
Which… well, the Beer Camp series has plenty of that, too. A few times a year, Sierra Nevada runs a two-day event where homebrewers visit the brewery and are given the opportunity to formulate and brew a brand new recipe. For the second year in a row, they’ve released four of those beers in a mixed 12-pack that’s starting to show up around Brooklyn. I picked mine up at American on Court Street, for $24.99—not cheap, exactly, but a bargain nonetheless. Here’s what’s in there…
This is the one I was most looking forward to. Hoppy red ales (Maine’s Zoe, Troegs’ Nugget Nectar) are among my favorite styles, and it didn’t disappoint, though it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, either. There’s a huge amount of dark, toasted malt that’s heavy on caramel notes and even offers a hint of coffee. The piney, citrusy hop flavors cut through nicely, and leave a surprisingly huge, lasting bitterness. It comes in at 8% ABV, and it somehow seems even bigger than that.
If I had to choose a favorite of the four, this would be it. The 9% ABV Oatmeal Stout is an unbelievably smooth beer with a super creamy, luxurious texture and just the right amount of bitterness. Chocolate is the most prominent flavor here, with lots of coffee and some dark fruits showing up as well. I don’t know that I’ve ever come across an easier drinking 9% beer. If they sold this regularly, I’d always have it on hand.
I had no idea what to expect from this one. The only other “imperial pilsner” I’ve ever come across is Dogfish Head’s My Antonia, which clocks in at 7.5%, so I was surprised to find that this at a relatively modest 5.6%—slightly high for a pilsner but nothing crazy. Regardless, it’s a really enjoyable beer that’s pleasantly bready and sweet with a touch of grassy hops brightening things up. It’s like a slightly amped up version of their Summerfest, which is also delicious.
According to the side of the bottle, the Floral IPA was brewed with “rose hips and petals for complex aromas and unexpected flavors,” which I will admit kind of worried me. But thankfully, I didn’t really taste any of that stuff. Instead, it just comes off like the perfect half-step between their Pale Ale and Torpedo: a smooth, slightly sweet IPA that’s only vaguely floral and far from lethal in the bitterness department.