It's always a tenuous thing, calling something "history in the making." There is, of course, the very real chance that you'll be wrong, that you misread the importance of an event. That's a risk we're willing to take. While it's true that most of the world might not ever register the importance of Sierra Nevada's massive collaboration project, Beer Camp Across America, it might be one of the most important events to happen to craft beer this year.
We were lucky enough to get our hands on this one-time-only 12-pack of 6 different beers, organized by Sierra Nevada but brewed by 31 different brewers divided into 6 regional teams, each one focusing on brewing a beer reflective of their region's native ingredients and flair. There's a bunch of other cool details that went into this year's Beer Camp (and you can read all about it on the official site), but for now, let's dive into the beers:
For Sweet Sunny South, the Southeast regional team decided to stick to the classic flavors that define the southern aesthetic - specifically, sipping peach tea on the front porch on a languid summer afternoon. We figured something peachy was going on as soon as this table beer poured with the color of a Georgia peach and a fuzzy white head. For a moment, we thought someone had whipped up some bellinis.
On the nose, the brew lived up to the sweetness in its name, reminding us of a fruit cocktail, though complicated somewhat by tart and peppery scents (likely from the tea leaves in its depths). That tartness followed through on the tongue, drying out the sweetness of the dominant peach flavors to create a bracing, fresh sip. We'd definitely quaff this on a sweltering summer afternoon.
The Northern California group, along with featuring Sierra Nevada itself, also included Hawaii's Maui Brewing Co., a welcome addition that balances out the riotous NorCal vibe. West Latitude is a calm red ale, bolstered by hibiscus and rye, both of which stand front and center. It poured darker than anticipated, like a thin cola or an iced tea, with the thinnest of heads.
The tropical notes started to become abundantly clear as soon as we breathed West Latitude deep, welcoming into our sinuses the aromas of pineapple and marmalade, both of which hinted at an underlying stickiness. The rye waited for the palate before unveiling itself, manifesting as a spicy bite on the sides of our tongues that complimented the dry fruit notes of the hibiscus, as well as the Mosaic hops. The lightness of this brew's body doesn't diminish from its potent flavors, making for a balanced, nuanced drink.
The brewing team from the descendants of the original 13 colonies chose to look to their ancestors for their Beer Camp inspiration. Utilizing rye and apples (two core ingredients in colonial American brewing), as well as a fantastically punny name, Pat-Rye-Ot bore a triumphant gold hue and super-clear complexion, with a thin, wispy head like fog over a lake in early fall.
To bolster its patriotism, Pat-Rye-Ot also prominently features bold American hops. These started to shine through on the nose, which was full of hoppy herbality atop a subtle malt sweetness. In terms of style, our tasters agreed that the Pat-Rye-Ot was the closest to the core "Sierra Nevada" style, with the polished, crisp hoppiness of seasoned brewers perfecting a simple idea. Pat-Rye-Ot might not be the most experimental or daring brew on this list, but it doesn't have to be. You can't kill a classic.
Family Values is based on an idea that is equally adorable and totally Midwestern. A hefty brown ale, this beer pulls a different ingredient from each state represented, showcasing the best that each has to offer. This state-fair-esque cuteness birthed a brew that poured the warm color of cola or diner coffee, hinting at the added cocoa nibs within.
The aroma, however, was wild and surprising, garnering such varied descriptions from our tasters as black licorice, banana bread, and baking espresso. With so much going on, we were concerned that Family Values might have jumped the shark, but thankfully, it stayed "in the family," so to speak. Subtly sweet & malt-forward, this brew had a spiced smoothness that made it utterly drinkable. With no hint of boozy heat, Family Values is a balanced, hearty ale.
At first glance, the name of this brew garnered some serious eye-rolling from our tasting group, but it turns out, that was the point. The offering from the Pacific Northwest regional team is partially named after Moxee, WA. It's also hopped at every stage of the brewing process, which is pretty counterintuitive, just like everything else in this brew! For such a potent offering, Moxee-Moron had a disarmingly innocent appearance, with a deep gold, corn-esque hue that reminded us more of apple juice than beer (a connotation bolstered by the utter lack of head).
It should come as no surprise that Moxee-Moron's aroma was entirely hop-centric, full of the tropical, candied fruitiness of the Simcoe, Mosaic, and Citra varietals within. What did come as a surprise was the intensely funky flavor of this strange brew. Along with the hoppiness (of course), Moxee-Moron had an alluring funkiness, with a vaguely yogurt-y aftertaste. It certainly lived up to its name - this brew was full of contradictions. Light yet sticky, sessionable yet warming, this one was certainly full of moxy.
Though one might expect the Southwest states of sand and sun to whip up a summery, sessionable ale, this regional team surprised by crafting an earthy, full-bodied stout. The closest this beer got to the beach was its dirty, wet-sand head, which floated eerily above the opaque blackness of its body. From first pour, it was clear that this brew would pull no punches.
Damp, earthy aromas wafted up out of our glasses, conjuring comparisons from deep underground. As cold as an image like that might be, however, it was warmed by the more typical stout notes of sweet nuttiness, hinting at a moist & flavorful brew. Those hints turned true: Stout of the Union was ashy and chocolatey, with a wetness neatly balanced by dry hazelnut flavors. While not a typical stout, this one was totally intriguing - a clear result of American ingenuity.