Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across America Variety Pack (Chico, CA and Mills River, NC)
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company had one of the best ideas ever for their currently available, one-time-only 12-pack — that is, get together with 12 of America’s favorite craft breweries, formulate a new beer recipe with each of them, brew and package the beer, and release it to the salivating masses in an all-new variety pack that is a beer geek’s wet dream.
Seriously, if you at all consider yourself a fan of craft beer, go out and buy this stroke of genius tonight. It’s a showcase of and testament to American craft beer culture and talent, it’s unbelievably affordable for what it is, and like I said, ONE TIME ONLY. I don’t really have anything negative to say about the 12-pack as a whole, except that I wouldn’t have minded a little more deviance from the theme of “hoppy x type of beer,” but each beer was certainly its own creation, and all of them were extremely well-crafted and drinkable. For tasting notes on each of the 12 beers (in the order I drank them, over maybe two weeks), read on, beer soldiers!
Myron’s Walk (Allagash — Hoppy Belgian pale ale): Aggressive piney hop notes and bitterness meet big, tropical-fruit esters and herbal spice. Veddy, veddy nice and pretty interesting, but given all the hop-heavy beers in this showcase, I wish it was slanted a bit more toward the yeast (that is, the Belgian) side of things. Still, it was an amazing match for crab ravioli in a pesto-cream sauce, as the hops cut through the richness of the crab and cream and tied onto the herbal notes in the pesto, zucchini and onions. The fruity sweetness of the crab was intensified by the fruity yeast character. Niiiice.
Tater Ridge (Asheville Brewers Alliance — Scottish Ale brewed with sweet potatoes): Fun to look at, nice, deep reddish-brown with an ample, meringue-like head. The aroma is mostly just copper pennies, with a hint of brown sugar, toast and yams. The body is medium with enough residual sugar to make it interesting; chocolate pudding, toffee and black cherries come to mind, but a savory, vegetal element balances everything out. Pretty drinkable; it would be great with roasted, herb-rubbed chicken and potatoes.
Torpedo Pilsner (Firestone Walker — Hoppy pilsner):Yes. Basically what you’d expect, which is awesome when Firestone’s own hoppy pilsner (Pivo Pils) has set your expectations super high. A wonderfully aromatic, clean, fruity (like apples) pils with a whiff of sulfur and chalk. This may sound crazy, but I like it better than Pivo, which has become one of my go-tos. In fact, this is quite possibly the most refreshing pilsner I’ve ever had. I’d like to personally thank the brewers for this one, which I’m calling my favorite beer of the past six months.
Chico King Pale Ale (3 Floyds — American pale ale): A really nice but interesting pale ale that could easily stand as any new brewery’s flagship. Crazy, resiny, fruity hop aroma with a surprisingly smooth, malty flavor and subdued bitterness. Nothing to piss about! Great pairing for my dinner of red curry udon noodles.
Double Latte (Ninkasi — Coffee milk stout): C’mon! This beer was pretty much nailed, with a big, smoky, sweetened-espresso aroma and flavor intermingling with heaps of chocolaty, roasty malt. The ABV (7.6%) is not too massive but high enough to make this beer a big, rich and strangely crushable treat. I was planning on it anyway, but this beer just cemented that I will be purchasing at least one more of these variety packs. I mean, stupid not to, right?
Yonder Bock (Cigar City — Tropical maibock): Beautiful, unexpected translucent-red hue. Beautiful, expected, tropical-fruit hop aroma, as promised. The malt character is unique and substantial, but not overly heavy. Perhaps comes off a tad sweet for my tastes, but a tasty, fun, well-crafted beer to be sure.
Electric Ray (Ballast Point — India pale lager): This beer is awesome, despite a couple quibbles. First, I think they’re missing an “imperial” or “double” designation — I can dig reading the ABV for yourself, but I’m pretty sure 8.5% warrants some sort of qualifier. Especially if you’re going to go on the label and say it has the “clean, classic malt body of a blonde lager” — a “classic” blonde lager at 8.5% could only be a maibock or something, as far as I can tell, In many ways, it ends up tasting like an IPA, albeit an excellent one with terrific balance. (Balance, by the way, is something this variety pack has in spades — no amateur ingredient showmanship here. All pro.) In fact, forget those quibbles — the more I drink this beer, the more I like it, whatever it’s called. One of the highlights.
Yvan the Great (Russian River — Hoppy Belgian-style blonde): Classic Belgian yeast character, full of fruit and spice, peaches, apricots and white pepper. Nice bit of complexity in this one, although it’s not easy to tell where the citrusy hops are and the lemony esters aren’t. A solid effort, dry and drinkable and a bit different.
CANfusion Rye Bock (Oskar Blues — Dry-hopped rye bock): Big, sweet, aromatic. Somewhat hoppy. Not a stunner for me, but nice, with good hop character and good malt character, like the rest of the beers in the pack. However, not a standout in this company — it’s a little too sweet for me; despite the fresh, dry-hop aroma, the bitterness could be amped a bit to balance the beer and boost drinkability.
Malliard’s Odyssey (Bell’s — Imperial dark ale): I saved this one for as long as I could because I really wanted to savor it. 8.5%, roasty, dark, deep, delicious. A real showcase of the wonderful, beautiful, big range of roasted malt flavors. Enough said. Awesome.
Alt Route (Victory — Altbier): There’s certainly nothing wrong with this translucent-brown take on a rarely-seen style of beer, but in the context of this variety pack, it’s a bit ho-hum. Still, it’s fun to try an altbier from two American brewers who have both proven they can nail traditional German styles while simultaneously pushing the envelope of American craft beer. It’s malty and more bitter than the aroma leads you to expect; a nice tipple that gets better as it warms. Appears to be a pretty spot-on version of a traditional Dusseldorf alt, just higher in alcohol at 6.6%, like a sticke.
There and Back (New Glarus — English-style bitter): I love bitters more than most US craft beer geeks, because I know what they can taste like when they’re done right — that is, like this, lightly fruity and biscuity and sulfury; an almost ephemeral hoppiness; refreshing but nourishing. I love this beer. It’s super clean and seemingly simple, but a delight to drink. This definitely won’t be the beer to tarnish New Glarus’ spotless reputation.