By Brian Skaggs
12 beers and 13 breweries. One of most recognized names in craft beer collaborates with a dozen breweries across the world to produce a multi-pack that’s to die for. Trust me. As Mon Mothma gravely stated, “Many liver cells died to bring us this information.”
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (SNBC) might not have been the first brewer to collaborate with other breweries—hell, Brewer Zog probably had to go ask Brewer Zok for an extra barley stalk or some yeasty spit to ferment his caveman beer-type concoction back in the Mesolithic—but according to this admittedly biased drinker, SNBC has been one of the most prominent, prolific, and perseverant collaborators for many years, and they have fully earned their “Works Well With Others” grade on their report card. SNBC has been hosting groups of homebrewers since (at least) the late Neolithic and has been releasing bottled versions of these partnerships since (at least) 2011.
Professional brewery collaborations started seeing national distribution in 2014 as a Beer Camp pack. A traveling Beer Camp festival soon followed, with SNBC inviting local breweries to pour their wares at increasingly larger parties across the country. Although this year’s Beer Camps will be over by the time you, Dear Reader, peruse the following exhaustive compendium, you should get your hands on a twelve-pack (or twenty-four vessel case, if your Issaquah-based local big box store carries them) as soon as you can part with your hard-earned American dollars.
Following are my reviews of each beer in the 2017 Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across the World Multi-Pack. Cost: $22-26 (12 pack)/$37.99 (24 pack).
SIERRA NEVADA BREWING CO. Chico, California, USA Founder: Ken Grossman www.sierranevada.com
SNBC/Avery Dry-Hopped Barleywine-Style Ale – 97 points
Who’s going to drink a 9.4% combination of SNBC Bigfoot and Boulder, CO’s Avery Hog Heaven in the close environs of the summer solstice, you ask? You are. Good luck resisting this deep amber piece of art that smells like a Dutch cookie melting over your morning coffee, alpine woods over winter break, and strong notes of SNBC’s hop cooler. Bittersweet chocolate, savory pines and the caramel goodness of the aforementioned stroopwafel hit you first, then the bitterness creeps up after swallowing—more like resiny tannins instead of puckering red wine woodiness. The aftertaste lingers for days. Food might have been a good idea with this one, but eh—it’s a meal in itself. This will be amazing in six months or when Beer Camp Around the World makes its way to the Southern Hemisphere in a couple weeks (and Wellington, NZ, in August when SNBC travels to its only non-US and A 2017 Beer Camp)(side note: Avery reclassified Hog Heaven to an ‘imperial red IPA’ in 2016 and now offers it as a four pack of 355 ml cans, which goes to show the fluidity of beer styles).
SNBC/Saint Arnold Dry-Hopped Berliner-Style Weiss – 97 points
It pours a brilliant straw yellow, but make sure you swirl the last 80 or so milliliters to re-suspend and pour that scrumptious layer of the SNBC Kellerweis yeast. The aroma is pretty subdued, but there’s nothing subtle about the taste. There’s a lovely sour blast at first, and it’s tempered by a healthy backbone of wheat, a sweet-tart lemon character, hidden notes of the classic clove/banana of the yeast, and an effervescence elevating the beer into rarified territory for domestic Berliner weiss beers. Traditionally, Berliner weisses in Berlin (or the rarely imported Berliner Kindl) are served with a green (woodruff) or red (raspberry) syrup to counterbalance the tart. There is NO need for any manipulation here—it’s delicious on its own. Is it the slightly higher ABV (4.2% versus around 2.5% traditionally) that carries a higher malt bill and body that makes this beer so great? Could it be the dry hopping with German Saaz and American Amarillo that stabilizes a bitter component against the sour? The vast experience Houston, TX’s Saint Arnold has with sour beers? Who cares! My food matchup was La Panzanella crackers (plain). Brilliant.
SNBC/Garage Project Campout Porter – 97 points
Coffee colored with amber highlights and an off-white head and robust carbonation, Campout Porter smells like bitter chocolate, crisp neutral wood, and slight citrus. Then—holy cow. Dark chocolate caramel and the brown bubbly edges of a perfectly toasted marshmallow completely dominate the way the only actual camping-themed beer in the box tastes. There’s more of a wood-driven bitterness from the barley roasted over manuka wood (the New Zealand tea tree whose flowers Kiwi bees make really expensive honey from—and is also a component of this beer, hopefully purchased before Wellington, NZ’s Garage Project headed over to the States) than the Southern Cross and Pacifica hops. The burnt sugar and roasted wood aftertaste lingers forever. As it warms, Campfire Porter shifts to an almost bourbon-y, nutty mystic beverage where the Tahitian vanilla finally starts to assert itself. The beauty of this beer is that all of these subtle flavors meld extremely well into an absolutely joyous experience. Of course, Dear Reader, you’re rolling your eyes because this poseur beer writer couldn’t even make it six beers into his new gig without repeating his first two reviewed breweries—but come on. Trust me. Both of these breweries are amazing.
SNBC/Ayinger Dunkle Weiss – 95 points
It pours a beautiful, cloudy café au lait (heavier on the café) with a lovely, thick layer of yeast on the bottom of the bottle. Aromas of rising bread, ripe banana, clove, and yeast keep this beer true to the Bavarian style (it’s unclear whose yeast fermented this one—I’d predict Aying, Germany’s Ayinger, based on how different it looked in the bottom of the bottle than the Kellerweis yeast I’m more used to seeing). The beauty of this beer is its complete lock on the dunkelweiss style—it’s chewy, wheaty, lemony, toffee-on-salt-free-saltines just like my mother used to make. This beer should be enjoyed in the sun with friends, or dreaming of the sun with friends, or dreaming of having friends while imagining the sun.
SNBC/Kiuchi White IPA with Yuzu – 94 points
This collaboration with the Ibaraki, Japan-based brewery that makes the Hitachino Nest range of beer (with the cute owl on the label) pours a surprising clear yellow with aromas of sour grapefruit, pine, anise, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg. The spices aren’t too obvious upon tasting, but refreshing orange and lemon peel, pineapple, papaya, and sesame bread are present at the first taste. The wheat profile seems different than what’s in American or German wheat beers or even the wheat in a Belgian wit—more substantial, chewier, more exciting, and, in all honesty, a much more natural fit than what’s in typical Belgian wits or IPAs. Could they have used a Japanese-grown wheat (“unmalted wheat” is listed as an ingredient, a common ingredient in the Belgian style that adds a grainier flavor (present) and haze (absent))? Regardless, this beer has a beautiful mouthfeel with a long-lasting sour citrus flavor and a well-matched 7.0% ABV. I didn’t get too much of this beer because my partner drank most of it.
SNBC/Fuller’s Atlantic-Style Vintage Ale with Plums – 94 points
Plums, eh? Oh yeah! This beer pours clear pale amber with a rocky white head. You’ll get the plums immediately on the first sniff in the form of a hopped stone fruit cobbler—sweet and tart, wild and musky, with a slightly fermented tropical fruit hop aroma somewhere in the distance. The bottle verbiage suggest the plums are a minor part of the brew, but it’s like the best plums in the world were distilled into a malty, rich, tart old ale. London’s Fuller Brewery’s fruity ale yeast fermented this beer, and the geniuses behind this nailed the interplay between this yeast strain and plums (side note: was this beer brewed last summer or did they source plums from the Southern Hemisphere? I want to eat these plums). There’s also a grapey-ness going on once the beer warms—like a drier Pedro Ximenez sherry. The flavor profile, the 8.5% ABV, and added stability from bottle conditioning with a small amount of additional yeast all suggest you can age this beer for a while. Good luck. You’re gonna need it.
SNBC/Tree House East Meets West IPA – 93 points
Monson, MA’s Tree House is one of the main protagonists of the East Coast IPA narrative (the hazy, juicy, low bitterness style discussed long, long ago in the Accumulated Knowledge review. It’s nigh-impossible for a west coast-based beer nerd with no bottle-trading friends to get his hands on any Tree House beers, so this orangeish-yellow, less-hazy-than-expected beer was a treat. The aroma, as expected, was all citrus: pink grapefruit, orange blossom, and blood orange, and the bitterness, once tasted, is much more like chewing on an orange peel versus hop bitterness (Simcoe hops were used for bittering, and I’m going to guess that their later addition delivers more of the fruity side of Simcoe). “Juicy” is a completely appropriate (and uncreative) way to describe the 7.0% ABV East Meets West, and the orange panna cotta mouthfeel is charming and appealing. As it warms, it becomes richer, with a clover honey taste that brings the beer into more of a sweet/tart balance.
SNBC/Duvel Moortgat Hoppy Belgian-Style Golden with Lemon Peel – 92 points
Golden certainly describes the color! The aroma of Belgian lemon curd with spicy hops reminded me of Cowgirl Creamery’s Devil’s Gulch, a cow’s cheese wrapped in dried pepper flakes. Not surprisingly, this beer shares a lot of DNA with the namesake of Puurs, Belgium’s Duvel—bright malt, chamomile tea, spicy, a slight citrus twang —with the added bonus of a whole bunch of bittering and aroma hops that are often absent in Belgian golden ales. This drinks much, much easier than its 8.0% ABV would have you believe. Devil’s Gulch isn’t available in the summer and is pretty hard to find in southern California anyway, so I attempted to create a beer-matched snack by adding red pepper flakes to Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog goat cheese (it didn’t work—my fault, and my apologies to my favorite cheese in the world).
SNBC/Boneyard West Coast-Style DIPA – 92 points
Here’s your straight-up IPA in the Beer Camp pack—pouring pale yellow with orange tints, the piney hop aroma is immediately obvious five feet away. The first impression is orange and lemon, followed by intense pine and rosemary in the back of the throat. There’s some heft from the malt bill, which includes flaked barley, but there’s not much variance from the spicy hop blasts. As the beer warms, the aroma changes to a Pacific Northwest campground, with the obvious pine plus a fruit wood campfire and hints of marijuana in the distance. Perhaps it smells like a campground on the edges of Bend, OR, where Boneyard is based. The mouthfeel also becomes chewier and sweeter, earthier and meatier, like a combination of mushrooms and marshmallows while losing the hop-forward bitterness. Mushrooms?! Trust me.
SNBC/Surly Ginger Lager – 92 points
It’s a beautiful beer—clear, dark orange with a small, white head that disappears quickly. At first, the aroma is subtle orange blossom without much hint of what’s coming. Cayenne and ginger completely dominates the first sip, with ginger, lemongrass, and an amontillado sherry suggesting the 6.2% ABV are all hidden behind the spiciness. As it warms, ginger and lime aromas appear, along with a lovely oakiness and summer winds in Minneapolis, where Surly is based. The oak honeycombs also add a structure to the ginger spiciness. Ginger Lager is an excellent food beer, and a tomato/Brie pasta, an old spring roll, and even white chocolate ice cream all paired well.
SNBC/Mikkeller Thai-Style Iced Tea – 90 points
Mikkel Borg Bjergsø could be the world’s biggest brewery collaborator—he’s a restless, nomadic brewer that might just show up at your brewery with an idea and some raw materials. You’d be a fool to refuse him entry. Loosely based in Copenhagen, Mikkeller has bars, restaurants, and shops in Europe, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and California (side note: and a collaborative BBQ restaurant in Copenhagen with Munster, IN’s Three Floyd’s Brewery called—get this—Warpigs! SABBATH!!). Their orangeish-yellow collaboration with SNBC is Thai-inspired and smells of tea, coconut, and papaya. It’s creamy with a gorgeous mouthfeel (from oats and wheat?) with savory and sweet notes like a chutney. There are no traditional beer components like hops or citrus noted, although orange peel was included in the brew. This 7.2% ABV adult Thai iced tea complemented grilled salmon with preserved lemon and probably needs to be consumed with food. I’m curious if the spicier components of the Surly Ginger Lager mixed with his beer could synergistically elevate both beers? An experiment for a later time!
SNBC/Bruery Raspberry Sundae – 90 points
Pouring amber-orange with a bright white head, Raspberry Sundae smells like Chambord raspberry liqueur and cocoa nibs, with a slightly sour funk that I’m thinking might be from fermented lactose. It completely tastes like Chambord on the first sip, with a complex, creamy mouthfeel from the combination of wheat, oats, and lactose, then turns sour. Placentia, CA’s Bruery (and especially their sour/wild brewhouse, Bruery Terreux, see John’s review of their Frederick H. Berliner Weiss) is crazy creative when it comes to inventing delicious beer styles using non-traditional ingredients, and Raspberry Sundae is no exception. The tartness of this beer might cause you to look for some food, and I’d recommend finding that chocolate Easter bunny you stashed in the back of the fridge or cabinet a couple months ago as the perfect dessert accompaniment. Trust me.