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Beer Town: Sierra Beer Camp A Brewing Fantasy

The beer geek equivalent of rock ‘n’ roll or baseball fantasy camp, Sierra Nevada Beer Camp offers participants an intensive two-day course in big-time craft brewing.

sierra-nevada-beer-campCampers go behind the scenes at Sierra’s sprawling brewery campus in Chico, Calif., to experience the process — from digging their hands into malt and hops, observing the work in the quality control labs and attending a mini tasting panel. Best of all, they help create a one-of-a-kind experimental beer in the pilot brewery.

Owner Ken Grossman founded Sierra in 1979, and is still involved in every aspect of the operation. His brother, Steve Grossman, also known as the brewery’s “ambassador,” has been the leader of Beer Camp since the beginning, three years ago.

“We were trying to think of a way to get people in to see what we do here,” Steve Grossman said. “Now that we’re getting larger, I think there’s a perception that our goals and values might have changed. Obviously, that could not be further from the truth. So we just thought if we have people come in and make beer with us, they can see firsthand.”

In December, I arrived at Beer Camp No. 66, joining a dozen or so fellow campers from around the country, including Adam Tolsma, the Atlanta-based beer buyer for Green’s Beverages.

Fred Crudder, the beverage director for Taco Mac, attended Beer Camp No. 3 in 2008. Dave Blanchard, one of the owners of Brick Store Pub in Decatur, was at Beer Camp No. 8 in 2009. The number of campers has steadily grown since.

“The first year, the plan was do one every other month,” Grossman said. “Now, it’s turned out to be almost every other week. That you are at Camp 66, means it’s been a great success story.”

The research and development team of pilot head brewer Scott Jennings and pilot brewer Mark Hurd guided our beer-making journey over a long day in and out of the brewhouse. We came up with a hybrid American/Belgian imperial red ale made with Patagonia caramel malt and a variety of hops, and fermented with a special Belgian yeast strain.

Adam Tolsma measuring malt

Adam Tolsma measuring malt

Although Beer Camp has obvious PR benefits for Sierra Nevada, Jennings noted other less conspicuous benefits, too.

“It’s turned out to be great research and development for us,” Jennings said. “We’ve gotten a lot of really good experience after brewing 66 different Beer Camp beers.”

Besides that, Grossman said Beer Camp has helped bring a more innovative spin to a company that’s best known for its top-selling Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

“When Sierra Pale Ale came out 31 years ago, it was cutting edge,” Grossman said. “There was no beer like it commercially. But the market has changed over the years.

“Beer Camp has given us the opportunity to make beers here that we never would have made before. We’d never made fruit beers or some of the other unique styles before this. Now we’ve had beers come out of Beer Camp that we’ve released commercially. Hoptimum Imperial IPA is one example, and we’re going to release that again.”

While we were all happy with the pretty red color and big hoppy presence of our Beer Camp 66 brew, dubbed “Rouge 66,” there’s no telling exactly how it will come out. If all goes according to plan, though, there should be some to sample on draft here in Atlanta in a month or so.

I’ll let you know when and where, as soon as I find out.

— Bob Townsend, AJC Drink blog

Bob Townsend is editor of Southern Brew News, a bimonthly beer publication distributed throughout the Southeast: www.brewingnews.com/southernbrew

5 comments Add your comment

AJT

January 5th, 2012
6:04 pm

Sierra is awesome…their new ruthless rye spring seasonal is looking delicious too

kp

January 6th, 2012
2:24 pm

I like Beer Camp beer.

Crawford Moran

January 6th, 2012
3:59 pm

But did you or Adam wear the rubber boots?

Marshall Stacks

January 11th, 2012
11:44 am

Belgian and red in one brew!? Rouge 66 sounds like my kind of beer. Let us know when and where it lands in Atlanta!

btownsend

January 12th, 2012
10:50 am

@Crawdaddy: No rubber boots. Goggles, ear plugs, and name tags. Plus, some top secret stuff we can’t talk about.

@ Marshall Stacks: With those amps, you need ear plugs. Hi Watt man myself..

I’m hoping the beer will be here in the next few weeks, but the GA approval process is more difficult than many other states, so we may lag behind.

The good news is, those who’ve tried it at the brewery, called it “excellent.”

Here are the final numbers from the pilot brewery :

Rouge 66

ABV: 7.5 %
Original Gravity: 18.1 ˚P
Final Gravity: 4.0 ˚P
Bitterness Units: 56 IBU
Color: Mahogany
Bitter Hops: Bravo & Chinook
Aroma Hops: Chinook, Amarillo & Simcoe
Dry Hops: Simcoe, Chinook, Citra & Amarillo
Malts: Pale two-row, Patagonia, Caramel (45L) & Chocolate
Yeast: Belgian Yeast