Relying upon the success of the 2014 Beer Camp Collaboration 12 Pack of Beers (all of which I reviewed individually here), the 2016 version was reduced from twelve to six unique beers typically sold in a $25 pack that contained two of each beer, making it great for splitting with someone. This year’s Beer Camp collaboration featured 30 different breweries (plus Sierra Nevada) divided and teamed into geographical regions who were then tasked to produce a single collaboration beer as a group. I decided to review these in one single post this year in order to collect my thoughts on this pack as a whole and also reflect upon the idea that perhaps this year there were too many cooks in the kitchen to make something truly great; instead we were simply left with a reasonably decent – slightly high priced – double six pack of beer. When looking at the list of breweries involved in making each beer, quite frankly I hoped that since there was such a great selection of talent and creative people involved that they couldn’t possibly brew anything other than six of the best beers on the shelves in 2016!
I truly believe that this year’s Beer Camp collaborations should have been a work of art in a glass, or a finely carved sculpture for my palate, but instead to be honest they kind of fell far and flat of those expectations. Don’t get me wrong, at least five of these beers were good creations, but I believe there was a lot left on the table that could have gone into making them that much better. In comparison to the previous collaboration, it’s as if there were too many people involved. Have you ever been in a meeting with a bunch of people trying to come to a consensus on something? Even something as simple as a place to eat? It’s utter chaos sometimes and you are always held back by the weakest link or most stubborn person. This is what I personally believe happened here (I have zero proof of this). Like what so often happens in politics, when you have too many people involved in a decision you’re often left with the safest option on the table at the end of the day in an attempt to please everyone involved. Now I could be totally wrong here, I’ve certainly not reached out to anyone to ask about it, but I can’t imagine going to all of this effort and not coming out with a spectacular result unless something occurred to hold them back a little.
One thing I will give them full credit for is that in the regional approach, they creators and brewers really did try and incorporate something important or unique to their region when it comes to the ingredients and style of the beers. The stories and intent behind these collaborations are very strongly conceived, well marketed and are certainly interesting attempts to capture a regional flavour and mood in a craft beer. Please, do yourself a favor and read up on these beers on the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp website to learn more about them and you will see exactly what I mean. Sadly, they just seemed to fall short on the execution side of things, or maybe my expectations were simply to high of this endeavor and my beer geekiness is starting to show more these days. But hey, if you put 30 of the greatest brewing minds together in one spot, this should be the stuff dreams are made of right?
Now, let me make myself clear, I will buy the next Beer Camp (or equivalent) collaboration pack every single time it’s released just out of curiosity, so in no way will this effect my purchasing behavior (other than I passed on a second case), however it still leaves a small hole in my beer geek heart yearning for what truly could have been, or even pining for the 2014 version which I felt was certainly better. Searching through popular forums and twitter conversations, it seems I’m not entirely alone in this feeling either. However, I must balance the equation by mentioning that Untappd shows the total opposite of my feelings in their ratings (2016 flat average of 3.72 vs 2014 flat average of 3.57), so perhaps for the general drinking public this was a good thing after all. For me though, it felt a little safer and non palate challenging, therefore resulting in something was was enjoyable but hardly memorable at the end of the day. Below is my full tasting breakdown for your interest and reading pleasure, listed in order of consumption over a two week period of time. Either way, if you are interested in this pack go try it for yourself and let me know what you think.
Beer Camp – Sweet Sunny South Table Saison: Featuring the likes of Austin Beer Works, Bayou Teche, Creature Comforts, Funky Buddha and Wicked Weed, this Southern United States collaboration Saison features peaches, corn grits prickly pear and even black tea in a long list of ingredients for a 4.9% abv table beer. Described as a rustic ale, this is a farmer field beer that is likely similar to something brewed on a olden days farm to motivate and even hydrate the workers on a hot day in the cornfields.
Aroma and Appearance: It pours a gold colour with a pink tinge, one finger of white foam and surprisingly minimal carbonation. The aroma features quaffs of nectarines, cereal grains, hay, strawberries and peach pits.
Flavour: It starts off with hints of hay malt and floral botanical overtones followed by a middle that showcases notes of lemon and mild strawberry tartness smothered in a light effervescent body. The beer ends with a distinctive cereal grain and yeasty finish highlighting some lemon on the aftertaste accentuated by the fluffy mouth feel.
Overall Impression: I wish there were more table saisons on the market and this one really does try to make an impression on your palate, even if it holds back on the spice and tartness just a little bit, I find that it works well.
Rating: Very good at 7/10, it does what it’s supposed to do in providing thirst quenching nourishment in a very palatable manner.
Beer Camp – Pat-Rye-Ot Revolutionary Pale Ale: Showcasing breweries from the original 13 Colonies of the United States with Dogfish Head, Lawson’s Finest, Devil’s Backbone, Trillium and Stoudts, this 5.6% hybrid beer features rye in the malt bill and apple cider as an addition.
Aroma and Appearance: It pours a honey golden colour with one finger of fluffy white foam and just a little carbonation. The aroma features freshly sliced apples, hints of caramel, sweet bread malt and pears.
Flavour: It’s grainy up front with some mild apple juice in the middle accompanied by a pithy texture and a slightly bitter floral finish.
Overall Impression: Based on the breweries involved, this should have been the best beer in the box by a landslide, but sadly it was bland and the polar opposite of what I was hoping for.
Rating: Below average at 3.5/10, I finished it simply for the sake of finishing it.
Beer Camp – Family Values Imperial Brown Ale: Covering off the Mid-West region, this beer was a collaboration between Schell’s, Dark Horse, Half Acre, Perennial, and Sun King, all of which are breweries I have zero experience with so I had no idea what to expect from this 8.5% Imperial Brown Ale brewed with the addition of wild rice, cocoa nibs and honey.
Aroma and Appearance: As pictured above, the beer pours a dark brown colour with a small layer of tan foam and a few visible carbonation bubbles in the glass. The aroma is chocolate, earth, hints of mango, brown sugar and almond skins.
Flavour: Somewhat nut forward with a handful of almonds up front, hints of mango and passion fruit spread over brown bread to dominate the middle before it ends with a slightly dry cocoa, milk chocolate and earthy finish.
Overall Impression: A little bit all over the map, I will say this beer actually managed to stay balanced enough to be enjoyable and was probably the most interesting beer of the bunch. It’s not mind blowing, but it’s good and different!
Rating: Very good at 7/10, a nice take on a style that needs better representation in the market.
Beer Camp – Stout of the Union Robust Stout: A collaboration with Western California breweries, this beer was designed by Beechwood, Bagby, The Lost Abbey, Smog City and Societe who all decided to try and turn the tables on the misconception that beer needs to be light in colour in order to belong on a sandy beach by creating this 7.3% American Stout.
Aroma and Appearance: Pours a very dark brown colour with one finger of tan foam and some fast rising bubbles that accumulate near the side of the glass. Its aroma is black licorice, toasted oats and milk chocolate.
Flavour: It features toasted oats up front with some nuances of soot that lead into a creamy middle, which is then muddled up with notes of cigar and black licorice on the finish.
Overall Impression: This was a good stout, but it’s no different than pretty much any American Stout on the market, so that was a bit of a let down for me. Not to mention the cigar flavours that arose were close to ruining it for me, but thankfully they stayed in the shadows of the beer where they belong. Again a okay beer, just not something that’s worth stopping and thinking about too much.
Rating: Good at 6.5/10, it drinks well but doesn’t shine in any particular way.
Beer Camp – West Latitude Session Rye: A collaboration of Pacifc Coastal brewers featuring Bear Republic, Maui Brewing, Mad River, Magnolia and Faction, this so called “session” beer is actually brewed to a strength of 5.5% abv, which to me is not even near a session strength so that was a bit of a bummer and a distraction from the get go.
Aroma and Appearance: It pours a dark ruby red colour (you have to hold it up to the light to see this) with a small layer of foam and minimal carbonation. The aroma is full of spicy rye, with notes of rye bread, mango juice and pine needles.
Flavour: Like the aroma, there’s a bit of an overpowering rye spice at the beginning of this beer, layered with floral hibiscus and doughy rye bread before it succumbs to a mango juice middle with a floral finish and sweet dough on the aftertaste.
Overall Impression: Admittedly, I’ve never loved a hibiscus beer so keep that in mind when reading on, but I even found that it was a bit out of balance for so I didn’t rank it very high.
Rating: Good at 6/10, a bit too much flavour fighting in this one, but it’s still good overall as it offers some decent flavour. It’s a shame they called it a session beer though, not overly appropriate given the abv strength.
Beer Camp – Moxee-Moron Imperial Session IPA: Totally opposite from the previous review, the word “session” on this label is tongue in cheek and I do appreciate the joke given that it’s a 7.5% abv beer that sits somewhere in the middle of an Imperial IPA and just a regular IPA. Named after the city of Moxee in the heart of Yakima Valley, this beer showcases Pacific North Western style breweries such as Bale Breaker, Black Raven, Odell, Melvin, and Barley Browns.
Aroma and Appearance: This beer pours a clear golden colour with one finger of white foam and some sporadic bubbles. The aroma is full of passion fruit, caramel and tropical mango and pineapple with nuances of sweet doughy bread.
Flavour: Sweet caramel and doughy bread up front with hints of pink grapefruit and toffee in the middle followed by a traditional Pacific North Western floral and herbal finish that gives off some mild piney bitterness on the aftertaste.
Overall Impression: Probably the best tasting beer of the bunch, it is a typical Pacific North West IPA that was well executed.
Rating: Very good at 7/10, a tasty IPA nonetheless.