Sierra Nevada Beer Camp collab makes a worthy 12-pack

Posted: July 25, 2014

DID YOU hear about that special, new collaborative beer from the brewmasters at Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors?

Yeah, never gonna happen.

Which says less about mega-breweries than it does about one of the remarkable traits of America's small breweries: the enthusiasm for working together.

Or, more accurately, having fun together.

Collaborative beers have become one of the hallmarks of craft brewing - a factor you might be tempted to shrug off as the shared esprit de underdog. Only, there are lots of Davids in a world of Goliaths - banks, ice-cream makers, bookstores and bakeries, for example - and you rarely see those little guys collaborating on a consumer product.

Even more notable is the willingness of one of the small beer industry's oldest, best-established players to headline an unprecedented collaborative effort that draws in some of its youngest, smallest breweries.

I refer to Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across America, led by the pioneering Chico, Calif., brewery.

Sierra Nevada's long-running annual collab series is typically a collection of three or four recipes created by visitors to its outstanding Beer Camp. [Disclosure: Sierra Nevada flew me out to Beer Camp a few years ago to attend Philly Beer Week's collaborative brew.] I've been a big fan of the selections, especially last year's Sleight of Hand, a unique, Belgian-style black IPA that was my 2013 Sixpack of the Year.

But Beer Camp Across America is a leap into unchartered territory. It brings together 12 other small breweries for a dozen different collabs stuffed into a single 12-pack. And it features a cross-country beer-festival tour that comes to the city's Penn Treaty Park on Aug. 2.

We're talking about some of the stalwarts of the craft-beer world - Firestone Walker, Bell's, Allagash and Victory, plus some of the little guys who haven't expanded much beyond their backyards: New Glarus, 3 Floyds and Ninkasi.

Can't say no

Getting that many all-star breweries to play in the same game seems a tougher challenge than coaching the Miami Heat. But as Victory president and brewmaster Bill Covaleski said, "How could we not join? When [Sierra Nevada founder] Ken Grossman calls you and says, 'Let's make a beer together,' it's hard to say no."

Indeed, now that Anchor Brewing founder Fritz Maytag is out of the business, Grossman, 59, is looking more and more like the dean of American small brewers.

Having founded his brewery in 1979, the former bike-shop owner is a mechanical whiz known for brewhouse innovations and solid leadership that's made Sierra Nevada the nation's seventh-largest brewing company with more than $200 million in sales. Last year he led the opening of a second brewery, in Asheville, N.C., a move that solidified his company's growth across the nation.

But, as is often the case, the younger generation can teach the gray-hairs a thing or two, Grossman said.

"Everybody came in with concepts about what they wanted to brew, whether it was a Sierra Nevada-inspired brand, or something that reflected what they were doing, or maybe a favorite beer from another country," Grossman said. "So it was a learning experience.

"And, of course, it was a very fun project."

Inspired combos

Typically in collaborations, there's a lot of touchy-feely lip service paid to the melding of styles and philosophies. But some of these combos are truly inspired.

For example, Yonder Bock, produced with Tampa's Cigar City Brewing.

Now, while Cigar City is hot stuff, it's still just a 5-year-old toddler. You take a look at its portfolio and you see a lot of flash - hoppy IPAs, strong stouts - and, notably, only one lager ( Hotter Than Helles) to speak of.

By contrast, while Sierra Nevada is known mainly for those telltale Cascade hops, it's also made its mark with some classic lagers, including Summerfest (a Czech-style pils) and the sadly departed Glissade Golden Bock.

You don't need to know that backstory, though - just take a few slugs of Yonder Bock. There's sweet, tropical fruitiness that you'd expect from muggy Florida, and it's carried by a certain smoothness that only an experienced lager brewer could achieve. It contains a nicely numbing 7.7 percent alcohol - a suitable level even in the heat of the summer.

Oh, and did I mention it's in a can? There are two of them (the other is Oskar Blues CANfusion Rye Bock) in this box along with 10 bottles.

That only makes me wish that BudMillerCoors could get it together for a collaboration. I'm imagining a Blue Moon-a-Rita in a cold-activated plastic vortex bottle.

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across America Festival at Penn Treaty Park, noon-5 p.m. Aug. 2. Grossman and the 12 collaboration brewers will be on hand, along with more than 80 regional breweries. $65,

"Joe Sixpack" is written by Don Russell. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at Email:

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