Sierra Nevada Goes Global with 2017 Beer Camp

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Sierra Nevada is putting a worldly flair on its beer camp collaboration project this year, injecting some international culture into what was previously a distinctly American venture. Slated for release in early June, Beer Camp Across the World—formerly “Across America”—features 12 beers (nine bottled, three canned) made in partnership with six domestic and six international breweries.
 
To represent the states, Sierra Nevada tapped Boneyard of Bend, Ore. (West Coast Style DIPA), The Bruery of Placentia, Calif. (Raspberry Sundae), Saint Arnold of Houston, Texas (Dry Hopped Berlinner Weisse), Avery of Boulder, Colo. (Dry Hopped Barleywine Style Ale), Surly of Minneapolis, Minn. (Ginger Lager), and Tree House of Monson, Mass. (East Meets West IPA). 

Abroad, the company partnered with Ayinger of Germany (Dunkle Weisse), Duvel of Belgium (Hoppy Belgian Style Golden), Fuller’s of the UK (Atlantic Vintage Ale), Garage Project of New Zealand (Campout Porter), Kiuchi of Japan (White IPA with Yuzu), and Mikkeller of Denmark (Thai Iced Tea).
 
As with past beer camps, the company will host a number of festivals across the country in support of the release, to which all brewers are invited.
 
[Editor's note: Sierra Nevada provided travel and lodging accommodations for GBH. We visited the brewery’s east coast facility in Asheville, North Carolina last week to preview the pack.]

WHY IT MATTERS
Having previously toured the country by bus to celebrate the first Beer Camp in 2014, and then collaborating with 31 other breweries for the follow up project two years later, Sierra Nevada knew it had to do something special this time around to keep things interesting.

“How do we make it even bigger?” said Brian Grossman, company vice president and son of founder Ken Grossman, recalling the planning stages of the latest collaborative project. “That’s when we said, ‘Let’s go across the globe.’”

But “bigger,” in this case, is a relative word. Volume-wise, Beer Camp ’16 was nearly twice as “big” as what the ’17 edition will clock in at (80,000 case equivalents versus 50,000). And while Sierra brought in breweries from all over the world (which posed its own logistical challenges), the company is still setting its tent up Stateside, as the release won’t see distribution outside of the country.

Instead, “bigger” here comes with some corrective implications. With Beer Camp Across the World, Sierra Nevada is responding to an at-home industry that has grown somewhat solipsistic. The company says the release is meant as both a nod to history and a reminder that innovation exists outside American borders.

“So much of the U.S. beer scene is a bit myopic,” said Bill Manley, Sierra Nevada’s product development manager. “You look at beer ratings and things like that, you’ll see comments like ‘British beer is boring’ or ‘German beer hasn’t progressed in 100 years,’ or whatever, and ‘all the exciting stuff is coming out of the U.S… We think that’s a little bit shortsighted because…the U.S. beer industry wouldn’t really exist if it weren’t for these people who have been doing this forever.”

That's not lost on John Keeling, head brewer at Fuller’s Brewery in London, founded in 1845 (in addition to participating in Beer Camp, Fuller’s has served as Sierra Nevada’s importer to the UK since 2014). He said one of the major problems Fuller’s has in the States is that, because it’s older and “seen as traditional,” the company isn’t widely considered "to be in the craft beer movement.” Thus, Fuller’s beer may be looked over by otherwise supportive craft consumers.
 
“But if you talk to any brewer, they would classify Fuller’s as in the craft beer movement,” he said. “So we’ve got to use that in some way that we can bridge that gap.”
 
New Zealand’s Garage Project was founded in 2011, and currently only exports a small amount of beer to southern California. This year, though, the company plans to further explore the States, with plans to fill out California while looking to make moves into New York and elsewhere, according to brewmaster Pete Gillespie. He also said he's hopeful the Beer Camp project will serve to bolster its name stateside before that.

“If you’re gonna go into a country, you need to support it,” he said. “I’m sure [this partnership] will [help].”

As for the beers themselves, many are imbued with ingredients native to each respective brewer's home country, highlighting unique flavors that aren't common in typical American-made beers. Garage Project’s offering, Camp Out Porter, is made with Manuka honey, which Gillespie calls a “ludicrously fucking expensive” ingredient cultivated from the nectar of Manuka trees, which are native to New Zealand and Australia. Kiuchi contributed a White IPA made with yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit often used to season dishes. Ayinger’s Dunkle Weisse, meanwhile, adheres to Reinheitsgebot, otherwise known as the German Beer Purity Law, which has been willfully disregarded in the States for a good long while.
 
Sierra Nevada, meanwhile, will soon again be faced with the question, “How do we make it even bigger?” Said the second generation Grossman: “I have no idea what we’re gonna do next year.”
 
—Dave Eisenberg