I recently stopped in at The Liquor Barrel in St. Louis Park, just to see what they had. With the Four Firkins so close, I had decided not to buy anything until the person running the check out noted my beer shirt and told me that they had the brand new Beer Camp sampler in the back. I had no idea what this was, so I checked it out...and promptly bought it!
The idea behind the collection of beers is for Sierra Nevada (one of the oldest and biggest craft breweries in the US for those who live under rocks) to partner up with different professional brewers and make a series of one-off collaboration beers. The idea has been around a long time and one can find these fun collaborations all over the place, but I've never seen a large set like this! This idea is also very cool for being able to try something from some of the breweries or brewers that are not normally distributed in your region. Sierra Nevada has a brewery in California and one in North Carolina, and each brewery collaborated for 6 different beers for this collection. Half are cans and half are bottles, continuing to make this one of the weirdest 12 packs I've ever seen. The 12 pack release was also tied into the Beer Camp Across America tour, but they didn't really come through Minnesota. I did see a couple of these beers on tap around town though.
I worked my way through the collection in no particular order, just going by what I was in the mood for at the time. I had hoped to get this review out earlier, but I've been busy at Fringe Festival and a trip to Duluth, so I got behind! Some of these reviews will be in more depth than others...who cares about consistency!
1) Myron's Walk by SN and Allagash: This Belgian pale ale is fermented with Allagash brewery's Belgian ale yeast. Stats are 5.3% ABV and 38 IBU making this a sessionable hoppy beer. Since we don't get Allagash in Minnesota, the first exposure to the brewery I had was this summer in Belgium of all places at the Night of Great Thirst sour beer festival. They were the only non-Belgian brewery invited to the festival and their Coolship lambic style beers were out of this world!
Aroma: Strong citrus and a hint of pine tree or juniper (see picture above) in the aroma. A very sweet orange aroma as swirled accented by a bit of malt or caramel. Spicy phenol of clove and mild sulfur at first that fades with time.
Appearance: Deep gold in color with a bright white foamy head. A slight haze and suspended yeast particles.
Flavor: Mellow flavor with dominant orange character. Hoppy and slightly bitter but well balanced and smooth drinking. Maltiness is noted at first, but fades to off-bitter finish that is fairly dry, finishes with an orange peel mild astringency. As this beer warms I get more lemony coriander notes near the back end and the orange fades. Light pine as well. Phenols are hidden within the hop flavors, but subtly present.
Overall: I'm not a fan of American hops and Belgian beers as a general rule. That being said, this is the best one I've ever had. It manages to blend the character of both styles with a perfect balance. Well done! 4.5/5
2) Electric Ray by SN and Ballast Point. Since Ballast Point entered the Minnesota market they have promptly jumped to holding one of the top places in my heavy rotation for hoppy beers. These guys know hops! This particular beer is in the emerging India Pale Lager category, which I'm still not entirely sure about. Clocking in at 8.5% ABV and 70 IBU this is really an Imperial beer.
Aroma: Strong citrus and grapefruit. A hint of sulfur from lager yeast as swirled. Sweet malt with a pilsner character.
Appearance: Golden to almost orange in color. Excellent clarity despite the hops. A smaller white head that fades slowly.
Flavor: Strong hop flavor throughout the entire taste! The front end is very much orange zest with more of a tart grapefruit finish. Some malt sweetness hitting in the middle, but this is not a sweet beer at all. Very well attenuated and dry on the finish, leading to a medium to almost light body. Finish is a tad astringent with a hint of sulfur.
Overall: A sparkling and bright tasting hoppy beer. The lager character contributes to the clean crispness, but the yeast throws me off a bit. I like this a lot but I'd rather drink a Ballast Point Palate Wrecker! 4/5.
3) Yonder Bock by SN and Cigar City. Cigar City is rapidly gaining popularity as the best brewery in Florida, making tons of unique beers like the sought after Hunahpu RIS. Their Jai Alai is one of the best new hoppy beers I had last year. This beer takes their flair for tropical flavors and adds them to a maibock style beer. While the beer does not actually contain any tropical fruit, they have used a bunch of experimental hops to accentuate that type of character. 7.7% ABV and 45 IBU.
Aroma: Ripe mango, guava and passion fruit in the nose. Sweet maltiness with a hint of sulfur. Very hoppy for a maibock.
Appearance: Orange in color. Huge off-white head that doesn't quit. Excellent clarity.
Flavor: Sweet malt up front and really persists through the whole taste. Lots of bursting tropical fruit flavors like mango, citrus, and guava. Very smooth drinking. Crisp lager finish but sweeter than many maibocks--the fruity hop accentuated that a bit.
Overall: A really nice beer. Not entirely to style for a maibock, but a neat take on it. Doesn't taste like 45 IBU! 4/5.
4) Torpedo Pils by SN and Firestone Walker. Firestone Walker is one of my favorite breweries. I have yet to taste a bad beer by them (in fact I just cracked a 2012 Parabola that was heavenly) and I really wish they had distribution here in Minnesota! This beer is a pilsner and clocks in at 5.2% ABV. It has 45 IBU's of New Zealand varietal hops which puts it way hoppier than most pilsners. Apparently they used the SN Torpedo to infuse the hop aroma.
Aroma: Fairly strong sulfur character to this one. I do pick up some tropical fruit (pineapple) and some white grape as the sulfur is swirled off. A slightly sweet and grainy pilsner malt character is picked up amongst all this mélange of aroma.
Appearance: Very light gold in color. A fine white head that persists, but is not huge. Excellent clarity.
Flavor: Definite malty pilsner notes. The sulfur is strong in the flavor, overwhelming my palate. I do get some Sauvignon Blanc wine notes as it warms. Much more bitter than most pilsners should be. Finish is astringent and bitter, cutting the malty body that I expect from this style. End is dusty and stays on the tongue.
Overall: Interesting. That is Minnesotan for I didn't like it, but am too nice to say so outright. The sulfur and bitterness is just too much for me. Not well balanced for a pilsner and not crisp enough. The worst of the Beer Camp box so far. 2.5/5.
5) Chico King by SN and 3 Floyds. This is a pale ale from the makers of Alpha King and Zombie Dust: two of the best Pale Ales around. Between that history and Sierra Nevada pretty much inventing the American Pale Ale style commercially, I had high hopes for this beer! This is 6.5% ABV and 45 IBU.
Aroma: Crazy citrus aroma with some tropical fruit. Mainly pineapple. Some honey and caramel sweetness to the aroma. No esters.
Appearance: Deep gold to nearly orange color. Fairly good clarity, but a subtle haze present. Giant off-white head that does not fade. I did serve this in a glass with a nucleation site at the bottom that accentuates the head.
Flavor: Balanced sweet malt with strong but restrained hopping. Bright and lively hop flavors dance on the tongue, going from marmalade to pineapple to mango. The finish is fairly dry but not astringent. Mouthfeel is medium.
Overall: This is a wonderful pale ale, bordering on IPA by stats and flavor but having more of the sweetness and body I associate with pale ale. Perfect balance for my palate. This is one of the best pale ales I've had in the past year outside of Toppling Goliath's Pseudo Sue and my friend Keith's homebrewed version. 4.5/5.
6) Canfusion Rye Bock by SN and Oscar Blues. Oscar Blues is famous for being one of (maybe THE) first craft brewery to put beer in cans. I've been to the original brewpub in Lyons, Colorado and had a great meal and beer sampler there. These guys have expanded, and like Sierra Nevada, have a second facility in North Carolina. The beer is 7.2% ABV with 45 IBU. They also mention the high alpha Australia Ella hop varietal that I have not had in anything before this.
Aroma: Malty lager character with a hints of toasted bread. Slightly floral with a bit of tropical fruit. Spicy zip as swirled. Barest hint of sulfur. Interesting mix of hops and malt.
Appearance: Light copper in color. Perfect clarity--served in a collectors item Roets Jordan Brewery glass! Fine white head with tight and tiny bubbles.
Flavor: Sugary sweet maltiness initially. This sweetness fades to a tangy and spicy note that is likely the rye malt. There is hop flavor in this for sure: citrus, notes of bubble gum at tail end. Balanced right in the middle between hop and malt.
Overall: Very hoppy for a bock which cuts some of the desired malt character I look for. Even for a Maibock this one pushes it too far. I think I would like the balance better if this was an ale and not a lager. Finish is fairly astringent. Interesting but not amazing. The rye really is highlighted though. 3.5/5.
Finishing Up: So overall the first half of the box is quite good. Pretty much every one of these beers is quite hoppy (for base style) but most pull it off well. I've saved a few of the funkier beers for the second post and I'll get working on those soon! If you can still find one of these boxes--get it!