It feels as though Sierra Nevada has been on my mind a lot lately. Their Beer Camp Across America hits the road on Saturday July 19th, hitting seven stops on a massive journey through the nation. I have the good fortune to be visiting the first three stops in Chico, San Diego, and Denver. Alongside this, I have been reading Beyond the Pale: The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. written by President and Owner Ken Grossman. Sharp is the contrast between the company’s humble beginnings to playing host the epic transnational event this summer. It is a good time to be a beer drinker in America; and for that, we have to thank the pioneering brewers who planted the seed for the now bountiful forest of breweries in America.
Grossman gives the reader insight to the driving force behind Sierra Nevada. Common themes run throughout the narrative, such as the struggle that many brewers faced in the early days of craft brewing, scarcity of supplies, constant salvaging and re-purposing (those damn soda bottle fillers!), and the absolute necessity of having a consistent, high quality product. The book also details the personal life of the man the now heads one of the largest American owned breweries. From his earliest youth and dismantled household appliances to the decisions that are made daily for the future of Sierra Nevada and its employees, the book covers many aspects of Grossman’s life; including more difficult topics such as his fallout with former co-owner Paul Camusi or the tragic loss of friend and colleague Steve Harrison. The technical aspects of building a brewery are all present, as well as short discussions of the science behind brewing. The little details make the story all the more readable though, like the flatbed ’57 Chevy that barely made the first malt delivery of 2.5 tons from San Francisco to Chico, or negotiating the removal of a 100 gallon Huppmann Brewhouse in Germany after a night of heavy drinking, or the constant pain in the ass that was the aforementioned re-purposed soda bottlers.
For anyone interested in the path Sierra Nevada took to become the vanguard and a standard-bearer of American craft beer, Beyond the Pale is well worth a read. Many of you may be familiar with the general history of Sierra Nevada, but hearing the story in every detail, from Grossman’s own voice makes for a fascinating read. There is humanity in it all… the brewery, its birth, growth, struggles, tragedies, and triumphs. Similar works can be found for Lagunitas, Stone, and Dogfish Head.
Beer Camp Across America may potentially be a watershed event in American beer history, solidifying the communal aspect of the craft brewing industry and creating a heightened awareness among the public-at-large that these once plucky little breweries are capable of massive undertakings. Tickets to one of the seven festivals will run you $65, and an insane all festival pass will cost $400. Tickets are limited to 5,000 for each location, which will feature the beers of local participating breweries [ranging from 89 to 130 per location]. Alongside the tour will be the release of a 12 pack of beers featuring collaborations with 12 craft breweries from across the country. I’ve only had four out of my pack, but so far the experience is an interesting and eclectic mix. The collaboration with Ninkasi, the Double Latte Milk Stout was smooth; roasted malt, chocolate, and coffee burst through in a mix of flavors that left me very pleased; my favorite thus far.
Come Saturday I’ll be hitting the road, following Beer Camp to its Western destinations. I hope to see some familiar faces there, if you spot the jaunty straw hat and LA Ale Works Shirt that is fast becoming my beer fest attire, feel free to stop me so we can share a beer.
Cheers to Sierra Nevada and all the luck to this massive undertaking. I’m happy to be taking part in it.