50 Beers, 50 States, 50 Weeks: Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across America is Christmas come early for little boys
It was 5 a.m. and I woke up from a restless sleep filled with excitement and anticipation. The feeling a kid has Christmas morning. It was the first day of Beer Camp Across America, the day I’d been looking forward to for months.
Beer Camp Across America is a seven-city craft beer festival brought together by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Breweries from all across the nation were invited to pour their own brews in this celebration of craft beer. The tour kicked off in Chico, California on July 19 and we were fortunate to make the pilgrimage to the first stop of the biggest gathering of American craft breweries ever.
So maybe 5 o’clock was a bit early considering we didn’t plan on leaving ’til 8:30 a.m., but who could sleep with all that wonderful beer waiting to be tasted? Not me. I went over my checklist and then sat down to wait, but I could only sit down for 30 seconds before I jumped back up to pace my house, then check my list all over again. I did that about 137 times. I was ready and eager to get going. Time ticked on at a snail’s pace, but 8:30 came around like it always does. Justin picked me up and we were on our way. I barely could contain myself; a mere 163 miles and I would be in craft beer heaven.
Three and half hours later we got a glimpse of what we could only have dreamed of until that point. A field of hops reaching to the heavens in all its glory greeted us as we pulled up to the Sierra Nevada Brewery. We made it, and we were about to taste beers from all across the Northwest in one place. We got into the line to enter the festival grounds, and I could just feel the excitement in the air. Everybody was in high spirits. We were all there for the same reason: to enjoy great beer and have a great time at this gathering of breweries.
I felt like a little girl seeing some boy band back in the 90’s, or whoever little girls are into nowadays. I spread my arms wide open, like that scene in Titanic, then skipped my way through the festival to one of the tents where beer was being poured. Okay, maybe I didn’t go that far. I felt like it though. I guess that would’ve been funny, but seeing that I’m a big, 6-foot-2-inch guy with a head of dreads, I stick out already.
The first pouring set-up we visited was Allagash Brewing Company for their Saison. The Saison was nice to start with, after spending three hours in a car and then in a line under the sweltering sun. It was light, refreshing and had a nice flavor that didn’t take from the Curieux that quickly followed. I’ve had it before and I told myself I wouldn’t sample anything I’ve had before, but it was Allagash Curieux, and we don’t get that here in Reno. Not to mention, Cigar City Brewing LLC needed a few minutes to set up next door and were pouring Jai Alai and Florida Cracker, two I’ve wanted to try for awhile. The Jai Alai was so damn tasty.
After getting those first four very much-needed drinks in us, Justin and I got to our plan to try as many different brews from as many different breweries as we could. We each got a different beer from each set-up we visited and shared them. This was so we could try both brews poured by each brewery and not get tipsy too quickly. The plan worked well; we got to try so many remarkable beers from some incredible breweries. We got to try beers from breweries we’ve never had before like Almanac Beer Co., Bell’s Brewery Inc., Cigar City Brewing LLC, and many others. Great Basin Brewing Company and the Brewer’s Cabinet were there, too, properly representing Reno. So all in all, everything went as planned for the tasting, but let’s be honest: it’s only tasting to a certain point, and then it becomes drinking. And it was awesome drinking.
The drinking was even awesome despite the 100-degree weather and a cloudless sky. People huddled together around tables with umbrellas or near fans spraying water and under the tents over the beer-pouring areas. Lucky people found spots under the tents with water misters, which really only felt good when a breeze came through. Even with the excruciating heat and blazing sun, the whole thing was just spectacular. People had great big smiles on their shiny, red, burnt faces. Everybody I met was so friendly and had great attitudes, which you wouldn’t expect for extreme daytime drinking in the scorching sun.
Five hours after Beer Camp had begun and 12 hours from when I had awoken that morning, the festivities came to a close. We left the festival like all the other “Beer Campers,” staggering, with our eyes struggling a bit to keep focused and great big shit-eating grins on our freshly sun-roasted faces.