On a sunny afternoon at a field usually designated for concerts and sporting events, I was walking through the grass with a commemorative sipping glass, half full of whatever delicious concoction I wanted – I was at Beer Camp. Hosted by Sierra Nevada, Beer Camp is a celebration of local beers and breweries that occurs at 6 festivals nationwide throughout the summer. The goal of camp is simple: to celebrate and experience the local craft breweries in the community and throughout the larger region by drinking their beer – it has been a well-received idea if you can imagine. Sierra Nevada Beer Camp gives back to non-profits and local brewers’ guilds too.
When I arrived at Beer Camp in Milwaukee, I was greeted by a large gate for ticket checks along with an even larger Beer Camp bus which I assume they take around to each festival. After scanning my ticket (which cost about $61 with fees), I walked into a scene that many beer drinkers like myself only dream of: free beer, from some of the best breweries in Wisconsin and the surrounding states, along with offerings from some West Coast staples like Sierra Nevada and Ballast Point of course.
The field was divided into three tents, with two rows of brewers per tent, plus a smaller collaborations-only tent in the middle, and a large stage in the back – where local Milwaukee band Maritime would play. Each brewery had a stand, where they generously poured two of their finest beers to the thirsty masses. According to Sierra Nevada there were 99 breweries in attendance, but I lost track after ten or so. Local food trucks, which become a necessity after about 20 stops, were located at either side of the field.
Along with some of my favorite beers that I’ll share later in this post, I also want to give a fuller picture of Beer Camp, and what you can expect if you plan to attend upcoming camps in San Francisco, Boston or Los Angeles.
5 things to expect at Sierra Nevada Beer Camp
- Beer…a lot of it
This one is easy: of course you can expect beer, but as far as styles go, expect a lot of coffee stouts, barrel-aged beers and IPAs – saisons were also big. I recommend pacing yourself and asking for a half-fill or you may run the risk of filling up too fast and too early like I did initially. You definitely underestimate how much beer you can drink at one of these things.
- Pretzel necklaces
This is something I did not expect but reflects the ingenuity and creativity of beer drinkers – hands-free pretzel necklaces. Not only do these come in handy when pairing with a rich stout, but they also are a way to show the noobs (like myself) that you’re a Beer Camp veteran. Oh – and there are Beer Camp veterans if you’re wondering.
- Brewers having a good time
Who says only the patrons have fun? With so many breweries from across state lines getting together, Beer Camp represents a great opportunity for brewmasters to try each other’s beers – which means you might share a chug with a brewmaster behind the stand during your time there. Pretty cool.
This was an inclusive party – which meant that several craft cider spots, like Blake’s Hard Cider, were in attendance, with some fantastic options like roasted apple and peach. The cider spots were a great change of pace as they were a bit lighter and fresher than some of the heavier stouts and triple IPAs I was taking in. Definitely worth stopping by.
- A Party
At its core, Beer Camp is meant to be a celebration, and boy did people celebrate. Young and old, hipster and bro, everyone who attended had a great time, everyone was friendly, and everyone definitely had their fair share. Maybe it’s the Midwestern values, but everyone I talked to at camp was extremely nice and welcoming, as if they wanted everyone to become part of the party.
That all said, I’d be remiss to not give a taste of some of the most interesting beers I tried at Beer Camp, so here goes:
My Favorite: Grand Rounds Brewpub Alien Candy Peanut Butter Milk Stout
- Stats: 5% ABV, 14 IBUs
- Verdict: I’m a sucker for peanut butter, so if a beer is able to accomplish a full peanut butter taste in its profile, I’m fully aboard – and that’s exactly what this beer accomplished. Peanut butter was the star but you could also taste the chocolate throughout along with the creaminess you’d expect with a stout. Delicious.
Best IPA: Boulder Brewery Pulp Fusion Blood Orange IPA
- Stats: 6.5% ABV, 52 IBUs
- Verdict: This is Boulder Brewing’s new seasonal for the summer and I highly recommend grabbing a 6-pack if you can. I’ve had a lot of citrus juice combos in my IPAs, but I’ve never had an IPA with blood orange – and boy was I missing out. This IPA has a really full, hoppy flavor that coincides nicely with the rich orange aftertaste that makes it extremely palatable and easy to drink…a lot of.
Most Unique: Bell’s Brewing Mango Habanero Oberon
- Stats: 5.8% ABV, 25 IBUs
- Verdict: Wow – Oberon is one of my favorite summer beers, but this habanero variety was something else. You still get the familiar taste, but this time it’s coupled with a bit of mango and a fiery habanero-fueled aftertaste that makes you think twice about filling up a second glass. It’s an adventurous beer, but is definitely one worth trying at festivals like Beer Camp as you might not get another chance to.
Above are my findings, but to find out what you think, I highly recommend going to Beer Camp if you can still make it this summer (upcoming festivals are 6/18 and 6/25). Not only is it a well-organized event, but it also has an awesome app, which allows you to see what breweries/beers will be available at your location’s camp, along with being able to rate each beer in real-time directly on the app. And if you can’t make it, Sierra Nevada also sells a special Beer Camp 12-pack which includes the annual creations of six regional brewing teams.
In conclusion, Beer Camp is a lot of fun and is meant to be enjoyed with friends, family and loved ones – much like the beer that is copiously served throughout the day. So check it out and let me know what you think – and if you find a pretzel necklace maker near Chicago let me know.
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