Beer Camp Re-cap
What does a pioneer of the craft beer industry do after creating one of the most successful breweries in the world? Well, if you are Ken Grossman with Sierra Nevada, you customize a luxury tour bus like a rock star, pack up some of your best beer buds, and head across the country promoting the “largest craft beer celebration in history.” Otherwise known as “Beer Camp Across America,” Sierra Nevada partnered with 12 other big-time brewers to create seven of the largest beer festivals in the nation. For Pennsylvania, we were lucky enough to have stop number six of seven located in Philadelphia.
For context, Sierra Nevada invited (through the use of beer bottles no less) every brewery within a stop’s region to participate in the beer festival. For the Philadelphia/Mid-Atlantic region, approximately 80 breweries signed up to pour at the Philly Beer Camp. Pennsylvania is fortunate to have access to a great number of breweries, including 8 of the 12 collaborating breweries (the most of any state)! However, we, at least those outside of Philly, do not regularly have access to Russian River and their vaunted brews Pliny the Elder and Supplication.
Expecting thousands of beer campers for this reason alone, I got to Philly early and began making my way to Penn Treaty Park, the site of Beer Camp, at about 10:45 am for a 12 o’clock start. Almost as soon as I left the parking garage, I found a line of people as long as I could see. I expected there to be a line forming early, but I was still about a mile from the park, so I could not believe there was a line this long already. After standing there for about 10 minutes, I realized the crowd looked a bit young, so I asked the guy in front of me if he was in line for the beer festival. He politely informed me that he had no idea what I was referring to and that this was apparently the line for a music festival at the Festival Pier (apparently the Hemp Heals Fest???). Hiding my embarrassment, I double-timed it toward the Park.
With that distraction aside, I was still reasonably close to the start of the line for beer camp. Long story short, as soon as the gates opened, I, along with everyone else, rushed to the Russian River tent. Pliny is a great beer, no doubt about it – certainly one of the best in its class. But as I saw the line begin wrapping all the way around the other side of the tent, I questioned whether, given all of the great beers here, it was really worthwhile waiting in a half-hour long line (or longer) for just this one. For example, Victory’s DirtWolf was being poured 4 feet away and there was no one in line for it. Except for me, when I finished Pliny. As expected, Russian River was the first to run out of beer, no doubt leaving many beer campers disappointed.
All of that aside, I had probably the best time out of any beer festival I have been too. Beer Camp was extremely well-organized, fun, and relaxing. The camper to staff ratio seemed to be about 10 to 1, but they were not overbearing. Penn Treaty Park offered ample space, and its location next to the river made for a great setting. Shortly after my Pliny experience, I met up with some other Twitter contacts from the Harrisburg area. I had only known most of them through their Twitter handles, so it was great to finally meet them in person. They were not only very knowledgeable about beer, but also just great people to be around. Overall, I hope Sierra Nevada organizes this event again, because it was top-notch.
As for the other beers, like I said, there were too many great options to recap now. In brief, Weyerbacher’s Sunday Morning Stout was really good, but I probably should have saved that for last given how thick it is. Cricket Hill out of New Jersey put on a special habanero beer about half-way through the festival. This tasted great up-front, but it left a strong burn in the back of my mouth and throat. Golden Avalanche had a nice summer saison, and Heritage Brewing Co. poured a honey ginger beer, which was a welcomed break from many of the other, heavier brews. Marzoni’s, out of the Altoona area, also had a really great Tripel on tap. I did not get to sample all of the Beer Camp collaboration beers, but those that I did try were all very good.
I don’t know if we will see a group of brewers together like that again, but I sure hope so. For once in my life, I’m looking forward to going to camp again.