Walking cautiously up the steel steps of a spiral staircase, securely clenching a bucket holding hundreds of dollars’ worth of cryogenic Citra hop powder from YCH Hops, I was anxious. Anxious for a variety of reasons: I’m afraid of heights and the brew house was located in the penthouse, there was a small fortune of raw materials entrusted to me resting delicately in a gaping bucket, and this addition of Cryo Hops was the last opportunity to make a major brewing mistake before transferring the wort to the fermenter. And, most importantly, I had not only my reputation on the line, but that of my fellow campers, as well as that of our host, Sierra Nevada. The opportunity to brew a beer in Chico in this meticulously-designed, three-story R&D brewhouse marked the culmination of my experiences in the service industry.
That first night of Sierra Nevada Beer Camp reminded me of the summer camps I was lucky enough to attend as a kid. I wondered if people would like me, if I’d make friends, if I would have fun. I also thought of the end goal: brew an original recipe at Sierra Nevada that would eventually be sold to the public. Who cared if people liked me? Who cared if I made friends? I was there for two things: 1. To learn and 2. To brew. Everything else was of no consequence, or so I thought.
Right off the bat I connected with my fellow campers by sharing stories of our personal and professional experiences that led us to this point and time. All of the 10 campers in attendance were from the bar and restaurant service industry. Some were from large corporations, others from small, literal mom and pop operations, and everything in between. At the end of the day, however, the one glaringly obvious thing was that we were all beer people.
Beer People. What does that mean? Aside from knowledge of beer styles and an insatiable thirst, we were also just big fans of this stalwart brewery. We were in awe walking the winding campus of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, or perhaps The Winchester Mystery house, some of the layout seemed to have no rhyme or reason behind its design. Truth be told the campus was purchased piecemeal, year after year, growing at the pace of the brewery’s success. What was once a second-hand brewhouse Frankensteined together in an old industrial space smaller than some garages, Sierra Nevada is now a multi-billion dollar, family-owned-and-operated independent craft beer business with production facilities on both domestic coasts.
As part of the Camp, we visited their hop fields, just a short beerbike ride on campus. We took a short drive to visit their railway, where boxcars of grain from Canada are shipped regularly. We walked amongst the “field” of Tesla Batteries that are collecting the excess energy created by one of the world’s most energy efficient and sustainable breweries. We saw that this business was about so much more than just beer.
Over the years, many San Diegans have attended Beer Camp. I was there representing La Bella Pizza Garden, along with Phil Masterson from Regents Pizzeria. Notable alumni include Karen Barnett, owner/operator of Small Bar, who was a part of Beer Camp #79 and brewed a Golden Ale known as ApriQuat. Dennis Borlek, owner/operator of Shelter Island’s Fathom Bistro was a part of Beer Camp #50; they brewed a Black IPA called “Black Hop Rising”. Most recently, Joaquin Bausari, brewer at North Park Beer Company, participated in Beer Camp #186 to brew an IPA with wheat called “Pretty Fly for a Wheat Guy”.
I thought of my fellow Campers, and those that came before us, as I delicately sifted that costly green powder into the swirling whirlpool of wort which would eventually become a brand spanking new Sierra Nevada Brewing Company beer. Though there were other hops, and grains, and perhaps even oats in our recipe, I will always remember it as a Citra-hopped, and eventually Citra-Torpedo’d American Pale Ale (APA). That hopped sugar water has fermented and is now known as “Hoppourtunist”. Brewing this APA was perhaps the single most intimidating, yet intimate, activity I’ve participated in in the independent craft beer world. This experience showed me that “Beer Camp” is not just a clever name, it’s the best type of adult summer camp.
Regents (4150 Regents Park Row Suite 100) hosts their Beer Camp event this Friday, September 29 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with 5-6 Sierra Nevada beers including Narwhal Imperial Stout, a Citra double dry-hopped cask of Tropical Torpedo IPA, plus kegs of the Beer Camp collaboration pouring.
La Bella Cafe and Games’ event takes place on October 5 from 6 – 9 p.m. (373 3rd Avenue)