Disney World for beer lovers: Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Across America event

CAMPING OUT: Festival-goers line up at brewers' tents in advance of the 1 p.m. start time for sampling. Photo by Thom O'Hearn

Sierra Nevada is famous for its high quality and consistency. Over decades the company has established a legendary reputation by thinking ahead and troubleshooting any potential problem in advance. The brewers are masters of controlling every variable.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that when the company put on one of the largest beer festivals ever seen in our region on Sunday in Mills River, it was largely uneventful. A medical tent saw to any urgent issues. A mist tent cooled anyone overheated by the mid-80-degree heat. A live band with the spirit of a circus kept the energy up when folks started to flag. An army of Porta Potties and sinks took care of everyone’s needs. A fleet of food trucks kept the people well fed. And of course, there was plenty of beer.

KILLING IT: Calfkiller Brewing Company poured unique beers out of the tallest taphandles of the day.
KILLING IT: Calfkiller Brewing Company poured unique beers out of the tallest taphandles of the day. Photo by Thom O’Hearn

Those who were seeing the campus for the first time were impressed from the moment they arrived via chartered bus. (Sierra rented a large fleet to take the festival-goers from two drop points right into the heart of the brewery.) The winding approach was indeed something to behold with its meticulous landscaping. Touches like bigfoot footprints leading into the woods and copper-clad hop flowers on the winding stone road led one bus passenger to say he felt like he was at Disney.

The brewery itself was not open for public tours, but the large windows allowed at least a glimpse of the copper brewhouse. Throughout the day people caught shade underneath the large roof and peered in the windows.

All told, about 5,000 attendees sampled beers. While there was some disappointment about last-minute brewery cancellations — including Russian River, Firestone Walker and 3 Floyds — everyone seemed plenty content once they started tasting beers from the 100 or so breweries that made it.

Like festivals of a bygone era, many brewers’ booths were staffed with the brewery owners or brewers themselves. Standouts from out of town included Calfkiller Brewing, who brought a very Asheville-style vibe with their tie-dyed t-shirts, large tree-branch taphandles and beers with names like Wizard Sauce. Louisiana’s Great Raft, who both collaborated with Burial Beer on a helles and served two beers from their own stable, had some perfect hot-weather beers. And Morganton’s Fonta Flora likely won the line of the day with an ever-present 25-30 people waiting to try beers made with ingredients like carrots and salt.

Sierra Nevada’s tent was, of course, also quite a draw. They served the dozen Beer Camp Across America collaboration beers with the breweries that made them. And because it’s Sierra Nevada, you could also get a pour of Pale Ale or Torpedo IPA.

As the festival wound down, everyone took the chartered buses again, including a funky retired school bus or two. At the back of one bus, a couple of rowdy ladies were tickled by their gentleman companions. They screamed. Then they started yelling about gin drinks and what bar they should hit when the buses got back to town. It turns out that Sierra Nevada can’t control one thing about a beer festival: the people.



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About Thom O'Hearn
Thom O’Hearn is a writer, book editor and homebrewer. Twitter: @thomohearn

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