The weather was gnarly. OK, it was only a sweltering 83 degrees — which is just about incomprehensible for a Western Washington festival — and we shuffled around Seattle’s Gas Works Park with other sweaty craft beer and cider tasters, shifting between booths emblazoned with names of the breweries Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. handpicked to serve the sunscreen’d masses.
Yesterday’s Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across The World craft beer festival was for those with a curious palate; for those who don’t shudder at the idea of drinking not one, but two breweries that have included unicorn-named beers in their offerings, and for those who can weather sipping a Fremont B-Bomb Barrel Aged Winter Ale beneath a cloudless sky. This event is for those that revel in the fact that the brewers they’re toasting with here are tops in the craft beer game, at least by Sierra Nevada’s standards.
It was hot, truly — did we mention that? — but all of us scavengers in the crowd were still there to taste breweries that typically don’t partake in craft beer festivals in this state — Ayinger, Baranof Island brewing, Bear Republic, Belching Beaver, Fuller’s High Water, Lost Coast, Mad River, Modern Times, Saint Archer, Uinta and, of course, Sierra Nevada. After a certain point, though, it’s hard to keep our list of favorites concise and in order — the winners are too numbered.
There were celebrity brewers pouring their own creations at the roving, eight-city festival — including Sierra Nevada Brewing founder Ken Grossman donning sunglasses and a hat — beers from around a 100 breweries, the lush melodies of Vaudeville Etiquette and The Dip bands, snifter glasses for tasting cups, a plethora of food trucks and restrooms — between the stunning setting of the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant and bustling Lake Union.
Breweries from across the world, although most from the Pacific Northwest, poured two beers from their coffers with almost no lines anywhere, including the bathrooms. The longest line formed in front of the Rare Beer tent, although Postdoc Brewing’s tart and refreshing Evans Kriek was worth the wait. The other two short lines were before E9 Brewery and Sierra Nevada. People scurried to grab a taste of E9’s delicious Frambuesa Moka raspberry sour stout. Grossman behind the Sierra taps caused the other line, mostly full of anxious festivalgoers wanting to pose for pictures. Like last year’s Beer Camp at South Lake Union Park, there wasn’t any jostling through herd-like drunken crowds, which was refreshing as the occasional breeze. Instead, attendees had their choice of several hundred beers, a few rare or special ones, which they could sip from snifter glasses in the spacious park.
To accompany the festival, Sierra Nevada selected 12 breweries — six stateside and six overseas — with which to collaborate — and ended up making 12 beers, all of which have been bottled for one-time only variety packs. Brewers started making pilot batches of the beers as early as November 2016. In February 2017, brewers from 10 of the collaborating breweries visited Sierra Nevada’s new brewery in Mills River, North Carolina, for a round table tasting of the initial brews. East Meets West IPA with Tree House Brewing Co. was a crowd favorite with a vibrant, oily and complex hop flavors of pineapple, peach, pomegranate, berry and pine.
An over abundance of IPAs was the only complaint that could be heard bouncing off the ancient steel gas machinery. Indeed, there were many, but Cloudburst’s Plays Well With Others Imperial IPA, Trap Door’s Lighten Up Session IPA, Breakside’s Rainbows & Unicorns IPA and Bale Breaker’s Kiln Series #005 liquid hop small-batch IPA, among others, didn’t disappoint.
Most people were clamoring for the lighter fare underneath the sun, including Oakshire’s juicy Sun Made Cucumber Berliner Weisse, Baerlic’s Fancy Umbrella Drink Pink Guava Gose, Ghost Runners‘ Chasing Fluffy Pink Unicorns Raspberry Gose and High Water’s Central Valley Breakfast Sour with citrus and a tart finish.
Speaking of finish, the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across The World festival finished mellow, with only a few piggyback riders, ample sunburn faces and no lake jumpers. Sierra Nevada has these festivals down.