A procrastinator’s guide to Beer Camp Across America

Beer Camp Across America included a special 12-pack of beers featuring Sierra Nevada collaborations with different breweries. These are those ales.

Beer Camp Across America included a special 12-pack of beers featuring Sierra Nevada collaborations with different breweries. These are those ales.

It’s been more than 13 months since Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. led craft beer aficionados and brewers across the country to its new facility in Mills River, North Carolina. The Chico-based brewery organized several beer festivals under the Beer Camp Across America banner and invited as many craft brewers as possible.

I wasn’t able to make it to any of the festival stops, but I was able to get the next best thing. As part of the celebration, Sierra Nevada collaborated with several breweries on unique one-of-a-kind creations. Twelve of the collaborations were released in a special 12-item case. I waited too long to buy the special case and they were pretty much sold out when I tried to purchase one. Thankfully, I had a second option.

Living about a mile away from the Chico brewery means that I have easier access to some of Sierra Nevada’s releases. The cases were gone, but they had single bottles of each beer, so I could make my own six-packs. I quickly seized the opportunity and grabbed the bottles before they flew off the shelves.

And then I waited to drink them.

I know that I shouldn’t wait too long to drink most beers because they’re not made to stay on shelves and refrigerators forever. I was reluctant to crack open these bottles. I had already tasted some of them before, at the tap room, at festivals and elsewhere, but when I finished drinking these bottles and cans, they would be gone forever.

So over the last 13 months, these beers have been in a relatively cool, relatively dark place (my bedroom). They sat by me waiting for the moment … and now it’s here.

I have just moved and I’ve figured that it’s now or never for these beverages.

After I moved, I placed the bottles in the fridge. I resolved that the next time I took one out, I would drink it.  Over the next few days, I’m going to share some brief notes about each one.

These aren’t going to be full reviews — there are certainly some beer rating sites that have tasting reviews down to a science, putting my earlier attempt to shame.

Also, neither the fridge nor my bedroom are perfect storage places and that will probably affect how each of these taste.

Some of the beers may have held up better than others based on their style and preparation. I shared my tale with a fellow traveler in the tap room. He estimated a third of the 12 beers could probably have been safely stored this long.

Without further ado, here’s the first one I tasted:

1. Yvan the Great

Yvan the Great is a collaboration between Russian River Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada.

Yvan the Great is a collaboration between Russian River Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada.

(50 IBU, 6.3% ABV) A year ago, I wanted to save this for last, but now I want it to be first. If I can no longer save the best for last, I may as well start with a blast.

Brewed in collaboration with Russian River Brewing Co., Yvan is a Belgian-style blonde made to honor Belgian brewer Yvan De Baets, according to the label. He was a friend of Russian River brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo and Sierra Nevada’s Brian Grossman.

On the pour, it looked like it had retained a lot of carbonation although the head quickly dissipated. I loved the light, golden hue of the cloudy liquid. I smelled a pleasant floral note.

I could also taste that note when I took a drink, although it also seemed a little pine-y. Repeated sips unveiled some citrus and It had a mildly tart finish. On appearance and taste, it seemed reminiscent of white wine.

I would totally agree with label notes that state the ale blends the yeast character of a farmhouse ale with the citrus taste of American hops. I definitely reminds me of some of Sierra Nevada’s more recent farmhouse ales, although those draw in elements from other nations.

On the bottle neck, it reads that “This hoppy Blonde Ale blends the dry, complex yeast character of Belgian farmhouse ales with the bright, citrus-like profile of American-grown hops.”

On the back, it notes “As longtime friends, Russian River brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo and our own Brian Grossman are no strangers to brewing experiments. For this collaboration, they honored their friend and renowned Belgian brewer Yvan De Baets. This Belgian-American mash-up harmoniously blends Yvan’s penchant for yeast with Vinnie and Brian’s affinity for hops.” (opened Sept. 2, 2015)

2. Torpedo Pilsner

Torpedo Pilsner is a collaboration between Firestone Walker Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada.

Torpedo Pilsner is a collaboration between Firestone Walker Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada.

(45 IBU, 5.2% ABV)  My second selection was the hoppy pilsner brewed in collaboration with Firestone Walker Brewing Co. This is a slightly less bitter beer with lower alcohol content, so I’m a little worried that I may not enjoy the full flavor after Yvan the Great. However, I’ve cracked open the bottle so I’m committed.

The label states “This hoppy lager features intense fruity and floral notes from fresh New Zealand hops balanced against a crisp and clean malt body.”

I guess we’ll see how fresh hops fare against Father Time.

The golden color looks similar to Yvan the Great. Still a decent amount of carbonation.

I swirl the sample glass to get a better sense of the pilsner’s smell. I’m not detecting much, maybe a faint echo of the fruity note that it’s supposed to have.

After taking a drink, it feels lighter than Yvan, but it’s still flavorful. A lot of the flavor is toward the front of my palate. It definitely seems more flowery than Yvan.

I’m not totally satisfied by the finish. Overall, it may not be as balanced as it once was. It’s fine, but I was hoping for a little more oomph.

The back of the bottle states: “Torpedo Pilsner is a hop-forward take on the crisp, classic lager. We and the folks at Firestone Walker share a passion for New Zealand hop varietals, so we loaded our legendary Hop Torpedo with the southern hemisphere’s finest hops for a fruity, floral twist on the pilsner style.” (opened Sept. 2, 2015; bottled May 29, 2014)

3. Chico King Pale Ale

Chico King Pale Ale is a collaboration between 3 Floyds Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada.

Chico King Pale Ale is a collaboration between 3 Floyds Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada.

(45 IBU, 6.5% ABV) Chico King is a pale ale brewed in collaboration with 3 Floyds Brewing Co. I actually had a couple tastes of this about a year ago at a brewing festival. If I recall correctly, it was good but didn’t sing to me.

The bottleneck label states “This pale ale stacks plenty of bright, fruit-forward resinous hop varietals atop a robust malt body.”

When I opened the bottle, I definitely got a strong whiff of hops with a sweet scent slowly emerging. It makes me giddy to have a sip.

Tasting it, it definitely tasted like a pale ale. It doesn’t seem to knock my socks off, but it was pleasant with most of the flavor standing out on the finish. Put another way, I seem to taste the malt first and then the hops. There also seems to be a hint of heat from the alcohol.

Overall, it seems well balanced. Nothing seems to knock my socks off, but there’s a lot of flavor there.

On the back of the bottle, the label says “3 Floyds has a reputaiton as the Midwestern kings of alpha (hops), and it seems our flagship beer helped lure them down the lupulin-paved path. Chico King is a mash-up of our mutual passion for hoppy pale ales and we suspect you’ll find it fit for royalty.”

(Tasted Sept. 7, 2015; bottled May 15, 2014)

4. Myron’s Walk
Myron's Walk is a Belgian-style pale ale brewed with coriander.

Myron’s Walk is a Belgian-style pale ale brewed with coriander.

(38 IBU, 5.3% ABV) This is a Belgian-style pale ale brewed with coriander. It was made in collaboration with Allagash Brewing Co. The bottleneck label states “This Belgian-style pale ale combines the best of our two breweries. Intense piney-citrus hop notes counterpoint the complex fruity spice of Allagash’s Belgian yeast.”

It definitely sounds intriguing. When I poured it into the glass, it had a light amber hue. The scent wasn’t fairy strong, but it smelt a little of pine with a bit of spice.

When I took a gulp, it didn’t seem to make a huge impact on my taste buds. There was carbonation, but the head dissipated quickly.

After a couple of sips, I could feel a little bit of the spice. It seemed to blend well with the hops and kind of reminded me faintly of gingerbread.

It’s pleasant enough, but I don’t know if it did enough for me to select it as a standout.

On the back label, it states “This collaboration honors Myron Avery, a founder of the Appalachian Trail which spans our North Carolina brewery and Allagash’s home in Maine. We share a great love of the outdoors, and Avery and the AT are great reminders of the wild spirit of exploration that connects us both.”

(Tasted Sept. 9, 2015; bottled June 3, 2014)

5. Electric Ray

Electric Ray is an India pale lager brewed in collaboration with Ballast Point Brewing.

Electric Ray is an India pale lager brewed in collaboration with Ballast Point Brewing.

(70 IBU, 8.5% ABV) This India pale lager was brewed in collaboration with Ballast Point Brewing. The bottleneck label states “This nautically named India Pale Lager combines intense citrusy, floral American hops with the clean, classic male body of a blonde lager.”

Right out of the gate, I was a little worried about this one — there was some cloudiness on the bottom of the bottle, plus some suspended in the liquid. It’s probably fine, but I’m definitely keeping an eye on it.

When I poured it out, whatever was creating the cloudiness appeared like the burnt orange that I saw when I held onto my Bell’s Oberon for too long. It gave the liquid a pleasant, fiery appearance that made it opaque — probably the most opaque of the ales and lagers I’ve had so far.

My first impression was an oaky scent. It had a heat from the alcohol and it felt heavier than the Myron’s Walk. It seemed like the malt and floral accents had merged together.

On the back of the bottle, it states: “As ever, San Diego’s Ballast Point looked to the sea for inspiration. A play on the fish’s scientific name—Torpedo californica—Electric Ray pays homage to our Hop Torpedo, the source of much of this beer’s big flavor. Its massive grapefruit and floral notes deliver a high-voltage hit of hop flavor.”

I’m not quite sure I detect the grapefruit, but it’s certainly robust.

(Opened Sept. 9, 2015; bottled June 3, 2014)

One reason why I may go to Buffalo Wild Wings & one reason why I may never go back

Online trivia is probably the biggest reason why I'll go back to Buffalo Wild Wings, if it's available at the Chico location.

Online trivia is probably the biggest reason why I’ll go back to Buffalo Wild Wings, which appears to be available at the Chico location.

Buffalo Wild Wings completed its expansion to Chico this week. Judging by photos of early lines and posts in my Facebook feed, it seems a lot of people are happy about the development. Although I love saying “The game is on!”, thanks to the eatery’s unceasingly repetitive TV commercials, I don’t know if I would go back after a visit to the Natomas location in May 2014.

Why I may go back – While I was generally impressed by the huge bar area with a standing wall of giant TVs and the beer selection (although I think Sierra Nevada was largely missing), the food is pretty standard for this type of quick-service restaurant and the prices are higher than I think they should be (the Chico menu lists a wing combo at $16.79, otherwise fries and slaw cost extra). Ultimately, there was only one compelling reason why I could become a repeat customer and that’s online pub trivia.

When I dropped by the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to see the old familiar blue consoles of Buzztime trivia. I first played Buzztime when I was living in the Midwest from 2001-05, but no Chico tavern has offered it for more than a decade … until now.

With the blue console, a bar patron plays quick, 20-minute trivia matches with clues broadcast on one or two TVs scattered across the bar. The questions are nearly always multiple choice and the difficulty level is closer to the earlier rounds of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” than “Jeopardy!” After every question, you can see how you’re faring against other barflies. When the round ends, the scores are calculated across North America and you can see your nationwide rank.

There are multiple types of games in the primary trivia channel, but there are other channels including virtual poker. During football season, many sites offer QB1, which allows contestants to win points if they correctly guess the offense’s play.

During my visit, I was the only one really playing trivia (everyone else seemed to be focused on an MMA match featuring a fighter from Sacramento). Still, it was fun to play while I ate and had some soda.

I can get my fix through a number of online and smartphone apps that are available, such as QuizUp, but Buzztime can be a little more sociable as the pacing of the games aren’t rigorous. While you want to ring in promptly when there are questions, there are frequent breaks to continue conversations with your friends (if you have any) and to order more food and drink (which is what I’m sure B-Dubs and other bars want you to do).

Several of my friends and I have gone to live trivia at some Chico restaurants, which is generally fun, but can be quirky. Online trivia like Buzztime is generally available anytime, so it may be easier to get a bunch of friends and just go.

Here's why I may never go back to Buffalo Wild Wings -- the restaurant making Bud Light as its "Beer of the Month" in May 2014.

Here’s why I may never go back to Buffalo Wild Wings — the restaurant making Bud Light as its “Beer of the Month” in May 2014.

Why I may never go back – While I was generally uncomfortable with the prices, there was one incredulous discovery that baffled me. As I was leaving, I saw that the restaurant’s “Beer of the Month” for May 2014 was Bud Light.

I’m not a fan of Bud Light (although it’s not unpalatable), but that’s not the primary reason why I was turned off to the point where I may never go back. Bud Light is _the_ most popular beer in America by far. Although sales have reportedly dipped recently, a Vox chart shows it outsold its nearest rival (Coors Light) nearly 3:1 in 2013.

Given such market dominance, Bud Light doesn’t seem to really need to be highlighted as a “Beer of the Month.” It’s a default, go-to beer for a lot of people — you would expect nearly every bar in the country to offer this product. It’s like naming Christmas the Holiday of the Month for December, salt as the Seasoning of the Month or if Little Cesar’s named its ever-available pepperoni pizza as the Pizza of the Month.

One possible factor is that Budweiser’s owner Anheuser–Busch InBev advertises the brand quite heavily. Maybe there was an advertising consideration when Buffalo Wild Wings made such a banal selection for its beer of the month?

If you do choose to sample the exotic and unknown Bud Light, Buffalo Wild Wings offers these tasting notes for the American-style light lager — “Subtle fruity and citrus taste notes with a fast, clean finish.”

The price of this special brew was $4.25 in 2014, which wasn’t too bad, although one may find better deals on far more superior beers elsewhere in Chico.

Postscript – After writing all this, I checked the restaurant’s beer menu and found the _two_ beers of the month:

Here are  Buffalo Wild Wings' beers of the month, as seen on Aug. 10, 2015.

*sigh* Here are Buffalo Wild Wings’ beers of the month, as seen on Aug. 10, 2015.

It’s disappointing to see Bud Light nab this spotlight again. Buffalo Wild Wings also has an odd definition of “Import,” as Goose Island is a Chicago brewery. It’s worth noting who Goose Island’s owners are — Anheuser-Busch InBev. AB InBev _is_ based in Belgium, so maybe that was a criteria in defining “Import.”

On a slightly positive note, Sam Adams remains its own independent company. At least there’s that, although Sam Adams seems to have similar issues to Bud Light.

Another ho-hum Halloween costume, or I did it all for the burrito

A still from PSY's video "Gangnam Style" on my iPod touch. Dressing as PSY is an unrealized costume idea from a couple of years ago.

A still from Psy’s video “Gangnam Style” on my iPod touch. Dressing as Psy is an unrealized costume idea from a couple of years ago.

Halloween has come and gone. While some people strove to show off dazzling and creative costumes (or refined what is “sexy”), I once again phoned my outfit in. Although I love watching and reading of far-flung realms and imaginative characters, my efforts to tangibly submerge myself in another role have always been a bit lackluster and this year was no different.

One of the ironies of this Halloween is that I actually bought part of a costume months ago and forgot about it. By the time I remembered, I had missed the one big event where I may have used it and only donned it to get cheap eats from Chipotle.

I don’t know where my aversion to dressing up in costumes comes from, but things have been rough since trick-or-treating as a child. Part of it may stem from that I don’t necessarily want to dress up as someone that I’m not (I can easily try an accent or impersonation, but they can often be discarded with a drop of a hat without consequence). When I was in the sixth grade, people wanted me to play a drug dealer in a play for the D.A.R.E. program. I was pretty adamant in my refusal and they did something different.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have played a drug dealer because I had no idea how to depict one, but the real reason why I didn’t want to take the part is that I didn’t want to portray such a negative character. I wasn’t extremely popular in grade school (or in high school … or in college or…) and I didn’t want to do anything that could make things worse.

Although it’s not great to say, I do consider what others might think of me if I dress up (which I view as different from people judging me for who I am). That’s why I don’t don silly masks or embrace the more cheesy parts of any given fandom.

I love “Star Trek” and frequent discussion boards about the show, but I sure as heck won’t dress up or adopt a goofy Trek-related moniker. I don’t have any problem with those who do, but it’s not for me.

I think I wouldn’t be so embarrassed to wear a costume if I had commitment to the costume and some measure of authenticity. However, I’m afraid many of my efforts would be underwhelming. For example, I would feel uncomfortable wearing an off-color foam Klingon forehead or a Starfleet uniform that’s a better fit for a bedroom than for a starship.

Since I don’t have the resources or wherewithal to commit to a truly great costume, most of my efforts in recent have been small and largely uninspiring.

It came from MySpace… "I'm not a real chef, but I played one during Halloween 2006."

It came from MySpace… “I’m not a real chef, but I played one during Halloween 2006.”

One of my last fun Halloween costumes was in 2006 when I dressed as a chef. It was easy enough to do an adequate job as I could acquire an apron and chef’s hat to complete the look. The only downside were the handful of drunken bros who asked me to cook something for them (partly because I wasn’t able to come up with a witty retort).

Since then, my best costumes were actually for events outside of Halloween. Every year, my college pep band picks a theme for the Battle of the Bands at UC Davis’ Picnic Day. I’ve generally been happy with my costumes, although wearing a bandanna for a rock ‘n roll theme was super low-key.

This is my idea of rocking out with the UCSD Pep Band at Picnic Day's Battle of the Bands. Thanks to Mike "Sparky" Sklar for the photo.

This is my idea of rocking out with the UCSD Pep Band at Picnic Day’s Battle of the Bands in 2013. Thanks to Mike “Sparky” Sklar for the photo.

The best costumes that I wore for Picnic Day were simple, but hopefully effective. For a video game theme in 2008, I donned a blue jacket, red shirt and yellow ball cap to match the title character in “Paperboy.” I also tried to bring my bike to the event, but it wouldn’t fit in my car.

The best-executed costume and prop was for a science-fiction theme in 2007. I wore a brown tank-top over a grey T-shirt to mimic the undergarments of a Colonial officer from “Battlestar Galactica.” I was proud of the prop that I made, although it wasn’t from BSG — I used PVC pipe and a black tarp to recreate the monolith from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Although it was plastic, I definitely strove for authenticity and made sure that the dimensions of my monolith matched the one from the movie (1x4x9).

My depiction of the monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey" on display during the 2007 Picnic Day at UC Davis.

My depiction of the monolith from “2001: A Space Odyssey” on display during the 2007 Picnic Day at UC Davis. (Photo credit to the original photographer)

Outside of Picnic Day, my costumes have been bombs. One year, I wore a florescent green safety vest for reasons so stupid I don’t want to articulate it here.

This year continued the tradition of mediocrity. I wasn’t even planning to wear a costume because I was going to remain away from the public, but I remembered that I had bought something months ago. When the last Blockbuster store was going out of business in Chico in January, I snapped up one of their polo shirts from a table of clothing for sale.

I pulled the shirt out of the closet Friday. I felt embarrassed — my concept never really advanced beyond merely wearing it. Why couldn’t I do something more creative — like wearing ghost or zombie makeup with the shirt to portray the Ghost of Abandoned Technologies Past? On the other end of the spectrum, I didn’t have the tools to make it more authentic, I never worked at Blockbuster so I had no nametag or lanyard.

There was no time to refine the costume. I hesitated to put it on, but ultimately did to go to dinner.

The things I'll wear to get a cheap burrito…

The things I’ll wear to get a cheap burrito…

Even though it was a simple blue long-sleeved shirt, it still felt tight and uncomfortable. I made it to Chipotle, where the staff was doing a great job serving the line that at times stretched out the door. Before I was able to get into the building, someone from off the street came up to me and asked me for a movie recommendation — she wanted something serious for a mother who wanted to remain in her children’s lives even if they were reluctant to.

I was busted. Although I’m relatively conversant about films, I am by no means a cinephile (especially when my tastes typically run toward light-hearted fare). Even now, I can’t think of a movie that would match her request — maybe “Little Miss Sunshine” or “Silver Linings Playbook” (with the storyline involving Robert Di Nero as the father)? I’m horrible.

I finally got the $3 burrito and had a delicious meal that supposedly helps charity (although I’m curious about how much good Chipotle’s own Chipotle Cultivate Foundation actually does).

The shirt didn’t feel so awkward at the end of the night, but I was more than happy to change out of it. I don’t know when I might ever wear that shirt again.

I wish I was able to capitalize on one idea in 2012. As indicated by the photo at the top of this entry, I would have been more than happy to don a blue tuxedo in the style of Psy and his 2012 breakout hit “Gangnam Style” (video). Authenticity would still be a factor — I’m not Korean/Korean American, don’t speak Korean and really can’t do the dance — but the song is so satirical, I think I could fit in. Psy was also a popular male Asian music figure that one could look up to (move aside, William Hung).

I thought of it too late for Halloween 2012 and there was no real opportunity to wear the blue tuxedo since then (although one site was pushing blue costume tuxedos for Halloween and New Year’s Eve celebrations).

Maybe inspiration will hit me in time for Halloween 2015.

Taste Test: Sierra Nevada Nooner Session IPA

A bottle of Sierra Nevada Nooner Session IPA is on display next to a glass of the ale.

A bottle of Sierra Nevada Nooner Session IPA is on display next to a glass of the ale.

Last month, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. released a variety pack called “4-Way IPA.” A co-worker and I agreed to split a 12-bottle case from the Chico brewery that included Blindfold Black IPA, Nooner Session IPA, Snow Wit White IPA, as well as the ever-popular Torpedo Extra IPA. To make the math of dividing the case easier (and to accommodate my co-worker’s beer aficionado significant other), I opted for a bottle each of the new varieties and three bottles of Torpedo.

First up for me was the Nooner Session IPA. This bottle was packaged Jan. 22, 2014 and I opened it March 11, 2014.

From the label on the neck of the bottle, Sierra Nevada writes “Nooner IPA is light in body but big in hop aroma and flavor. This session IPA delivers a dose of citrusy and grapefruit hop character from the use of whole-cone American hops.”

On the side, the label states “There’s no better way to start a lazy afternoon than with a group of friends and a few beers. Nooner IPA is a session beer that’s light in body yet big in hop flavor. By using intense, whole-cone American hops in our Hop Torpedo we pack this small beer with a hefty hop punch.”

With an ABV of 4.8 percent, this definitely seemed to be in line for casual consumption.

Sierra Nevada Nooner Session IPA looks amber and coppery when it is held to the light.

Sierra Nevada Nooner Session IPA looks amber and coppery when it is held to the light.

The pour didn’t give off a lot of head. This is probably an ale that would benefit from pouring directly in to the center of the glass instead of partially down the side.

The golden copper hue appeared to become cloudier as it rested in the glass. Initially, the ale’s smell was a pungent combination of citrus and pine, but it seemed to have diminished as time passed. Later, there were times I could smell it clearly and times where there was nothing.

On the first sip, it seems to open like Torpedo but the finish veers in a different direction. A citrus tang lingers on the palate. Through the cymbal crash of citrus, a faint bitterness reverberates like the waning echo of a tympani.

What little precious foam this beer did produce clung to the side of the glass in a satisfying fashion, but there weren’t any glorious rings.

This ale packs a lot of diverse flavor, but it isn’t heavy or overwhelming. There was no point where drinking it felt like an endurance challenge to survive an onslaught of hops or other factors.

Nooner Session IPA seems to live up to its name. Although I only have one bottle, I can easily picture sharing some with friends over a BBQ.

I’ll sample my two remaining new ales over the next couple of days. I’ll be saving the Snow Wit for last because I’ve heard good things about it and I love saving the best for last.