Winning a trip to Beer Camp isn’t easy.
First you’ll have to make a video explaining why you deserve two days of VIP treatment and the opportunity to brew your own beer at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Then there’s the voting period, during which you’ll hear no shortage of bad camp-related puns from your co-workers. On a daily basis, someone will ask you if Beer Camp is anything like band camp. At some point, you’ll want to punch this person in the face. But you can’t. You need his votes. Finally, for the lucky winners, there’s the long ride to the middle of nowhere in Northern California.
But when you finally arrive in Chico and stroll into the brewery’s pub as a Beer Camp winner, it’s all worth it.
“There was a point when I was making my video when I thought I was spending way too much time on this,” said Aubrey Laurence, who won a trip to Beer Camp No. 95 with a video blaming Sierra Nevada for his obsession with craft beer. “Once I got to Beer Camp, I couldn’t believe I whined about spending 10 hours on the video. I would have spent three times that amount.”
Same here. As a member of Laurence’s Beer Camp group (I won the trip before I signed on full time with All About Beer Magazine), I can confidently write that Beer Camp is a craft beer lover’s dream come true. Here are 10 reasons you should enter the Beer Camp contest.
Anyone can go—even procrastinators.
Sierra Nevada has hosted more than 100 Beer Camps, most of which are invitation-only for beer industry folks. But once a year the brewery holds a video contest and welcomes two groups of consumers to Beer Camp. While half of the winners are selected by a popular vote online, the remaining winners are selected by Sierra Nevada employees. That means you can enter at the last minute, receive zero online votes, and still win a trip to Beer Camp.
Just make sure your video is worth watching. “We want to know how much you love beer, but aim to entertain,” said Terence Sullivan, a product manager, Beer Camp ambassador, and part of the duo behind The Brewer and The Geek video series. “The brewery voting portion of the contest is a bunch of us drinking pints, eating pizza, and looking forward to some laughs—that’s your audience.”
You’ll get a VIP tour of the brewery.
Inspecting the bottling line at an arm’s reach. Exploring a freezer bigger than a house where hops are stacked to the ceiling. Pedaling across Sierra Nevada property on a 12-seater beer bike outfitted with fresh kegs of Celebration Ale. These are some of the perks you might enjoy at Beer Camp—perks the general public won’t experience on the brewery’s typical daily tours.
For Derek Hutzler, who went on multiple brewery tours before winning a spot in Beer Camp No. 94, having nearly unrestricted access to the brewery was a highlight made extra special by Sierra Nevada employees. “To hang out with Terence Sullivan, Steve Grossman, and the rest of the staff was spectacular,” said Hutzler, who grew his beard out for six months in preparation for his video, in which he acted out the parts of several Sierra Nevada beers. “Hearing the stories from all of them was really a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
He means it. Hutzler—who recently graduated from Chico State University—skipped a midterm so he could participate in his camp’s brew day. “It was completly worth it,” he said. “Still passed with a B.”
You’ll brew beer on Sierra Nevada’s pilot brewing system.
Don’t get too excited. Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman isn’t going to throw you the keys to the brewhouse and ask you to turn out the lights when you leave. But you will decide what kind of beer you make (and what to name it) and you’ll spend plenty of time in the pilot brewery.
“It was a surreal experience because you know that they’re doing other beers in there for the first time,” said Laurence. “I’ve been on hundreds of brewery tours, but some of their stuff was pretty advanced. It was an awesome experience to meet with such talented brewers and experienced brewers and to feel like we were part of that.”
For John Lovegrove—a New Zealand native living in Oregon who once visited 50 breweries in one day—the size of the 20-barrel brewing system was most impressive. “It’s probably bigger than 1,000 to 2,000 breweries in the country,” he said.
Your beer will be on tap at your favorite bar…
Can’t make it back to Chico to sample the beer you brewed at Beer Camp? Fear not. The good people at Sierra Nevada will make sure that your beer makes it to your local bar (you get to choose the place).
… and your house.
You read that right. You can buy a 5-gallon keg of your beer for your home kegerator.
Your beer might go national.
Both of the beers created by the consumer Beer Camps in 2012 are included in the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp variety pack. Beer Camp No. 94 brewed the Belgian-Style Black IPA (originally known as Sleight of Hand) and Beer Camp No. 95 brewed the Imperial Red Ale (originally know as Blood Shot). An IPA brewed by the staff of Celebrator Magazine rounds out the variety pack.
“To be able to buy a beer I created from the supermarket is an unbelievable experience,” said Hutzler. “I just bought some of our beer and it was better than Christmas morning.”
That doesn’t mean future consumer camps should expect the same fortune. Sullivan said this is the third year Sierra Nevada has distributed a variety pack, but this is the first time it featured beer from a consumer Beer Camp. “If they make excellent beers, they’ll be in the running,” Sullivan said. “We also have the fortune of serving Beer Camp beers in the taproom soon after they’re made, so we keep our ears open to patrons’ verdicts of those brews. Plenty of opinions go toward the variety pack.”
If Sierra Nevada brews it, you’re drinking it on the house at Beer Camp.
That includes rare beers you won’t find outside of Chico. Maybe even a couple of vintage beers from the cellar. Personally, one of my favorite memories of Beer Camp was tasting a sample of barrel-aged Bigfoot Barley Wine (from a beaker) before it was bottled.
You might walk away with some unexpected party favors.
According to Greg Nagel, who blogs at ocbeerblog.com and attended Beer Camp No. 94, “the best part of camp was them answering, ‘Yes,’ to every dumb request we had. Can we taste this? Bam, they went and pulled it from the cellar. Can we take some hops home? Bam, here’s Ziploc bags and markers. Can I have a rhizome? Bam, there’s now a 10-foot tall Cascade hop plant from Sierra Nevada growing in my backyard.”
Beer Camp might be good for your career.
Before attending Beer Camp No. 94, Sean Laidlaw worked at a burger joint. A month later, he got a job as an assistant brewer at Mission Brewery in San Diego. And he’s not the only Beer Camper who scored a beer job after Beer Camp. Keith Ely (Beer Camp No. 94) is bartending at Angel City Brewery in Los Angeles and John Herman (Beer Camp No. 95) is working in event support for Sierra Nevada in San Diego.
Ely, who blogs for Bierkast.com, said his Beer Camp experience played a big role in getting the job. “I think I was hired as the beer geek type of guy,” Ely said. “[Beer Camp] seems to be an amazing conversation starter, and has really opened up some opportunities for me.”
You’ll make new drinking buddies.
One of Shaun McGrady’s favorite Beer Camp memories is meeting his fellow campers in person on the first night. “We were talking about vacation plans and what’s it like with your family back home. It kind of transcended the beer aspect,” said McGrady, whose video entry featured a Siri-like iPhone assistant named Beeri. “We were kind of becoming friends on day one.”
But it’s not like the campers were meeting for the first time. The day the winning campers were notified, campers began chatting in a Facebook group. Months later, campers regularly post pictures of beer they’re enjoying, talk about upcoming beer releases, and share homebrew recipes in the group. Some of the campers have reunited in real life.
“That’s one thing I was not expecting,” said Herman. “People stop down here in San Diego all the time and we get a beer. I think that’s fun. You meet people that are like-minded in their nerdiness and in their complete and utter geekdom for beer.”
But first thing’s first. You’ve got to enter the contest.
Jon Page is the Managing Editor of All About Beer Magazine. After recently relocating to California, he’s happily exploring the craft beer scene in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @jonpageonline and check out more of his pictures from Beer Camp on Tumblr.