Our Sierra Nevada Beer Camp beer, Nuthin’ in Common, is finally available at select locations in Northern California. And I do mean ‘select’, as in we selected them. We chose three locations and some fellow Nor Cal campers from Petaluma will serve it at their place, McNear’s. Below are the dates that this special brew will be tapped at our select establishments. The list times are when we will be hanging out at the location.
Nuthin’ in Common was the first California Common ever brewed at Sierra Nevada. But our version is aggressively hopped, with Cascades and Hallertau Magnums in the brew kettle and Southern Hemisphere and Hop 393 in the dry hop. It came in at 6.6% ABV with 45 IBUs.
Here are a few notes from Sierra Nevada brewer Scott Jennings: “It has a sweetness to it, nice subtle malt note in there, but the nose is dominantly hops. The dry hopping made it really interesting…a beer that is normally not hoppy has a very nice velvety hop character… Very pine/myrcene, but also quite fruity. You can feel the alcohol warmth but for it’s strength it is very drinkable. Not at all like any steam beer you’ve ever had guaranteed! Very bright, a nice sunset color, good foam.”
We were back at the brewery at 8am on Friday for brew day. We actually had the option to show up at 6am to help get the first batch started but only one intrepid camper, Bruce, took advantage of that opportunity.
The pilot brewery mimics the big brewhouses, just on a smaller scale. In our case, two 10 barrel batches were going to be combined into a 20 barrel fermenter. When we arrived at quarter past eight, the first batch was being sparged. Scott Jennings immediately put us to work.
The first task was to run the specialty malts for batch #2 through the malt mill. This involved emptying 55lb bags of Pilsner and Munich malt into what was basically a giant vacuum that sucked the grain into the mill. After hydrating and crushing, the malt was sucked up into the mash tun.
About that same time, batch #1 was almost ready for the hops. We quickly dashed off to the hop storage room to weigh out our hops for both batches. In our meeting the previous day, we decided on two varieties of hops for the brew kettle. The first, as an homage to Sierra Nevada, was Cascade. The second was Hallertau Magnums, a variety that had special significance to Merideth and me. When we were in the Hallertau this past September we saw Magnums being harvested. It was cool to think that MAYBE hops we saw harvested in September were actually going into our brew.
Once everything was weighed out and batch #2 was in the mash tun, we sat around and waited until it was time to add hops to the brew kettle.
Nuthin’ in Common was quadruple hopped with the Cascades and Magnums. I know that sounds crazy since Miller Lite is triple hopped, but we had to up the ante.
On top of that, Sierra Nevada also employs a hopback, something we had never seen before. A hopback is a chamber that is loaded with hops. The wort passes through it before being chilled. Our brew was dosed with more Cascades and Magnums on its way to the fermenter. By mid afternoon, batch #2 was being transferred to the fermenter.
With Nuthin’ in Common safely in the fermenter and the yeast pitched, it was time for a field trip to Sierra Nevada’s rail spur (think of a spur as a railroad station for rail cars). To save on grain transportation costs, Sierra Nevada built a rail spur, the first in Northern California since the 1950s, a few miles from the brewery. Instead of being trucked up from Stockton, their malt arrives on rail cars which are left at the spur. From the spur, the malt is trucked to the brewery on a daily basis.
A side benefit of the rail spur project was that Sierra Nevada ended up with a large piece of land to grow barley. If I remember the figure correctly, they planted 23 acres. Unfortunately, the barley was harvested the week before Beer Camp, so we missed the acres of grain waving in the breeze.
As a fan of Sierra Nevada’s estate beers, I am really looking forward to their first 100% estate harvest this coming fall; a first for the craft brewing industry.
Except for dinner at the brewery pub and hitting downtown Chico on Friday night, Beer Camp was pretty much over. We went into Beer Camp Sierra Nevada fans. There was no need to convert us. Even so, we were impressed by what we saw and learned. It was an amazing experience. Thanks go out to all of our fellow campers and the Sierra Nevada staff that took time with us. You helped make it a memorable two days.
Dry-hopping of Nuthin’ In Common began several days after the beer went in the fermenters. For that, we chose Southern Cross, a New Zealand variety used in Sierra Nevada’s Southern Hemisphere Harvest and Hop 393, an experimental hop that was also used by a previous Beer Camp. We will be pouring Nuthin’ in Common at Ol’ Factory Cafe in Sand City, City Beer in San Francisco and Sacramento Brewing sometime this summer. We hope you come by and try it.
Beer Camp… What a concept. Sierra Nevada Brewery launched “Beer Camp” in May 2008. The idea was to invite key accounts to Northern California for an in depth look at the brewery, exposing participants to the beer, philosophy and culture of Sierra Nevada. The culmination of the two-day experience is a chance to create and brew a beer on the brewery’s 10 barrel pilot system.
Over time, the type of participant has expanded to include brewers such as Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey/Port and beer media types such as Rick Sellers of Draft magazine and ourselves.
As huge fans of Sierra Nevada, Beer Camp was something we really wanted to do. Our local Sierra rep, Quinn, had been trying to get us scheduled since last fall but the dates never worked for us. We were either traveling or the dates too closely surrounded a trip. Finally, the June 2009 dates matched our schedule and last week we headed to Chico.
Beer camp #8 began bright and early on Thursday morning… 8am to be exact. Meeting in a conference room lovingly referred to as the “fish bowl”, we met our fellow campers for the first time. Our group of eight was probably pretty typical of other beer camps; two were involved in retail while the other four had bars or pubs. Our host was Steve Grossman, Brewery Ambassador and brother of brewery founder Ken Grossman.
After a Sierra Nevada history lesson, it was time to put on the safety glasses in preparation for a comprehensive tour of the Sierra Nevada facility. Sierra Nevada Brewer Terrence Sullivan walked and biked us all over the sprawling maze-like facility. I think we saw pretty much everything: grain storage, grist mill, hop storage, brew kettles, tasting labs, fermentation rooms, and the bottling line. The only thing we missed was the POS storage, but stacks of beer coasters didn’t sound too exciting anyway.
We also got to view Sierra’s array of solar panels, the second largest private installation in the country. With their solar panels and fuel cells, Sierra Nevada is producing 90%+ of their own power and has even returned power to the grid several times in the last few months.
My favorite part of Day One was our visit to the sensory lab. To help us better understand the different flavors that can be present in beer, we had a vertical tasting of Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barleywine. We sampled four different Bigfoot years: 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009. Staring with the hoppy 2009, we tasted down the years with each presenting a different set of taste sensations. 2003 was the expected prunes and raisins, but that flavor gave way to strong cherry overtones in the 2000.
The most important task of Day One was to choose the beer we were going to brew on Day Two. Right after sampling the Bigfoot vertical, we retired to our conference room to hash it out. We were threatened with a quiz if we couldn’t come to a consensus. The person with the highest score would get to decide what beer to brew. None of us had any strong feelings on what beer to make. A Double IPA was suggested, as well as, a malt liquor (I think Dave was joking, but I’m not positive). In the end, it was Steve Grossman who suggested we do a California Common and the group quickly embraced the idea. Fermenting a lager beer at ale temperatures had never been done at Sierra Nevada and we all liked the idea of making history.
It was also quickly decided that our California Common wasn’t going to be like the one from San Francisco. It was not only going to have a higher ABV, but also be aggressively hopped. At this point, Merideth made her brilliant contribution to our brew, the name: Nuthin’ in Common.
All that remained was to hash out the ingredients with Scott Jennings, the pilot brewery’s head brewer. We talked about the types of malts and hops we wanted to use. I think only three of our group had homebrewed before and none of us had formulated a beer recipe. Scott deftly pointed us in the right direction. Wanting a deep amber color, he suggested a combination of malts that would achieve our desired hue. Being much more interested in the hops, we made a pilgrimage down to the hop storage to get to know our hops better. The final targets were an ABV of 6.5-7% and the IBUs around 55.
We finished the brewery tour part of our day with a visit to the hop fields that border the eastern end of the property. Recently expanded from three to nine acres, these hops are the cornerstone of the excellent estate beers that Sierra Nevada has been producing for the last few years.
The business end of our day was over. It was off to the Sierra Nevada pub to have a few beers and dinner. The pub was crowded with customers and employees just off work. The previous beer camp’s brew, a smoked beer made with some rye, debuted on cask that afternoon. We made it an early night because the following day was brew day.