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Camp Chico

Chico, CA.

Beer Camp? Are there two better words in the English Language? Okay, maybe Pale Ale, but seriously, a camp for beer lovers? God Bless you Ken Grossman. Now before you run out and try and sign up for this, there’s just one catch. Camp Chico (established 2008) isn’t open to the public. It is however open to industry personnel, publicans or in my case some brewers.

As a professional brewer, I’ve toured countless breweries. Somehow, I’d never made the pilgrimage to Sierra Nevada to visit their operations. Shame on me, I know. This all changed this past April when I was invited along with Jeff Bagby of Pizza Port, Tom Nickel of O’Brien’s Pub and a few other personalities from the beer industry to attend Camp Chico. It might just be the two best days I have ever spent drinking beer

The email was a modest invitation to come tour the facilities, spend two days working with the brewers at Sierra Nevada on a recipe before producing two batches in their pilot plant. As a bonus, once the beer was packaged, each camper would receive an allocation of the brew. BRILLIANT! When I finished reading the email, I closed my eyes envisioning Beer Camp.

Immediately I saw a sun soaked wood dock jutting out into a small lake with adults lazily floating in inner tubes sipping beer from proper glassware with nary a cloud dotting the sky for miles. Here, campers were ushered from one beery activity to the next and Camp “Counselors” repaired any “holes” that may have materialized in our glasses. You know, beer camp. Except that’s not serious beer camp. Sierra Nevada Beer Camp on the other hand is.

It was obvious from the moment we stepped we arrived at Sierra Nevada that Camp Chico was not some crappy knock off version of beer camp. Most assuredly, our nights would not be spent singing Kumbaya around a campfire while knocking back 30 packs. There would be no beer pong tournaments or dueling keg stand contests at high noon. In short, this was a world class Beer Camp.

As such, this brewery meant business. Our group of 8 campers was given two days to imagine a beer, execute a recipe and name the beer. This wasn’t camp lite! It was however an intensive crash course in brewing 101 with lessons in raw materials, process controls and sensory analysis training. We even took numerous mini thirst inducing hikes to outlying key areas of the brewery including labs, packaging facilities and cellars.

Emancipated from my brewery, I participated in a brew without ever putting on my boots, cleaning anything or worrying about how much it cost. I actually almost relaxed. Well, except that one time at beer camp when they made us ride the uber bike.

When I first beheld its magnificence, I was struck that Willy Wonka never had anything this cool. Two wood bars, a sunshade and a ten pack of seats meant some serious damage could be done on this gizmo. Each camper grabbed a seat, took possession of a beer and we pedaled our way around the grounds. This crazy uber bike sits on car chassis, weighs a ton and is truly a thing of beauty. It has no motor, a steering wheel and a twin tap tower with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on board.

Beer Camp was amazing. Beers flowed. Torpedoes were launched and memories were catalogued for future campfires. It was everything Camp is supposed to be. It all makes sense now. Sierra Nevada is two words. So is World Class.

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