I finally found a reason to like camping. Beer Camp Across America came to Penn Treaty Park in Philadelphia on Saturday August 2nd, 2014.
When I walked in to Monk’s Café on the evening of Friday August 1st the place was absolutely packed which (I’ve been told) is pretty much the norm for that Philadelphia craft beer mecca on a Friday night. The crowd on this night was a little different, though, because there seemed to be one theme running through everyone’s conversation: Beer Camp. After making our way to the bar in the back and finding standing room only my brotherly companion and I struck up conversation with our fellow bar-goers. We quickly discovered that just about everyone in that room would be attending the Philadelphia edition of Sierra Nevada’s cross-country beer extravaganza the following day. As beers were drunk and I tasted my first ever Russian River beer (Blind Pig and oh yeah it was awesome) my newly made friends confirmed what I had already suspected: Philly beer geeks were pumped for this event. And who could blame them?
Sierra Nevada is the granddaddy of craft brewing in the United States. Of the earlier breweries that started this Revolution in the late 1970s and early 80s (Anchor was the 1960s but they were by themselves for a long time) Sierra Nevada has been the most consistent, successful, and unwavering in its operation. Though they aren’t the largest, they are looked to by many craft brewers as a leader in the industry, and that’s where Beer Camp Across America came from. Sierra Nevada invited a dozen of the nation’s best craft breweries to collaborate with them and create an entire twelve-pack of cooperatively inspired beers. The festival tour is their way of celebrating the collaboration and the release of that special case.
At the festival the following day it seemed like everything colluded to make the event literally as enjoyable as possible. This being the sixth of seven stops for the festival it seemed as though any kinks which may have derailed it had already been worked out. Everything was well planned, efficiently executed, and conveniently organized. Even Mother Nature showed her appreciation for a fine brew by giving us relatively cool temperatures and cloud cover but no rain. For those who aren’t familiar with the city, Penn Treaty Park is on the riverfront of the Delaware River, and the breeze off the water kept the air moving amongst the throngs of people packed around the three brewer’s tents. Perhaps most importantly, the lines moved fast and the beer poured freely.
Seventy-Six local and regional craft breweries were pouring in addition to the breweries that were on tour with Sierra Nevada. The collaboration brewers were serving their own creations in addition to the beers that they made for the mix twelve-pack, and you might guess which of them turned out to be the most popular. The line for Russian River’s table looped almost the entire way around the collaboration tent at one point as seemingly every craft beer fan from the Mid-Atlantic region stood patiently for a chance to get some Pliny the Elder and/or Supplication.
I freely admit that I spent about twenty minutes of my festival time waiting in that line and I don’t regret it even a little bit. Luckily I had my brother there with me and we were able to get samples of both beers without slowing down the line or waiting a second time. Without going into a long diatribe on the matter, Pliny the Elder proved to me that some beers really are as good as the hype, and Supplication was almost painfully delicious with just enough of the oak flavor to transition you into the intense sourness.
Without listing every beer I drank my local highlights were St. Boniface’s Libation DIPA, Weyerbacher’s Sunday Morning Stout, and Naked Brewing’s Pomegranate Wheat. I drank the Libation shortly after trying a number of the best IPAs from the collaboration brewers and it stood toe to toe with all of them. Weyerbacher’s Stout was the beer that I thought was going to get me in trouble (ll.2% ABV) but I just couldn’t say no and it definitely did not disappoint. The Pomegranate Wheat from Naked Brewing came later in the day and it was absolutely the perfect thing to relax with for a few minutes on a warm day.
Overall I would rate the festival as a 9 out of 10. It was an absolute blast and incredibly well put together, you really didn’t have to worry about anything except choosing your next beer and trying to stay functional. If I did have one complaint it was the festival’s length, I thought it could have been significantly longer. Five hours may sound like a long time to drink beer but you have to take a slow pace and regular breaks from drinking if you want to avoid getting obliterated drunk, and because of that there were quite a few beers I wish I could have tried that I didn’t get to. Of course I understand the logistical issues of doing seven festivals this large in three weekends, and if my only complaint about an event is that I wish it hadn’t ended I think that says something about the quality of the show that was put on. I sincerely hope this becomes a regular festival circuit; it’s unique in its dynamic, well run in its setup, and one heck of a good time.