Beer Review 0233: Sierra Nevada Imperial Pilsner (Beer Camp #43)

Each year, Sierra Nevada put on what they call “Beer Camp,” which is where craft beer enthusiasts, with brewing experience or not, can go to the Chico, California brewery and learn everything there is to know about Sierra. They also brew beer that potentially could find its way into the yearly Beer Camp mixed twelve-pack that comes out in the Summer.

In order to attend Beer Camp, you have to submit a video of yourself at the Beer Camp website (sierrabeercamp.com). Ten finalists are selected by popular public vote, while ten more are picked by employees of Sierra Nevada.

As mentioned, in addition to touring Sierra Nevada, winners get to brew beer. A debate is had amongst winners about what kind of beer they want to make, and nothing is off limits, whether it be beer styles or ingredients. The best of the brews go into the Beer Camp variety pack, which for 2012, was released in August and contains these four beers: Oatmeal Stout, Imperial Pilsner, Floral IPA, and Imperial Red Ale.

Imperial Pilsner was the product of Beer Camp #43, and was called “Sticke Pilsner” at the time of brew. The alcohol by volume (ABV) here is only 5.6%, so we’re not sure exactly why this one is categorized as Imperial, as it is only slightly above the typical alcohol level you’d find in a standard Pilsner. The IBUs (International Bitterness Units) are 35; this beer went through the torpedo process that their Torpedo Extra IPA uses. The hop list: Magnum, Crystal, and Pacifica; malts: Pale 2-row, Europils, Munich, and Acidulated.

The pour gave a yellow, straw-colored beer that made an average size head, which quickly diminished, leaving a thin, soapy cover. This beer looked very much like a macro lager, and was exceptionally clear in body, with no particles or sediment. As I drank, the liquid produced a few nice bits of lacing.

On the nose, you have a lightly hopped Pilsner, with some citrus notes (orange and lemon) coupled with grainy and biscuit-like malt. The malts touch on a bit of roasted character, but overall, the beer is very clean-smelling, non-offensive and unimpressive.

The taste is pretty much the same: it’s clean, very, very, very clean. There are small hints of orange and lemon up front, with a grassy hop that delivers a touch of bitterness (think: orange juice bitterness) with some grainy malt. Yes, it’s a bit stronger and more flavorful than your typical Pilsner, but I’m not sure it earns the “Imperial” distinction. The finish is clean and crisp, with a slight bitterness that leaves the palate ready for more. This beer was thin and watery, and I felt like I could slam two or three of these down in quick succession.

Look, I respect the Pilsner style. But I expected much more from Sierra Nevada’s version of an “Imperial Pilsner.” This tastes like your average, run of the mill craft Pilsner…which isn’t exactly bad, but it’s not good, either. Hey, if you could session this in the summer, you’d be a winner. But as a one-off in an expensive Beer Camp variety pack, this is the weakest offering by a mile.

Sierra Nevada Imperial Pilsner, 71 points. Price $18.99 for the Beer Camp twelve pack, where you get three bottles of four different beers.

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