Beer Review 0245: Sierra Nevada Imperial Red Ale (Beer Camp #65)

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 Red Ale is actually an Imperial IPA with the malt turned to eleven. But, there’s plenty of hops here, too: Magnum, Chinook, Citra, and an experimental variety exclusive to Sierra Nevada. We wonder how that experimental variety ended up in a brew designed by people who aren’t employed by the company. Hmm. The malts used to balance: Pale two-row, Patagonia, Caramel, and Chocolate. This beer was made at Beer Camp #65 and was originally called “Red-Oric.” ABV (alcohol by volume) is 8.1%, while the IBUs (International Bitterness Units) are 65, the highest in the Beer Camp 2012 variety pack.

The pour delivered exactly what was promised: a nice, deep red beer that had an impressively large head for a higher ABV. The head was frothy and lasting, and the body of the beer was clear, free of particles and sediment. And right from the first diminishing of the suds, there was excellent thick and sticky lacing, and it continued all the way down the glass as I sampled, too.

On the nose, this Imperial Red was nicely balanced — big notes of grapefruit, which provide ample bitterness, were cut by an equally as large sweet caramel whiff. Supporting scents included orange peel, pine, a small bit of peach, and a definite rye bread, although there are no rye malts at play here. There was a bit of nuttiness, too; and a general malty sweetness.

The taste started out with a bit of soft coffee that turned hoppy, with flashes of grapefruit and pine. Middle of the taste brought out more malts; caramel takes center stage, leading to a finish that is equal parts bitter to sweet — grapefruit, pine, balanced by some general malt notes that slightly verged on coffee, but didn’t quite get there. The mouthfeel was medium-bodied, and had a drying effect, with soft carbonation.

Beer Camp Imperial Red is a nice beer, obviously expertly crafted, but too safe. Our friend complexity is lacking, and I found the flavors to be muted on my palate as compared to my nose. This is a solid offering, but I would have loved to seen those hop flavors turned up in volume and more of the coffee explored.

Sierra Nevada Imperial Red Ale (Beer Camp #65), 87 points. Price: $18.99 US for the Beer Camp twelve pack, where you get three bottles of four different beers.

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