Beer Review 0462: Sierra Nevada Imperial Red Ale (Beer Camp #95)

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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 2013, was released in July and contains these three beers: IPA, Belgian-Style Black IPA, and Imperial Red Ale. (This is a departure from previous years where four beers were highlighted instead of three — this year, four bottles of the three selected beers comprise the mixed twelve-pack, versus three bottles of four different beers.)

Beer Camp #95, originally brewed in December 2012 and named “Blood Shot,” is an Imperial Red Ale brewed with West Coast hops and a massive dose of malts. Registering at 100 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), the back of the bottle calls this beer “aggressive” and backs it up with 8.5% ABV (alcohol by volume). Looks like a beast, at least on paper.

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The pour dishes out a small, soapy, and moderately fast fading head that is atop a beer that is indeed red — dark red, nearly brown, with some lighter orange highlights toward the bottom of the glass. The body is crystal clear, free of particles and sediment, while the lacing left behind after each sip is pretty good, leaving solid if thin sheets of an off-white foam.

On the nose, there’s immediate hops which are quite pungent and astringent; notes of grass and light tropical fruits, lemon, lime, some onion, and oranges. But there’s a decent sized malt backing with milk chocolate, sweet caramel, and roasted grains. The hops used in this brew must include Mosaic, as that scent is undeniable. This Imperial Red is sweet but packs a hoppy punch.

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Flavors of sharp (not tart or sour) lemon and orange hit the palate on the initial sip, opening up to a dash of juicy tropical fruit before bringing in layer upon layer of bitterness, which really starts to ramp up the more you drink. The perceived malt backing in the aroma really only presents itself in the form of some gentle sweet caramel, and really, it seems to add more to the body than flavor. The finish has a touch of roasted malt and lots of bitter grapefruit and pine; full-bodied, I found the mouthfeel to be thick, creamy, and drying.

An aggressive beer indeed, but mostly on the bitterness. This brew is as dry as a rye beer and starts turning medicinal bitter as you finish the glass. Halfway through and my palate was tired and ready to move on. Nice flavors, but a bit too much bitterness and not enough complexity.

Sierra Nevada Imperial Red Ale (Beer Camp #95), 84 points. Price: $18.99 US for the Beer Camp twelve pack, where you get four bottles each of three different beers.

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