Back From Beer Camp

The Sierra Nevada Bar Bike. Photo by John Watson.
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The Hop Smack Double Black is coming back.  Mark Tambascio, co-owner of My Place Restaurant and Tap Room in Newtown, Connecticut, thought that three kegs of this tasty black India Pale Ale (IPA) would last a week in his bar, but his patrons went through two kegs on the beer’s opening night, June 14, and all of it had been enjoyed by June 17.


What makes this beer so special is that Tambascio and his brewing buddy, John Watson, concocted Hop Smack themselves during a session of Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp this past spring.  My Place is one of only five bars in the country currently offering Hop Smack (one of them being Sierra’s own brew pub), and Tambascio is expecting three more kegs to arrive on Tuesday.


Sierra Nevada was assembling the first 12-packs of “The Best of Beer Camp” beers when Tambascio and Watson arrived at the brewery in Chico, California back in April.  The 12-packs, available at most package stores now, feature four different beers labeled by camp number and brew – camp 16’s hearty Juniper Black Ale, the “Nuthin’ in Common” California common from camp 8, from camp 29 the “Ghidorah” double IPA, said to be as formidable as its sci-fi monster namesake, and a weizenbock from camp 37.  Tabascio and Watson tasted each one right out of the tank.


The beer labels also show a picture of Sierra Nevada’s Bar Bike – a Wonka-like pedal-powered vehicle, stocked with twelve stools, two kegs in the back and a driver, who can steer with beer in hand if he so desires.  That’s how Tambascio and Watson toured the brewery during their camp –  number 48.


You have to be invited to go to Beer Camp (unless you win a yearly Beer Camp contest), and Tambascio has been invited repeatedly.  He finally took time off from his restaurant to attend this year, and he recanted a remarkable experience during an interview in his bar.


“You don’t realize what it’s all about until you get there,” he said.


From the business end to owner Ken Grossman’s personal involvement in brewing, Tambascio was wooed by Sierra Nevada.  He was also impressed by the brewery’s self-generated energy via solar panels, fuel cells and recycled biodiesel (not to mention the Bar Bike!).  You can see an update of how much energy is being generated at the brewery on the Sierra website (about 650 kiloWatts in solar and 40 in fuel cells, 40% of their total power as of 8:36am Pacific Time this morning),  read up on their water conservation and recycling practices, and peruse their 32-page 2010 sustainability report.


“‘Delicious’ is the word I was getting.”

-Mark Tambascio, on what customers said about his Beer Camp-brewed Hop Smack Double Black



Tambascio and Watson had been emailing their fellow campers for months prior to their session – guys from Oregon, Pennsylvania, Ohio,  New Jersey and Indiana – so that they could decide on what type of beer to create at camp.  Their first choice was a saison – a traditional farmhouse ale – but the timing was off for that particular yeast, which had recently been harvested for Sierra’s Ovila line, brewed in collaboration with monks at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, 15 miles from Sierra Nevada.


Their second choice was a black IPA – a newly popular brew style, akin to a hop-infused stout – , and the timing was perfect.  Sierra had just received its shipment of New Zealand hops, which are utilized just once a year in their Southern Hemisphere Harvest brew.  Camp 48 chose to use these hops, and they got their hands on them even before the Southern Hemisphere had been brewed.


“New Zealand hops made the beer really interesting,” said Tambascio.  “Traditional American hops are citrusy and piney, and they’re earthy and floral in New Zealand.  They came in the week we were there, which made [our beer] what’s known as a ‘fresh hop’ ale.”


Tambascio said a lot of people were surprised at the low-key hop taste in the Hop Smack, and with an eight percent alcohol by volume content, the brew is smooth and nice to drink.


“‘Delicious’ is the word I was getting,” he said.


This next shipment of Hop Smack Double Black will probably go as fast as it comes, but maybe we’ll see camp 48 in an upcoming “Best of Beer Camp” 12-pack.  There’s certainly a strong market for it at My Place.

by & filed under Brews, Food.