Nick Freshman and Nick Langman, owners of Spider Kelly’s in Arlington, never expected their beer to be released nationally.
In fall 2011, the two attended Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s Beer Camp No. 65, joining about eight other professionals in crafting a limited-edition, one-off brew. That beer, an imperial red ale originally dubbed Red-Oric and now rechristened Sierra Nevada Imperial Red Ale, joins three other releases in the Sierra Nevada 2012 Beer Camp Variety Pack. The 12-pack contains three bottles each of Imperial Red, Imperial Pilsner, Floral IPA and Oatmeal Stout.
Last Wednesday, Sept. 19, Premium Distributors and Sierra Nevada’s local rep, Brad Phillips, previewed three of the beers at Whitlow’s on Wilson in Arlington. Alas, the Imperial Red was the AWOL bottle, so I’ll have to rely on information from the brewery’s Web site: Imperial Red measures 8.5 percent alcohol by volume and 65 bitterness units, and “has big aromatic hop notes of grapefruit, peach and melon, balanced by a very smooth and surprisingly robust malt body.”
“They literally lock you in a room until you decide” what style you want to brew, Freshman says of the Beer Camp experience. His first idea was to do a rye IPA, unaware that Sierra Nevada had already committed to brewing such a beer (Ruthless Rye) as its spring seasonal.
“That got nixed pretty quick,” he says.
He recalls the strong red ale that he and his fellow campers formulated was “pretty dry, with a bright color and high alcohol content.” Their original name for the beer was Little Red Riding Hop, but Sierra Nevada’s legal department, according to Freshman, shot that choice down for reasons he’s not sure of.
Spider Kelly’s, recalls Freshman, received “three or four kegs” of the finished beer, which the bar blew through quickly last April. Freshman says he has a sixtel from a more recent batch, which he expects to disappear in about two hours when he hooks it up. “We’ll pick a slow night,” he laughs.
The three other beers in the variety pack are all quite distinctive. The Imperial Pilsner has a strong peppery/resiny flavor from Crystal and Pacifica hops. The Floral IPA seems rather gently hopped for the style, with rose hips and petals that create a flowery bouquet wafting up in the back of your throat. The Oatmeal Stout is one of the darkest and strongest (9.4 percent alcohol by volume) examples of this type of beer I’ve encountered, with an intense bittersweet chocolate flavor that dares you to plop a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it.
Looking ahead, Sierra Nevada has a barrel-aged version of its Ovila Abbey Dubbel due out in October, along with Narwhal Imperial Stout, a new entry in its “High Altitude” series of big beers in four-packs. The nation’s second-largest craft brewer obviously doesn’t believe in sitting on its laurels.