Beer, Wine & Spirits

Sierra Nevada is taking its Beer Camp global, casting a wide net for craft brew lovers

Key Points
  • Sierra Nevada's third edition of collaboration beers features six international and six US brews
  • Craft brew is becoming a global phenomenon, and 'Beer Camp' reflects that
  • Beer drinkers are becoming spoiled by the many choices, and don't want to drink the same thing twice, Sierra Nevada's founder explains.
Photo courtesy Sierra Nevada Brewery

Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp series is going global.

The third edition of the brewery's 12-pack of collaboration beers searched far and wide for inspiration. The result is a variety assortment of brews from six international and six stateside brewers.

The range of beer styles is as diverse as the geography of the participants, reflecting a booming worldwide market for craft beer. Sierra Nevada's collaborations include Copenhagen-based Mikkeller's Thai-Style Iced Tea Ale, to an East Meets West IPA from Tree House Brewing in Massachusetts, and Raspberry Sundae Ale with California's The Bruery.

"The craft beer revolution has spread from the U.S. to pretty much every country in the world, and we thought 'let's invite brewers we know and respect around the globe as a celebration of craft brewing and the spirit of collaboration,'" Ken Grossman, Sierra Nevada Brewing's founder and CEO, told CNBC recently.

Beer Camp was originally conceived as a way to celebrate the 2014 opening of the company's brewery in Asheville, North Carolina. As part of the celebration, Grossman hopped on bus for a cross-country adventure with some fellow craft brewers, throwing a series of beer festivals along the journey from California to North Carolina.

Beer Camp was originally conceived as a one-time celebration, but the resulting success–and the buzz generated by both brewers and fans alike–convinced Grossman to do it again. So Beer Camp has returned each of the last two years with a different roster of participating breweries and beer festivals spread out across the country.

The 'what's new' and 'don't want to drink the same beer twice' mentality is a little challenging at times for our industry
Ken Grossman
founder and CEO, Sierra Nevada Brewing

Grossman acknowledged the project is a labor of love, but also said each year also brings its own set of logistical challenges, with brewers scattered in so many different locations.

"It's quite a bit of juggling to put together the brewing schedule and then it's all got to be packed by hand," he said, with this year's selections needing to be hand-packed into cases.

For Grossman the variety-pack and its mix of styles is reflection of how far the craft beer industry has come since he founded Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, California in 1979.

Sierra Nevada's 12 'Beer Camp' craft brews
Photo courtesy Sierra Nevada Brewery

As consumer tastes and preferences have changed, Grossman said Sierra Nevada has worked to adapt and innovate in an effort to satisfy beer drinkers looking to experiment across a range of styles.

The task is not always easy, he told CNBC.

"The 'what's new' and 'don't want to drink the same beer twice' mentality is a little challenging at times for our industry," Grossman said.

"Having consumers loyal to a brand is the basis for how beer has been built in this country," he added. With consumers so eager for new brands, "they don't want to continue to drink the same beer - or even beer from the same brewery."

Further complicating matters, many craft brewers are getting squeezed on both ends of the marketplace.

On one end, global giants like Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors continue to purchase smaller craft brewers—boosting those brands with their large scale production, marketing and distribution systems.

"There is certainly some concern about the blurring of what craft beer is, its roots and fundamentals and the large breweries are certainly very sophisticated," Grossman said. "They're doing a very good job of disrupting the craft space, and I think that's their intent. They're being very effective at how they are approaching the market place."

Then there are the smaller players, relying on many beer drinkers desire to "drink local."

"There a lot of very small brewers that maybe produce a few hundred kegs a year [and] are popping up around the country," said Grossman. "They're finding a few bars and restaurants who will support their branding, making it a little more challenging for more established brands to get on the shelf or get into the bar for a tap handle."

Brands are also branching out, with the recent launch of digital beer-centric publicatoins properties like October, Beer Neccessities (owned by The High End, an Anheuser-Busch division) and RateBeer, a site containing a vast library of user generated beer reviews.

Eyebrows were raised after it came to light that Anheuser-Busch quietly purchased a minority stake in RateBeer, prompting some craft brewers to ask for their products to be removed from the site given the conflict of interest. Grossman told CNBC he's also considering a similar move for Sierra Nevada, amid what he called a "big debate" about beer brands' involvement in digital media.

"We're certainly looking at the changes that are happening in the marketplace in areas like the digital space, so it's something that's high on our radar right now."