Beer Camp: Everything That is Right and Wrong with Craft Beer

Beer Camp: Everything That is Right and Wrong with Craft Beer


Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp, arguably the hottest summer beer release, is finally in stores and on shelves across America. This 12-pack of beer, fairly priced around $25.00, is a box full of collaboration and sharing. Each beer inside of Beer Camp is a different collaboration between Sierra Nevada and the likes of Oscar Blues, Three Floyds, Bell’s, and more! The spirit of collaboration is one of the coolest things about Craft Beer. There is a sort of fraternal atmosphere amongst craft brewers and a definite sense of community. It is so awesome to see brewers collaborate to make an awesome collection of beers found within Beer Camp. Cases like this are great for all breweries involved (as long as the beer is good, of course!)

photo c/o

photo c/o

In addition to the unveiling of the 12 pack, Beer Camp is a collection of beer festivals celebrating the love of craft beer. You can find information about the tour schedule of festivals HERE. If you’ve never been to a beer festival, there are few other events in time and space where there can be hundreds of people in a small space, and nothing but friendliness, sharing, and happiness is exhibited…UNTIL IT’S NOT.

While Beer Camp is truly awesome in both philosophy and execution, it demonstrated the very dark and disappointing side to craft beer. For many, many beer lovers, Beer Camp was quite literally unattainable. Just in our Toledo market alone, Beer Camp was so extremely limited, the consumer’s odds of getting their hands on one was slim-to-none. Many craft beer and liquor stores that DID get some small quantity of Beer Camp withheld cases from the general public, instead saving them for their regulars and frequent-shoppers. Some may argue that reserving highly sought after releases for regular customers is a display of loyalty. While I agree with that sentiment to a certain extent, in one circumstance in the Toledo area, a customer drove out to a particular liquor store, was informed that they did indeed have Beer Camp, but it was not for sale at the time. The cases were reserved for regular customers. Instead of gaining a new customer, the gentlemen left the store empty-handed, and took to Facebook to complain and urge other shoppers to avoid the store. That situation is a lose-lose for everyone involved.

Another aspect of highly publicized and hunted “whales” is the strain in puts on local craft beer businesses. Just to get a small quantity of Beer Camp in their stores to sell, craft beer bottle shops and liquor stores had to commit to purchasing a large number of other Sierra Nevada products (multiple cases of Pale Ale in the situation we are aware of). This creates a huge problem for beer stores. If customers are coming simply to purchase the “whale” or the big release, and leave with nothing else, that store has not really profited from that sale. This could be a direct response to my argument against reserving items for regulars stated above. Chris Quinn, of the Craft Beer Temple in Chicago, discusses this issue in our interview with him.

Again, in this situation, everyone loses.


photo c/o

The endless search for rare craft beer is fun, but in my mind, really demonstrates a problem in the craft beer community. In a community that is supposed to be all about sharing, it is nearly impossible to ever taste any of the truly rare beers, unless of course you would like to trade your entire cellar to do so. It seems that it would be very difficult to attract new individuals to the craft beer community if they are almost certainly going to be excluded from every trying any of the truly special brews that are difficult to come by.

There are even guides out there on how to get your hands on these White Whales of Craft Beer

Does this problem have a solution? It can be reasonably assumed that it is not the intention of any brewer to create an environment of greed and envy among its drinkers, but demand is outgrowing supply by a large margin. It is fairly impossible for craft brewers to adequately supply the market with their specialty releases, and the result of this inability is the breeding of contempt of consumers, the culture of beer hoarding and greed, and unhappy consumers and retailers all around. Great breweries are getting caught in this web as well as can be seen in the video of the Hunahpu Release Party at Cigar City.

This issue came is especially relevant with the release of Beer Camp. The moment Beer Camp was announced and started to hit store shelves, craft beer lovers attempted to get their hands on them in whatever quantity they could (us included). Long story short, by 11am on a Tuesday morning, it was effectively sold out in the greater Toledo area (I’m not even sure how that’s possible! Tuesday is a work day!)

I was read stories online of well-connected beer consumers, who are quite well connected with people in their local craft beer industries being able to secure NUMEROUS cases of Beer Camp and that rumor is that those cases will be used as trade bait for some other rare releases. I have no problem with a person exercising their RIGHT to buy as many Beer Camps as they want, but is it morally right to purchase a high quantity of a limited release? That means that MULTIPLE other people are being denied the opportunity to try Beer Camp. Perhaps I am being sensitive, but it just seems….wrong.

Perhaps consumers should stop taking craft beer so seriously. For every one Beer Camp case you miss out on, there are literally HUNDREDS if not THOUSANDS of excellent beers lining the shelves, begging to be taken home and enjoyed. I suppose it all depends where you stand on high-end/rare releases.

I should be clear that I do not hold anything against Sierra Nevada or Beer Camp, and I am very lucky that we were able to get a case of the collaboration series (though not at as anybody’s regular customer, just by pure luck)

What are your thoughts? Should craft beer stores reserve limited releases and rare beers to their regulars? Should it be first come first serve? Should customers have to purchase more than just the rare beer? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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  • First, I wish I knew you were looking. Should have been obvious, but I had a spare I sold (at less than what it cost me to purchase) to someone randomly at a bar who didn’t get one (it was going to go to my neighbor).

    I agree with you, for every one rare beer, there are hundreds of others that are delicious and readily available (and don’t forget local!). Sometimes it is hard to see past the constant “limited” releases of the 3,000+ breweries.

    I think websites such as beeradvocate and apps like untappd encourage the whale hunting, as who doesn’t want to try the top rated beer in the world (even if it changes monthly)!

    Store owners can’t win. While I believe the one you are referring to was grossly mishandled, the others as Chris said are just a lose-lose situation. I’ve been on both sides of having items help, and losing out because something was all reserved. It’s a crapshoot.

    My suggestion? Show some restraint. It would take me a long time to try all the different beers at any one of our Toledo stores, and then there are more stores with even more variety. Find one you like? Great! Didn’t enjoy one? Now you know. Really want to get your hands on a whale? Start trading. Sometimes you have to give more to get what you want, but that’s beeronomics.

    • Thanks for the take, Dan! We actually did get our hands on a case, but it was just as hard for us to get it as it was KBS, and, from what we hear, it isn’t nearly as good. I agree that there are too many great, and even local, beers around to get too worked up about it, but it’s sad for the consumer when distribution is spread so thin. I applaud breweries like New Belgium who wait until they can fully supply a state before venturing into new territory.

      Good to hear from you, let’s grab a beer!

  • Hey Crew!

    Thanks for the shoutout to my trading “guide.” I hoped that telling that story through the voices of those who do it nicely (and properly) would encourage better beer etiquette for future traders. I don’t do it myself and I try my best to avoid the pitfalls of hunting for the elusive WHALEZBRO beers. I’ve got so many awesome options around me here in NC!

    On the flip side of that, I’ve also written a short piece on hoarding and why that’s no good:

    • Thanks for writing an awesome guide! Hoarding is also an issue, as you point out, and really if you have good beer, just drink it! Keep up the good work!

  • I was very fortunate to get this 12 pack of Sierra Nevada. I called the package store in Mobile, AL about 3 weeks ago asking about this pack and no one had a clue what I was talking about. They took my name and number and told me that they would give me a call if they happen to get it. I finally got a call Monday informing me that they got ten boxes in (The only ten in Mobile County) but I was unable to make it till today. One if the guys told me that he would hold a box for me and I was grateful for that. I woke up early this morning and drove to the store and the guy tells me that he forgot to call me and tell me that the owner decided not to sell to the public. The look on my face was pure disappointment. I asked the guy would he reconsider considering that I called 3 weeks ago about before anyone knew what it was. He went to the back and talked to his boss and his boss gave in.

    I feel bad for the other 300,000+ people in Mobile. There were only ten boxes sent to Mobile, and 100 boxes sent to the state of Alabama.

    • It really is sad, Michael. We love what SN was aiming at doing with these collaborations, but it’s bad for people like you who go out of their way and almost get shut down. Glad you got a case, and thanks for reading!

  • Fortunately, I don’t see the high demand for this in Portland, OR. I have seen this twelve pack at my local beer store and didn’t give it a second glance. Then I read about what it is,(and tried the Double Latte down at OBF yesterday) and went and grabbed myself a twelver today. There were at least eight twelve packs left.

    • Yeah, we have found out, after talking to others about our ordeal, that Beer Camp is abundant in other areas. But, in NW Ohio, and Mobile, Alabama, they are making it hard for a lot of consumers to get their hands on it. I don’t know why that is the case, but it seems that the hoops our local stores had to jump through just to get a couple cases was too much for them to handle. That’s more the problem than the limited supply, IMO (Cory).

      It’s also strange to me that they would put so much effort into doing a collaboration pack, but don’t supply enough to the areas where they want to raise awareness of some of the other brands. For example, this (along with other collaborations) is the only way I can get beer from Ninkasi, Asheville Brewer’s Alliance, New Glarus, Firestone Walker, Cigar City, Russian River, or Allagash without trading or leaving Ohio. I’d imagine that half of the goal of Beer Camp was to give these breweries a wider distribution, even if it was just in a collaborative effort.

      • I realize this is a month old, so you may not be looking for it anymore in Ohio. But as of yesterday, I was still able to pick it up in SE Michigan, if you want to make a short drive.

        • Thanks, Kate! We found a case the day they released it (and still haven’t opened it ::gasp!::), but thank you for the heads up! We’re both starting our school years, so we haven’t had too much time to get together and do a proper review of the case, but it will be happening soon!

  • All this excitement over a singularly mediocre box of beers. It’s all hype and little substance.

    • That’s what we’re hearing too, Chris. We’re waiting to do a lineup of all of them in one show, but reports are that it’s nothing to get worked up over. To me, it’s not the fact that we had trouble getting the beer itself, it’s the business practices used to distribute the beer to make it “rare”, and the people who hoard more than they can drink of any rare beer leaving other people “up a creek”. We’re all for spreading the word of great beer, and it’s a shame that people who really want this can’t get it due to the actions of greedy few.

  • I am the GM and beer buyer at a fairly large liquor store in Colorado and really I don’t have a problem with saving beers for loyal customers. I want the guys who are coming in day after day, to keep coming in day after day, not random guy who buys one bottle of Pliny, you make 2 bucks profit off of him and you never see him again. It’s a similar thing with (the cult of all whiskies) Pappy Van Winkle. You get calls for days from people you’ve never heard of wanting this, and are trying to cherry pick your selection so they can resell it on Craigs list. While not the case in my store in many stores it is true that the to 10% of your customers make up 80% of your business…so you take care of those guys. In terms of the beers themselves I agree this was a great idea, but its way heavy on the bitter/hoppy beers, I understand it would not have really been cost effective to do some sours, or belgian style doubles, but when you get hoppy lager, and belgian beer with coriander which focuses more on American hops than Belgian yeast, it leaves a little bit to be desired.

    • Hey Trevor, thanks for reading and responding.

      I think Ron and I agree that taking care of loyal customers is important. You want to reward those who come in frequently to support your business. The bigger problem we have is forcing these stores into having a limited quantity by making them buy extra cases and taking up shelf space that another beer could have. Beer Camp wasn’t/isn’t hard to get in many areas, but they created a faux supply shortage to sell more cases of other beers. Whether that is SN or the distributors making the rules, it just doesn’t seem “right”.

      As for the beer flavors, we’re waiting to open our case so we can shoot an episode with them, but I agree, you want to showcase what your collaborating partners can do best, and create a diverse flavor profile!