It’s called Beer Camp, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.
The three-day experience at Sierra Nevada’s North Carolina brewery has all the makings of a hophead’s dream: A loaded tour of the bicoastal craft brewing company’s sprawling facility, beer classes, visits to the local farms and malt houses who provide the brewery’s raw materials and plenty of free food and drink — all culminating in the hands-on creation of a one-of-a-kind batch of beer.
The exclusive invite was a golden ticket for one local retailer.
“It was like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for beer people,” raved Lindo Sabatini, the third-generation owner of the eponymous pizzeria and neighboring bottle shop and bar on Wyoming Avenue in Exeter.
Sabatini, who has sold Sierra Nevada’s beer since 1993, was recently invited to go behind the scenes of one of the nation’s largest craft breweries for one of four Beer Camp events featured each year.
“It was once in a lifetime without a doubt,” Sabatini, 42, said of the event. “You’re putting me right in the middle of what I love to do.”
First introduced as a competition that gave homebrewers a crack at crafting a beer on a commercial scale, Beer Camp recently branched off to include an event for retailers and other stalwarts of the booming craft beer industry, which saw a 13 percent rise in volume and a 16 percent increase in retail dollar value last year, according to data compiled by the Brewers Association, a national organization of brewers.
Sabatini was the sole Pennsylvania retailer to make the trip to the Tar Heel State. What he brought back — a mango-infused Imperial India Pale Ale (IPA) dubbed Mango Libre — can’t be found anywhere else in the state. Only the handful of campers who collaborated in the process were able to grab kegs to go, Sabatini explained.
Before deciding on Mango Libre, the group kicked the tires on a few other names for their personalized beer via email. Sabatini said his quest to see the batch named Barry Mangolow fell a few votes short. Nonetheless, the golden orange pints have been in high demand at the bar.
“The beer has been flying,” he said. “People love it.”
Being able to offer a unique draft option like Mango Libre is a small part of what Sabatini believes makes his bottle shop so popular with beer lovers since its grand opening last summer.
“To be able to differentiate your draft list from other draft lists, you have to be able to get your hands on hard-to-find beers because people are always looking to try something they’ve never had before,” he said.
The last keg of Mango Libre was tapped this week and Sabatini said he expects it to last through the weekend.