bottling June 07

Road Trip to Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Last week, I took the short drive up to Chico to take a tour of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Sierra Nevada is the godfather of craft brewers. It’s still owned by one of the original founders, a guy named Ken Grossman, who employees can’t stop saying nice things about:

“Ken wanted to make a quality beer with real flavor.”

“Ken built his own brew house with his bare hands.”

“Ken minimizes his impact on the environment.”

“Ken offered to feed and house my family in our time of need.”

“Ken can lift a car over his head and spin it like a basketball.”

“Ken, Ken, Ken”

So not only is he making a bunch of tasty beers, but he’s also keeping his employees happy and running a ridiculously successful business that goes above and beyond with its sustainability practices. So Ken is pretty much the coolest guy ever. He’s so good on so many levels that I almost can’t even stand it.

Mr. Perfect’s brewery creates, on average, 60% of its annual electricity use through its privately owned solar array and hydrogen fuel cell technology. They even recycle their own Carbon Dioxide. Plus, he drives a Leaf (so he might actually be able to do that basketball spinning thing).

They even grow their own hops right there at the brewery (they use it to make their Estate Ale).

Microbrews and “craft” beer are big business these days and every hipster sipping on a Rogue or a 21st Amendment has Ken Grossman and Sierra Nevada Brewing to thank for the boom. In 1980 when Ken started this whole thing, there were maybe a small handful of craft brewers in the country. Now, there are eight hundred million (estimate). As the craft beer movement has grown up around them, Sierra Nevada has stayed true to their course without really ever changing their approach or even their hippie-friendly logo.

The tour itself is pretty fantastic too. You get to stick your hand in some hops, see the bottling facility, learn how beer is made and, of course, sample some of the current offerings.

It turns out that Sierra Nevada makes over 50 different styles of beer. Not all at once, of course. The have the year-round beers, the seasonals, the special editions and a few one-offs here and there. As a huge fan of the best band to ever come out of Chico, I was disappointed that I had just missed out on the limited edition small-batch “Hips Helles” which honors the Mother Hips. Here’s a more or less unrealted photo of a cool looking copper vat:

Of course, their most popular beer – which accounts for about 70% of their business – is the world famous Pale Ale. It’s sold all over the world, but it’s made right here just outside of Sacramento. Pretty good pull for us. Here’s some Pale Ale coming on down the line:

It’s Willy Wonka for adults in there.

After your tour you can eat at the restaurant on-site or, if you’re lucky, catch one of the concerts at the very impressive Big Room. What hasn’t Ken thought of?

Oh, and you serious beer lovers out there might want to try to sign up for Beer Camp. You have to convince Sierra Nevada that you’re worthy of the camp, but if you get accepted you get to actually create your own beer that they will actually sell to real consumers. If you’re a fan of their Hoptimum Ale, then you’ve had their most successful Beer Camp beer ever.
Sierra Nevada is currently the 6th largest brewery in the United States. It’s right behind The Boston Beer Company and their awful ads for Sam Adams that make me want to set myself on fire instead of drinking their beer. No such ads from Sierra.

Sierra Nevada is growing faster than ever though and they will be opening a brand spanking new brewery in North Carolina in 2014. I’m already planning my “Sierra to Sierra” road trip.

I bet Ken will let me borrow his Leaf.

Oh, and tours don’t cost nuthin’ so you should hit one up when you get the chance. That’s free beer, my friend.