There are three places in the world I feel at home; in the villages of Bavaria, the streets of Brooklyn and sunny California. So my trip out to visit the infamous Sierra Nevada Brewery this past September was a special one. My entrance to the wonderful world of craft beer started with a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and I knew I needed beer this great regularly. I’ve heard my share of wonderful things about visiting this brewery but nothing, and I mean nothing, could hold a flame to actually seeing it myself. The smell of malt lingering outside the brewery, the side view of their impressive gardens, all just a background on the majestic front entrance to the brewery and brewpub.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company was established in 1980, as the brew child of homebrewers Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi. Ken Grossman fell in love with Chico, California during a college visit and eventually opened a homebrew supply store, where with Paul they would get more into their craft, creating multifaceted brews with a demand from the locals. Borrowing money from family and friends, they rented a space and self-constructed their brewing equipment from a mix of scrap metal and old dairy farm gear. This factoid is great because when Grossman was young he was fond of taking apart and then reconstructing household appliances. They have since upgraded from being homebrewers to now the 2nd bestselling craft beer and the 6th largest brewery in the United States. Not only are they a top notch brewery, but their achievements in brewing processes, environmental awareness and beer education are all just as noteworthy.
Traveling since 6am East Coast time and arriving at the brewery at 1 in the afternoon, it was time to get settled in with a few brews and something to eat; so the first stop upon arrival was the Sierra Nevada Brew Pub. Now this place is bursting with energy. A full restaurant and a happy lunch crowd was just what I needed to feel welcome and settle in to my beer sampler and some bites. All of their food was delicious and garden-fresh. They utilize an on-site garden for their vegetable and fruit needs in the kitchen as well as the plants decorating the premise. My favorite though was a stand-out to the little German fat kid in me (Think Augustus Gloop). They have a “Beer Cheese and Pretzel” appetizer that made me oh, so happy. Pretzels made by incorporating crystal malt and a fluffy, creamy beer cheese made with Sierra Nevada’s legendary Torpedo Extra IPA. I will never be able to describe how amazing this cheese was, but I am glad I don’t have the recipe or there would be a problem. A must try if you ever decide to visit!
Tasting cup in hand it was time to tour Sierra Nevada. Walking through a hall of memories, pictures of the history and progress of the brewery along throughout the years, was a great start. One of my favorite elements was learning the kegs they use for distribution are based on an old picture of Ken hiking and the lines of his 70’s style sox. The yellow and green lines of the kegs match right up to them. This place has its history entrenched in every notch. Taking in such an astonishing brewery it’s hard to pick favorite points but the hop cooler was surely a sensory overload! Being that the West Coast has such a history with whole cone hops it was the first time I got to witness them at this magnitude. Picking up handfuls and experiencing their smell I could recognize those same aromas and tastes I’ve gotten out of Sierra Nevada’s beers over the years.
Another part I loved was getting outside of the brewery and seeing the onsite gardens. The hop fields had just been trimmed down to be used in their yearly Estate Ale (This year being named DevEstatetion Ale because of the weathers impact on the hops) and they have a small area to be able to drink their beers out in the garden in the perfect climate that Chico provides. This scene is encompassed by the surrounding mountains and the freshness of their garden, to me that is what Sierra Nevada Brewery is about; delicious, from the earth kind of beers.
Sustainability is close to the hearts of the Sierra Nevada Brewery philosophy. A main source of brewery’s energy comes from solar panels on the brewery’s roof (more than 10,000!) and Hydrogen fuel cells (the only brewery in the country to have on-site). I also got to see their massive composting structure that uses organic waste from the brewery and brew pub and coverts it to a high quality compost that is used throughout the facility; coming full circle. Even though they have already created an environmentally focused brewery and have be recognized for their accomplishments in doing so, they are always on the lookout for more ways to be evermore resourceful.
I know visiting Sierra Nevada Brewery is on the opposite coast of the country, but if you ever get a chance, take a trip to the brewery. For all of us NY’ers, we can get some of their tasty brews throughout our region. If you enjoy a little beer education, take a few minutes to check out their Brewer and the Beer Geek videos or read about their sought after Beer Camp. While you’re doing that, do you yourself a favor and grab a Sierra Nevada beer!
Melissa Hildreth is a German fräulein and loves her beer and bratwurst. Melissa is an advocate for following your passions in life, no matter how ridiculous. She will dance the night away if the moment is right. Some have said she has an unhealthy relationship with chicken wings, but is there even really such a thing?! She also happens to be a Certified Cicerone/Mother of Dragons in case anyone’s asking.