I had the opportunity to check out Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s headquarters in Chico, California over Memorial Day weekend. I took the brewery tour and hung out on the beautiful patio at the brewpub. The food, beer, service and camaraderie could not have been more perfect.
Craft Beer Beginnings
I was first introduced to Sierra Nevada when I worked at a restaurant in Northern Michigan during college. A retired gentleman would come in every day during the downtime between the lunch and dinner rushes. His order was always one, maybe two Sierra Nevada Pale Ales, which he would enjoy while sitting on the deck, enjoying the views of the Leland River flowing into Lake Michigan. He was always very relaxed and appreciative, and I have associated Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale with that attitude ever since.
This was during the summers of 2007–2009, and I was just learning about the craft beer industry through my work in the restaurant. Short’s Bellaire Brown was one of the first Michigan beers featured on tap, and many traditional Northern Michigan residents were puzzled by this strange new dark beer that cost $5 a pint, which was pricey compared to what they were used to paying. Fast forward almost a decade later, and Michigan craft beer is synonymous with all things #PureMichigan. Through Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Short’s Bellaire Brown, I was introduced to a whole new world.
I’ve always been passionate about locally-owned businesses: my dad has worked for himself since I was young, I supported myself in college by working for locally-owned businesses, and I moved to Silicon Valley in 2012 to pursue the #startuplife.
I’ve enjoyed watching the Michigan craft beer scene explode over the last several years; it’s a big part of why I got involved with the Michigan Beer Show in the first place. I love hearing stories about humble homebrew beginnings. Businesses started in a garage, like a pretty infamous one down the street from my Palo Alto apartment, will always hold a special place in my heart.
Sierra Nevada’s Story
Sierra Nevada was started in the 1970s by Ken Grossman. Ken drove his Volkswagen bus—my dream car—from the Los Angeles area through the Sierra Nevada mountains and decided to stay in Chico. Ken opened an (illegal) homebrew operation and store. Homebrewing was finally legalized in 1979, Sierra Nevada became a legitimate business, and they have been brewing delicious beer ever since.
I took the 90-minute beer tour where I learned about Sierra Nevada’s humble beginnings and can-do attitude—the founder built a lot of the early equipment by hand! As we were lead through the facilities, we learned how sustainable their process is: spent grains are fed to cows that are then served at the brewpub restaurant (yum) or turned into delicious bread and pizza. The glass used for bottles comes from recycled materials, and even the carbon dioxide produced during the process is re-used! There are solar panels everywhere, and Sierra Nevada actually offers sustainability tours every day to talk more about their mission to stay off the grid.
After the tour, we sampled several of their Beer Camp Across America collaboration beers. My favorite was the Sweet Sunny South, inspired by Southern flavors like tea, honey-sweet peaches and corn grits. It was a beautiful beer that reminded me of the color of grapefruit juice. It was way too easy to drink. Sierra Nevada collaborated several craft breweries across the Southeastern United States for this beer.
We stayed after the tour and tasting and enjoyed delicious food, more beer, and good music in the beautiful outdoor area. Next on my craft beer bucket list: visiting Sierra Nevada’s second location in North Carolina, a place that our tour guide called “The Disney World of Beer.”