Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
|Production output||780,000 barrels|
|Owner(s)||Ken Grossman (independent)|
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. was established in 1980 by homebrewers Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi.
Located in Chico, California, Sierra Nevada Brewing is one of the top craft breweries currently operating in the United States. Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale is the second best-selling craft beer in the United States, behind the Boston Beer Company's Samuel Adams Boston Lager. It is currently the sixth-largest brewing company in the United States. The brewery produced 786,000 barrels of beer (922,353 hectoliters) in 2010.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. was founded in 1979, with founders Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi expanding their homebrewing hobby into a brewery in Chico, California. Along with the brewery's location, Grossman claims the company's name comes from his love of hiking in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. With $50,000 in loans from friends and family, Grossman & Camusi rented a 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) warehouse and pieced together discarded dairy equipment and scrapyard metal to create their brewing equipment. They later were able to acquire second-hand copper brewing kettles from Germany before moving to their larger, current brewing facility in 1989.
The first batch brewed on premises was its Pale Ale, in November 1980. The following year the brewery introduced Celebration, an IPA, which it continues to release as a winter seasonal. The company sold 950 barrels of beer in its first year, and double that amount in the second.
The company's first employee was Steve Harrison, who was put in charge of marketing and sales. The head brewer is Steve Dresler who has been with the brewery since 1983, when its output was 25 to 30 barrels per week.
The company distributed the beer itself in the early 1980s, struggling with financial and marketing issues. A 1982 article in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighting the brewery, as well as having its beer sold in prominent restaurants such as Berkeley's Chez Panisse, helped establish a market for Sierra Nevada's beer.
By 1987, the brewery was distributing to seven states and production had reached 12,000 barrels per year, causing the company to pursue building a new brewery. In 1988, the brewery moved into a 100 barrel brewhouse, with four open-barrel fermenters, and 11 68-barrel secondary fermenters. A year later, Grossman and Camusi added the Sierra Nevada Taproom and Restaurant, which serves lunch and dinner and included a giftshop. In the year 2000, the brewery opened "The Big Room," a live music venue located inside the brewery's facilities, featuring a variety of acts including country, bluegrass, folk, rock, blues and other musical genres.
Camusi retired in 1998 and sold his share in the company to Grossman.
In 2010, Sierra Nevada Brewing partnered with the Abbey of New Clairvaux, with the monastery beginning production of Trappist-style beers in 2011. The Abbey has not yet been sanctioned by the International Trappist Association, and therefore the monastery will not be brewing official Trappist beer.
The brewery currently employs about 450 people.
Along with Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco and the now-defunct New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma, whose owners offered Grossman and Camusi early guidance in their venture, Sierra Nevada is considered one of the earliest and most influential breweries which spawned the craft beer movement of the 1980s-90s. Grossman has been dubbed a "pioneer" by fellow craft brewers in the United States.
Whereas many of the newly-spawned microbreweries of the 1980s went out of business, Sierra Nevada Brewing endured to become one of the largest independent brewers in the country, whose beers were noted for their "character and complexity". Grossman believed many microbrewers of the early 1980s had put out an inferior product due to lack of preparation for the financial and mechanical realities of commercial brewing, which were a "much different process" from homebrewing.
For its 30th anniversary in 2010, the company released a series of collaborative beers with the assistance of those Grossman considered an early influence on his brewing: Charlie Papazian, Fred Eckhardt, Fritz Maytag (Anchor) and Jack McAuliffe (New Albion).
In November 2010, Stansbury Publishing released Hops and Dreams: The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, written by California State University, Chico professor Rob Burton who researched the company for three years.
The company has claimed to be neutral on political issues, and reiterated this stance in 2010 when it was erroneously linked by a beer industry group to opposing the California Proposition 19 of that year, which would have legalized marijuana in the state.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. won the US Environmental Protection Agency's "Green Business of the Year" award for 2010.
The brewery is powered by solar energy, having 10,000 photovoltaic modules covering its rooftops and parking lot. In all, the brewery uses 2.6 megawatts of solar electricity on premises. It also has built a charging station for electric vehicles on its premises.
The company processes used cooking oil from its restaurant for biodiesel use in its delivery trucks. In 2009, it reached an agreement with a local ethanol company to produce high-grade ethanol fuel from its discarded yeast. Spent grain is sold to local cattle ranchers for livestock feed; spent water is sent to the brewery's own water treatment plant, where it is reused, mainly as drip irrigation for its fields. Over 99.5% of the brewery plant's solid waste is diverted from landfill.
Sierra Nevada Classics
The brewery's year-round offerings include its Pale Ale, Porter, Stout, Torpedo 'Extra' IPA, and Kellerweis Hefeweizen.
Sierra's flagship Pale Ale has been described as "a balance between aggressive hops and hearty malt flavor", with its Cascade hops offering a grapefruit aroma and fruity palate. Like several other Sierra Nevada offerings, it is bottle-conditioned. It is the best-selling American pale ale in the United States.
Sierra Nevada's Porter, along with its heavier Stout version, have been described by writer Michael Jackson as "gently coffeish" and "beautifully roasty" examples of their respective styles. The two offerings have been brewed since the company's first year of operation.
The brewery's current lineup of seasonals include Ruthless Rye IPA, Summerfest pilsner, Tumbler Brown Ale, and Celebration Ale.
Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale has been brewed as a winter seasonal since 1981. While it has won medals under the IPA category, it has also been described as a hoppy, malty amber ale, as well as a "bigger version" of the company's pale ale.
Annual "Special Release" beers produced by Sierra Nevada include Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale, Hemisphere Harvest Ales and Chico Harvest Estate Ale.
Bigfoot is brewed with two types of malt and three differing hops, and tops out at 9.6%ABV. It is a barleywine, but due to alcohol laws in the U.S. it must be marketed as a "barleywine style ale". It first won medals at the Great American Beer Festival in 1987. It is generally released January–February of each year.
The brewery releases both a Northern and Southern Hemisphere Harvest "wet hop" ale. Introduced in 1996 as Harvest Ale, Northern Hemisphere utilizes wet (undried) hops from eastern Washington for its "fresh harvest" ale. It was the first fresh-hop ale brewed in the United States. The brewery later introduced Southern Hemisphere which features wet hops from New Zealand.
The Chico Estate Harvest Ale is brewed with organic wet hops and barley grown in land on the brewery's premises.
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