After our day of vicariously hanging with the rich and famous, Thursday’s plan included a stop at Sierra Nevada Brewery on the way back to Westminster. Located in Mills River, North Carolina, the brewery sits on endless acres of amazing forest land about 20 minutes south of Asheville.
The original brewery was founded in 1979 by Ken Grossman in Chico, CA. It was only in 2012 that the decision was made to expand to the East Coast…
We started out with a single goal: brew the beers we wanted to drink. We started small, with a homebrew shop, a love of American hops and plenty of passion. In the process we helped change the beer world forever. Decades later, we’re still at it and the passion burns brighter than ever.
The Sierra Nevada Brewery in North Carolina officially opened its doors in 2014 so as you can imagine, the facilities were remarkably new, modern and very welcoming. Catching your eye as you entered was a very unique chandelier constructed of beer bottles – what else. Tacky? Actually not at all. The vast windows enabled you to see all aspects of the operation and the copper-coated brew kettles were amazing as they are housed in a very large and high-ceilinged production area.
We had made reservations for the Brewhouse Tour, so at 11:00 we joined our guide, Jason – musician turned brewing enthusiast – and 14 others, and the 90-minute tour began! We experienced all aspects of the beer brewing process -ranging from smelling and touching hops, to viewing the lab where yeast is made, to understanding the fermentation process, to watching the packaging procedure, to finally being guided through an educational tasting of eight different Sierra Nevada beers! One interesting thing I learned about beer tasting is that, unlike wine tasting, the first two sips act as a palate pacifier – no crackers in beer tasting! It is the third sip that enables you to really taste the fullness and unique qualities of each beer.
Bill and I were also especially interested in the hops phase, having lived this summer in the midst of several Michigan hops farm, but Jason explained that Sierra Nevada gets most of their hops from the Pacific Northwest – Washington specifically. They are also in the midst of attempting to grow hops right on the brewery property. Another interesting and admirable aspect of the entire operation is their emphasis on sustainability and environmental responsibility. There is a garden on site from which food for the restaurant is harvested along with a major water treatment system (good water = great beer!) and an extensive solar panel network. No wonder all of the employees we encountered were happy people! They are working in a very healthy environment – with beer!
Following our tour, it was natural that we would stay for lunch at the Tap Room, a farm-to-table restaurant offering an ever-changing seasonal menu, small plates to share, and every Sierra Nevada beer imaginable. We shared veal meatballs and gnocchi along with bison short ribs with kale and pureed butternut squash – oh yes, and more beer! After a stop in the gift shop – beer for Christmas – we were on our way home! Whether you find yourself in Chico, CA, or Mills River, NC, Sierra Nevada Brewery needs to be on your list! Cheers!