What Steve did very well was to bring across the drive and innovation that drove Ken on and what makes Sierra Nevada the powerhouse it is today. Ken became interested in homebrewing at a very young age; even before he could legally consume it and eventually opened a homebrew shop in Chico, California in 1976. Interestingly this was before Jimmy Carter removed all restrictions on homebrewing in 1978 which is when things really took off. But back to those early days in Chico.According to Steve, Chico was once voted by Playboy magazine as the no 1 party campus in America. Which may, or may not, explain why he and his brother chose it as their university. But it was the scenery, the climate and the people that made Ken stay. Fast forward to that successful homebrew shop and then, along with Paul Camusi, the founding of the modern brewery in the early 1980s. Equipment was sourced from redundant dairies and really was a case of make and mend. The first beer wasn’t as you might imagine their famous Pale Ale-that came after-but a Stout. The rest as they say is history.
Steve reeled off a series of impressive statistics that really made you realise just what a mammoth (to us Brits, anyway) operation SD run. They have 50 eight hundred barrel fermentors and grow barley over a 30 acre stretch. They also have their own hops-certified organic, naturally and the 15 varieties include Cascade, Chinook and Citra. They only use whole hops and consume a million pounds of grain a week. This grain is then recycled via their own cows. Recycling is a serious business for SD and they have something like a 99% rate. They produce 70% of their own electricity and run their trucks on bio-fuel. Even the cows end up on the plate to satisfy hungry diners!
Beers sampledSierra Nevada Pale
Pale Ale is still their biggest seller and accounts for 65% of sales. Steve recounted the amusing tale of how, in the early days, they sourced the Cascade hops for this from none other than the makers of Budweiser who, naturally, had no need for it.Kellerweiss
A new, unfiltered, Hefeweizen style beer that is fermented in open tanks.
Belgian Style Black IPA
Uses, yes you guessed it, Belgian yeast
Uses their famous “Hop Torpedo”, a dry hopping device that controls how much hop aroma is imparted into the beer. Oh and 70 pounds of hops goes into it.O’Brien’s 20th Anniversary Ale
This is a barrel-aged rye beer that, if I was paying attention, had Brewdog as the source of the barrels.
All the beers were good and tasted fresh. Perhaps not surprising as, due to an accident during haulage, they were forced to air freight new supplies in. Talking to Steve during one of the breaks, he reiterated what all the American brewers say: freshness is key. That’s why they’ve built a new brewery in North Carolina and hopefully we’ll see more of their specials over here. They are the biggest bottle-conditioning brewery in the world and they can-condition five of their beers that fly off their 950 cans a minute production line. No wonder beer writer Michael Jackson dubbed Sierra Nevada “the Chateau Latour of American breweries” (a reference to the French vineyard famous for the high quality of its grape varieties).
A very enjoyable and insightful evening and thanks to Steve and everyone concerned.