Any stop to Asheville, NC would not be complete without the short drive down I-26 to Mills River, the home to the Eastern Sierra Nevada Brewery.
The little plant that Pale Ale built is the understatement of the year. I’ve never been to a macrobrewery, but I’m used to the average craft brewery. A warehouse. An industrial district. Maybe if they’re focused on the experience, a nice taproom in an up and coming area of town with the industrial bits behind it.
As you pass through the roundabout a stone’s throw away from the Asheville airport onto Sierra Nevada Way, prepare yourself for amazement. A beautiful drive through the forest, wonderful bridges artistically done. Then, you turn and see it.
The exterior is breathtaking. Solar panels cover the building and the parking lot’s covers. The pavement run off provides water for irrigation. The copper treatments glisten in the North Carolina sun.
Then. Then you head inside.
For our tour, we were led through the facility by Ken Grossman, the billionaire founder, owner, and CEO of Sierra Nevada, which as you can imagine is full of interesting insight even if the physical space was simply adequate.
The facility is a basilica of brewing. Grossman designed the plant to not only offload stress from their Chico operations and to provide an eastern base to allow smoother distribution to every nook and cranny of the United States, but he designed it to be a beer experience for those touring and visiting the brewery.
Asheville is Beer City USA and Sierra Nevada is the Central Park.
My words wouldn’t do justice, so let’s just show you some pictures!
After the tour of the plant, Ken led us past the normal taproom for tours, past the restaurant on-site down a path through the woods.
First, we’re treated to some music.
Then, a full Oktoberfest celebration awaited us, with the first stop to the beer trailer.
The 2015 Oktoberfest is brewed in collaboration with Brauhaus Riegele, a 629-year old German brewery. Though this is the first year Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest is a collaboration beer made with a German brewery, it will not be the last. They plan to work with other German breweries each year into the foreseeable future. The beer itself was smooth, flavorful, and overall a nice Fall beer (ignoring that we were standing outside in July drinking it).
It is a bit maltier than most festbiers I’ve had with plenty of sweet notes. I enjoyed it quite a bit especially with a full feast provided to us by Sierra Nevada (to continue the disclosure, all of this was provided at no charge to us by Sierra Nevada without any consideration of if we would write about it nor if we would write anything particular about it).
What is becoming a tradition at the Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference, this beer was too new for Untappd, so I added this vintage to the system. For our faithful readers, you all remember our visit to Golden Road in LA last August on the first day they canned their Might as Well IPL that I added to Untappd back then.1
While Live Oak and their Oaktoberfest has a place close to my heart, Sierra Nevada and Brauhaus Riegele’s offering this year will likely have a home during the Kraft household’s annual Kraftoberfiesta celebrations.
During the tour, the question that was burning deep inside of me could not be held back. One of the new kids on the hop scene is the Neomexicanus. Derek Springer of Five Blades wrote an excellent series on this variety, without spilling too much duplicate digital ink, I’ll keep my summary here brief. Late last year, Sierra Nevada released one of only three commercial beers—and the only national brand— to use Neomexicanus which we reviewed on this site. After the review, I kept drinking it and, frankly, can’t stop thinking about these damn hops.
In any event, I asked Ken Grossman if we might see them again pouring from their taps. To paraphrase his answer, yes. They’re still experimenting and paying attention to them. I took that to mean no promises for a 2015 Harvest using them or anything specific, but they’re still on the radar. Excellent news, my friends2.
Our trip was short—less than two-and-a-half hours—so not nearly enough time to soak in the plant, the grounds, nor the overall ambiance of the place. Needless to say, if you’re anywhere near Asheville and don’t visit, you’re absolutely missing out.
- I ended up adding a few different beers to Untappd this go-round, though nothing quite as notable as a Sierra Nevada production brew. ↩
- Holy Hops, the self-supporting business of the Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, New Mexico, is almost completely out of these hops for homebrewers. Only a few bags of the 2013 harvest left as of this writing. ↩