My followers know I’ve been a fan of Sierra Nevada beer for a very long time. I wrote about my first experiences and tour of the brewery in this post. Since then, the brewery has grown both in popularity and as a company. Very recently, my family returned for another visit where I had the opportunity to take the comprehensive tour complete with a tasting at the conclusion. Today’s travelogue chronicles the experience of what has become one impressive American institution.
I arrived ahead of time for my Saturday afternoon tour. The reservation I made online a couple of weeks in advance was a snap making the check-in a breeze. Our group of a dozen good-natured folks (I find most beer lovers to be congenial) viewed a well-produced introduction video. Our guide got right to passing around tins of common beer ingredients but not before handing each participant a taste of their signature pale ale. A toss back of the glass, a unison shout of “Cheers!” and off we went into the production facility.
One room led to another: there were gigantic tanks, copper kettles and a grid-like plumbing network to transfer the various stages of beer to its next phase. The hops room, a dimly lit refrigerated walk-in, contained large bins of hop varietals which was an experience in of itself. The light and temperature controls are in place to preserve the quality of the bright green plant material, but the first sense to read the room was the nose piqued by the intense cascade hop fragrance.
A beautiful 100-barrel copper brewing vessel receives hops at specific intervals (L). I held a handful of colorful, fragrant cascade hops in the Hop Room (top R). An enormous bank of tanks hold product on the Sierra Nevada campus (bottom R).
Our tour group was regaled with informative tidbits about the history and developments of the brewery. Impressive facts include the installation of 4,250-kilowatt co-generation hydrogen fuel cells marking their foray into clean energy creation. Additionally, over 10,500 photovoltaic panels were installed to meet the company’s clean energy goals. It is one of the largest privately owned solar panel systems in the nation. The gardener in me loved learning about the estate agriculture in practice: the brewery owns and runs an 8-acre hop field and 30 acres of barley. For the Taproom and restaurant, a 2-acre organic site raises produce for the kitchen. Reuse and waste is managed at every turn including the utilization of spent grain to feed the cattle raised at CSU Chico for use in the restaurant. At the tour’s end, visitors had an appreciation for the smart, economical and planet-friendly practices underlying the operation.
A little more than an hour had passed chock full of engaging information but there was one last stop: the tasting bar (R). Typically 7 or 8 beers are sampled at the conclusion of the tour but on this occasion we were treated to 9. Just so you know, the total combined consumption at the tasting amounts to about one pint so there are responsible consumption practices in place (proof of legal age is required before taking this tour).
A nutshell of the brewing process and ingredients was discussed for each beer as it was skillfully poured and served. As many of the Sierra Nevada beers are hop forward, which appeals to the hophead in me, there were a few surprises. The Kellerweiss (4.8% Alcohol By Volume, International Bitter Units 15), an open tank fermentation which yields a hazy, gold hued wheat ale imparts an extraordinary banana flavor. An intriguing Cask Almond Milk Stout (7.5% ABV, IBU 32) is served from a barrel released by gravity. The beer was dark and rich with tasty coffee notes. Lastly, a Southern Hemisphere Harvest (6.7% ABV, IBU 67) was on tap featuring bright herbal and floral flavors derived from fresh-picked New Zealand hops.
The tasting rounded out the visit bringing the tour to a total of 90 minutes. As a parting gift, we were given complimentary Sierra Nevada logo bottle opener key chains—which come in handy when you’re camping. I was gladly given a second keychain for Mrs. W and a couple of logo pens for the kids.
The Taproom and restaurant begins dinner service at 5 p.m. Good thing the tour conveniently concluded at 4:30—I was able to nab a table to rendezvous with my family who arrived shortly thereafter.
Remember the glorious red IPA mentioned at the beginning of the story? Suggestive selling from our savvy waitress had me intrigued. She mentioned it had yet to be released. “A quiet tap,” I thought to myself. “Now this I’ve got to try!” The beer was exceptional: a gorgeous red-hued beer with citrus notes riding high on hops which gently give way to a finish base of nutty caramel and malt on the back tongue. In a summary statement to my wife I said it was a perfect cross between Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo IPA and Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale: top notes and bottom notes in one tasty swig. The beer is now in production and has been released to market as FLIPSIDE™ RED IPA. Look for it at your favorite retailer. It has my stamp of approval!
As restaurants go the dining room brimmed with patrons—the beer being a huge draw, but the food backs it up equally. This is a hallmark of a great dining establishment. The kids ordered from the children’s menu. Mrs. W and I are fans of steak and ale so ordering from the daily dinner specials menu was easy—especially because we had enjoyed their delicious steaks before and I love the beef being raised with green practices. The meal was scrumptious from start to finish and the proof is in the pictures. Are you ready?
SIERRA NEVADA SALAD: Organic greens, candied pecans, crumbled gorgonzola and cherry tomatoes dressed in malted balsamic vinaigrette. A first-rate salad!
NEW YORK STEAK: Sierra Nevada’s all natural, perfectly grilled New York steak was brushed with cilantro pesto, estate-grown heirloom tomatoes, and a balsamic reduction. Served with estate French fingerling potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Look at the crosshatch markings and how the steak glistens under the glaze.
DINNER ROLLS: Bread rolls made in-house from brewer’s grain (spent grain), special malts and in some cases beer as the liquid component to the recipe. Clockwise starting at 9—Seeded Whole Wheat roll, the estate garden Herb Roll (top) featuring fresh basil, and a Sourdough Roll (R) made with a 20-year-old starter. Bread. Need I say more?
In conclusion, the tour, the beer and the meal made for a memorable occasion. If you’re in Northern California and have a beer lover in your family, treat them to a tour of this magnificent place. There’s something there for every member of the family!