Peak brewing

We speak to Sierra Nevada's beer ambassador Steve Grossman about Sierra Nevada's amazing past and what the future holds for the brewery

It’s hard to overstate the influence Sierra Nevada has made on the world of beer. This brewery, based in Chico, California, was launched in 1979 in the first wave of US craft breweries that would change the world. It was founded by avid homebrewers Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi. They also turned to local ingredients, including hops from the Yakima Valley. The first beers they made are still benchmarks in craft brewing’s most famous beer styles. Steve Grossman, Sierra Nevada’s Beer Ambassador, curates a case of beers that highlight the brewery’s best as well as picking out the beers that are much-loved by Sierra Nevada. We caught up with him on a recent visit to the UK.

People namecheck Sierra

Peak brewing

We speak to Sierra Nevada's beer ambassador Steve Grossman about Sierra Nevada's amazing past and what the future holds for the brewery

It’s hard to overstate the influence Sierra Nevada has made on the world of beer. This brewery, based in Chico, California, was launched in 1979 in the first wave of US craft breweries that would change the world. It was founded by avid homebrewers Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi. They also turned to local ingredients, including hops from the Yakima Valley. The first beers they made are still benchmarks in craft brewing’s most famous beer styles. Steve Grossman, Sierra Nevada’s Beer Ambassador, curates a case of beers that highlight the brewery’s best as well as picking out the beers that are much-loved by Sierra Nevada. We caught up with him on a recent visit to the UK.

People namecheck Sierra Nevada beers as the beers that got them into craft. How does Sierra Nevada stand up now?
Well, we’ve not done a very good job of telling our story through the years, but it’s an interesting story of starting from a very small brewery that my brother [Ken Grossman] had built, to becoming one of the larger craft breweries in the States. We have had many many brewers come up to us saying we were their inspiration, and it’s very gratifying. My brother started a business out of a love of brewing and a love for beer, and I don’t think he had any idea where it would lead.

What did the future look like in the 1970s?
It was hopefully an avenue to express his creativity and his passion for brewing and make a living out of doing what he loved, and the expectations were fairly modest. If you read the original business plan, I think it was to sell 1,200 cases a week, maybe even more modest than that, and at that time there was not such a thing as craft beer.

Were you changing perceptions and tastes as you went?
It was a brand new market, and tastes took time to develop, and it didn’t happen overnight. I mean from 1980 to 1989 we were in a ten-barrel brewhouse. We started branching out to other states, but it took a while to get a population of consumers to appreciate the stronger flavoured beers. And then more breweries started popping up around the country, and as there was more exposure to beers that had flavour, people became aware there was something other than traditional American style lager beers.

So what does the future look like now for Sierra Nevada?
I think we need to remind people that Pale Ale is still an awesome beer and maybe introduce it to the new drinkers coming along. We’ve had a fantastic, extremely well-balanced beer for 37 years now. I think the future is up to us to tell the story a little more effectively and reach more consumers with
our story.

Sierra Nevada is big for craft beer. What are the advantages or disadvantages of size?
I think an advantage, and as we have become more successful over the years we have been able to invest in more technology, including state-of-the-art brewing and lab equipment. We are able to invest in cutting-edge sustainability initiatives. That’s been really important for us. We generate, most of the time, 100 per cent of our electricity at our site in Chico, California. We have up to 600 solar panels, we have four microturbines, and we’re working on a project with Tesla around storage batteries so we can store the extra electricity that we generate. I think it’s also enabled us to keep improving the quality of our beer. We always look at ways to increase shelf life, increase hop utilisation, get better hop aromatics in our beers. It’s made us a better brewery. I think it’s also important that we are still family owned. My brother is the sole owner for the last 15 years or so, and it enables us to put money back into the brewery, in our people who are incredibly valuable resources and have a brewing tradition in our family.

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THREE TO TRY

Sidecar / 5.3%

We are excited to be the only online retailer in the UK to stock this beer, and it is a thing of beauty! They said: “We always wondered what it would be like to punch up the citrus while maintaining a crisp hop bite and balance. The result is this new take on the hoppy pale ale brewed with Cascade, Equinox, and Mandarina hops with a hint of orange peel to add a zesty pop of bright orange flavour.”

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Otra Vez / 4.3%

Sierra Nevada head south of the border, by way of Germany, for this fascinating beer. Gose is a slightly tart and slightly salty beer that is becoming increasingly popular again among craft brewers. No wonder, it’s one of the most refreshing styles out there. Sierra Nevada’s twist is to add lime and blue agave nectar for a tangy zip of a beer. It’s not overpoweringly sour or salty, but perfectly drinkable like all Sierra Nevada’s beers.

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Torpedo, 7.2%

Sierra Nevada’s regular hop bomb and the first to use their dry-hopping ‘Hop Torpedo’ – essentially a wind funnel for the fermenting beer – which imbues a huge hoppy aroma without the associated bitterness leaving a lush citrus and pine resin flavour to come through. This is one of the classic West Coast IPAs and much loved around the world. We hope you enjoy!