Live from Chico California, it’s Sierra Nevada!
March 22, 2004
One of many perks that comes with working on ‘Suds With Securb’ is the opportunity to connect with some of the powerhouse men and women behind the beer business. Case in point: last week I chatted with Sierra Nevada Brewing co-founder Ken Grossman about beer, beef and the blues, and how they all fit into the brewery’s grand scheme.
For those of you unfamiliar with Sierra Nevada Brewing, their fine line of beers share the common characteristics of being clean, crisp and hoppy. Ken is quick to thank the quality hops and malts along with fresh well water that is continually recharged by the snowmelt of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They are world renowned for their award winning Pale Ale which won 7 gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival. In fact, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is credited by a large number of beer drinkers for defining the west coast style.
In talking to Ken I discovered he seeks the same perfection in every project he takes on. He and co-founder Paul Camusi pieced together Sierra Nevada with what sounds like a list for a scavenger hunt. Using equipment salvaged from defunct breweries, dairy tanks and a soft-drink bottler and a mountain of hops in 1980, Ken and Paul brewed the first batch of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
People quickly took to the Pale Ale hop attack. Demand for Ken and Paul’s beer quickly grew and a decade later Ken traveled to Germany and brought back a traditional 100-barrel copper brew house, which became the heart of the new brewery. Today, Sierra Nevada’s new state of the art facility houses not only the brewery but also The Sierra Nevada Taproom and Restaurant and The Big Room, a 350-seat live music venue.
So sit back, relax, and let Ken give you the inside view into the worlds of Sierra Nevada, the music, and of course the infamous Bigfoot Barleywine.
TMR: I am a huge fan of your Bigfoot Barleywine. Any plans on making it available year round?
KG: I think releasing it once a year adds to the uniqueness of the beer. Some people wait all year for it to come out. When it is released they run out and stockpile as much as they can get their hands on.
TMR: Bigfoot has a huge cult following – any funny Bigfoot stories?
KG: We get letters and emails about Bigfoot all the time. We got a letter once from a family that named their son Bigfoot.
TMR: We love all of your beers. Do you have any plans to release any new styles?
KG: We brew different styles all of the time. They are reliably available in The Taproom. We have 12 – 15 different styles on tap ranging from smoked beers to wheat beers.
TMR: Do you have any plans on getting some of the more popular Taproom beers on the store shelves any time soon?
KG: We like to keep those beers unique to the Taproom. You are more than welcome to come by and try them any time you want.
TMR: So the Taproom is open to the public. What kind of break do I get on a beer buying direct from the source?
KG: We keep the price of the beer in The Taproom real low but we don’t want to go too cheap and undersell our local competitors. Chico is a college town so you can find our beer on special sometimes downtown for 2 dollars a pitcher.
TMR: 2 dollars for a pitcher of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale? I am in the wrong city. What is the food like in The Taproom?
KG: Just like our beers we only use the best ingredients possible in our restaurant. The beef is from our own cattle farm and the cattle have a hearty diet that includes spent grain from our brewery.
TMR: I think I found heaven. You are telling me I can go to The Taproom and wash down my Sierra Nevada Filet Mignon with a Sierra Nevada specialty beer on draft? Does the beef taste any different? Can you taste the beer in the beef?
KG: Some people claim they can but I don’t think so. It is a great tasting steak though.
TMR: So what is your next big project?
KG: We have a few cool projects in the wings. We are opening a pilot brewery to brew smaller batches for The Taproom in; we have also just started growing our own hops to use at the new brewery.
TMR: So I have finished my steak and my beer to head off into the Big Room for some music. What should I expect to hear?
KG: We host all kinds of different acts in the Big Room. We have had The Gregg Rolie Band. Gregg was one of the founders of both Santana and Journey. Jazz great John Scofield, The Robben Ford Band and a host of others.
TMR: I would love to see anyone of those shows they are all great acts.
KG: We are working on a deal right now to start broadcasting these shows nationally from the Big Room. Hopefully soon you will be able to sit on your couch with a Bigfoot tune in and join us from you living room.
TMR: So has the new governor been to the brewery yet for a pint?
KG: Not yet but we will be meeting him later this month.
TMR: So are you going to bring Arnold some brews?
KG: Of course, but I’m not sure what we are going to bring him.
TMR: How about a nice Bock?
KG: That is a great idea! Maybe we will do that.
TMR: Ken I know this is a hard thing for you to do but this is when I do my beer picks. What do you suggest?
KG: I love all of our beers but there is no way I can pick four. Why don’t you pick?
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
This beer hosts a dark golden color with a long lasting bright white head. The aroma is over whelming with cascade hops. It has a great citrus pine aroma with delicate flowery tones. It is lively on the palate but not fizzy with a very crisp finish.
Commercial Description: Our most popular beer, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, is a delightful interpretation of a classic style. It has a deep amber color and an exceptionally full-bodied, complex character. Generous quantities of premium Cascade hops give the Pale Ale its fragrant bouquet and spicy flavor. GOLD MEDAL WINNER Great American Beer Festival (American Pale Ale: 1995, 1994, 1993; Classic English Pale Ale: 1992; Pale Ale: 1990, 1989, 1987)
Sierra Nevada Summerfest
This is a perfect summer brew. Refreshing, light and crisp. Definitely a must have for your summer barbeques. Even with its light profile this beer still has great hops and a slight grain flavor. This is a great transition beer if you are new to microbrews or are trying to turn a friend on to better brews.
Commercial Description: Our Summerfest is a refreshing, pilsner-style lager. Its incredible smoothness comes from an extra-long lagering period. Lighter in body than our ales but just as complex in character, Summerfest quenches your thirst with big aroma and a tangy hop bite. GOLD MEDAL WINNER California State Fair (European Light Lagers: 1999)
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
This malty hoppy seasonal has it all. Gorgeous rich amber body with a long-lasting head. It is a very complex tasting beer. I would suggest letting it warm in your hands a bit. As it warms a horde of spices start to surface and start to play off of the massive amount of Saaz hops. The alcohol is ever present at 6.8% ABV but not overbearing.
The long, cold nights of winter are a little brighter with Celebration Ale. Wonderfully robust and rich, Celebration Ale is dry-hopped for a lively, intense aroma. Brewed especially for the holidays, it is perfect for a festive gathering or for a quiet evening at home. GOLD MEDAL WINNER United States Beer Tasting Championship (IPA: 1994) FIRST PLACE Chicago Beer Society — 1996 Fall Beer Tasting
My number one pick for Sierra Nevada is:
Sierra Nevada Stout
First off they nailed the color of this beer nailed perfectly. It has an opaque black with mahogany tones as you hold it up to the light. The head is long lasting and perfectly tan and delicious as you lick the froth off of your upper lip. There are so many different flavors coming out of this beer. Bountiful roasted grain flavors and a hop profile that is huge. The palette is smooth and creamy with a smoked coffee finish.
Commercial Description: Creamy, malty, and full-bodied, the Sierra Nevada Stout is satisfyingly rich. Caramel and Black malts give the Stout its deep, dark color and pronounced roasted flavor. GOLD MEDAL WINNER California State Fair (Stout, Sweet & Foreign: 2000)