It seems odd to consider that drinking beer can also be good for the environment, but after touring the Sierra-Nevada brewery in Mills River, North Carolina, I’m convinced that raising a pint of porter is a sacrifice that I am more than willing to make for the sake of our planet.
John was our tour host for the afternoon, and he was aleing to tell us the hoppy story of Sierra-Nevada’s humble beginnings in Chico, California while we sipped a sample of pale ale, and listened to his silly puns. He narrated a slide show detailing how homebrewers Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi rented a tiny warehouse in 1979,
and barley cobbled together a 10-barrel Frankenbrewer made of discarded dairy equipment and scrapyard plumbing with $65,000 seed money borrowed from family and friends in order to produce their first American Stout in 1980, followed by a hop-forward Pale Ale. Surprisingly, first year sales reached 950 barrels, and doubled the second year.
By 2012, world-wide thirst for Sierra Nevada’s craft beer had exceeded their manufacturing footprint in Chico–which was capable of producing one million barrels a year after expansions in 1988 and 1997–and eventually led to construction of the North Carolina brewery that now offer tours with John.
Ground-breaking began on 90 acres of oak and hickory forest in Henderson County, adjacent to Asheville’s Regional Airport. In line with Grossman’s ecological sensability, fallen trees from the property had been milled to provide lumber for the brewhouse and the rainwater cisterns that presently irrigate the landscaping and flush the facility’s toilets.
- on-site solar panels and microturbines fulfill 32% of the brewery’s energy requirements;
- surplus CO2 emitted during the brewing process is recaptured to pump beer to the taproom;
- used cooking oil from its restaurant is processed into bio-diesel for its delivery trucks;
- discarded yeast is converted into high-grade ethanol fuel;
- spent grain is fed to company livestock;
- spent water is recycled to the brewery’s own water treatment plant, where it is used as drip irrigation for its estate gardens;
- culminating in 99.8% of the brewery plant’s solid waste being diverted from landfill.
Because of Sierra Nevada’s commitment to sustainability, the Mills River facility has been certified Platinum in 2016 by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)–its highest award, and first-ever bestowed upon a production brewery.
But none of it would matter unless the final product tasted good. With that in mind, John took us on a walking tour, identifying the four main ingredients, and how they all come together to produce an award-winning beer.
The purest water drawn from North Carolina’s mountains is filtered until rendered chemically inert.
The finest barley is milled on site.
to produce the finest wort.
Several varieties of whole cone hops are harvested with the flowers intact,
and added into the brew kettles in different combinations to produce complex tastes and flavor profiles–
–under strictly regulated temperatures according to specific beer style.
Whereupon, the finest yeast is added…
to initiate the fermentation process.
Quality control oversight guarantees a safe and consistent product throughout each production cycle.
After testing, the beer is chilled and bottled…
…and ready for packaging.
Or in our case, it’s ready to be poured and tasted in beautiful surroundings.
We sampled eight different beers–
–each one served in its own style of glass to enhance the tasting experience–
and the experience leaves little stout why craft beer, at the very yeast, deserves a bitter place at the table with the beer conglomerates.
Ken Grossman’s brewing philosophy of using pure and fresh ingredients…
…coupled with his unwavering attention to detail at Mill River, will surely tripel Sierra Nevada’s output and sales, securing its place as the nation’s lagerest private craft brewer, which gose without saying.