Sometimes when a recipe is right, it is simply right. There’s no arguing the fact that Sierra Nevada nailed its flagship beer, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, coming out of the gate.
The Pale Ale flavor might be somewhat familiar these days, but that’s because most of these newbie challengers continually strive to achieve the mark that Sierra Nevada beer created. They own pale ale, so why wouldn’t we just enjoy their success?
It’s ironic that Sierra Nevada—an obvious product of a West Coast mountain range—has become one of the best breweries in Asheville, which is affectionately known as “beer city.” It’s located near the Blue Ridge Parkway, just outside downtown Asheville.
Any Asheville brewery tour that doesn’t include Sierra Nevada Asheville would be sorely lacking. In my opinion, this is a crown jewel on the Asheville breweries list.
Not only is Sierra Nevada beer first class—a key player in the rise of craft beer—but their North Carolina brewery is a work of art in and of itself.
READ MORE: The History of Downtown Asheville, NC
SIERRA NEVADA ASHEVILLE GUIDE
- Sierra Nevada Asheville Info
- History of Sierra Nevada Brewing
- Sierra Nevada Beers
- Sierra Nevada Menu
- Sierra Nevada Brewery Tours
- Events At Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Asheville
- Sierra Nevada Sustainability Initiatives
SIERRA NEVADA BREWERY INFO
ADDRESS: 100 Sierra Nevada Way, Mills River, NC 28732
PHONE NUMBER: 828-708-6176
TAPROOM HOURS: Sunday – Thursday 11:00am to 9:00pm, Friday & Saturday 11:00am to 10:00pm
- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is loaded with a hop named after another mountain range: Cascade.
- Ken Grossman, the founder of Sierra Nevada, bought his first homebrewing kit in 1969. He was a teenager and had to hide it from his mom.
- Though Sierra Nevada is now most recognized for its Pale Ale, the first Sierra Nevada Beer was actually five barrels of Stout.
- To this day, despite growing into a nationally recognized and beloved brand, Sierra Nevada remains completely “family-owned, operated, and argued over.”
HISTORY OF SIERRA NEVADA– ASHEVILLE, NC
The concept behind Sierra Nevada began long before founder Ken Grossman was anywhere near the drinking age. A friend’s father introduced Ken to the art of homebrew, and by the age of 15 he had bought his own homebrewing kit.
As a teenager, Ken found solace in the mountains, often disappearing for days at a time. After his first visit to Chico, California, he packed up his belongings (including his brewing paraphernalia) and moved there two weeks later.
When homebrewing was legalized, Ken formed the idea to open a brewery on trips climbing in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The original Sierra Nevada Brewing Company was built from scratch, using repurposed dairy equipment. The experiment started in 1980 with five barrels of stout, but by the end of that year Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was created, after just 10 test batches.
Success afforded Ken an opportunity to buy a 100-barrel copper brewhouse from Germany, and he used all of his money to import it to California. Unfortunately, lacking the additional funds to set up his new equipment, it sat in storage for years.
In 1987, the brewhouse finally debuted. By the early ’90s, production had begun to increase significantly each year. He added a 200-barrel brewhouse next to his old German system in 1997, and by the early 2000s he was experimenting with solar energy to power his systems.
By 2010, the Chico brewery was running out of room for expansion. So Ken devised plans to open a new brewery on the East Coast.
In 2012, ground broke at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in Asheville, NC, which was completed in 2015. The facility is truly state-of-the-art, with a concerted effort towards environmental sustainability.
In fact, this was the first production brewery ever to receive the Platinum certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Today it has an amazing taproom/restaurant, outdoor concert area, garden, nature trail, and more.
SIERRA NEVADA BEERS
- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is dubbed “Your favorite brewer’s favorite beer.” It’s made with Cascade hops that give it a distinctively pine and citrus aroma.
- Hazy Little Thing IPA is packaged unfiltered, and bottled (canned, actually) straight from the tanks. It’s cloudy, with a fruity flavor.
- Torpedo Extra IPA was an experiment that focused on adding more hop aroma to an IPA, but without added bitterness.
- Fantastic Hazy Imperial IPA is a bit on the tropical side, delving into mango and melon flavors. It’s a juicy beer that combines five different types of hops, as well as malt, oats, and wheat.
- Sierraveza is inspired by those beloved beach beers that have migrated up from south of the border. It’s light, floral, and begs to be served ice cold.
- Hop Bullet is a bold double IPA with a two-prong palette parade of Magnum hops and lupulin dust (which lends a concentrated hop flavor).
- Tropical Torpedo is an IPA gone to the islands. Think hoppy, but with the juices of mango, papaya, and passionfruit mingling in.
- Otra Vez goes into the lime and blue agave genre of flavors, providing a sweet zippiness.
- Hop Hunter is made with steam-distilled fresh hops that are processed before they even leave the field. The hop oil makes for an intensified flavor.
- Sidecar is an IPA that gets real on the citrus. It’s infused with actual oranges.
- Kellerweis is a Belgian-style wheat beer brewed in open fermentation tanks. Unfiltered, it’s hazy with a fruity aroma and spiced finish.
- Stout is actually the original Sierra Nevada beer, and the recipe—a time-tested winner—remains exactly the same as the 1980 version.
- Porter has a dark, dense body with malty complexity and mixture of roasted coffee and chocolate for tickling the taste buds.
- Old Chico is a nod to craft beer newbies. It’s light and familiar, designed to be an offering for those who aren’t IPA and dark beer junkies.
- Skiesta is a Bavarian-style lager that was co-developed with Teton Gravity Research as a highly drinkable ski-beer.
- Celebration is one of the brewery’s early beers (1981). Though considered a holiday beer, this American-style IPA isn’t the typical sweet, spiced ale.
- Oktoberfest is an offering for the annual autumn festivities. It is the result of a love-child co-conceived by Sierra Nevada and Germany’s Bitburger Brewery.
- Summerfest is a classic pilsner and an homage to the Czech tradition.
- 40 Years honors a milestone achievement for the brewer. It continues the hop-forward citrus-and-pine combo that has made Sierra Nevada such a success.
- Narwhal is an imperial stout with notes of coffee and cocoa, as well as roasted grains that add an underlying smokiness.
- Bigfoot is a barley wine-style ale. Robust as it is, it can also age in a cellar, increasing in complexity like wine does.
- Hoptimum is, as it sounds, hops pushed to the max in a triple IPA.
- Estate Ale is a farmhouse ale produced from Sierra Nevada’s own organic hops and barley.
- Southern Gothic is typical of a pilsner, crisp and easy, but with added complexity because it’s unfiltered.
- Northern Hemisphere Harvest uses wet hops straight from the fields, which gives it an herbal flavor and brighter aroma.
- Brux is a domesticated wild ale that will grow progressively more complex in the bottle over years.
SIERRA NEVADA MENU
With a restaurant in the taproom, the Sierra Nevada Asheville menu is wrought with unique recipes that blend farm-fresh ingredients with Sierra Nevada beer.
These include Pale Ale jack cheese, Torpedo hot sauce, and Porter mustard vinaigrette.
There are farm-to-table features, some of which come from the on-site garden, including Danish Smørrebrød (an open-faced Scandinavian sandwich ion rye bread) and Collards and Kale Slaw.
There’s a whole section of the menu devoted to dishes that pair well with Sierra Nevada’s signature Pale Ale, such as Duck Fat Fries and Cuban Pork & Beans.
There are also woodfired choices, like Pretzels with Pimento Beer Cheese and Buffalo Cauliflower Pizza. Their house specialties include dishes like Carolina Bison Sirloin and Brew Haus Sausage.
There is no reservation required for dining at the Sierra Nevada restaurant. Downtown Asheville is but a hop and skip away, so it’s a great place for lunch and a beer, even if there’s no time for taking the brewery tour.
SIERRA NEVADA BREWERY TOURS
Sierra Nevada’s Asheville location offers a variety of brewery tours to fit varying levels of interest in the intricacies of beer, ranging from “give me one of those already” to “how exactly do you store these hops?”
Reservations are required, no matter which tour you choose to take.
The Sierra Nevada “brewery tour” is a complimentary 45-minute tour that gives guests the basics of the facility and its beer-making process. It’s free, but requires a reservation (best made well in advance), and a beer tasting is included.
The “heritage tour” is more than just a Sierra Nevada beer tour. It’s really a walk through the entire history of the company, explaining its rise from a humble homebrew shop to the throne of American (and Asheville) craft beer. It costs $15 for 90 minutes.
For super enthusiasts, the “beer geek tour” offers a romp through all that makes Sierra Nevada work so well. Amazingly, the company remains willing to part with plenty of production secrets and hop-ful advice. This 3 hour-tour costs $50.
If you’re the sort of person for whom drinking is more important than how the beverage came to be, there’s also a “guided educational tasting.” This 30-minute experience costs $12, and offers a sampling of eight beers with a personal guide.
The “high gravity tasting” is a unique spin, because it exposes visitors to flavorful beers that are not often available elsewhere. These are strong beers with bold characteristics and background info to boot. It takes one hour and costs $30.
One of my favorite Sierra Nevada beer tours is the “guided barrel tasting tour,” which allows guests to sample barrel-aged brews and learn about the tradition of barrel-aging.
Regardless of whether or not you take a tour, the brewery offers access to the “visitor corridor.” This raised mezzanine allows anyone an opportunity to meander through for a look at the copper kettles, fermenting area, and warehouse.
EVENTS AT THE SIERRA NEVADA BREWERY
The Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Asheville has two great venues that host loads of live music shows throughout the year.
High Gravity is an indoor facility located directly above the Taproom.
In addition to being open to the public every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, there are also ticketed shows there, and it can be rented out for private events. The room is capable of holding up to 250 people.
The other venue is an outdoor amphitheater that offers stadium seating, a grass lawn for spreading out a blanket, as well as patio seating further back.
There are lots of free weekend performances here when the weather is nice.
SIERRA NEVADA SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVES
In the early days, Ken Grossman repurposed dairy equipment to brew beer. While things have certainly advanced in terms of technology since then, Sierra Nevada’s Asheville brewery still stands by the “reduce, reuse, recycle” business model.
The facility’s list of sustainable initiatives is inspiring, and ranks it amongst the most environmentally-friendly breweries in Asheville, NC (and across the nation).
Permeable pavers in the parking lot allow rainwater to soak through and recharge the groundwater, while also protecting the French Broad River.
Bioswales throughout the property also help to slow and filter the stormwater created on hard surfaces.
There are a dozen 6500-gallon cisterns capturing rainwater from the roof of the brewery, and a 450,000-gallon cistern underground.
A key to the brewery’s energy efficiency is the heat recovery system, which takes thermal energy from air compressors to preheat water for the brewing process.
The brewery also harvests CO2 from the fermentation process to pressurize tanks and help with packaging.
Large windows help with natural lighting through much of the facility, and a huge array of solar panels (both on the roof and in solar trees) provide clean energy.
The Sierra Nevada Brewery in Asheville is a certified Platinum TRUE Zero Waste facility, maintaining a 99.8% diversion rate from landfills.
In addition to an extensive traditional recycling program, there is a wastewater treatment system that produces biogas, which adds to the energy efficiency.
Much of the wood produced from clearing the site was milled and used to build the brewery.
Their list of sustainable efforts also extends to a multiple-acre organic garden, forest management program, EV charging stations, bicycle parking, and a rail service for moving grain around and minimizing energy output.
In short, Sierra Nevada– like many other breweries near Asheville, NC– is a proud example of how to do business responsibly, from operation and construction to employee treatment. –Jonathon Engels; photos provided by Sierra Nevada Asheville