I was invited to BEER CAMP by Steve Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewery. Steve is the ambassador of Sierra Nevada. Sounds like a great job and guess what – he looks pretty damn happy.
As I have mentioned before, getting to Chico from Dallas is not that easy. But once we get settled, its nice to be there. Six of us were there to brew beer with Scott Jennings, the director of their Pilot Brewery.
Beer from the fermenters
Scott has been with Sierra for 9 years now. He seemed genuinely happy to see us and to show us how his brewery within Sierra Nevada worked. I must say, it is state of the art & he has some great beers fermenting, which he allowed us to try. The Pilot Brewery that he runs is where they tweak ideas for new recipes.
Fish bowl with Steve and Scott
In the “Fish Bowl”, we all met up to discuss our project. Steve tells us about the history behind Sierra Nevada.
It is a cool story and I will share some tidbits with you, other than what you may find on your own History of Sierra Nevada.
From 1980 – 1989 they had only a 10 Barrel Brewing System. The original kettle is an odd looking fabricated piece of used dairy equipment that Ken made himself. That kettle is still used to this day by the boys at Mad River Brewing Co. At first, the beer was sold in bottles only.The three original beers were Pale, Stout and Porter, which are still around today and excellent examples of each style. The first kegs were used in 1983 and were the old style Golden Gate kegs. They bought them from AB for about $15 each – a fraction of the cost of new kegs. The head brewer is Steve Dressler and he has been on their team for 27 years.
Early days at Sierra
In 1981: New Albion was producing 450 barrels annually, Sierra – 1500 barrels, Anchor Brewing – 25,000 and Yuengling 200,000. Today Anchor does around 100k barrels and SN is doing around 1M barrels. In 1989 SN moved into a new building and bought a 100 Barrel system. In 1998 they bought a 200 barrel system and expanded creating an east side and a west side. Today, they have 800 barrel fermenters, 50 of them. The daily brewing schedule requires the use of over 100,000 pounds of grain.
Sierra has a 9 acre organic hop field next door – for their Chico Estate Harvest Ale. They grow two row barley on 30 acres near their rail station. The brewery uses about 4 rail cars of grain per week. At any time they have almost 1M pounds of grain on hand.
Let’s talk about Green living for a moment. I learned that 99.6% of all solid waste is recycled at SN. That their hop field is watered with their treated water from brewery production. The trucks are biodeisel. Their rooftops have 10,000 solar panel systems to feed the energy to their fuel cells. They have a farm that the local university uses to train their students on animal care and land management. The cattle on the farm are fed the spent grain from the brewery and the beef is used at the SN pub. All in all, SN is about 92% self sufficient and definitley setting a good example for sustainability. We don’t learn this from their marketing plan – it’s just how they think the brewery should be run. They’ve created a pretty incredible work environment. The group seems pretty darn humble and every person I encountered seemed genuinely happy to be there.
The Beer that is coming to Texas very soon will be called The Edge of Darkness. The campers decided to do a robust brown ale that was 6.5% abv – using Pale Two Row malt, Caramel Malt 60 and 120 L and some chocolate malt for color and flavors.
Rusty adds the grain
Mashing the grain
Testing the PH levels of our wort
The hop bill was HUGE – this is something Sierra is known for and they encouraged us to dig through their hop storage and use whatever we wanted. Scott was careful to keep us in the right direction and not let us pick anything too far out there.
Fresh hop room
After all, he wants the beer to be good just as much as we do. The hops for the batch were 8# Bravo for bittering and 55# fresh whole Centennial cones for flavoring. By now, the beer is in dry hop phase and the group picked – Motueka, US Challenger and Centennial.
Fresh Hops for the batch
Bill adds some hop cones
Stirring the Fresh Hops
Cleaning out the Hop Back - off to the fermenters
Steve e-mailed us today and said the beer has a nice flavor profile. It will go through another week of fermentation and should be released to us in a week or so. For logistical reasons, we can get kegs of this brew in one state only through one distributor. Since we have 6 locations in Texas now, I have scheduled the kegs to come into Austin and will send 2 kegs to each Texas location. Austin and FW will get a firkin each for their upcoming BEER FESTIVALS (October 17 – Fort Worth and October 24 – Austin).
Having Pints with Ken and Charlie at the pub
This was a fun time and has sparked my interest in brewing again. Yesterday, with the help of Jake “the Snake” (my 8 year old son), I created a Labor Day IPA which was based on a Celebration recipe.
Don’t you just LOVE BEER?