Sierra Nevada is legendary. Not only is it one of the older craft breweries still operating in this county, but it also grew from a small operation fabricated together with used dairy equipment. Now it’s the second largest American brewery.
Ken Grossman is the originator of Sierra Nevada and Steve Dresler, our main guest for the evening, was one of the first employees there leaving a job with the twice the pay right out of college to work there. We were certainly lucky to have him join us for the latest Ray’s event! The event started just a tad late as Larry the Sierra Nevada area manager (and an awesome guy!) and a combination of Ray’s employees and Beer Capitol reps distributed food samples to peoples’ plates for the tasting. It was worth it, paid off in freshness as well as deliciousness.
Some A/V issues occurred so we skipped a video presentation that lacked sound and moved right into the bulk of the presentation. Steve began by introducing the brewery. Our first of nine samples was served; Sierra Nevada’s Kellerweis. The beer and the process making it were described as we sampled it, pairing it with cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Following the first pairing we began a slide show of pictures from the beginning of the brewery, complete with Ken in full-beard-mode. The scale of their operation was stressed as a slide comparing barrels produced in 1981 was shown, the year following their opening.
They had 1,500. Not much in comparison.
We made it to our second sample; the iconic green bottle, Sierra Nevada’s style-defining Pale Ale. This and the Torpedo IPA (which we had later on) were paired with something…interesting. What goes better with beer than wings (other than pizza)? Well, it was a good thought but Buffalo Wild Wing’s Mango Habañero wings are a bit on the spicy side. Don’t get me wrong, I personally love them, but for a crowd of people who are ready to sample some beer, they didn’t go over so great. The pairing went well for me but a lot of people were shocked at how hot the wings were, especially on beer number two. My palate wasn’t destroyed by spice so I hope the same went for everyone else ready to try some new brews. A milder wing such as BW’s Honey BBQ would have been a much better pairing.
While sipping the classic Pale Ale we were ushered into the new state-of-the-art brewery via the continuing slide show that showcased not only their efficiency and grand scale but also their cleanliness. Both Steve and Larry talked about the brewery and how it’s also labeled as one of the most beautiful facilities in the world, built with that in mind.
Before moving into our next sample, the ‘Hop Harmony’ brochure was explored as Steve explained Sierra Nevada’s commitment to sustainable brewing. Everything from their 10,000 solar panels generating over 90% sustainable power to their by-product use to a shift in transportation to intermodal rail. While lengthy, it was incredibly informative but I think everyone could have used a sample about halfway through to keep going. Regardless, we came to the Torpedo IPA, a big, robust IPA that was not only the number one IPA brand in America, it was the number one new craft brand in 2009. I saved on of my spicy wings to try with this beer. They pair nicely. Steve explained to everyone the brewing process of the Torpedo and how it got it’s name as well, joking that if he showed a picture of the device they use, we wouldn’t be allowed to leave.
This is when they jested, “Now it’s time to drink!” Immediately following the Torpedo was their new fall seasonal, the Tumbler brown ale. This was discussed at length as well as their Porter and Stout which were next on the list, completing the standard line-up from Sierra Nevada. We paired these beers with the large bounty of sausage slices on our plates. The sausage complimented the light smokiness of the beers well. Larry even taught Steve something as he held the Stout bottle, pointing out that within the labels of the beer, each scene in the center changes. The Stout’s label contains a little depiction of the original brewery!
Shortly thereafter, we began sampling the special-release beers starting with the Northern Harvest wet-hop ale, a fantastic beer! The process of wet-hopping beer was explained by Steve who told us the story of them coming up with the idea for it. Speaking of hops, we then sampled Sierra Nevada’s Estate ale, newly packaged in a wax-dipped 750 ml bottle. Sierra Nevada uses 100% of their barley and hops from their own estate fields. 10 acres of organic hops and 26 acres of organic barley combine to create Sierra Nevada’s first USDA certified organic beer. We were also surprised to hear that all the malt harvested for the Estate ale is sent here, to Chilton, Wisconsin where Briess Malting transforms the barley into what’s used in the Estate. Awesome!
Last but not least, we got to the cream of the crop (although, to my knowledge, estate crops aren’t used here)! This year Sierra Nevada is celebrating their 30th Anniversary by releasing four new beers quarterly, three of which are collaborations. We sampled the third release, Jack and Ken’s Black Barleywine which just won a gold medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival. While we sipped this beer while the theme of the 30th anniversary was explained. All of the collaborators, Fritz Maytag, Charlie Papazian, Fred Eckhardt, and Jack McAuliffe, were given introductions as we learned about parts of history as the craft brewing revolution began and thus concluded the event.
A lucky recipient received a Harvest bar sign and everyone left with the awesome Sierra Nevada Imperial Pint glass, the glass I review basically every beer from. Lots of people stuck around to chat up the guest as did myself. He, among a few other people sampled my recently finished brown ale and he even liked it, giving me some pointers! How cool! Over all, it was a fantastic night hosted by Ray’s and Sierra Nevada and makes me look forward to the coming events even more. They only seem to be getting better! Get your tickets asap for New Glarus on the 28th as they are close to sold out I’m sure!