I like a lot of Sierra Nevada beers — Celebration is a favorite come winter, and Hop Hunter and the single hop series beers are great. Nooner made our top cans of summer list, too. Obviously their Pale Ale is a forerunner in craft beer history, a now-iconic brew that has served as inspiration for fellow craft brewers for more than a quarter of a century. (It’s also the top-selling Pale Ale in the country.)
I suppose that until now, Troegs had been the biggest brewery I had visited (obviously accepting the above-mentioned Oskar Blues), but everyone I talked to in advance of the trip talked about how stunning Sierra Nevada’s east coast brewery is. A friend of mine who works at a local wholesaler (and therefore has seen his fair share of breweries across the country and globe) called it, “probably the nicest brewery I’ve ever been to.”
We departed the bus and walked to the front door, where we were greeted by … a collection of German brewers and Ken Grossman, “billionaire founder and owner of Sierra Nevada,” himself.
As we went down the receiving line, shaking each of these brewers’ hands, Ken made a point to look at each person’s name tag, and personally welcome each one of us to his brewery.
After everyone collectively freaked the fuck out, we were siphoned into groups for tours. By some dumb luck, Tierney, our new friends Nick and Jonathan, and I were part of a large group led by Ken himself.
Much of the tour was spent pointing a camera at Ken and marveling at the expansive set-up.
Sierra Nevada on Mills River looks like a massive ski lodge. A ski lodge with a 200-barrel brewhouse and a dedicated hop room.
Ken was thorough and friendly, and spent so much time with us that he kept getting buzzed to keep it moving so the other groups could go through.
After the tour — a version of which typically ends in a private tasting in an upstairs tasting room — we wrapped down the stairs and around to the back of the building where we passed outdoor patio seating and a biergarten on a brief trek through the woods to a special events location down by the river.
Here, a beer truck loaded with the NEW fall seasonal — a collaboration with Brauhaus Riegele in Augsburg, Germany — Oktoberfest.
Poured into big traditional, logo-emblazoned German-style mugs (which we took home), we cheersed “Pröst!” with the master brewer, Sebastian Priller-Riegele, soon to be 28th in line in his family’s brewery.
This new collaborative version of Oktoberfest begins a new tradition for Sierra Nevada. They plan to continue to partner with German breweries each year to discover traditional takes on the best-known beer style in history.
Sierra Nevada also provided an incredible dinner buffet that included braised rabbit, duck liver, roasted vegetables, salad and more. It was by far the best meal of the weekend. Folks sat at picnic tables, and we plopped ourselves right on the ground, enjoying the festivities and great beer.
Before we left, we also tried Brauhaus Riegele’s Commerzienrat Riegele Privat, their traditional Marzen. Makes me pretty thirsty for a trip to the true beer mecca.
I didn’t really ever want to leave Sierra Nevada Mills River, and I hope that someday I get the chance to return — though I’m not too sure that this trip’s … (I’m going to say it) … epic-ness could ever be replicated.
In the meantime — Find more photos from our Sierra Nevada adventure on Facebook!