Over a hundred beer bloggers’ jaws dropped as we rolled up to Sierra Nevada’s new production facility in Asheville, N.C. The size of the production facility alone left me speechless, let alone the 90 beautiful acres that enveloped it. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see, learn, and experience in the next few hours while touring Sierra Nevada, Asheville.
In 2012, Ken Grossman, owner of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, California, announced that the company was expanding to the East Coast. The new facility would help take some of the pressure off their Chico location, considering they are on track to make a heady 1 million barrels of beer this year. We were thrilled when we found out that this year’s Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference was going to be held in Asheville, exactly where this brand spanking new facility was up and brewing.
Our tour bus pulled up to the front entrance, and a greeter from Sierra Nevada jumped on board and welcomed us to the brewery. She excitedly told us that we were in for a real treat, starting with a tour of the facility, followed by a “special” event. In an orderly, single file fashion, we got off the bus. But we were surprisingly greeted by a line of men in fancy coats, waiting to shake our hands.
It took me a second to realize that two of these men were owners, Ken Grossman, and his son, Brian Grossman. The other two men, Sebastian Priller-Riegele and Frank Muller, were from Germany’s historic brewery, Brauhaus Riegele.
It definitely was a “Is this real life?” moment. As they personally welcomed me and shook my hand, I hope something like, “thank you!” or at the very least, “hi” came out of my mouth. But there’s a very good chance that I just stared at them with complete bewilderment. Yup. My bet’s on the latter.
After a momentary lapse in everyday niceties (like speaking), I quickly regained my composure and was ready to learn all about this brewing empire. A young man from Sierra Nevada introduced himself and claimed to give some of the best brewery tours. However, he told us that he knew one person that gave an even better one, and that’s when he turned the stage over to the ultimate tour guide, owner Ken Grossman.
What?! Ken Grossman was giving us a tour of HIS brewery?! And just like that, all the bloggers morphed into bonafide papBEERazzis. Flashes, tweets, instaposts galore. Every DSLR camera and smart phone was on it. Soon, social media was flooded with pictures of this man.
Ken led us through his massive production facility, diligently answering all of the beer questions we had along the way. The best way to describe the facility would be to close your eyes, and imagine a Beer Disney World, or a Willy Wonka Beer Factory. Every inch of this handsome brewery was meticulously planned. And it looked like Sierra Nevada spared no expense when it came to designing this stunning brewery. We’re talking over $100 million for this brewing facility. And did it show.
While on the tour, one thing that really stuck out to me was their commitment to sustainability. The company harvested all the viable timber on the land to use in and around the brewery. They also installed large rooftop and parking lot solar energy arrays, which helps offset the energy requirements of running such a large brewery. Reduce, reuse, recycle isn’t just a trendy movement to them, it’s how they run things at Sierra Nevada. Sustainability is definitely good for the budget, plus it shows the community that they’re committed to running a responsible business.
After the grandest of tours, we were summoned to walk outside and go down a long, winding path that led into the woods. “Where on Earth are they taking us?”, a blogger asked as we trekked further and further into the forest. Suddenly, a clearing opened up and we were standing in the middle of a remote field, dotted with tents and festive lights strung across the trees.
This was the “special event” that the bus greeter was referring to. We were invited to the private release party of their Oktoberfest beer! Just the Grossmans, the famous Germans, and us, the beer bloggers. Oh, and the camera crew who was filming us- film and document the entire party. The irony wasn’t lost on me…
But whaaaaaaat!!?? Somebody pinch me. We’re at a private release party for their newest brew!
Starting this year, and now every following fall, Sierra Nevada will partner with a different German brewery for their Oktoberfest beer. The goal of these unique partnerships is to blend centuries of rich German brewing traditions with a modern craft drinkers’ spirit.
It’s clear why Sierra Nevada chose Brauhaus Riegele as the first brewery to kickoff this fall collaboration series. Brauhaus Riegele has been in operation since 1386, and more than 600 years later, their brews are tastier than ever. Brauhaus Riegele earned accolades for the 2015 Craft Brewer of the Year at the Meininger International Craft Beer Awards and their brewmaster (and very tall drink of water), Frank Muller, has won the German Government’s “Bundesehrenpreis” award for quality seven times—every year it’s been given.
Brauhaus Riegele shared this ridiculously delicious brew that they had brought over from their brewery with us very lucky attendees.
We were treated to an array of delicious German eats; a feast overflowing with wursts, German potato salads, and freshly grilled veggies. These guys really know how to throw a proper Oktoberfest party! After lots of prosting, drinking, and eating, it was time to hear from the hosts.
Sierra Nevada owners, Ken and Brian Grossman, along with Sebastian Priller-Riegele and Frank Muller, spoke about the collaboration process on this special Oktoberfest brew. They also shed some light on why they were wearing such fancy coats. Turns out, the family and partners at Brauhaus Riegele wear traditional Jankers, which are straight-cut, hip-length jackets. While visiting the German brewery, Ken and Brian Grossman were fitted for their own personal Jankers by Sebastian Priller-Riegele’s wife, who makes these custom jackets. One thing they didn’t take into account, Jankers come in summer and winter styles. So unfortunately, Ken and Brian were rocking the winter edition Jankers in the hot Asheville heat. Nevertheless, they looked absolutely fabulous while doing so.
After their entertaining speech, we had the opportunity to hang out with the hosts, drink some more beers, and ask lots of questions. Ken even asked us a few questions about our Pittsburgh blog. It easily made my top three most incredible beer experiences I’ve ever had. What an amazing trip to Sierra Nevada! Two things are for sure, I can’t wait to get back to Asheville and spend another day at this brewery. And in the meantime, I definitely can’t wait to get my hands on this Oktoberfest beer when it comes to Pittsburgh in just a few weeks.
Prost N’at– Devon and Tim