Today, I’d love to speak about one of the grandfathers of American craft brewing. Arguably, it’s the one brewery that can be said to have started the craft brewing movement in the US. I speak, of course, of California’s own Sierra Nevada Brewing. I feel that they started as every microbrewery should start – by excited and invested homebrewers who want to make better beer rather than money (I’m looking at you, Rouge). Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is perhaps the original American microbrew, being made since 1980, and it’s still the second-most sold craft beer in the US. Their accessible beers have helped introduce a lot of people to craft brews through the years, while still impressing snobby beer folk like myself. To this day their beers are extremely consistent, high quality, and made via traditional methods.
However, Sierra Nevada’s legacy goes far beyond impressive beers and commercial growth. Sierra Nevada and Ken Grossman (owner), have taken great strides to be an example for the future of “green” brewing. They’ve been a pioneer of sustainability, taking steps to reduce their energy consumption, waste, and environmental impact while brewing. For example, they have installed over 10,000 solar arrays, producing 1/5 of the power required to run their brewery. They also installed hydrogen fuel cells, which cleanly produce close to 50% of their energy needs. On top of that, they go to great lengths to reduce the amount of energy their brewing operation uses, from having more windows for natural lighting, increasingly efficient freezers, to something as simple as having their cardboard packaging piggyback in on the backhaul trucks from their beer distribution–cutting out trips from the brewery by fuel-guzzling trucks. They are mindful of their waste as well, putting everything they can to good use. Their spent grain is sent to cattle ranchers for feed, their water is sent to their own treatment plant to be reused for their own farming or brewing processes, and even their spent yeast is used to make ethanol. All told, 99.5% of their brewing waste is kept out of landfills and reused. They were named the Green Business of the Year by the EPA in 2010 in response to all the environmentally charged adaptations they’ve made to their brewing processes.
Sierra Nevada has also been instrumental in kick starting the growing trend of brewers growing their own crops for brewing. They now have 8 acres of hop fields, as well as a 30 acre barley field and a one acre garden for their restaurant. They use these home-grown ingredients in their beer, as well as releasing a seasonal beer using only ingredients grown on site. It’s a trend that is admirable and ambitious, and with the considerable cost of setting up a farm on site, it’s even more impressive that a brewery would be willing to take on such a venture. With the growth of the craft brewery industry, and how homogenized much of it has become; it’s exciting to have one of the first modern microbreweries continue to innovate, think outside the box, and push the envelope every year. With their sales and success, it would be very easy for them to sit back and just make their core products, but instead they have made themselves an example to other breweries of how to stay interesting, how to be better to the environment while still being profitable, and how to be more than just another generic microbrewery, making generic beer, to be drank by generic people. Prost to Ken Grossman and Sierra Nevada’s staff for that.