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Beyond the Brewhouse

Artists Bloom in the Big Room

When great beer complements live music, all of your senses come alive.

When we opened our live music venue, the Sierra Nevada Big Room, in 2003, that’s exactly what we had in mind. Over the years, the Big Room, located at our brewery in Chico, CA, has been home to plenty of local talent. A small, intimate, 350-seat venue, the space draws an eclectic variety of music from restrained acoustic shows to those that inspire full-on dance parties.

What we didn’t anticipate was the Big Room propelling some of music’s rising stars. We recently sat down with longtime friends and Chico locals, Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers, who know the Big Room well and next week will play a sold out New Year’s Eve show at another Chico venue.

Nicki, the lead singer, is a Bay Area native; her husband and bandmate, Tim Bluhm, went to college in Chico. In the early ’90s Tim started a rock band called The Mother Hips. And so the story goes, like most happy partnerships, they met in the middle when Tim introduced Nicki to Chico about six years ago. Since then, says Nicki, she’s come to see Chico as a home away from home.

“Coming back to a community like Chico is one of the most heartwarming experiences,” she said. “I think I can speak for everybody [in the band] in saying that.”

Nicki, Tim and fellow band members have spent time at our brewery, including Beer Camp in 2011 that yielded Sierra Nevada Hips Helles, a Helles lager with a silky-smooth body and modest kick. We served it at the annual Hipnic concert, and we intend to brew it for the same occasion next year.

Reflecting on her visits to the brewery, Nicki describes it as clean, organized and consistent. For her, some of these same qualities and guidelines serve as a baseline for her creativity and music. She likes her work space to be clean and organized, which helps her feel focused and productive. And much like quality and artisanship in beer, great music takes time to perfect—it can take the band putting 20 songs on the table to find one they want to share.

“I don’t think anybody ever has [the creative process] down pat,” Nicki said.

We’d have to agree. It’s that exploration, that trial and error that yields great music and incredible beer.

Check out the beer-inspired snapshots below of Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers. We asked them:

1. What is your favorite beer style?
2. How do you like your hops?
3. What’s your go-to food and beer pairing?

*Clockwise from top left

Nicki Bluhm, vocals

1. I love drinking with the changing seasons: Tumbler in the fall, Celebration in the winter. (Pale Ale year-round.)
2. Floral and spicy
3. Ina Garten’s Beef Bourguignon

Dave Mulligan, guitar & vocals

1. Pale Ale year-round. In warmer months, a lighter beer like Kolsch. In the winter, I’ll often find my way into IPAs.
2. Fresh. At Beer Camp, we used SNBC Estate-grown hops we harvested ourselves. Best. Hops. Ever.
3. Virginia peanuts

Tim Bluhm, keys, guitar & vocals

1. Helles (Hips Helles, of course). I’m also faithful to Draught Style Pale Ale.
2. Mellow and piney
3. Barbecued rib-eye steak and grilled asparagus

Deren Ney, lead guitar

1. Pale Ale
2. Floral, rich and earthy
3. A Thanksgiving meal. Generally stuff like roasted chicken or turkey.

Mike Curry, drums

1. Pale Ale
2. Mellow, earthy
3. Margherita pizza

Steve Adams, bass & vocals

1. Hefeweizen
2. Earthy but mellow
3. A tasty bratwurst