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North Carolina Brewery

Flavor Matching for Mills River: Part 2

Visit our Facebook page to see all of our Mills River construction photos. 

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Never has this cliché seemed more relevant for us than right now, as we prepare to release to you the first batches of beer brewed in Mills River.

This beer is under the microscope—both literally and figuratively—and it’s imperative that we get it right. No, better than right. Perfect.

Every drop of beer we brew is rigorously tested and analyzed, but there’s an extra level of scrutiny in these inaugural batches. We’re brewing like we’ve got something to prove because we do. We pride ourselves on quality, and we’ve pledged that any bottle of beer with the Sierra Nevada name on it—be it from Chico or Mills River—will be of the absolute highest quality and, moreover, identical to its bi-coastal counterpart.

If we’re keeping score, it’s a safe bet that each batch of Sierra Nevada beer can be tested upwards of 150 times. We test many different parameters—everything from the viability and quality of raw materials and water chemistry to full-spectrum molecular analysis using a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GC-MS) (a mouthful, eh?) to determine if beer has a potential for off-flavors before it ever makes it out of the kettle or fermenter. Through fermentation and past bottling the checks continue to perhaps the most important testing off all: final sensory analysis.

We’re wide-eyed watching numbers, but the proof isn’t just in the specs, it’s in the tasting.

Three-times a week, our “sensory release panel”—made up of sensory professionals, brewers, quality analysts and other trained tasters—goes through fermenter samples and packaged beer to stamp each with a go or no-go. They’re looking for beer that is “true to type,” meaning beer that tastes like we know it should, like it is supposed to, like it tastes every other time. This is the key to consistency. These sensory panelists are the gate-keepers, making sure everything we do lives up to our high standards. Each week, samples of Mills River beer are shipped overnight to Chico and via video conference, panels on both sides of the country taste, discuss and ultimately hand down a verdict on the beer.

So far, Mills River has done well, but as this beer will be the first, we’re taking a few extra steps to prove that we’ve got it right. In the next few weeks, during company-wide triangle tests—a sensory test where each sampler is given three beers, two are the same, but one is different—we’re including samples of Pale Ale brewed in Mills River with Chico-brewed Pale Ale. It is up to the taster to tell which is which. Hopefully, the tasters won’t be able to find any difference between Pale Ale from the different breweries. These tests, while sneaky, are an important bellwether for us to see how close we are to the beer everyone knows and loves.

This beer has been a long time coming. Nearly two years after the announcement of our intent to build a second brewery in North Carolina, we are hitting our brewing pace. Now that the brewhouse is up and running we can finally take a sigh of relief, but that pause is short-lived because brewing is only the first step. Quality is never finished.

Read Part 1 of Flavor Matching for Mills River