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Our Story

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BACK TO TOP
OUR STORY
We set out with a simple goal: brew the beers we wanted to drink. We started small, with a homebrew shop, a love of American hops and plenty of passion. In the process, we changed the beer world forever. Decades later, we’re still at it, and the passion burns brighter than ever.
1970
2014
A Passion for the
Alchemy of Brewing
Ken Grossman learned to homebrew from the father of a close friend. From an early age, he was enamored by the sights and smells of the fermenting jugs of bubbling beer, wine and sake. His first attempts at making beer were rudimentary at best, but began lifelong passion for the art of fermentation.
Chico and Beyond
Originally from Southern California, Ken Grossman joined friends on a cycling trip down the North Coast of California, but first made a stop in Chico to check out Cal State University with his childhood friends who were enrolled at the college. He fell in love with the town and the Northern California culture and decided to move to Chico.
Honing the Craft
Ken opened a homebrew supply store in downtown Chico, simply named The Home Brew Shop. As he and fellow homebrewer Paul Camusi got more into the craft, Grossman’s brewing became more and more elaborate, and, soon enough, people were eager to sample his new brews.
Passion for Hops
There weren’t many hops available for homebrewers in the 1970s, and many were of poor quality. Grossman decided to go straight to the source. He drove from Chico to Yakima, WA, and persuaded hop brokers to sell him 100 pounds of “brewers cuts”—samples sent to breweries to try before purchasing bales. He returned with the whole cone hops and began brewing the hop-forward beers Sierra Nevada is famous for.
Sierra Nevada Brewing
Company is Founded
Grossman began planning a new small-scale brewery based in Chico. He took the name of his favorite hiking grounds in the nearby mountains and decided to launch Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
No Such Thing As Small
At the time, there was no such thing as small-scale or “micro” brewery equipment. Everything needed for a brewery had to be repurposed or custom built. Grossman spent months driving through rural dairy communities throughout California and Oregon searching out scrap stainless steel tanks and equipment to use. He taught himself refrigeration and welding and fashioned most of the new brewery out of recycled dairy equipment.
Sierra Nevada Begins to Brew
The fledgling brewery was finished in the fall of 1980, and Ken needed a brew to test out the hand-built equipment. His first batch of beer was an American Stout. In the following decades, the recipe for Sierra Nevada Stout has changed very little from that day.
Pale Ale
Pale Ale is Born
Ken knew he wanted to make a hop-forward Pale Ale, but he also knew that the key to convincing people to try the beer and come back for more was consistency. He spent the last of his money and countless months to make sure he could reproduce identical batches of beer. He dumped 10 batches before getting the perfect balance into his Pale Ale, the beer that helped to launch the American craft beer movement and changed the tastes of millions.
A Reason to Celebrate
Sierra Nevada was inspired by the tradition of brewing a special beer for the holiday season and brewed the very first batch of Celebration® Ale in 1981. Celebration is unique in that it features the first fresh hops of the harvest season and remains a surprisingly fresh take on the common spiced and sweet holiday ales. Celebration is considered one of the first “American” IPAs and a benchmark of the style.
Purest Ingredients
On those early trips to Yakima, WA, for hops, Ken fell in love with the flavors and aromas of the Cascade hop. The pure and intense citrus-pine flavors were like nothing else. That hop became one of the signatures of Sierra Nevada, and in turn, the hop that helped to define the West Coast style of brewing.
Finest Quality
Ken knew that beer quality and consistency were key to great beer. Among the first additions to the new brewery was a small quality lab to test his beers. Pure healthy yeast, clean conditions and attention to detail were high priority from the start.
Early Expedition
Sierra Nevada opened with three beers in their portfolio: Pale Ale, Porter and Stout, and in January of 1983 they brewed their first batch of Bigfoot® Barleywine Style Ale, a blisteringly powerful blend of malt and hops. At nearly 10% alcohol and 100 IBUs, the beer was one of the earliest examples of “extreme” brewing and has remained a cult-classic ever since.
Growing Pains
By 1983, it became clear that Sierra Nevada’s tiny brewhouse couldn’t keep up with demand. Ken would tweak the small hand-built kettles, increasing capacity where he could, but demand always outpaced supply.
New (Old) Brewhouse
On a tip from an aspiring craft brewer, Ken learned of a beautiful, hand-made, 100-barrel, copper brewhouse for sale out of a defunct brewery in Germany. Ken and his high school friend Dave Sheetz travelled to Germany and helped dismantle the brewhouse piece by piece. The German workers laughed that the Americans would never get it back together. Ken had the brewhouse shipped to California, but it was another three years before he could afford to install it in the new brewery.
Our 20th Street Home
By 1987, Ken purchased property on 20th Street in Chico and began construction on a new brewery to house the 100-barrel brewhouse. This piece of property has been our home in Chico ever since.
A Fine Place for a Pint
Sierra Nevada opened the doors to its new Taproom, welcoming visitors to come to the brewery for a beer and food. Today, the ever-crowded Taproom and Restaurant is a destination unto itself.
Fresh from the Fields
After speaking with a longtime hop broker, Head Brewer Steve Dresler had the idea to produce a beer using 100% wet hops, plucked and delivered just hours from the fields in the nation’s first wet hop Harvest Ale.
Keeping Up with Demand
Sierra Nevada hit a major brewing milestone, producing 100,000-barrels in 1993. Even at that volume, demand for the bold, hop-forward Pale Ale continued to outpace supply. The brewery would need to expand again, and soon.
Expansion Again
Sierra Nevada unveiled a new 200-barrel Hupmann brewhouse and expanded cellars in a major brewery expansion. The original coppersmiths who built the salvaged German brewhouse were called out of retirement to clad the new brewing vessels in copper for a matching second brewhouse.
Music Is in Our Blood
The Big Room, a 350-seat auditorium, opened to host live music—especially Americana, roots music, bluegrass, blues and country.
Energy Creation
Sierra Nevada installed four 250-kilowatt co-generation hydrogen fuel cells at the brewery and began down the path to clean consistent energy creation.
Another Type of Brewhouse
Sierra Nevada adds a third brewhouse—this time, a small, 10-barrel brewhouse built to the exact scaled dimensions of the main production brewhouse—for conducting small-scale brewing, research and development, and limited release beers.
The Science of Beer
Sierra Nevada built a full, state-of-the-art Research and Development Department including comprehensive lab services with cutting-edge analytical tools for examining beer flavors and quality. The investment in the science of brewing made Sierra Nevada widely regarded as one of the most sophisticated research and quality focused breweries in the world.
Quality Crowns
After years of exhaustive quality research, the brewery decided to switch from twist-off to pry-off crowns after analysis proved that pry-off crowns provide superior protection against harmful oxidation which can degrade beer flavor.
Solar Energy
The first solar panels were installed at the brewery in the first phase of what would eventually become the nation’s largest private solar array. To date, the brewery is powered by over 10,000 individual panels creating over 1.5 megawatts of AC electricity.
Beer Camp® Begins
The first ever Beer Camp® was held at the brewery, as restauranteurs and bar owners came to Chico for a two-day, hands-on beer experience. The resulting beer, an Imperial Pilsner called Sierra Super 7, ushered in Beer Camp® as a regular event, and to date, hundreds have come to experience Beer Camp®.
The Hop Torpedo
Torpedo® Extra IPA—the first-ever year-round IPA from Sierra Nevada—debuted to raucous reception. Featuring intense hop aroma from the use of Sierra Nevada’s revolutionary “Hop Torpedo” this intense hop-bomb was an immediate success. Lack of enough hops forced allocations within months, and the brewery has struggled with demand ever since.
Brewers Working Together
Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery partnered to brew Life & Limb®, a strong ale dedicated to the multi-faceted limbs of the brewing community and to the families of both independent craft breweries.
Great Beer for 30 Years
In honor of the brewery’s 30th Anniversary, Sierra Nevada released a series of four collaboration beers, each brewed with one of the pioneers who helped launch the craft brewing renaissance, including Fritz Maytag, Jack McAuliffe, Charlie Papazian and Fred Eckhardt.
Whole-Cone Hop Hurricane
Hoptimum®, the biggest whole-cone hop Imperial IPA ever brewed, debuted to immediate success. The release was scheduled as one-time-only, but for the following year the brewery received letters every week begging for a re-release. Hoptimum is released again in 2012 as a yearly rotating 4-pack.
Monastic Inspiration, American Innovation
Sierra Nevada collaborated with the Abbey of New Clairvaux to produce Ovila® Abbey Ales, a series of Belgian inspired beers brewed in the monastic tradition.
Ruthless® Rye
Ruthless Rye IPA, a new seasonal beer, arrived with a bang. Orders more than doubled initial estimates and the beer was named Beverage of the Year by BevNet Magazine.
Where Can You Go?
For the first time ever, Sierra Nevada made beer available in cans. Pale Ale, Torpedo® Extra IPA and, locally in Chico, Old Chico Brand Crystal Wheat debuted to immediate success. The brewery was flooded with thousands of photos of fans out in the world holding cans of their beer.
Savor the Flavor
Sierra Nevada and Boulevard Brewing Company were asked to produce the signature beer for the prestigious SAVOR: Craft Beer and Food festival held annually in Washington DC. The resulting beer, Terra Incognita, was a true collaboration. Sierra Nevada brewed a portion of the beer in Chico. The resulting beer was aged in oak barrels and blended in Kansas City and finally bottle conditioned with Brettanomyces. The beer debuted to rave reviews.
Wild New World
Russian River Brewing Company’s Vinnie Cilurzo and Ken’s son Brian Grossman teamed up to brew BRUX® Domesticated Wild Ale®, a Belgian-style beer bottle conditioned with Brettanomyces bruxellensis. Because of the voracious appetite of Brettanomyces, Sierra Nevada devised a new way to handle the “wild” yeast and installed a high-tech pharmaceutical-grade dosing device that would measure a precise shot of Brettanomyces into each bottle just before corking. This was the first time this has ever been attempted in the brewing industry.
A New Chapter
Sierra Nevada announced plans to build a second brewery in Mills River, NC, to increase brewing capacity and provide fresh beer more quickly to a growing number of fans east of the Mississippi River. Ground breaking began in April with expected completion in the fall of 2014.