I’d like to welcome a new brewery to the North Carolina fold. Unlike most startups that struggle for name recognition, I can promise you’ve already heard of this one. Say hello to Sierra Nevada.
That’s right, the seventh largest brewery in the country, the inventors of the American Pale Ale, the 34-years-young venerable California-born brewery Sierra Nevada decided it’s time to build a mountain home just west of Asheville. To celebrate the occasion, the folks there invited a few friends over on Sunday, Aug. 3 — namely every single brewery in nine Southern states. Of those invited, more than 85 breweries joined the party, plus another 5,000 festival attendees.
This housewarming party wasn’t the only event Sierra Nevada threw. The festivities began at Sierra Nevada’s Chico location on July 19, and have snaked across the country. The N.C. facility in Mills River was the last stop in a cross-country tour of festivals, seven in total, ranging from San Diego to Portland, Maine, and many beer-friendly locations in between.
Impressive doesn’t begin to describe the infrastructure. Massive steel-clad fermenters tower out of the facility. The capacity of the largest four combined equaled what each of my previous two brewery employers separately make every year. It’s amazing to think that a brewery’s grand opening party will automatically make it the largest brewery in the state, as it’s aiming to generate 350,000 barrels of beer their first year.
Weather hasn’t been the kindest to Sierra Nevada’s construction schedule. Even as Sunday’s festival commemorated the facility’s opening, much of it remained an active construction site. The future building for the planned restaurant and gift shop is but a shell at the moment, estimated to be completed by year’s end. The brewing side, however, has been operational since earlier in the year. If you’ve ordered a pint of Pale Ale or Torpedo in the last months, it’s been made in North Carolina without you even knowing it.
Tours of the new facility are scheduled to begin in September. No tours were offered to the general public on Sunday, though other in-state breweries were given scheduled tours the day before. The exterior of the building is reminiscent of a mountain retreat tucked gently into the Blue Ridge. Don’t let the smooth taste fool you. Inside it’s all copper-clad and infinitely efficient. They’re shooting to attain LEED Gold certification at worst, if not LEED Platinum. Rows of photovoltaic panels in the parking lot and the building flanked with a rainwater harvesting system betray the easy-on-the-eyes appearance. Thirty-plus years in the brewing business and a passion for environmental consciousness are readily apparent.
All proceeds of this festival went to support the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild, just as proceeds from other stops were directed to the host state’s guild. It’s one thing to throw a party and invite all your friends; it’s another to send them all home with an incredible gift basket. As large and as nationally-distributed as it is, Sierra Nevada has proven its willingness to be a good neighbor to other North Carolina breweries. That Asheville was chosen to house its east coast operations is another example why North Carolina really is the state of Southern beer.