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Sierra Nevada CEO Makes East Coast Beer Run

We do have some areas where we might grow some hops. As far as it being a viable crop to grow in a big way, it's probably not the ideal climate or length of day. The Yakima Valley has proven to be a lot more adept and has a little bit better growing conditions.

Even though California used to be a big hop-growing region, it's really tough to get the kinds of yields and quality out of California hops. The day isn't quite long enough to get yields out of most of the varieties.

It's not just the hops that have a bit of a problem back east. Sam Calagione, the head of Dogfish Brewing in Delaware, took to the boards on beer ratings site BeerAdvocate a few months ago to defend his and other beers from beer geeks who claimed some craft beers were overrated because their palates had outgrown them. Jim Koch, founder of Boston Brewing and creator of its Samuel Adams beers, used the first post on his company's blog to address the same topic. Have you received any similar pushback from people who've been your core drinkers, but whose tastes have expanded beyond the core product? If so, have the new varieties assuaged that animosity a bit?

Grossman: I'd say yes and no. We hear quite often that a lot of drinkers come back to our Pale Ale after wandering and experimenting.

With all the boundaries that have been pushed during the last few years, it's created a lot of excitement around craft beer and has increased a lot of knowledge of beers and different styles and qualities that were unknown a few years ago. From that standpoint, I think the brewers' education has been fantastic.

Some people have insatiable desire for hoppier, stronger, more esoteric styles, and now there's been a pretty great increase in appreciating sour beers and beers that were pretty limited in the U.S. There are some great ones being brewed now.

But there's always a place for our classic Pale Ale, and we hear that a lot. After people wander, even though they still may be experimenting, they still want a beer that they can have a couple beers of and not have a full assault on their palate. We're hopefully providing what our consumers want from consistency for our Pale Ale drinkers, but also providing Torpedo or Hoptimum for people who want something more extreme. It's tough to drink those beers day in and day out as your only beer from the alcohol standpoint and high bitterness levels. They're great beers to consume occasionally, but probably not your only beer you're drinking.

Even your Pale Ale, which is your flagship beer and functionally a gateway craft beer, it's still a fairly bitter beer, yet a great example of a West Coast IPA that made your growth possible. What is it that still draws drinkers to that beer?

Grossman: I think it has the character we look for in all our beers, whether they're really hoppy or somehow distinct. They've got balance and drinkability and even when we were pushing the boundaries for Hoptimum, we wanted it to be extreme but we wanted it to be drinkable. It's hard to strike that balance, but our Pale Ale does a great job of being somewhat assertive but having a great balance.

When you're not drinking Pale Ale or one of your own beers, what beers are you drinking?

Grossman: When I'm traveling, I gravitate to the beers that people in the area are brewing, so I don't have a real favorite.

We're good friends with Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River Brewing and my son's a huge fan of the sours, so we have those around the house pretty regularly. I've learned to appreciate a lot of the interesting flavors and nuances. My son and Vinnie just did a collaborative beer called Brux that should be out in the next few months or so. They bottled all of it within the last two weeks, but it'll be a unique twist on what we do and what Vinnie does.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.
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