Sierra Nevada Brewing
Beer produced in 2012: 966,000 barrels
One million barrels is an arbitrary threshold that, in the greater beer industry, doesn't really mean a whole lot. There were nearly 1.5 million barrels of Steel Reserve malt liquor produced in 2012, while Mike's Hard Lemonade cranked out more than 1.4 million barrels of its flavored malt beverages that same year.
Still, in terms of scale, 1 million barrels is a big beer number. Those 2.73 million barrels Boston Beer produces come out of three facilities in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio -- the latter two being enormous. We recently had the opportunity to tour the recently expanded brewing facilities of Atlanta-based SweetWater Brewing and were awed by the size and number of kettles that could one day help a brewery that produced 110,000 barrels in 2012 produce 600,000 barrels.
Make no mistake: Chico, Calif.-based Sierra Nevada's 1 million is big, and that figure is just the beginning. Construction continues on the brewery's second facility near Asheville, N.C., which should add about 300,000 barrels of capacity when it opens this year. That's the equivalent of opening about three Sweetwater Brewings or two full-capacity versions of Delaware-based Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.
That alone should be reason for a Super Bowl-sized celebration. But is there a better reason for founder Ken Grossman, who's worked on Sierra Nevada since 1979, to shake off his garage-built roots and hit the big time?
Absolutely. Sierra Nevada is one of craft beer's old guard and, as such, has gone through fluctuations in its existence. Evolving tastes have turned the Pale Ale that has long served as Sierra Nevada's flagship beer into a pale likeness of other, more complex beers with more appeal for younger drinkers. Sierra Nevada has responded by putting its more hop-heavy Torpedo IPA front and center and building many of its expansion efforts around it. Torpedo was among the first Sierra Nevada beers canned, it is the namesake of the Torpedo Room taproom Sierra Nevada just opened in Berkeley, Calif., and it's bringing a once mellower microbrewer into the modern IPA-mad craft world.
With Sierra Nevada about to become an even more familiar face in its coast-to-coast distribution radius, it might not be a bad time for the pioneering craft brewery to reintroduce itself to a fanbase consistently distracted by the next big thing. In fact, it's taking a big step toward doing just that by touring the country this summer and brewing a 12-pack of beers with Allagash in Portland, Maine; the Asheville Brewers Alliance; Ballast Point in San Diego; Bell's in Kalamazoo, Mich.; Cigar City in Tampa, Fla.; Firestone Walker in Paso Robles, Calif; New Glarus Brewing in New Glarus, Wis.; Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene, Ore.; Oskar Blues in Longmont, Colo., and Brevard, N.C.; Three Floyds in Munster, Ind.; and Victory in Downingtown, Pa.
Sierra Nevada has a story to tell and new places to tell it. That story is now bigger than the niche it helped create, and that's something everyone who loves beer should celebrate. The Super Bowl would have been a great place to throw that party.