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Podcast Episode 06: The Sierra Nevada Story with Steve Grossman

Podcast Episode 06: The Sierra Nevada Story with Steve Grossman

Posted by Lachlan McLean on 1st Jul 2019

Beginning in 1980, Sierra Nevada has pioneered the craft beer revolution. Foundered by Ken Grossman, the brewery is truly a family endeavour, with his son Brian and daughter Sierra both heavily involved. Today we are joined by his older brother Steve, who works as Sierra Nevada’s spokesperson and ambassador to tell the story of this truly iconic brewery.

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Full Text Transcript Below:

Lachlan McLean: Hi, I'm Lachlan McLean from Beer Cartel, here with your regular fill of the latest insight, interviews, and news from the craft beer world. Thanks for joining me again, right here on The Inside Word.

Lachlan McLean: Welcome, everyone, to episode six of The Inside Word. In today's episode, we look at pioneering American craft brewery, Sierra Nevada. Beginning in 1980, Sierra Nevada has pioneered the craft beer revolution. Founded by Ken Grossman, the brewery is truly a family endeavor with his son, Brian, and daughter, Sierra, both heavily involved. Today, we are joined by his older brother, Steve, who works as Sierra Nevada's spokesperson and ambassador, to tell the story of this truly iconic brewery.

Steve Grossman: My brother and I grew up north of Los Angeles, in a place called San Fernando Valley, and we had a tight group of friends, and my best friend's father was a home brewer. And this was in the mid-1960s, so we used to sample his home brew as kids, and I tell that story.

Steve Grossman: My brother was thirteen, I was fifteen, and the other neighborhood kids were within that range, fourteen, fifteen years old. And we developed a taste for good home brew, because our friend's father was a great home brewer. We drank quite a bit of his beer, and he... Yeah, he found out, because he kept a kegerator in the patio. It was homemade, of course, back then. There was no such thing as a home kegerator, but he got an old refrigerator, drilled holes in the setup. So we used to sample beer on the way home from school... high school, as a matter of fact. And, as I said, he found out and he was upset about having [inaudible 00:02:05] brew beer for the neighborhood kids, so his solution was... and he told us and, particularly Ken, because Ken was maybe the most interested in the mechanical and brewing aspect of it. To show us how to brew beer, he said, “I'm going to show you how to do it once and then you're on your own.”

Steve Grossman: So that's where it started in 19... I would say it was about '67 or so. Home brewing, of course, was illegal, but we could still find supplies every once in a while. Not easily.

Lachlan McLean: So was home-brewed beer back then much better than, I guess, just the commercial stuff you could find, and that's what attracted you?

Steve Grossman: Well, of course, [inaudible 00:02:42] you got. Remember in the 1960s, we had, basically, the mass-produced beers with the exception of Anchor, who Fritz Maytag bought in 1965, and started refurbishing it. So late 60s, early 70s, Fritz started investing in the brewing in Anchor and started making really good beer. So we had Anchor available to us. There, in the late 60s, not easily available, because we couldn't buy beer and it wasn't... Since we were in southern California, it wasn't as readily available as it was in the San Francisco area. There was another beer that we used to drink, and that was Ballantine India Pale Ale, which was made by Ballantine's brewery, I believe in New York. That was available a little bit and it was aged in oak, little tiny bottles. I think eight ounce bottles. Asian oak. And it had some good flavor. More of a malty style, but quite good. And then there were a few imports.

Lachlan McLean: Yeah, of course.

Steve Grossman: Of course, big guys. Heineken and, oh, there was Watneys. There was quite a few British imports available, but that was it. So then, progressing a bit. The group of neighborhood friends moved up to northern California to Chico, to go to college. And it must have been seven or eight of us that moved up there, about a nine hour drive from where we grew up. And my brother, Ken, quickly became bored with school and ended up dropping out, and ended up, eventually, opening up a home brew shop. I think this might have been 1975 or 76. Opened a home brew shop, and at the same time, I got a friend of mine interested in home brewing. I was racing bicycles and I had a teammate that was interested in beer, so I home brewed with him, and he became quite enamored with brewing, researched it, went to England and took some brewing courses.

Steve Grossman: And I was liking the beer that he was brewing, so I decided to bring him up to Chico to meet my brother, Ken. And then, the idea was hatched at the time... this had to be 1978... to open a brewery. So they got together a business plan, solicited money from both of our groups of parents, and Ken went back to school and learned sterile... took some sterile welding courses, more chemistry courses, more biology courses, and started building the brewery from old dairy equipment, actually, at the college.

Lachlan McLean: At the college. Oh, wow.

Steve Grossman: Yeah, because they had the equipment. They had the welders and things.

Lachlan McLean: Yeah, right.

Steve Grossman: And Ken was able to use that equipment, and then move it over to Chico. It was pretty close to transport it. And he started with a ten barrel... ten US barrel system, which was an old dairy tank, open fermenters, which were cheese vats. But they were jacketed, so we could control fermentation temperatures. And the original bottling line came from a soft drink plant, so it was a soft drink bottling line. And the brewery opened, officially, November 15th, 1980.

Lachlan McLean: And that was with the pale ale. So that was the first beer?

Steve Grossman: Well, actually, the first beer brewed was stout.

Lachlan McLean: Ah, there we go. That's awesome. Delicious.

Steve Grossman: The second beer brewed was a porter, and the third beer that was released was a pale ale. And the reason that pale ale was released third, because it was... Ken accepted and knew that the pale ale was going to be our flagship. It was going to be the most accessible of all the beers, and wanted to make sure the recipe was correct. So he brewed eleven different batches of pale ale.

Lachlan McLean: Wow.

Steve Grossman: Before he got it right. Before he was happy to release it. So these were all traditional beers, bottle conditioned.

Lachlan McLean: And that still maintains today?

Steve Grossman: Unpasteurized, of course. It remains today. Well, we still have many bottle conditioned beers. The original three, pale ale, porter, stout. Then, Celebration Ale and Bigfoot are all still bottle conditioned, as they were back 1980, and for the Celebration Ale, 1981, and then Bigfoot, 82. And the pale ale was unique in that it featured the cascade hop, and no one really knew what cascade hops were back then. It was a hop that some of the big breweries were using, but to such a small degree that one couldn't get the essence of the hops, with the citrus and the great aromas that it had. And Ken, in particular, loved that hop as a home brewer, and started the pale ale and featured that in the pale ale. And, to this day, it's the same beer.

Lachlan McLean: Yeah, wow. I guess, for the pale ale, it takes up such a big chunk of your sales, but it comes... goes right back to the start. Was that the beer that you guys mostly brewed as a home brewer? When you were doing it, was that kind of the inspiration?

Steve Grossman: Well, yeah. We brewed all sorts of styles and, certainly, the pale ale was the one that was hit upon as the one that was going to be the focus at the brewery. So, yes, the pale ale was the one. And there really was not a beer like that available anywhere, because, certainly, the British pale ales were on the malty side, and the hops that they were using were British hops. So it was pretty unique to brew a beer with American hops, and a large percentage of American hops. Because pale ale came out at 38 IBUs, which is [inaudible 00:09:24] as in 5.6 ABV. And that was really a unique beer back in 1980, 1981.

Lachlan McLean: Absolutely.

Steve Grossman: Because, as it is today, the major breweries are brewing beers with about 7 IBUs. So it was a challenge to sell, certainly, in the beginning.

Lachlan McLean: Was it a challenge to get the hops as well?

Steve Grossman: It was somewhat a challenge to get the hops, but we were brewing on such a small scale, that we weren't using a lot of hops. And then, Ken had established his relationships as a home brew owner, home brew shop owner. So he'd already had those connections with the growers and the brokers, so that worked out pretty well. So Ken established those connections early on. And since we were pretty much the only brewery that was using those hops, we didn't have a lot of competition for them. Like I said, the big guys are using them, but they probably didn't care. They were going more for alpha than they were aroma.

Lachlan McLean: Yeah, of course. Being back then, a very different style and not being much else like it, what was the initial public reaction to it?

Steve Grossman: Well, we hand sold it. The first employee that was hired was a high school mate of mine. He went to the same grade as me and he happened to live next door to our home brewer friend. And at the time when we were in Chico, he was renting a room from my mom, still, in southern California, then decided to move up to Chico, got a job in a liquor store, and when the brewery opened, he was hired, because he was really the only one that had experience selling alcohol, since he worked in a liquor store. So he did northern California. I started selling in southern California.

Steve Grossman: And I must say it was a challenge, because it was, as I mentioned earlier, a very unique style of beer back then. So the perception among the retailers who we sampled, most of them hated it. And they would say that, “You guys are going to go out of business soon, because this beer is too strong. It's too bitter. It's too much alcohol.” So that was the reaction, probably eight out of ten. However, two loved it, and they would buy maybe a case or half a case, sell it, and then tell their friends, and spread the word around that way. So we started developing, early on, a group of dedicated drinkers, and it just started blossoming from there. So sales were local in the beginning, northern Cal., then southern Cal. And California, for the first year or so, and then we started branching out a little bit, to a couple other states.

Steve Grossman: But distribution was very challenging as well. The beer distributors didn't know how to sell that type of beer, so we actually started out in California using wine distributors, in the beginning, because they were the only ones that would sell the beer. And [inaudible 00:12:52] distributors, we thought we were ready to switch, and we started going to some beer wholesalers and it didn't really work. So we had to go back again, and go to some of the smaller wine houses, and the hybrid houses. And then, eventually, when the consumer started becoming aware of those type of beers. Craft beers, although we didn't call them craft back then. When the consumer became aware of the beers with more flavor, then the beer wholesalers started becoming more interested in selling it.

Lachlan McLean: How long did that kind of take? Was that a couple years, or five years?

Steve Grossman: Well, it was probably three, four years, or so. It took- [crosstalk 00:13:37]. It took on... It was faster growth in northern California, being wine country. And also having Anchor selling unique beers and then, prior to us, a brewery called New Albion was in existence for about four years, and they were selling unique beers as well. Although, on an extremely small scale. We were small, but they were even smaller. So there was some awareness in northern California, but not many other places in the country. It's particularly in the country, and California, to be specific.

Lachlan McLean: So you had growth and people started really getting into the beers.

Steve Grossman: Yes.

Lachlan McLean: And you finally opened your brewery in 87?

Steve Grossman: Well, the brewery opened in 80, but we expanded the brewery in 89.

Lachlan McLean: Yeah, right. Yep.

Steve Grossman: So Ken knew that the initial plan was, I think, to sell 1,200 cases a month, and that was thought to be the profitable volume. But then we started exceeded that and then, early on, Ken knew that we needed to do something and expand, although there was no money to do anything. But he did find a defunct brewery in Germany that had a 100 barrel brewhouse that was built in 1963, I believe, and had gone out of business many years prior to 80... I think 84 or 85, when Ken was able to buy it pretty much for scrap. So he went to Germany with another high school friend of ours and dismantled that 100 barrel brewhouse and shipped it over, and then put it in storage until the brewery was successful enough that Ken was able to get a bank loan from, I think, Bank of America, to buy a small piece of property and relocate the brewery about a mile away from where our original brewery was. And then, that opened in 1989.

Lachlan McLean: Wow, so he was very much forward thinking, I guess, buying the brewhouse and then putting it in storage.

Steve Grossman: Yeah, he was always a tinkerer. When he found a deal, he would not hesitate to pick it up. It actually cost more to transport it from Germany to California than it did to buy the [inaudible 00:15:56].

Lachlan McLean: Is that brewhouse still in operation at all, or has it been kind of-

Steve Grossman: It is. We still use it to this day. And [inaudible 00:16:05] that Ken hand-built was in operation full time until about five years ago, after we sold it to another brewery, Mad River, also in northern California. And we finally got it back about two years ago, and that's in operation once a year now. We do a special beer... and I'll talk about that later, as we talk about resilience as well.

Lachlan McLean: Yeah, right. That's insight. Talk about, I guess, return on investment on your brewhouse.

Steve Grossman: Yes.

Lachlan McLean: So the other thing I know about the new brewery that you set up... I mean, Chico was... You've got a pretty good music venue there as well.

Steve Grossman: Yeah, we have venue called the Big Room. It's upstairs, the top floor of the brewery. It holds about 350 people. We have concerts there quite regularly, and at one point, about ten years ago, we had a public television music show called Sierra Center Stage. And I think we had maybe eight shows or so that was sold to affiliates and shown around the country. First run, [crosstalk 00:17:11] as well.

Lachlan McLean: So that whole music room is really about getting people into the community, involved in the brewery?

Steve Grossman: [inaudible 00:17:20] involved in the brewery. We used to also have community weddings up there, although we got too busy to do that. It's really important for us to have the community involved. The brewery is an integral part of the community, and the community is really important, obviously, to the brewery as well. So we try to have as many local events as we can, to involve the community, and give them an outlet where they can see some great entertainment, or just have a good time at the brewery.

Lachlan McLean: That's amazing. I think one thing with Sierra Nevada, nowadays, there are a number of breweries going through growth, significant growth. And there's always challenges that come with that. They can look back on breweries of the past, but for yourselves, I guess there wasn't really too many other breweries that had kind of gone about the growth that you had back then. Was there any... What challenges was there around some of this unexpected... well, not unexpected growth, but kind of extreme growth?

Steve Grossman: Well, there's always been challenges. Starting out, when we didn't really have a customer base or consumer base that understood my beer. Challenges now, where there's 7,300 breweries in the country. When we started, we were the 42nd, so challenges there. But growth challenges have always been with us, too. And challenging... Do we do gradual expansion? The way it's always worked with us, particularly in the past, was we didn't expand until the demand was already there. So as soon as we added some fermenters or a new brewhouse, or something, the demand was already there, so we had demand to fill the added capacity. And we didn't have to sell a certain number of cases or barrels to be able to pay off our investment, because as I said, the demand was already there. But figuring that out is a huge challenge.

Steve Grossman: Getting the right equipment's always been a big challenge. Distribution has certainly been a serious challenge. As I mentioned early on, distributors didn't know how to sell our type of beer. And now it's a challenge as well, because there are so many beers on the market that one, the distributors don't want to carry so many SKUs anymore, as they had maybe five years ago, and two, the retail shelves are confusing for the consumer, with so many beers. So there's always been challenges, different challenges, as we've grown. And then, challenges with, how do we find the right employees? Starting out with three or four employees, and now having over 1,000 or 1,100 employees has been a learning curve as well. So there's... As well as the brewing aspect of it, you have the management aspect that changes as one grows.

Lachlan McLean: One thing that Sierra Nevada's always been very well-known for is their innovation, and the new things. And two, beer-related things stand out to me when I was kind of doing some research, and it was... You did the very first ever wet hop beer.

Steve Grossman: Yeah. Okay.

Lachlan McLean: And torpedo.

Steve Grossman: Okay. Those are interesting stories. We've always been, as you can probably tell, hop heads. And since we pretty much exclusively use whole cone hops, we're always looking at ways to utilize those better. How do we get more aromatics? How do we increase the flavor? How do we increase the efficiency of using whole cone hops?

Steve Grossman: So first of all, the wet hop idea wasn't exactly ours. It was one of our hop growers who was from England, and he suggested that we try a wet hop beer. And we've always made a fresh hop beer with our Celebration Ale, that we don't use the hops until they're just harvested, and a few days old. So we thought that's what he was meaning when he said to use a wet hop beer. But he had lived next to a very, very small brewery in England that had its own hop farm, and they would make beer from the harvested hops that same day. So that's what he suggested to us, and we thought it was a fantastic idea.

Steve Grossman: So we decided to do that... Boy, it's been about seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years. I can't remember how long ago. It's been quite a while. So we got hops ready up in Yakima and wanted to get them to the brewery overnight, so we weren't exactly sure how to do that, but we decided to UPS them, red label, which means UPS air freight. So we filled up, pretty much, a whole cargo plane with these wet hops, and it turned out to be a very expensive proposition. The shipping of the hops cost us probably four or five times more than we were able to sell the beer for, but the beer was fantastic, and we thought it was a great idea. And since the next year, we decided to have refrigerated trucks at the ready, and ship them down, and they got down in about eight hours, or ten hours, or so, and we made beer from those hops ever since. So that's where the... Harvest Ale. We call it the Harvest Ale. That's where that originated.

Lachlan McLean: And is that the... You do a Northern Harvest, and a Southern Hemisphere now as well?

Steve Grossman: Northern Harvest, Southern... We did the same with Southern Hemisphere hops from New Zealand, and I think, recently, from Australia. However, those hops are dried. They're two or three days old, but they had to be dried, due to the fact that it was a fairly long transport in the plane, and hops being quite volatile, we couldn't ship them green... Or we couldn't ship them without being dried, due to the fear of having a fire start with [inaudible 00:24:08] the composting. So we do get the... We do get hops from New Zealand and Australia to do that beer. So it's more like, they're fresh hops, few days old, but they're not quite green. They've had some bit of drying to them, I think.

Lachlan McLean: One of the massive hop innovations that Sierra Nevada's known for is the hop, torpedo.

Steve Grossman: Yeah, so the torpedo came about since we do use whole cone hops, and we dry hop with whole cone hops, which traditionally, is very tedious, labor intensive, inefficient. By putting the bags of hops in the fermenters, we need two fermenters to do that. We need to switch over, and a fermenter, after we start fermentation, to fermenters that have sacks hanging in them on stainless steel chains. And Ken was looking at a... trying to figure out a more efficient way to dry hop with whole cone hops, so he devised an external device that's sort of like a... I don't know, maybe you'd say a big coffee percolator, with screens inside, so this is an external device that we pack with hops, about 80 pounds each vessel, and purged, of course, with CO2 for a couple days, to make sure there's no oxygen in. And then, we take the beer out of the fermenter, pump it out, and recirculate it through this device for a period of about five days. And we do that at different temperatures, different fermentation temperatures, to extract different types of aromas, and it's been really successful for us.

Steve Grossman: I think now, a lot of other breweries have followed suit with some external devices to dry hop as well, but it was a good innovation for us to utilize the whole cone hops for dry hopping. And the name came about, originally, one of the prototypes was a horizontal unit, and one of our workers was walking through the brewery, and saw these things things on the ground and he said, “What are those torpedoes doing there?” They sort of look like a torpedo, so we decided to call the beer Torpedo. So those are prototypes, but when we switched to production models, they are vertically oriented, so looking more like rocket ships than torpedoes, but the name Torpedo stuck.

Lachlan McLean: And that beer is still made that way today.

Steve Grossman: Yes, it is. It is.

Lachlan McLean: Is it used... Do you use the hop torpedoes in other beers as well?

Steve Grossman: Yes, we do. Most of the dry hop beers that we make today, or brew today, utilize the torpedoes. We use traditional bags as well, still. But torpedo's used on a daily basis, pretty much.

Lachlan McLean: That's awesome. I guess Sierra Nevada... That was kind of around the late 90s... No, that was 2000, sorry. You had further expansion with the craft beer industry going crazy at the moment, and you need another brewery [crosstalk 00:27:30] just came online.

Steve Grossman: Well, let's back step a little bit. So our 100 barrel brewhouse was... which we thought was going to be totally sufficient for as long as we'd be brewing, well, we quickly outgrew that. So Ken realized early on that we were going to need an additional brewhouse. So he commissioned [inaudible 00:27:55], who built our original brewhouse, or used one, to build a 200 barrel version. So that was installed in 1998, 200 barrel as well. So now, and Chico... at the Chico facility, we have a 200 and 100 barrel brewhouse.

Steve Grossman: So that was 98, and then further expansion. So we kept growing and didn't feel great about shipping beer across the country. That's a lot of wait, even though we were doing it the most efficient way on rail. Refrigerated rail. We looked to build a brewery on the East Coast, because we knew we didn't want to continue shipping beer across the country, and we were going to outgrow Chico pretty quickly. So about six years ago, we found a location in North Carolina, near Asheville, a little city called Mills River, or a town called Mills River, and we built a [inaudible 00:28:56] 200 barrel brewhouse there, the same style as we had in Chico [inaudible 00:29:02] brewhouse. So that has now been in operation for about five years.

Lachlan McLean: And that's... Has that helped with the... getting Sierra Nevada beers not just over to the East Coast, but also helped get the community a feel back into Sierra Nevada?

Steve Grossman: Yeah. We have a great community in Asheville. It's one of the best beer cities in the country. Very small city. And I don't know the number now, but probably 30 breweries in that small city. And we actually... Before we decided to build there, we invited all of the local breweries to our brewery in Chico to brew beer with us, to do a beer camp, just to get to know them, and have them know us, and to actually, I guess, get their permission to see if it was... how they felt about us building a brewery in their community. And they welcomed us with open arms, and it's been a great community to be a part of when we have music there as well. We have an outdoor venue, as well as an indoor venue as well, for music, special events. So it's been great to have a brewery there. The community's extremely receptive, and our restaurant there, our pub onsite, I think is the busiest restaurant, certainly in North Carolina, but maybe in [inaudible 00:30:35], so it's been well-received, and we love that community. We love the people there.

Lachlan McLean: Wow. You briefly mentioned the beer camp. I know you're heavily involved in that. Are you able to elaborate on what beer camp is?

Steve Grossman: Yeah, so beer camp started... oh, must be eight years ago now. So my brother and I, and our sales manager, were having beers in a pub one night. And I do a lot of travel, and I was just lamenting the fact that a lot of people are saying, “Well, Sierra Nevada is big now and they're not a craft brewery anymore,” which couldn't be further from the truth. We're still totally hands-on. We're still very innovative. We stress quality above everything else.

Steve Grossman: And I didn't feel the perception that a lot of people had was correct, so we started talking. We came up with an idea, well, why don't we bring people into the brewery, show them what we do, have them spend three days with us or so, and brew a beer, and then take it home to their... These would be retailers, primarily. Take it home to their pubs, their stores, and spread the word, because what we're doing at the brewery is really very traditional, and certainly as craft-oriented, if not more so than we ever were. So we started that program, like I said, maybe nine years ago. And my intent was to have a camp every two months or so. Well, the first camp was so successful, we had one every other week, so to this day, probably 250 beer camps, and that extended that change, because we started having brewers come in to brew with us, and then a few years ago, we decided to do a beer camp across America, where we did commercial releases with half a dozen different commercial brewers each year.

Steve Grossman: So the program's actually evolved quite a bit. We still do the retail beer camps. And, as I said, we've done quite a few now, camps with professional brewers, our friends, peers, people we admire, and have been able to release the beer on a national release, as opposed to just having beer for the twelve participants in our regular beer camps.

Lachlan McLean: Yeah, because I noticed... I was on your website just before, actually, and you're running beer camps all over. It's not just in that Sierra Nevada... in Chico... They're all over the country as well?

Steve Grossman: Well, we've had programs to support the releases, so we've had events, I guess, around the country. Twelve events around the country in the past, for two or three years, to support the releases, and inviting every brewery in the area to participate and serve their beers as well. And just have a big celebration of craft beer, and they've been very successful, a lot of fun, great beers are being served, and it's an awesome way to catch up with our brewer friends, and spend a weekend with them, having a good time drinking beer, and keeping to educate the consumer.

Lachlan McLean: So I think one thing I've always noted, and I think the industry has, too, for Sierra Nevada, is you're definitely not... I guess I can call a lone wolf. You're always doing things for the benefit of the industry. And I kind of think, as the industry grows, you grow with it. And always doing stuff for the community and always helping others, always helping other breweries, doing collaborations. However, just recently, I think it was last year, that was a pretty tragic event happened in North California, of which the camp... beer camp, camp fire-

Steve Grossman: A camp fire, yeah.

Lachlan McLean: ... came about. Are you able to... I guess in Australia, we might not necessarily know 100 percent what happened, and how bad it actually was.

Steve Grossman: Yeah. That fire was last November and it started near a town called Paradise, which is just up the hill, up the mountain from Chico, about twelve miles, and it was a fire that was raging out of control for a long, long time. And pretty much destroyed the whole town of Paradise. Only a few houses standing and I don't recall the number of residents there. 12,000 something... I don't recall, but pretty much everyone lost their homes, and matter of fact, 50 of our employees lost their homes. So it was a tragic event and the fire came a couple miles from our brewery, and we had to evacuate the brewery for a day. Luckily, the wind shifted, so it didn't affect the brewery, fire wise, but certainly with smoke it did. And the whole town of Chico was overrun with smoke for a couple weeks, for several weeks.

Steve Grossman: But it was a tragic event and the community has supported us all these... almost 40 years now. And we knew we had to do something to support the community in their biggest time of need. So we decided to come up with a fundraising beer idea, and we sort of took inspiration from Russian River Brewery, up in Sonoma County. And they had a fire the previous year, and Russian River enlisted the local breweries to do a beer to raise funds, all the local breweries to do a beer to raise funds for the relief of that disaster, so we decided... Ken decided to take it a little step further and ask every brewery in the country to participate, and he thought maybe we'd get 400 or 500, maybe 200 in the beginning, then 500.

Steve Grossman: Well, we actually got 1,200 breweries to participate, and the idea was for them to donate all of the sales. Not just the profits, but all of the sales, to the camp fire relief fund, and because it was... the community really, really needed it, and it turned out to be quite successful. 1,200 breweries involved. We even had some international breweries participate, so it was great illustration of the camaraderie, the tight-knit community that most of the craft beer world is, and it's something that's been part of... You mentioned we've been collaborating and helping with other brewer... helping other brewers out, pretty much throughout our existence.

Steve Grossman: But it even started when we were beginning the brewery, when Ken used to go to Fritz Maytag and Anchor, and ask for advice. So that was something that was really... that really impressed us when we started, that someone who is really a competitor was willing to offer advice, and Ken particularly took that to heart, and made that part of our ethos at Sierra Nevada, and we've been doing it for 40 years now. And the craft community has been pretty much, for the most part, having the same type of sensibilities that will help our fellow brewer, because it's important that we raise the quality of all the beers that are on the market.

Lachlan McLean: I guess with the camp fire, and the devastation that North California experienced, not ironically, but Sierra Nevada's always been at the forefront of environment and protection, and green energy. I think I saw that you won the Green Business of the Year in 2010 from the EPA.

Steve Grossman: Yeah.

Lachlan McLean: How did... Yeah. Where did all the green kind of... obviously, nowadays, it's big, but I guess back then, it wasn't.

Steve Grossman: That was established way back, too, because you mention, ironically... Ironically, the gentleman who taught us how to home brew originally was also a leader in the Sierra Club. So at an early age, he would take us up into the mountains, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, hiking, backpacking, camping, and we developed a great love for the outdoors, for the mountains, and Ken in particular took it to heart, spent pretty much every... the best part of every summer as a teenager backpacking the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and really established a love for the outdoors.

Steve Grossman: And when we started the brewery, we didn't want to do anything that would contribute to harming the environment. So everything from the beginning, that we could, was recycled. For one, we couldn't afford not to recycle. We had to use everything we could, as I said, we started out using repurposed dairy tanks, soft drink equipment. So from the beginning, the idea was to use as much as we could that was already available.

Steve Grossman: So as we become more successful throughout the years, we've been able to invest back into environmental initiatives into the brewery, such as solar panels, water treatment plants, CO2 capture, so we've got a lot of initiatives that have enabled us to really have pretty much zero exposure. 99.8 percent of all of our solid waste is recycled, repurposed, reused. Our CO2 that we capture is filtered and used to pump the beer throughout the brewery, so we don't have to buy CO2. Our water treatment plant is two-stage, aerobic, anaerobic. Aerobic produces methane gas, which we capture and then feed into the boilers. We have, in Chico, almost 11,000 solar panels, and micro turbines as well, which enables us to produce... most of the time, generate 100 percent of our electricity onsite. So we try to do everything we can to invest in the best technology available to lessen our impact, and that's the goal, and it continues to be the goal of the brewery.

Lachlan McLean: I find that very impressive, from a brew point. Not to the fact that it's there now, because I think in the last ten, fifteen years, it's become more apparent, but it's been right from the start. There's never... That is your identity, and that's kind of always been a big focus.

Steve Grossman: Yeah. It's been important to us and will continue to be.

Lachlan McLean: Last, but not least. The current US market in beer. There's been, obviously, a trend with, obviously, the huge number of breweries opening up. And the consumer demand for new beers, limited releases, crazier things. How has that been for Sierra Nevada?

Steve Grossman: Well, it's changed our... I guess our... Not our business plan, but it's... We've never advertised previously in all the years we've been in business. It wasn't something we felt real comfortable with, but with so many new beers out there, and new consumers coming in the market, we feel that we've needed to get the word out a little bit. So we're doing some social media stuff now, which we never did before.

Steve Grossman: With all the new beers that the consumers want to try on a daily basis, we've increased our... We've always had brewed about 150, 160 different beers a year, but we haven't really put them out on a widespread basis, pretty much just local we would sell the beers. So it's made us rethink and distribute some of our unique beers, on a larger scale. It's an interesting market that's developing and has developed. And I think it makes us look at it, well, some of the beers that aren't selling well, let's come up with new beers, and replace some of those. And keep a rotation going of our new beers, which we hadn't done previously. We had our year-round beers and then we had our seasonal beers for many, many years. So now we're doing a lot more specialties. And we've increased our barrel program the last fifteen or twenty years or so, and that's been really exciting as well.

Steve Grossman: We've got some great beers in the cellars and aging in barrels. So we're doing, I think, more special releases on a wider scale.

Lachlan McLean: Do you think that that's kind of where the market's going? Do you think it'll ever come back to where it was? Or is that kind of-

Steve Grossman: Yeah. [inaudible 00:45:03], so with our social media, we've been focusing on pale ale, and we hear a lot of people saying, it's great to try new beers every day, and sometimes not know what you're getting, but it's also great to know if... when you pick a beer, that you're going to know exactly what it tastes like every time you try it. So we feel that there are more people coming back to our pale ale again, which is exciting to see as well. We've been focusing on pale ale, as well as the new releases, so we feel they both help one another.

Lachlan McLean: Absolutely. Last, but not least. What's your go-to beer? Out of the whole range, what's your favorite?

Steve Grossman: Well, I'm a hop head, so of course, on a yearly basis, it would be pale ale. On a daily basis throughout the years, pale ale. But I have to say, there's two other beers that I am very partial to out of our range. And one, we already discussed, would be the Harvest Ale. I think it's just a fabulous beer. And the other one is Celebration Ale. That was really the first West Coast style of IPA to come out in 1981, and I still think it's a great beer, and I look forward to it every November when we release it. October... Sometimes it comes out end of October. So I guess I'd have to say, for the last 40 years, it's been Celebration Ale. My favorite-

Lachlan McLean: Thank you so much for taking almost an hour out of your time to have a chat to us today. I know the Australian beer market will learn a lot. I have learned a massive amount about Sierra Nevada. And thank you so much.

Steve Grossman: Well, thanks, Lachlan.

Lachlan McLean: Sierra Nevada has led the way for nearly 40 years, and the craft beer industry owes them a huge amount for kickstarting this beer revolution. I really hope you've enjoyed today's episode and, if you'd like to let us know what you thought, please join our Facebook group, Beer Cartel's Craft Beer Collective. To continue to stay up to date with the latest in the craft beer industry, please hit subscribe at either iTunes Podcast, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. That's it for today. I'll see you next time.