The Craft Brew World’s Gentle Giant

Sierra Nevada Using It’s Powers For A Positive Influence

     If there is one brewing company name that has almost become synonymous with craft beer, it would have to be Sierra Nevada. The hop kings have become a true success story in the world of craft brewing and have done it their way from the beginning. The third largest craft brewery could certainly use their clout to run the small guys out of town. Instead, they use it not only to support smaller breweries and the art of craft brewing but to protect the environment while they do it.

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Founded in 1979 when Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi decided to turn their homebrewing hobby into a profession, Sierra Nevada is one of the oldest craft breweries. With help and guidance from their mentors and predecessors, Fritz Maytag (Anchor Brewing) and Jack McAuliffe (New Albion Brewing) Ken and Paul set out to build upon what these pioneers started. Scraping together funds to buy equipment, in 1980 the pair brewed their first batch of Pale Ale, which 35 years later is still Sierra’s flagship beer. A year later they introduced Celebration IPA and still release every year as a winter annual.

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After struggling financially and with marketing in the early 1980s, by 1987 Sierra Nevada was already distributing to seven states in an era when American craft beer was still trying to find its footing. By 1989, Grossman and Camusi had grown the company enough that they had moved into a 100 barrel brewhouse and opened Sierra Nevada Taproom and Restaurant. By 2000 after their continued growth they opened a live-music venue within the brewing facilities. Sierra’s growth continued to be strong through the early 2000s, and by 2015 they were the third largest craft brewery by sales volume.

I didn’t get into the business to try and make a ton of money and I’ve made enough money that I am totally comfortable and don’t want for anything

With that much growth over a relatively short period, it would be easy to see how that could go to one’s head. In an era where either becoming publicly traded, or selling out to one of the massive beer conglomerates seem to be the thing to do, that could also be a temptation. Sierra has done neither. Using  Ken Grossman’s approach of “I didn’t get into the business to try and make a ton of money and I’ve made enough money that I am totally comfortable and don’t want for anything”, what Sierra Nevada has done is stay true to the roots and principles the company was originally founded on. It would be easy for them to throw their weight around and more than likely put many smaller craft breweries out of business. But just as Fritz and Jack did with them as a fledgling company, they chose to take the smaller brewers under their wing and play the part of big brother.

I don’t see other craft brewers as competitors, I see them as colleagues.

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With their “Beer Camp Across America” series Sierra Nevada chose to collaborate with these smaller brewers instead of treating them like competitors. Scott Jennings Sierra’s Mills River, North Carolina head brewer said, “I don’t see other craft brewers as competitors, I see them as colleagues.” The profits from the Beer Camp series also goes to fund new hop research. Sierra provides some of its knowledge as well as national exposure for smaller breweries, and exchange ties itself to younger, hipper brands.

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Along with what they do to support, promote and grow the craft brew community, protecting the environment is equally important. Constantly working towards being a zero waste brewery, Sierra recycles over 96% of their total waste produced. That’s only the tip of the iceberg as far as their environmental consciousness. A large majority of their electrical power is provided alternative sources. Approximately 40% comes from their own hydrogen fuel cells, another 20% from solar panels and 5% coming from wind power. Sierra is also the largest buyer of organic hops in the United States and produces its own organic hops and barley for its annual Chico Estate Harvest Ale.

In a world where in most businesses it is about stamping out the little guy and a “Live and let die” mentality, Sierra proves its possible to be wildly successful without having to crush the rest of the players in the market. They stand on their outstanding brews and the products they provide. They have become one of the largest breweries in the country while supporting other breweries smaller breweries and doing their part to protect the environment. Call me a beer snob, but I can think of one or two big beer companies that once again take lessons from the craft brew world.