Chico Beer Lover Breweries

A Brief History of Beer in Chico

What a dif­fer­ence 100 years can make.

It would have been hard to envi­sion Chico as a beer-boom­ing area in the late 1800s, short­ly after the town began estab­lish­ing footholds in the region. Chico’s founders, John and Annie Bid­well, were famed for their resis­tance to alco­hol. Annie was a well-known sup­port­er of the tem­per­ance move­ment, while John was the Pro­hi­bi­tion Party’s can­di­date for US Pres­i­dent in 1892, a full 18 years before Pro­hi­bi­tion became US law. 

And yet, even with a his­to­ry deeply root­ed in the rejec­tion of alco­hol, Chico has trans­formed into a thriv­ing hub for craft brew­ing in North­ern California.

The Rise of Sier­ra Nevada

Of course, all beer talk in the area starts with Sier­ra Neva­da Brew­ing Co. While John Bid­well is cred­it­ed with putting Chico on the map, it was Ken Gross­man who tru­ly ele­vat­ed the area’s rep­u­ta­tion world­wide when he estab­lished the craft-brew­ing mec­ca in 1979. Although Sier­ra Nevada’s flag­ship brew, Pale Ale, ini­tial­ly received mixed reviews, Gross­man and his team remained unde­terred. They firm­ly believed in their prod­uct, assert­ing that those who liked it, real­ly liked it” — a sen­ti­ment often echoed dur­ing brew­ery tours.

With­out waver­ing, Gross­man and his ded­i­cat­ed crew invest­ed their resources entire­ly into the ven­ture. They spared no expense on ingre­di­ents and equip­ment, going as far as import­ing some from over­seas. Despite the poten­tial cost bar­ri­ers, they took a leap of faith by ship­ping a dis­man­tled 100-bar­rel brew­ery from Ger­many. This bold move proved instru­men­tal in pro­pelling the fledg­ling brew­ery for­ward. Today, Sier­ra Neva­da stands as the sev­enth-largest brew­ing com­pa­ny in the Unit­ed States.

A Brief History of Beer in Chico
The garage in which Grossman started Sierra Nevada

From the begin­ning, Grossman’s vision and strat­e­gy revolved around sus­tain­able prac­tices, and to this day, Sier­ra Neva­da sets the stan­dard for green pro­duc­tion, on a world­wide scale. A daz­zling solar array is just the begin­ning — the Chico facil­i­ty has stuck to reduce, reuse, recy­cle” in every phase of its beer-mak­ing, from spent grain and water con­ser­va­tion, through elec­tric vehi­cle charg­ing and gar­den com­post­ing, all the way to its recy­cling prac­tices. Sier­ra Neva­da was reward­ed for its com­mit­ment to sus­tain­abil­i­ty in 2013 when it was cer­ti­fied as a Plat­inum TRUE Zero Waste facil­i­ty, the first brew­ery to earn such an honor.

A Brief History of Beer in Chico

The Craft Beer Scene in Chico

The impact of Gross­man­’s beer empire had a pro­found effect on the res­i­dents of Butte Coun­ty. Sier­ra Nevada’s rise to the top of the craft brew­ing world sparked a nation­wide renais­sance across the coun­try. How­ev­er, it was­n’t until the 2010s that the local area tru­ly embraced a com­mu­ni­ty of knowl­edge­able beer enthu­si­asts and brew­ers, fos­ter­ing a diverse palate for small­er brew­eries. In Chico, this trend has been par­tic­u­lar­ly notice­able, espe­cial­ly in recent years, with the emer­gence of a dis­tinct craft brew explo­sion that extends beyond the realm of Sier­ra Nevada. 

While Butte Coun­ty holds Sier­ra Neva­da in high regard as an icon­ic brew­ery that has achieved glob­al recog­ni­tion, there remains ample space for new and small­er oper­a­tions to thrive, with a grow­ing pref­er­ence for bou­tique craft brew­eries in today’s beer land­scape. These craft brew­ers pro­vide a unique expe­ri­ence where patrons can per­son­al­ly con­nect with the brew­er, meet the own­er, and enjoy the per­son­al­ized touch of the staff.

With­in Chico city lim­its, there are ample tap­rooms, tast­ing rooms, and brew­eries for beer enthu­si­asts to explore. In Down­town Chico, ele­vat­ed beer-drink­ing is avail­able at Nor Cal Brew­ing Com­pa­ny, The Allies Pub (with their sig­na­ture British Bull­dog beers), and Burg­ers and Brew.

Thanks to a change in city ordi­nance to rezone the area along Mey­ers Street to allows for brew­ing and dis­till­ing, South Chico — an area of town with a marked­ly dif­fer­ent vibe from a col­lege town — has seen the rise of Secret Trail Brew­ing Co., The Com­mons, and Lassen Tra­di­tion­al Cider. And Eck­ert Malt­ing and Brew­ing, which crafts a gluten-free rice beer, oper­ates from its facil­i­ty on near­by Ivy Street.

And there’s now easy access to snag a pint on the north side, too, whether it’s the pop­u­lar Lost Dutch­man Tap­room or Chico Tap­room. With all the options, it might sound like a com­pet­i­tive are­na, but the real­i­ty is a good-natured expan­sion of craft culture.

The Future of Beer in Butte County

While start­ing a small brew­ery in Chico as late as even the ear­ly 2000s would have been a gam­ble, today, Chico is unde­ni­ably beer coun­try, with plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ties for brewers.

Some cur­rent brew­ers see the city becom­ing a lit­tle Bend, Ore­gon, an acclaimed craft beer des­ti­na­tion, while oth­ers envi­sion more mod­est growth, with Chico being an under-the-radar beer spot for true beer aficionados.

What­ev­er the future holds, the present is boom­ing for beer-mak­ers in Butte County.