Chico Beer Lover Tours Breweries

Brewing Innovation: Sierra Nevada Brewery

Sier­ra Neva­da Brew­ing Com­pa­ny may be known all over the world for their many deli­cious vari­eties of beer, but they’re also one of the bright­est jew­els in Butte County’s crown. Found­ed in 1979 by Ken Gross­man and his part­ner Paul Camusi as a garage-to-ware­house oper­a­tion in Chico, they sold near­ly 1,000 31-gal­lon bar­rels of beer in their first year. That num­ber has grown to over one mil­lion bar­rels today, and you can now find their brews in every state in the US, as well as the UK, Europe, Aus­tralia, and even Asia. 

Yet, despite inter­na­tion­al suc­cess, Butte Coun­ty remains at the heart of the com­pa­ny. When Sier­ra Neva­da thinks about inno­va­tion, it strives to be both pro­gres­sive and for­ward-think­ing while always stay­ing close to home. To this crew of beer-lov­ing entre­pre­neurs, inno­va­tion means lov­ing where you are, being loy­al to your biggest fans, and always hon­or­ing your roots.

A Deep Love of Community

The Butte Coun­ty Influence

Chico is nes­tled near the feet of the Sier­ra Neva­da moun­tains, and as an avid cyclist and out­doors­man, Ken hiked there on a reg­u­lar basis. His love of the moun­tains was ulti­mate­ly so strong that he decid­ed to name his com­pa­ny in their hon­or, and it’s a love affair that con­tin­ues to this day despite the company’s rapid growth, as evi­denced not only by their many earth-friend­ly busi­ness prac­tices, but by the gor­geous land­scapes of Butte Coun­ty that adorn many of their products. 

Ken and his fam­i­ly still own the com­pa­ny, and still live in the area. Butte Coun­ty runs in their blood. When the Camp Fire dev­as­tat­ed Par­adise and its sur­round­ing areas, Sier­ra Neva­da was quick to offer sweat­shirts and oth­er neces­si­ties to those who lost their homes, in addi­tion to cre­at­ing the Butte Strong Fund with sev­er­al part­ners, and start­ing a brew­ing project that would encom­pass scores of oth­er brew­ers all donat­ing 100% of its funds to the cause. 

Brewing Innovation: Sierra Nevada Brewery
Courtesy Sierra Nevada Brewery
Resilience Butte County Proud IPA

A Thor­ough­ly Local Product

And Sier­ra Neva­da has good rea­son to love their com­mu­ni­ty, because to hear Brand Man­ag­er Ter­ence Sul­li­van tell it, it’s the com­mu­ni­ty that gave the brew­ers the reach that they cur­rent­ly enjoy. Before the days of inter­na­tion­al renown, locals would trav­el and car­ry their favorite beer along with them, and road-trip­ping stu­dents from Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty, Chico would often bring brews to music fes­ti­vals and social gath­er­ings. Many long-time fans of the brand can attest to hav­ing first sam­pled it in a park­ing lot with friends at a con­cert, often a long way from Chico.

And world­wide acclaim aside, Sier­ra Neva­da remains a thor­ough­ly local prod­uct that you can still find at farmer’s mar­kets in town. They’ve focused on invest­ing in huge expan­sions to their core facil­i­ties rather than relo­cat­ing, and they even run both a pri­ma­ry Insta­gram account and an account just for Chico locals (and curi­ous vis­i­tors) that announces events, show­cas­es unique small-run beers, and tips off its fol­low­ers when new stocks of their favorites are fresh­ly brewed.

Brewing Innovation: Sierra Nevada Brewery
Courtesy Sierra Nevada Brewery
Sierra Nevada Brewery's iconic brewing kettles

Local Fla­vor, Lead­ing Edge

Bet­ter Busi­ness Through Innovation

That strong com­mu­ni­ty heart and soul means that when the brew­ery looks at inno­va­tion, it isn’t mere­ly to expand pro­duc­tion or cre­ate a new prod­uct, it’s a deter­mi­na­tion to find bet­ter ways of doing busi­ness. Their com­mit­ment to that prin­ci­ple has led them to cre­ate an entire inno­va­tion depart­ment that looks at the whole of their busi­ness from top to bottom.

To be sure, there have been inter­est­ing ideas around new prod­ucts. Their Chico Fer­men­ta­tion Project looked above and beyond beer, and came up with the cer­ti­fied organ­ic Strainge Beast Hard Kombucha —the first non-beer bev­er­age ever made by the com­pa­ny, cre­at­ed through a part­ner­ship with Ore­gon State University’s Fer­men­ta­tion Sci­ence pro­gram and their bac­te­r­i­al cultures . But the depart­ment also looks at more mun­dane things, even down to their pack­ag­ing, which has pushed the brew­ery com­plex into some pret­ty major changes, with the pri­ma­ry goal of mak­ing the brew­ery itself as self-suf­fi­cient as pos­si­ble. Their solar array cur­rent­ly cov­ers about 20% of the facility’s pow­er needs, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. 

Their Waste Stream Ini­tia­tive helps them recy­cle card­board, stretch wrap, and rub­ber gloves used in the lab and bot­tling line, keep­ing 99% of their waste out of land­fills. They work with hop and grain grow­ers to avoid pes­ti­cides and use salmon-safe prac­tices. Car­bon diox­ide is recov­ered from the fer­men­ta­tion process and is reused in pres­sur­iz­ing tanks, much like the bio­gas gen­er­at­ed by their anaer­o­bic digester (which pre-treats their waste­water before it flows back into the munic­i­pal sys­tems) which gets used as fuel in their boilers.

Brewing Innovation: Sierra Nevada Brewery
Courtesy Sierra Nevada Brewery
Sierra Nevada Brewery's solar panels

Envi­ron­men­tal Consciousness 

If that weren’t enough, the Chico Tap­room , where vis­i­tors can grab a deli­cious meal to go with a fresh pint, fea­tures veg­eta­bles grown in Sier­ra Nevada’s very own cer­ti­fied organ­ic gar­den and green­house. What they don’t grow them­selves, they source so local­ly it often comes from with­in a 10-mile radius: Chico State’s Uni­ver­si­ty Farm sup­plies pro­duce and Mary’s Chick­ens sup­plies poul­try. Veg­ans will also usu­al­ly find a few options on the menu, includ­ing on the take­out menu cur­rent­ly available. 

Free charg­ing sta­tions for elec­tric vehi­cles can also be found in the park­ing lot, open to pub­lic use, allow­ing envi­ron­men­tal­ly con­scious vis­i­tors mak­ing longer trips to recharge their cars while they get their own recharge from organ­ic, gourmet food and a selec­tion of Sier­ra Nevada’s near­ly 30 vari­eties of beer.

Come for the Beer, Stay for a Tour

Keep­ing It Local

With this peren­ni­al focus on the local, Sier­ra Neva­da has also looked near to hand when decid­ing how best to move for­ward with new prod­ucts. They only went as far as a neigh­bor­ing state in cre­at­ing their hard kom­bucha, but they’ve also craft­ed new beer using pro­duce from Butte Coun­ty part­ners, includ­ing the Baltic Joy porter which uses local almonds from Maisie Jane’s, and the Sier­ra Oro Farm Trail Har­vest Baltic Porter , which uses almonds, local Lund­berg Fam­i­ly Farms rice, bar­ley from Sier­ra Nevada’s own fields, and some of the extreme­ly pop­u­lar peach­es from Chico State’s Uni­ver­si­ty Farm.

Brewing Innovation: Sierra Nevada Brewery
Courtesy Sierra Nevada Brewery
Farm Trail Harvest Baltic Porter

Local Tast­ings of Spe­cial Brews

But not every beer can be had nation­al­ly. The biggest fans will want to come to the tap­room to expe­ri­ence beers that don’t nor­mal­ly get a wider release, which include local-themed favorites like the Pale Bock and the Wild­flower IPA , and will some­times fea­ture archived beers brought back from Sier­ra Nevada’s long back cat­a­log of past brews, where you might get lucky and find an old trea­sure like the Chico IPA .

The brew­ery is work­ing hard to improve their small can­ning line to allow for more of these spe­cial brews to be avail­able in their local shop and via their online store, includ­ing pro­duc­tion of exper­i­men­tal beers and return­ing favorites long rel­e­gat­ed to the archives.

Whether you’re inter­est­ed in the tast­ings or the tours, find inno­va­tion on tap at Sier­ra Neva­da Brewery.