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Sierra Nevada Estate Ale

Submitted by on August 11, 2009 – 8:04 AMNo Comment
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Sierra Nevada Brewery is set to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2010. However, the venerable Californian based brewery is starting the celebration a bit early by releasing the world’s first large-scale, 100-percent all-natural and locally grown beer known as Chico Estate Ale (brewer’s harvest ale). This revolutionary new beer is expected to be available for public purchase in September.

09hopswideAlready known for their environmentally friendly methods, a locally grown beer is a natural fit for Sierra Nevada. “As our brewery has expanded over the years, we’ve tried to build in parts of the brewery that are environmentally sustainable,” Bill Manley, the brewery’s communication coordinator, said. “For example, we produce about 90 percent of our total energy needs on site [through solar power], so we’ve been building things like that into the brewery’s principals for quite some time.”

In 2003, Sierra Nevada planted a test patch of hops in a field right next to the brewery. “We did that mostly because our founder Ken Grossman wanted to use those [hops] more as a teaching tool instead of a brewing supply,” Manley said. “And then in 2008, the hops fields [about three acres] were looking good enough that we actually started putting the beer in the bottle. It was with conventional grain, but made with our local hops. We called it Chico Estate Ale. That worked out really well and people really liked it. It was the best local beer we’d ever made.”

This new beer led to an expansion of the hops fields, from three acres to ten acres.cornercut At that same time, Sierra Nevada was building a rail spur on brewery property to start receiving grain shipments by rail. “We had about 26 acres next to that and decided to put down barley, to see if it would grow,” Manley said. “We put the barley in and by mid-May, it was looking good. So we decided to pull the trigger and put the beer out this year. We were assuming it would be next year, but things worked out ahead of schedule. You can’t fight Mother Nature.”

So far, interest in the new beer has been great. “California cuisine is based on local, sustainable, seasonal production and we’ve been getting a lot of interest from the folks that are involved in that movement,” Manley said. “As far as we can tell, we’re about the first brewery to produce an estate-based ale on this kind of scale. We’re heard of a couple of small farm-based breweries in Europe that brew their own and put it out as pub-only or draft-only in really small amounts, but we don’t think anyone has done it on this scale. The buzz has been great.”

However, while the creation of Estate Ale fits right in with Sierra Nevada’s sustainability goals, according to Manley, the process is not exactly cheap. “It’s incredibly expensive. We figured that it costs us roughly about $150 a pound for the hops we grow,” he said. “And the commercial rate is about $5 a pound. But that’s OK. This is something we’ve always wanted to do and fits our philosophy as a brewery. It’s really fun and we’re glad to do it.”