“Malt Disney World” – Sierra Nevada Brewery

Located about 20 miles south of Asheville, North Carolina is an adult playground for beer lovers. Sierra Nevada’s lodge-themed Mills River brewery sits on 190 acres of land and they have taken great lengths in minimizing their environmental footprint. Incredible atmosphere, sustainable practices, and oh yeah, their beer is pretty good too.

The Experience

The road to get to the brewery is really cool. Twisting and turning through the forest and over creeks until there is a break in the trees and you see this amazing facility rise up before you.

Sierra Nevada Brewery

When you walk in, you are greeted by shiny copper brew kettles and the bustling sounds of a restaurant. Their taproom is huge and boasts a great food menu that changes seasonally. Some of the vegetables and spices that are included on the menu are actually grown in their garden behind the brewery. There are 23 beers on tap that were brewed just feet from where you are drinking them, including their Beer Camp Around The World series which are twelve one-time collaboration beers with breweries all over the world.

The most impressive part of the brewery is their back porch and the Mills River Estate Garden. As you walk out of the taproom, your eyes are met with Adirondack chairs, corn hole boards, fire pits, and picnic tables sprawled across a green space culminating into an amphitheater with a forest backdrop. As your gaze pans to the right, you see the garden and a couple full size bocce ball courts. A fantastic place to hang out, drink craft beer, listen to music and play outdoor games.

They do offer free tours of the facility but you have to book very far in advance or the tours will be sold out. In case that happens to you, there is an elevated hallway that runs across the majority of the facility that allows you to see the highlights of the tour, including their distribution/packing lines, four gigantic copper brew kettles and historical paraphernalia. If you buy a beer, you can take it anywhere in the facility.

Sustainability Practices

This brewery is LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) showcasing 2,200 solar panels, two micro-turbines, and an extensive water treatment program. In fact their website claims that they “divert 99.8% of our waste from landfills”, which is really impressive. Sustainability is a core value for Sierra Nevada (at both of their sites in Chico, California and Mills River, NC). They were even awarded Environmental Protection Agency’s “Green Business of the Year” in 2010.

The Beer

Ken Grossman, the founder of Sierra Nevada, started his brewery in 1979 in Chico, California. His company was one of the first movers into the craft beer space, specifically hoppy IPA’s. Their flagship Pale Ale and Torpedo (Extra IPA) can be found on most shelves across the US so most are familiar with those.

Below are my top 5 unique beers I tried here and can recommend:

1. Trip in the Woods (limited quantity). This Belgium Quad is part of their barrel series and comes in at 10.7% ABV. It is a combination of two of the Ovila quads aged in Madeira barrels. Pop the cork on this 750 ML bottle and drink it in. The smell alone is heavenly with wafts of cherries and oak. Tastes of cherries and raisins with an oaky-wood finish. Cost $10. My favorite!

2. Dunkle Weiss. 2017 Beer Camp beer brewed in conjunction with Ayinger – famous Bavarian brewery. Dunkle Weiss literally translates to ‘Dark Wheat’ and this beer tastes like many I’ve tried in Deutschland. 5.7% ABV and cloudy wheat, medium bodied beer. Almost creamy, but not quite. Very solid Dunkle.

3. Chipotle Honey Brown Ale. Just like it sounds. A great brown ale upon first swallow and then the chipotle comes through at the end on the back of your palate. If you don’t like spicy, I would stay away. Probably hard to drink two of these back to back, but really unique and inventive brew. 7.5% ABV.

4. Ginger Lager. 2017 Beer Camp brew in conjunction with Surly Brewing Co in Minneapolis. If you like ginger, this is for you. Strongest ginger smell and taste I’ve ever experienced in a beer. It’s like they squeezed ginger into a liquid form, added some cayenne pepper, and somehow made it alcoholic. Even when you swallow it, the ginger lingers. Not my favorite, but definitely different than anything I’ve ever tried. 6.2% ABV.

5. Cuz I Said So. Coffee IPA. This one sounds a little weird, but it is actually amazing. You can smell the coffee but it doesn’t cut through the hoppy taste of a traditional IPA.. Surprising good combination and light in color. 7.5% ABV.

Even though Sierra Nevada isn’t considered a small or niche brewery anymore, they have not lost their ingenuity or motivation to brew cool unique beers. Their brewery  in North Carolina is absolutely worth visiting and makes me want to visit their original brewery in Chico, California. West Coast road trip it is….

Have you ever visited Sierra Nevada’s brewery? What did you think?

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