In 1979, Ken Grossman began building a small brewery in Chico. His goal: to brew exceptional ales and lagers. Today, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is considered America’s premier craft brewery. And the beer? Critics proclaim it “Among the best brewed anywhere in the world.”
Grossman’s passion for brewing began when a friend showed him the basics. Using homemade equipment, Grossman began brewing five-gallon batches of beer. “I would see all these bubbling jugs of fermenting beer and wine, and from that moment, I kind of fell in love with the alchemy of home brewing,” he said. “Those early experiences were some of the most memorable, and now I’ve spent most of the rest of my life making beer.”
In 1976, after studying chemistry and physics at Butte Community College and Chico State University, Grossman opened The Home Brew Shop, supplying Chico’s home-brewing community with equipment, materials and advice.
Two years later, Grossman and co-founder Paul Camusi cobbled a brewery together from dairy tanks, a soft-drink bottler and equipment salvaged from defunct breweries. An avid backpacker, Grossman named the new company for his favorite hiking grounds—the Sierra Nevada mountains.
On November 15, 1980, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. brewed the first batch of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. “We would brew batch after batch,” Grossman said. “I dumped probably 10 batches down the drain before we finally hit our stride, and we’ve been doing it the same way—well, things are a little more sophisticated now—ever since.”
After a move and several expansions, Sierra Nevada now brews almost 800,000 barrels per year, and it represents the Shasta-Cascade region with craft beers themed to (and benefiting) the region. Ovila, a seasonal beer, was created in cooperation with the monks of the Abbey of New Clairvaux, and it benefits the reconstruction of an 820-year-old gothic monastery building in Vina.
Guests are invited to tour the facility, and many make a day (or a night) out of the experience, capping their tour with a superb meal in the elegant Sierra Nevada Taproom and Restaurant. Guests can enjoy contemporary cuisine and sample anything from the brewery’s line of premium ales and lagers. Or, select your favorite brew and settle into the 350-seat Big Room, which features live music events for all ages. “We like to connect with our beer drinkers and do all sorts of different fun things – it’s one of the ways we can reach out and connect with our fans,” Grossman said.
And the company remains true to its roots. Grossman is still involved in every aspect of its operation, and his commitment to quality remains the same. “When I was starting out, I never had any idea we would grow anywhere near where we are today,” Grossman said. “Thirty years later, I know that if it wasn’t for the support of our local community here in Chico, and from the larger community in Northern California, we never would have made it to where we are today.”