MILLS RIVER — A month from now, atop a hill overlooking Pisgah National Forest and the French Broad River, beer will begin to flow at Sierra Nevadas new North Carolina brewery.
The Chico, Calif.-based brewer began testing batches in September at its new facility in Mills River and expects to make Brew No. 1 in early November. Once completed, it will become the largest craft brewer in North Carolina at an expected 350,000-barrel facility, a far greater capacity than the 30-barrel systems used by the Raleigh-area breweries.
For now, Sierra Nevada is focused on tuning the equipment and finishing construction. The brewing vessels took root this summer, and the first test batches are being brewed under the stars with the roof construction scheduled to start soon.
Sierra Nevada is known for its pale ale, one of the top-selling American craft beers. But the first test batch at the Mills River facility Sept. 12 was a stout. Brian Grossman, son of owner Ken Grossman and general manager of the North Carolina brewery, said it was the first beer his father ever made commercially in November 1980.
People always think pale ale was the first, but it was a stout, Grossman said in a recent interview.
Grossman poured the first North Carolina stout down the drain. But the test batches are designed to prime the system. The acids in hops help passivate the stainless steel tanks to neutralize an iron off-flavor, Grossman said.
Sierra Nevadas decision to pick North Carolina for its East Coast facility came with great fanfare in January 2012.
Months later, New Belgium announced that it would build a similar-sized brewery on the banks of the French Broad just 20 miles north in Asheville. But earlier this year, New Belgium delayed its construction for eight months until 2014 because it added capacity at its flagship brewery in Fort Collins, Colo.
Sierra Nevada is moving forward without delay. When I met Grossman at the site a few weeks ago, the beeping sound of construction vehicles echoed across the 185-acre property in Henderson County, near the Asheville Regional Airport, as crews built the road leading up the hill. At the top, the brewery will sit at a 1,250-foot elevation.
Grossman wore a neon yellow construction vest with a Sierra Nevada logo and work boots as he pointed to a blueprint of the multiphase plans, which will eventually include a pub, hop garden and concert venue. He described the view visitors will see as they come up the road.
The brewerys just right when you peek (over the hill) ... all you can see is the copper kettles dead ahead of you, he said. Its going to be pretty spectacular.
Sierra Nevada initially planned to build in Knoxville, Tenn. Grossman said didnt know anything about North Carolina craft beer until he visited a bar in Knoxville and tasted Highland Brewing, the granddaddy of Asheville breweries. And when complications arose with Knoxville, Grossman and his father looked to Asheville and became hooked.
I was clueless, naive, Grossman said. I had no idea the passion for craft beer out here. The support for local craft beer is crazy.
What Im tasting
A neighbor offered a taste of a new beer on local shelves this month: Victory Brewings DirtWolf double India pale ale. Its flavored with a whos-who list of big, floral hops (Citra, Chinook, Simcoe and Mosaic) built on a golden malt body.
Once you get past the odd name a reference to an ancient Roman description of hops its a must-try for IPA fans. Stats: 8.7 percent ABV; four-packs about $10.
Contact John at 919-829-4698 or firstname.lastname@example.org.