Pintful: Sierra Nevada opens NC brewery with big beer festival

07/03/2014 8:00 PM

07/03/2014 10:23 PM

Sierra Nevada is opening its new brewery in Western North Carolina next month with the ultimate Southeastern beer festival.

The event – with 125 Southeastern breweries and many special collaborations – will showcase the growing craft beer scene in the Southeast led by North Carolina’s burgeoning industry.

Dubbed Beer Camp Across America, it is the culmination of a two-week festival tour that visits seven cities, starting at the California brewer’s Chico headquarters and ending Aug. 3 in Mills River in Henderson County.

“The whole festival is actually pretty crazy,” said Bill Manley, a Sierra Nevada spokesman based at the company’s brewery 20 miles south of Asheville. “We think the series is the largest beer festival ever attempted.”

The tour evolved from Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp, a regular pilgrimage that draws craft industry representatives and enthusiasts to Chico, where they go behind-the-scenes and collaborate on special brews.

“The idea behind Beer Camp is we bring people to Sierra Nevada and show them how we do things and experience our thinking as far as brewing goes,” Manley said.

The tour, he added, is designed to take the camp – or at least its special beers – directly to craft beer fans. “We’ve got this big crazy bus and we are going to ride it all the way coast to coast and back down,” Manley said.

Twelve breweries or groups traveled to Chico earlier this year to create unique beers for a limited-availability 12-pack that will debut in mid-July. The breweries that participated included all-stars Russian River, Firestone Walker, New Glarus, Three Floyds and Cigar City, which don’t distribute in North Carolina.

Instead of picking a single North Carolina brewery for the collaboration, the Asheville Brewers Alliance sent two representatives: Luke Dickinson from Wicked Weed and John Stewart from Green Man to brew under the industry’s group’s name.

The Asheville-inspired beer is called Tater Ridge. It’s a Scottish ale brewed with sweet potatoes and malt from the local Riverbend Malt House, a style that gives a nod to the mountain’s heritage and the state’s top crop.

Three other beers from the 12-pack also were produced at the Mills River facility.

The final stop on the tour is the official grand opening of the new brewery, which began producing beer in March and changed its labels in April to include North Carolina and California as its home.

The brewhouse, on a wooded hill outside town along the French Broad River, is operating at 4,000 barrels a week, larger than many native North Carolina breweries produce in a year.

Tours will begin in mid-August but the taproom and restaurant probably won’t open until late-November.

The festival “will be the first sneak peak to the property for anyone who wants to come up,” Manley said.

What I’m tasting

The first specialty beer from the Mills River brewery – Rain Check Spice Stout – is now available at craft beer bottle shops in North Carolina and surrounding states.

The name refers to the wet weather that plagued the brewery’s construction and features flavors of foul-weather drinks, such as ginger, brown sugar and lime. Think Dark ‘n Stormy with heavy flavors of ginger.

The big spiced flavor won’t impress everyone but the Mills River label on the four-pack will.

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