5.  Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, California

Founded:  1979

Production: approx 680,000 barrels



No god-fearing microbrewer could ever not bow down in worship to Sierra Nevada.  It would be an outrage.  I would have to throw my shoes at you.  (I still think it would have been off the chain if Mr Bush caught one of the shoes, centered in on the thrower with his beady eyes, and threw it back like a Chinese throwing star…but no…instead, he flinched.  Anyway, back to Sierra).   Sierra Nevada is a forerunner in the field of microbrewing.  Practically THE forerunner in the field.

Along with Anchor Steam brewery in San Francisco, they broke new ground and shined a beacon of light into the dark night of “American Lagers” that had become ubiquitous since America’s post-Prohibition days.  They shook people up.  An underground following began, and people started to want more out of their grog.  They wanted an experience.  So, through a combination of renegade thinking and the tried-and-true techniques of the past, Sierra influenced a new wave of American brewing.

Starting from nothing, Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi cobbled a brewery together from dairy tanks, a soft-drink bottler, and equipment salvaged from defunct breweries before the term “microbrew” even existed.  And now, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a three-time gold medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival (an annual gathering composed of louts and connoisseurs alike who descend on Denver in staggering numbers every year to guzzle or swirl their way through a ridiculous number of beers). It represents for me the solid choice you’ll find on A LOT of beer lists around the country.  When in doubt, you’ll oft hear a chirpy waitress list Sierra’s name in amongst the long list of mostly domestic swill you’ll find the country swimming in.

Their use of hops and ability to capture their essences in a myriad of styles give their beers a refreshing, vibrant undercurrent.  Sierra Nevada’s journey was hard-fought, but its insistence on quality ingredients and experimental craftsmanship paid off; their beers now enjoy a large, devoted following.  And rightfully so.

Favorite brews:  Pale Ale, Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale, Harvest Wet Hop Ale



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