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Sierra Nevada outlines details for Mills River brewery



7/12/2012 - Sierra Nevada outlines details for Mills River brewery
by Gary Glancy - Blue Ridge Now

They glisten through the front windows of the Sierra Nevada complex in Chico, Calif., a dramatic sight that leaves a lasting first impression on visitors to the brewery.

Company founder Ken Grossman purchased the dual copper brew kettles in Germany in 1983. They were installed in 1989 when Sierra Nevada expanded into its current facility, and today continue to produce the hot, sweet liquid that's converted to beer.

They also create an image very personal to Grossman, one that will travel 3,000 miles to Sierra Nevada's sister facility in Mills River.

This week Grossman and his team are headed back to Germany to work once again with brewing equipment manufacturer Huppmann. They'll be dismantling a couple of used brew houses, after which highly skilled coppersmiths from Huppmann will begin retrofitting copper domes onto the four stainless steel kettles Sierra Nevada recently purchased in Germany for the Mills River brewery.

They'll be similar to the copper-clad, stainless steel tanks in Sierra Nevada's larger brew house in Chico when the company expanded on-site in 1998.

The intricate process is a lost art, Grossman said, since the significant cost has reduced demand. For Grossman, though, it was essential that his new brewery mirror the polished look in Chico.

"Copper is very traditional in the brewing industry and it's a beautiful material to work with," he said. "Today, most of what we have is stainless steel, but we still like the traditional look of copper kettles, so we're going to introduce those back to the brewery in North Carolina."

It is just one example of the company's goal to establish cohesion between its two sites.

The (Mills River) facility will definitely share the DNA from here (in Chico) -- you want to have the same look and feel and culture," said Grossman's son, Brian, who will co-manage the Mills River plant. "You don't want a consumer to go to the Chico brewery and then go to the North Carolina brewery and see things that are totally different."

Still, the Sierra Nevada complex at Ferncliff Industrial Park will have its own uniqueness, thanks to the beautiful and varied landscape. The company recently purchased an additional 80 acres of property, giving Sierra Nevada now 184 of the park's 262 acres on which to craft not just beer but a recreational haven for its customers.

Two weeks ago, landscape architect Glenn Walters of the Asheville-based firm Design Workshop was in Chico meeting with Sierra Nevada officials on a master plan site design at Ferncliff. Ideas range from walking trails to a large outdoor music venue to boat access on the French Broad River, with preservation of native vegetation remaining a top priority.

"They're really going about it in an extraordinary way," Walters said, "and for us it's the project of a lifetime. They are so open to all the creative opportunities there (at Ferncliff), and so we are able to explore things that have been on our mind for a while."

Brian Grossman said that initially the company will utilize only what it needs -- about 25 acres -- to get the operation off the ground. But eventually much of the property, including a mile of riverfront, will evolve to accommodate the ultimate customer experience.

"The idea would be people being able to access the property in a number of way s," he said. "We're big fans of human-powered sports, and kayaking seems to be a big thing over there (in Western North Carolina) as well. That was one of the big things when we got off the plane the first time, we saw all the bike racks and kayaks on everyone's cars and we thought, 'These are our people.'"

Music is another passion of the Grossmans, as is high-quality, locally sourced food, and so a restaurant is also in the plans for the Mills River site, though Brian Grossman said it will be more "beer-centric" than the one in Chico.

Meanwhile, in another attempt to distinguish its North Carolina facility by sourcing local materials, Sierra Nevada is harvesting all the trees it removes from the Mills River property for use in constructing the bar and the brewery.

"So people can come in and say, 'Hey, this bar was made from the trees that came from right here,'" Brian Grossman said. "We tried to minimize our impact as much as possible. It's a little bit unfortunate you do have to cut some trees down, but we tried to do the best with it as we could."

Reach Glancy at 828-694-7860 or

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