Back in the ’70s a craft brewery was founded in California by a bunch of long hairs. This was at a time when the majority of beer in the USA was of the ‘Lite’ variety of weak, tasteless carbonated water pumped out by a few macro brewing firms. In the UK, the ‘Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was just getting traction, run by gentlemen of a certain age with frankly dodgy facial hair and style in clothes. Long story short, that Californian brewery was Sierra Nevada which went on to form the craft brewing wave and then ride it become one of the largest and most successful craft brewers in the US if not the world.
During the 2000’s they were running out of space in Chico, California and decided to open an east coast brewery, eventually deciding on Mill’s River near Asheville, North Carolina. With the craft beer phenomena in full swing, the new brewery opened in 2015.
Now Sierra Nevada brew nearly their full range of beers in a modern yet traditional (stick with me here) facility in Mill’s River. This is not just an industrial complex, but a tourist destination in its own right. A showcase for its products, its philosophy, its eco-friendly ethics and let’s face it a great way of making money from its followers and tourist.
The facility, both the grounds and the brewery are stunning. What is noticeable is that right from the start there was a dual purpose behind the design. Obviously the place needs to be dedicated to producing excellent beer, which it does admirably, but it was also designed to let visitors have as much access as possible.
From the moment you drive into the complex, everything is aimed at the visitor. Plenty of parking for regular, disabled and those driving energy efficient vehicles. The brewery do tours of course and these range from self guided to 3 hour guided tours covering specific beer interests.
The self guided (turn up and wander) and the 90 minute guided tours are free. More involved tours have a low cost. I’d advise the 90 minute guided tour as it goes where you can’t on your own and includes not only a hugely knowledgeable guide, but a major tasting session! A word of warning. Although the free tours are available all day, you should book in advance on-line (http://ow.ly/4mOZUI) as they get booked up way in advance.
Obviously the tours are informative and fun, but the aim must be to encourage your loyalty to the brand. Guess where they end? Yes, at the entrance to the gift shop and the restaurant!
The restaurant is a destination in itself. The food is superb, the wait staff well trained, pleasant and efficient, and of course the beverages fit the location with all the regular Sierra Nevada range plus what they term ‘audition’ beers – new offerings where you’re doing the market research. Of the 400+ folks employed on the site between 100 and 200 are employed in the restaurant. The Taproom, as the restaurant is named (http://ow.ly/4mP0Xu), has a number of different seating areas both inside and outside. The outside areas are also dog and kid friendly by the way. Even if you’re not into beer, the restaurant is worth visiting for the food alone.
There is often a wait for seats in the Taproom (it’s worth it), so what to do during your wait? Let the kids play in the playground, walk the dog or stroll in the grounds (they’re even putting in hiking trails, so you can work up a good thirst) or visit gift shop.
The gift shop is a beer-lovers dream. Clothing, beer drinking accessories, and of course beer itself, including rare bottles and brews only available at the brewery.
All in all it’s a lesson in how to add loyal followers to your brand, attract incremental income and also to contribute to the local economy – particularly the tours economy.
Visit the Sierra Nevada Brewery website at http://www.sierranevada.com.