Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Celebrates 40 Years in Beer

September 26, 2019
Always innovative and forward-thinking, Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman has big plans for his brewery’s 40th anniversary. But don’t expect a sentimental stroll down memory lane. The brewing system Grossman built from scratch, used to create his iconic Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, is going to hit the road. It will be crisscrossing the country so folks can actually brew something completely new. And speaking of new, Grossman is stoked about his deal with performance brewery Sufferfest, the only acquisition ever made by Sierra Nevada.
Grossman made time to chat with Heady Times from his Chico, CA brewery. He gave us the scoop on what’s ahead for Sierra’s year-long celebration and beyond.
  1. The 40th anniversary kicks off in the new year. “Forty years is quite the milestone. There’s a lot to celebrate,” says Grossman. “Our year-to-date sales are up over 3% and we’ve been designated a Certified B Corporation, which I’m very proud of.” [Editor’s Note: this designation is awarded to for-profit companies that meet higher standards of product quality, treatment of its workers and support of the community and environment.]
  2. Sierra Nevada has brewed a special 40 Hoppy Anniversary Ale. “In the new year, we are releasing a beer to honor the occasion. It will showcase the bold flavors and aromas of a classic West Coast IPA: intense pine and citrus, with a deep gold color and slight caramel sweetness.”
  3. And speaking of celebrations… you can start the party way before January with Sierra Nevada Celebration. “I first made this in 1981, so it’s been around almost as long as Pale Ale. It’s an early example of the American IPA style. And it’s one of just a few hop-forward holiday beers.”
  4. Ken is taking the party on the road. “We brought back my old brewhouse from Mad River Brewing Company and completely restored it. I think it’s pretty cool that people can stop by and help brew a batch of beer in the original brewhouse.”
  5. Pale Ale was named one of the “Best Beers in America” by the American Homebrewers Association. “This means a lot to me, more than I can put into words. The recipe hasn’t changed since 1980. It tastes like a fresh English bitter, but it’s hop-forward, the way we like it in the US. We feel it belongs in everyone’s refrigerator, from entry-level craft drinkers, all the way up to the experts.” Look for new “retro” labels in April 2020.
  6. Hazy Little Thing is #1. Launched two years ago, this hazy IPA has become the brewery’s #1 on-premise brand. Craft Business Daily says Hazy Little Thing is three times bigger than the next biggest hazy. “It’s been a bigger success than we ever anticipated,” says Grossman.
  7. Teaming up with Sufferfest Brewery. “It’s our first acquisition. I met [founder] Caitlin Landesberg at a conference and we really hit it off. She’s so passionate about functional beers, which she first brewed for athletes. They are gluten-free and made with anti-inflammatory ingredients. And they taste great.”
  8. The Sufferfest lineup includes Repeat, a 95-calorie, 5-carb Kolsch‑style beer brewed with bee pollen; Head Start, a stout brewed with coconut & coffee and FKT, a pale ale made with black currant.
  9. Resilience Butte County Proud IPA & the Camp Fire Relief Fund. “Almost 15,000 homes were destroyed in California by wildfires last November. Our Chico brewery was spared, but 50 of our employees lost their homes. The devastation was horrific. We created Resilience and asked brewers to make it and sell it with the understanding that they would make ZERO margin… all the profits had to go to the relief fund. Suppliers donated ingredients, and 1,400 brewers, some in Japan and New Zealand, participated. I was amazed and so proud to be part of the brewing community.”
  10. Grossman on what it takes to run a successful brewery. “It takes grit and the will to survive. I am in awe of people like Ernest Shackleton, who led the first successful expedition to the South Pole. Before anyone decides to open a brewery, they should read Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.”
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