Founder Ken Grossman
MILLS RIVER — Test brewing has started at Sierra Nevada’s big East Coast expansion brewery in Henderson County, and the company still plans to make beer for sale by year’s end.
Sierra brewers have done “a few 200 barrel tests” of a stout that brewery founder Ken Grossman first made in 1980, company spokesman Ryan Arnold said. The beers were combined in a fermentation tank and total 600 barrels or 1,200 kegs, he said. The test beer will be examined for alcohol content, mineral content and microbiology and eventually will be bottled to make sure that equipment works properly, Arnold said. But it won’t be sold to the public.
Testing will continue at the plant “until we are confident everything is dialed in,” Arnold said. “Having beer that’s ready to sell remains a moving target, but we’re still aiming for before the year’s out.”
The process is similar to that done by Asheville’s first craft brewery, Highland Brewing Co. in 1994. Its first 32-barrel brews of Highland Celtic Ale (now known as Gaelic Ale) were dumped by owner Oscar Wong, who wasn’t satisfied with the results.
But Sierra is starting with a state-of-the-art system and Highland began by using recycled dairy equipment, Wong noted.
Meanwhile, construction continues at the brewery, located next to the Asheville Regional Airport. Recently, crews finished a roof covering the brewhouse and built bridges along the entry road, Arnold said. The site has remained closed to visitors.
When the project is finished, Sierra will employ more than 100 full-time workers. The brewery will make 350,000 barrels of beer in its first year, although that number will eventually grow to 750,000 barrels. The beer will be sold around the eastern U.S. and in European markets; the original Chico, Calif., plant will service the West, as well as Australia and New Zealand. Sierra sells its beers in all 50 U.S. states.
Sierra’s arrival will greatly transform the craft brewing scene in Western North Carolina, which already totals more than 20 breweries, most of them in Buncombe County. In spring of 2014, New Belgium Brewing, of Fort Collins, Colo., will begin construction of its East Coast expansion in Asheville’s River Arts District, with a goal of opening in late 2015.