What a great day we had on Wednesday March 25th! Many thanks to the Turlock Red Robin, my Riverbank managers, and the gents at the Sierra Nevada Brew Co for an awesome afternoon in Chico. They arranged a tour and lunch for both Riverbank and Turlock mixos at the plant and brew pub. I took lots of notes, hoping to get a good blog out of it. The gents at the brewery noticed me taking notes, and gave me a good tease saying they’d need to check over what I’d written before going ot print…they’ve nothing to worry abought though, for they were all fine hosts. Besides, who am I to talk smack about anybody who gives me free beer?
After a lovely 3-hour car ride, from Riverbank to Chico, I was giddy as we turned onto East 20th St. and the parking lot with the solar-panel roof came into sight. “Very cool” I thought, and continued checking out the building’s exterior. It is very clean and well-kept, lush landscaping with a Sierra forrest feeling. Makes sense? More on that later.
Upon walking into the lobby I was greeted by four smiling dudes all standing around. I said “hi” quickly as I beelined past them to get to the girl’s room – we were just in a car for 3 hours, ya know? When I made it back to the main lobby, we exchanged pleasantries and I got right to checking things out. The lobby was clean and simple; pictures of hops and machines and old buildings decorated the walls. Through the glass doors to the left I could see the brewing tank room with some gorgeous murals depicting the process of brewing. Four huge tanks, 2 copper and 2 stainless, were taking up most of the room.
I turned back to the lobby and decided it was time to check out the gift shop. They have all the usual fare – pints and other glassware, shirts, hats, bottle openers, thermos’ – but no shotglasses. So I got AP a 3-oz taster with their logo on it. Their shirts were adorable and I really wanted a green tank but was just a little short on funds that afternoon! Next time!
Exit the lobby and off to the left is the area I originally darted through to get to the powder room. What I had dashed by before was a “museum” of vintage brewing equipment, but I’ve not idea, specifically, what they were used for. I’ll talke a wild guess and say maybe they were used to , uh, make beer? And more pics of the people and things of the brewery’s past and present. On this side throught the glass I could see a different style of tank area (the fermentation tanks) which I later wrote in my notes is the “metal pipe room where the yeast is added and liquid becomes beer. Then cold filtering.” These tanks were the bottom half of the huge tanks seen on top of the building.
When the time came to begin the tour, our guide Charlie “The Battery Man” Kyle took us upstairs to begin. It was a terrace-like upstairs they call the “mezzanine” that overlooks the lobby and leads to The Big Room, which is their main venue. The terrace is said to seat 150 and I think this would be a darling spot for an event. The Big Room is a bit more decadent, but not pretentiously so, and is set up with seating for 350 facing a stage area. Charlie told us they have regular shows and events. You can see for yourself what is coming up on their website www.sierranevada.com, click on ”The Big Room” link to get you there.
Back out of the Big Room and onto the mezzanine, we were shown a brief movie that offered some insight on the brew’s beginnings and founder – Ken Grossman. It mentions Ken’s love of nature and the outdoors (hence the landscaping and the name of the brewery!). Later in the tour, Charlie tells of Ken’s further dedication to nature and preserving it when we were shown the four huge fuel cells (sustainable energy producing generator-thingys). He also pointed out that there are nearly 10,000 solar panels used to power the plant cleanly, and that Sierra Nevada Brew Co. recycles / reuses 99.8% of their plant waste.
Charlie cruised us all around the behind-the-scenes. We got to observe the brewing tank room (Lauder Ton, Whirlpool, etc) from the observation deck above. I got some awesome pics of the murals I mentioned earlier. We got close to the afore-mentioned “metal pipe room” and learned more of the beer process there. Upon leaving, we cruised outdoors past the Pilot brewery where they test their ideas. He even pointed out where the employee health center is (quarterly free massages!) and were they are building an employee child care center. Bravo!
One of my favorite spots on the tour was the bottling room. It was so cool to see those bottles going by – all the Pale Ale scuffling down conveyor belts to hungry gripping machines that ironically, gently, pick them up and box them for distribution. I got some cool video in there! Can you believe they put out over 50,000 cases a year? After leaving the bottling area, we went for a pleasant walk outdoors, past the solar panel parking lot, to our final destination – The Brewpub.
The staff already had four tables all set for our arrival, and got right to setting out waters and beers for our refreshment. They brought out their 2 newest brews for our delight: Kellerweis, their new belgian-style draft, and Torpedo, a hoppy, rich ale, that was my preference. They brought out two appetizers for us to enjoy while we waited to have lunch orders taken. The sausage platter came first; it was a selection of Bratwurst, Hot Link, and fennel sausage served with a side of caramelized onions and a side of some kind of sauerkraut / coleslaw – I don’t know what it was called, but I ate it all with a fork!
I chose to take a cup of the butternut squash soup for my next course and conservatively ordered a chicken Ceasar salad for my entree. The chicken was overcooked and dry but I ate it all anyway! I ate so much! I even got hold of Angela’s salad! They make a great house salad: spring mix, goat cheese, candied pecans…mmmmmm. No dessert for me, I was too stuffed! We did have a birthday boy at our table; Angela’s son Roby joined us in celebration of his 21st, and what better place to celebrate than at Sierra Nevada!?!? We finished off Red Robin style with a loud birthday chant; “Oh, I don’t know but I’ve been told / Someone here is gettin’ old!”
Thank you again, so much, to Red Robin, Team Turlock, Riverbank managers, and the great staff of Sierra Nevada brew co. I can’t wait to come back again…if only you weren’t so far away!