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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Greetings from Beer Camp

By Steve Siciliano

Last week Barb and I accompanied Siciliano’s Homebrew Contest 2012 Best-of-Show winner Russ Smith on a three-day visit to the Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico, California. Russ and fellow Muskegon Ottawa Brewers (MOB) member Tim Borreson participated in Sierra Nevada’s 87th Beer Camp during which they and fellow campers designed and brewed a beer that they named “On The Rocks Scotch Ale.” (Hot rocks were immersed in the boiling kettle.) We should be seeing a few kegs of this creation in our market within the coming months. While Barb and I did not attend Beer Camp we were given a tour the brewery’s state of the art facilities and were treated to exceptional food and outstanding beer in Sierra Nevada’s taproom and restaurant.

After flying into Sacramento, we set off on the hour and a half car ride up to Chico. We had time to kill so Tim used his phone to search for a brew pub and we found one in Yuba City. Sutter Buttes Brewing takes its name from the Sutter Buttes, a range of eroded volcanic lava domes that abruptly rise above the flat plains of the northern Sacramento Valley just west of Yuba City. We were all impressed with this little brewery’s solid beers and excellent sandwiches.

When we arrived in Chico, we checked into our hotel then immediately made the short drive to Sierra Nevada where we met up with Russ and Tim’s fellow brewers and the SN employees who run the two-day camp. While sipping a pint of Kellerweis in the pub portion of the taproom/restaurant I surveyed the large, high-ceilinged room. Elegant may be a word that seems incongruous when describing a brewery’s taproom; nevertheless it appropriately depicts the atmosphere created by the beveled stained glass, polished copper and dark oak.

But while the taproom and restaurant are indeed elegantly appointed the atmosphere is anything but stuffy. The casually dressed, eclectic crowd was a mix of tourists and locals and among the folks enjoying a pint in the pub were Sierran Nevada owner Ken Grossman, his brother Steve, and head brewer Steve Dresler. Later that evening we all gathered in the adjoining restaurant where we were treated to more Sierra Nevada taproom offerings and an excellent dinner.

The next day after lunch in the restaurant Barb and I along with Kent Beverage sales rep Jim Paauwe and his wife Vickie were given a tour of the brewery. Sierra Nevada is currently the sixth largest brewing company in the United Sates, a fact that was underscored by the two hours it took us to walk through the extensive facilities (stopping occasionally, of course, to sample from the bright tanks). Everything about the state of the art brewery was impressive—the huge mash tuns and the gleaming copper kettles, the immense stainless steel fermenters, the seemingly endless rows of bright tanks and the high-tech bottling and packaging lines. That evening we attended a concert in The Big Room, the brewery’s onsite live music venue, where we enjoyed another delicious meal and, of course, more pints of Sierra Nevada beer.

On Friday, while Russ and Tim were brewing with their fellow campers, we took a day trip with the Paauwes to LaRocca Vineyards, a family-run, totally organic winery (no chemicals, no added sulphites) located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. We were warmly greeted by patriarch Phil LaRocca who gave us a brief tour of his small facility and then brought us out to a high-sloping vineyard planted with cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. It is indeed a wonderful experience for a home winemaker to taste varietal grapes you pluck from the vine while listening to the winemaking philosophy of a twenty-five year professional. Afterwards we sat on Phil’s wooden front porch, looked out at the vineyards and tasted his excellent wines. Three hours later we were still looking, and still tasting the wine.

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