by Kate Renner, Sierra Nevada’s on-site gardener
Founded in 1980, Sierra Nevada believes that the best beers begin with the best possible ingredients. With an eye toward the environment, responsible farming and our agricultural future, they continually work with growers to foster and support sustainable farming practices to produce the highest quality crops. Despite the company’s relatively small size, they use more whole-cone hops than any other brewer in the world. Additionally, they only brew with hops bred using traditional methods and non-genetically modified barley. At their brewery in Chico, CA, there are 11 acres of hops and nearly 100 acres of crop space for barley, all Certified Organic by Oregon Tilth. The Estate Homegrown IPA, brewed with the hops and barley grown at the Chico brewery, was their first certified organic beer and remains one of the only estate ales in the world.
When it comes to the produce and herbs used in the brewery restaurants, they could not get more local. Both in Chico and their second brewery in Mills River, NC, ingredients featured on the menus are harvested right from the onsite gardens (mushrooms, microgreens and honey, as well) that follow organic and sustainable farming practices (The Organic Certification of the Estate gardens in Mills River was facilitated by knowledge and resources gained through attending the annual CFSA Sustainable Agriculture Conference’s all-day intensive seminar.) and sourced mainly from local, conscientious suppliers. While most of these ingredients end up on the menu, some also find their way to the pilot brewery, such as lemon-thyme and cucumbers both from onsite and from CFSA’s Lomax Incubator Farm, brewed as a collaboration saison for the Chef and the Farmer season premiere in September.
“We source locally because it’s the right thing to do,” says Executive Chef Jessie Massie. “It’s right for the environment, our community, the company, and my conscience. I have a great passion for seeing local farmers not only survive, but prosper in such a hard business. I believe our food should be made from the finest and freshest ingredients, just like our beer!”
As it is not uncommon to spin out 2,000+ plates at the brewery restaurant on a Saturday night alone, sourcing enough local food to support this volume takes planning and coordination. Taproom chefs work with local farmers and myself, the onsite gardener, to plan crops/proteins/dairy/other products with forecasting capacity to meet demand, while seeking relationships with additional farmers to expand the diversity of their network of local suppliers (attending the annual CFSA Conference is a great venue to expand this network).
To quantify this initiative, the percentage of local purchases from the total purchases of menu ingredients are tracked. In 2016, The Sierra Nevada Mills River Taproom and Restaurant set a goal of sourcing at least 55% of total purchases locally in 2016. The percentage goal was not only achieved but also surpassed; translating to nearly one million food dollars spent locally this past year. The 2017 goal is to average 60%, which we are trending to reach.
Tracking the percentage of food sourced locally can provide quantitative incentive for local farmers to invest in season extension practices, as Taproom Chefs are eager to chase higher percentages in 2017 and beyond.
The Sierra Nevada Mills River location also makes efforts to get their chefs onto the farms in which their ingredients are grown and raised. To do this, they hold quarterly farm tours in which their chefs swap out slip proof kitchen shoes for boots, load into the company van, and spend a day touring a handful of local purveyors. Since the van can only hold so many, they also bring farmers to the Taproom. A “15-minute farmer feature” series is held the first Friday of each month, in which a local grower is invited to the Taproom to tell their story with both front and back of house Taproom employees.
Having these face-to-face interactions allows for employees to better relay these stories to the patrons of the Taproom restaurant, allow cooks and chefs to better relate to their ingredients, and provides a greater passion for, and sense of pride behind, what the Taproom Restaurant and the whole of what the sustainable values Sierra Nevada Brewing Company stands behind.
To tour the LEED certified-Platinum Mills River Brewery and see first-hand the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s sustainability initiatives – from energy, resource recovery, transportation, water and biogas recovery, packaging, outdoor spaces, and of course local, sustainably produced food on their restaurant menus, visit http://www.sierranevada.com/brewery/north-carolina/brewery-tour.