Click photo to enlargeCHICO — The amber liquid bubbles and splashes into the glass. Foam races to the top, then skids to a stop just shy of breaching the lip.
Anticipation for the first sip of Sierra Nevada beer grows as the glass is delivered.
From the outside, Sierra Nevada beer is all about what’s in the bottle or glass to be sipped, but there’s a world behind it that’s not obvious.
Sierra Nevada has expanded its brewery tour so that every step of the process can be understood and appreciated. The tours are for people over age 12, and closed-toed shoes are recommended for safety in production areas.
Full-time guide Ryan Tovey makes it fun, all hour and a half of walking, talking, viewing, questioning.
Tovey grew up in Chico, and studied environmental services at UC Davis. A binder with every Sierra Nevada fact became his best friend.
Visitors get a brief introduction to what they’ll be seeing as Tovey starts answering questions. Practically every inch of the brewery buildings are covered, including a sniffing session in the hops room, and a birds-eye view of the bottling area.
The tour is not for the faint. While there are elevators for disabled access, there are hallways, stairs, ramps, corridors, and doors to be managed.
Snaking through the multitude of buildings gives visitors an idea
of the immensity of the operation, which is a huge revenue generating business that employs more than 500, mostly full time.
Sierra Nevada is considered the sixth largest brewer in the U.S..
Visitors can come with very specific questions about the brewery operation, and Tovey has brushed up on nearly every aspect of the operation.
There’s research and development that hints at a chemist’s lab.
Places where ingredients are added or “cooking” occurs are often window-accessible so visitors can see the process in action.
Sierra Nevada wanted to expand its brewery tour because it had so many visitors who were really craft beer aficionado, according to customer experience manager Gentry Power. A founder of Bidwell Perk, he’s been with the brewery for about a year, while wife Michelle Power stayed with the coffee house.
“Our role is to make the brewery come to life for people,” said Power, who works with tour coordinator Marie Gray.
Tours are Mondays through Thursdays at noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.; and on Sunday at noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.
What’s not on the tour agenda, but may be among the most spectacular side of the process, is seeing where Sierra Nevada aficionado come from and how long they’ve loved the beer.
During this reporter’s visit, Scott Colbert of Troy, N.Y., and his son were catching the tour. A teacher who had lost his job, Colbert decided to kick up his heels on an around-the-country tour of craft beer breweries with his son.
His command of the beer process was above average, and it was obvious he appreciated what he was tasting at the end of the tour.
Besides the beer-brewing process, Tovey also talks about Sierra Nevada’s environmental friendly processes, and other aspects of the company.
Concluding the free tour is a visit to the stand-up tasting bar, where guests over 20 can taste selected brews. There are nonalcoholic beverages available as well.
The tour also ends just at the door of the gift shop, which stocks apparel, glassware, bar supplies, hats, and music recorded in the Big Room.
Not just by coincidence, Tovey is featured on the Sierra Nevada website, modeling T-shirts and sweatshirts.
Because of the popularity of Sierra Nevada’s beverages, the tour often attracts individuals who are new to Chico and Northern California, so tour hosts and others field questions beyond ones on the brewery.
The Sierra Nevada tour was recently mentioned in Via, a publication of AAA.
And if you can’t make the tour, Sierra Nevada’s website www.sierranevada.com has a tour program.
Reach Laura Urseny at 896-7756, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @LauraUrseny.
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