What I Learned at Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp

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Cascade hops picked from the bine at Sierra Nevada's nearby eight-acre farm.



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I thought my summer camp days were over until I received an invitation to attend Sierra Nevada's famed Beer Camp at the end of June. I traveled to Chico, California, with a contingent of brewers and brewery owners—all from the Asheville area of North Carolina—who made the trek to the headquarters of their soon-to-be fellow neighborhood brewery.

Beer Camp includes a behind-the-scenes tour of Sierra Nevada's operations and facilities, the opportunity to brew your own beer on the brewery's pilot system, wonderful views of Chico, and of course, delicious beer fresh from the source.

While it doesn't get much better than sipping Pale Ale from the tanks and sampling unique beers from previous Beer Camps every night in the brewery's taproom, Sierra Nevada's commitment not only to their employees but to sustainability and to protecting the environment left me inspired and excited for them to call North Carolina their second home.

So, in David Letterman fashion, here are the top ten things that I learned at Beer Camp about Sierra Nevada's efforts to make their operations more environmentally friendly:

10. Hybrid trucks Sierra Nevada was the first company in the country to buy a hybrid-electric tractor trailer truck. The brewery uses the truck to deliver beer to its Chico accounts.

9. Spent grain Sierra Nevada recovers all spent grain and delivers it to cattle farms within fifty miles of the brewery.

8. Solar power Sierra Nevada has one of the largest privately-owned "solar systems" in the United States, with arrays spanning the brewing facilities. Energy yielded from solar panels fuels almost 20 percent of the brewery's electricity needs.

7. Rail spur Sierra Nevada built one of the few private rail spurs, a rail car unloading dock, in the United States less than two miles from the brewery. Shipping malted grain by rail leaves a much smaller footprint than shipping it by truck, and there are plans to build a similar spur outside of Mills River, NC, at Sierra Nevada's second brewery location.

6. Fuel cell power Sierra Nevada was the first brewery in the country to install hydrogen fuel cells. The cells run on natural gas and produce approximately 48 percent of the brewery's electricity needs.


A truck fills up with spent grain from Sierra Nevada's brewing facilities. The spent grain will be delivered to a local cattle farm.

5. Homegrown food Sierra Nevada helps raise its own herd of cattle (that feeds off of the brewery's spent grain) with Chico State University to supply beef for its on-site restaurant. The brewery also maintains its own organic garden that, in the summer and winter of 2010, yielded around 4,000 pounds of produce for the restaurant.

4. Water conservation Not only does Sierra Nevada treat all of its wastewater so the city of Chico doesn't have to, but the brewery captures 100 percent of the methane produced in this process and uses it to fuel its boilers.

3. Employee transportation Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman split his time between a homebrew shop and a bike shop in Chico before founding his brewery. That cycling culture has not disappeared from the brewery over the years, and I saw an unprecedented amount of bikes around the facility during my time at Beer Camp. Along with an incentive program for employees to bike to work, Sierra Nevada also was one of the first companies in the country to install networked charging stations for electric cars.

2. Compost system Sierra Nevada recently installed the country's first HotRot, a dumpster-looking system that takes in just about any waste from the brewery—from the actual brewing process to the taproom and restaurant—and outputs compost for the hop field and organic garden.

1. Hop farm Sierra Nevada maintains an eight-acre, certified-organic hop farm adjacent to the brewery. It grows Cascade, Chinook, and Citra hops that are used each year in Sierra Nevada's Estate Homegrown Ale, one of the few estate ales in the world.