Member Spotlight: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Sierra Nevada first planted an experimental hop yard adjacent to their brewery in 2003, as an educational tool for consumers. The brewery planted the hops as a reminder that beer is an agricultural product. The property where the hops were planted was formerly a parking lot, and transferring that commercial space back into a useable plot of land was not a simple task.
Those first few years, the hops were pretty crude. Traditional English varieties struggled under the Chico heat and the hops were often brown and sparse. As the years progressed, the brewery chose different varieties, which fared much better under the punishing summer sun. As the annual yield became better, the hops field expanded from just less than three acres, to just over 8 acres of hops. With the addition of nearly 30 acres of two-row malting barley, Sierra Nevada first released Estate Ale in the summer of 2009.It is one of the few 100% estate made beers available anywhere in the world. In addition to Estate Ale, Sierra Nevada also uses their estate hops in a host of draught-only releases including 20th Street Ale—the hops are grown along 20th Street in Chico—and several small-batch beers from our Beer Camp program.
Sierra Nevada Estate Homegrown Ale was granted Organic certification via Oregon Tilth during the 2010 season, and has maintained the certification ever since. Today the hop yard is mainly comprised of three varieties: Cascade, Chinook, and Citra, but also includes a small amount of experimental hops as well. A great deal of care is focused on soil quality, cover crops, careful watering, and natural fertilizer and weed control—thanks to the herd of sheep that grazes through the spring and fall—which contribute to healthier plants and larger yields.
The estate hop yard makes up only a tiny fraction of the total amount of hops Sierra Nevada uses throughout the year. Most of the brewery’s hops come from the large commercial concerns in Yakima, Washington, Willamette, Oregon, and throughout Europe and New Zealand. The brewery relies on groups like the American Organic Hop Grower Association to promote the expansion of organic hop acreage in the U.S. and to encourage good agronomic practices and promotion of organic hops. Today’s consumers are more conscious than they have ever been, and want products that are healthy and free from pesticides, chemicals and artificial materials. This has never been more true for beer than it is today. Beer is a unique beverage and one that reflects the environment in which it is made. Great ingredients make for great beer, and organic hops are an integral part of that recipe.