This How To Spend The Day At Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. In Mills River, NC post is not sponsored.
North Carolina is a hotbed for craft beers. Even in our town, there are more breweries than I can keep up with.
And there are so many North Carolina-based beers at local festivals like Brews N Brews in Fayetteville, NC. It makes sense, then, that many companies are coming to the Tar Heel State for East Coast distribution. One of those big names setting up shop here is Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Sierra Nevada started in Chico, California in 1980. That brewery is run by Ken Grossman’s daughter: Sierra.
The East Coast location of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (100 Sierra Nevada Way; Mills River, NC), opened in 2012, is run by Ken’s son/Sierra’s brother Brian. The business is “family owned, operated, and argued over” according to the top of the can.
If you’re planning on venturing out East (or to craft beer haven Asheville, NC), you can spend the day at Sierra Nevada Brewery. Well, maybe not the entire day, but a good portion of it.
How To Spend The Day At Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. In Mills River, NC
We kept saying Sierra Nevada was in Asheville, although that’s not absolutely correct. According to the GPS, it’s actually in Fletcher, NC (12 miles South of Asheville and minutes away from the Asheville airport). But, when you get there (or when you check the can), it says Mills River, NC.
There’s a long entrance through fields of hops from the entrance to the brewery itself, so I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that you do pass over a town line while you’re driving. It’s a little bit before Sierra Nevada emerges. So, it’s kind of the place that if you’re going there, you’re going to spend some time there. Plus, there’s nothing else around.
The brewery is open 11am to 9pm Sunday through Thursday, then 11am to 10pm on Friday and Saturday. There’s a taproom, a gift shop, and the brewery to explore.
Guided tours depart every hour and last for 45 minutes. The website says reservations are required, however, if you show up without a reservation, you may get on the standby list (and then hope someone doesn’t show up for their reservation).
When we got there at 11:45am, there were two open spots for the 12pm tour, then two standby spots. All four of us were able to get on the tour.
This free guided tour takes you through the beer making process. Pete brews at home, so we were pretty familiar with the process, but it was cool to see and touch the raw hops. You go through the fermentation process, watch as the yeast is tested in the beer lab (my name for it, not theirs), and watch the packing line.
At the end of the tour, you get to sample four of Sierra Nevada’s brews. I’m not sure if the samples change each tour, but we got to sample (Pale Ale, Hazy Little Thing IPA, Otra Vez, and Hoptimum Triple IPA).
You could also do a self-guided tour yourself, but if you don’t know what you’re looking at, you’ll get more out of the guided tour.
What I, as a non-drinker, found most interesting on the entire tour was that canned beer and bottled beer tastes exactly the same. The only difference is that when you bring a can to your mouth, it goes near your nose and since you smell the can, it seems to add a can flavor to the taste. A bottle stays away from your nose, so this doesn’t happen.
So why do brands make both bottles and cans, then? Preference. Also, convenience. Cans can travel places (like the beach) where glass bottles can’t. And sustainability. There’s less resources used to produce cans, and Sierra Nevada is all about sustainability. The East Coast brewery diverts 99.8% of its waste. We were told even the rainwater is reused to flush the toilets.
You can definitely see the brand’s commitment to being Earth-conscious. There’s actually a bike repair station in the parking lot! And nearby is a sign that tells you the grounds are a light color (as opposed to a dark pavement) because it keeps everything cooler.
There are additional tours you can take at the brewery — including a guided 1.5-mile hike — but those are not free and you do have to make reservations for them.
There’s also an amazing taproom that serves small plates of food that pair well with beer. Like pizza. The house pizza we had was delicious. The Italian sausage on it was incredible. Maybe it’s because, we were told, the spent grains from the beer are given to local farmers who feed them to their animals. Those animals are then sold to Sierra Nevada and served in the taproom. The cycle of life (beer life, anyway).
We had a burger and duck fat fries, too. The duck fat fries were topped with a duck confit — which was even really tasty to a picky eater like me.
My only complaint with the taproom is that the food is served as it’s ready, not when the entire order is ready. That was okay for us because we were eating family style, but the table next to us was not. So one of the four diners had his meal, and finished it, before anyone else had been served. So, basically, the other people at his table just watched him eat, and then he had to sit there while they ate. I’m sure there is some logic behind it, but I didn’t like it.
One of the “complaints” that patrons have (I use that word loosely and in quotes) is that some of the beers in the taproom are just brewer’s experiments. So they may be available one day, then gone forever the next. Our tour guide told us they’ve dubbed these brews “heartbreakers” because if you fall in love and never get it again, it’ll break your heart.
The brewery also has a gift shop with a small bottle shop inside. You can purchase beers that you can’t get anywhere else, like the BFD we picked up and the regional-exclusive Southern Gothic Unfiltered Pils.
You can also pick up a lot of Sierra Nevada dry goods, like t-shirts and slap koozies. Lip balms, mustards, and dog toys are also available for purchase.
If the weather is nice (it was raining when we went), you can wander the grounds of Sierra Nevada. It looked beautiful, and I’m actually pretty bummed we weren’t able to check it out. Maybe next time.
And I’m sure there will be a next time.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. was on Pete’s bucket list, so we were able to cross this off. But so much of Asheville still remains. And if we head back out west, I’m gonna need another order of duck fat fries.
Want to visit more breweries in North Carolina?
North Carolina has been dubbed North Craftolina because all of the local beer made in the state.
If you want to check out more of the breweries at taprooms in the state, we have a few suggestions for you below: