Three friends are planning to go for a hike on a Saturday morning. What do you do when the weather forecast calls for rain? Change our plans and go to a brewery, of course!
As soon as we pulled up to the gate, I knew this was going to be a special experience. There's a vibe that just emanates from the place. Beyond the low stone wall, the road bends through the forest.
Arriving at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in Mills River, North Carolina, the first things you see are the massive tanks along with an expansive building that looks like a huge mountain lodge.
The parking lot is a modern brick cobblestone and there are overhangs that provide shelter and are topped by solar panels. It's beautiful while also being environmentally friendly. The solar panels are an obvious statement. One might think the cobblestones are just for looks, but they were more likely chosen so that rain could seep into the ground rather than causing a run-off issue. Pretty cool.
Before the visit, I took a quick look at Sierra Nevada's website and saw that they offered tours.
Their guided tours fill up months in advance. But, they also have tasting tours that are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. It sounded like fun, so we signed up.
With about 45 minutes to wait, we thought we'd head over to the Tap Room and get a bite to eat.
The Tap Room
Here are some shots of the restaurant and kitchen.
I heard that the food was amazing. There are a few items on the menu that don’t change, but most of the selections are seasonal. Many of the choices depend on what’s being harvested from the gardens on site. The serving style is what they call “shareables.” Similar to tapas style, the dishes are meant to be shared. One of the items we tried was the roasted beet salad. I absolutely loved it.
We also tried out the pretzels with melted pimento cheese dip and the duck fat fries. Both were amazing. The duck fat fries are one of Sierra Nevada’s signature dishes. The potato strips are fried in duck fat, then topped with duck confit, cheese, and drizzled with sauce. Definitely a must-try.
It was time to move on to the tasting. Our group met in the office. How cool is this green wall?
Looking above, check out this incredible chandelier made from beer bottles.
Here’s another shot from above.
While we were standing in the office, I noticed the LEED Platinum plaque on the wall. This is impressive. If you’re not familiar with LEED, it stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Platinum is the highest rating. I know from my design experience that it is very difficult to attain. I have great respect for Sierra Nevada for taking on this challenge.
Now on to the tasting... Up the stairs, we find ourselves along the hallway that is part of the self-guided tour.
Along this hall, you can overlook the entire operation, including hop storage, bottling, and the fermentation tanks. All of the Sierra Nevada beer served east of the Mississippi River is made here at this location.
Inside the tasting room, I really love the barrel light fixtures and all of the woodwork.
On the wall, we have a menu of the beers we’ll be tasting.
The first thing we learned is that beer tasting is different from wine tasting. There is no spit bucket. Instead, we need to take three sips. The first is to cleanse the palate. The second is to taste. And the third is to get a deeper sense of the beer. And then you just drink the rest. Our beer selections went from light to dark.
Now that we’d had a chance to taste and find a favorite, it was time to pick up a full-sized version and check out the view from the balcony.
The grounds include the gardens, areas for kids to play, an amphitheater, and walking trails. We were glad we arrived early at 11:30 am on a Saturday morning. The longer we stayed, the more people arrived and it started getting crowded.
Down below, here’s a shot of the balcony and the rear of the building.
And what’s a girl to do when she has a beer in hand and needs to adjust the lens on her camera? Make it work, of course!
The Gift Shop
No tour is complete unless you exit through the gift shop, so that’s exactly what we did. There were shirts, hats, souvenirs of all kinds, specialty glasses, and you guessed it—beer! I picked up a couple of 6-packs to give as gifts. I tend to have a weakness for handmade soaps, so I also had to get this bar of mint soap. Instead of water, the soap maker uses Sierra Nevada beer. And no worries, it’s a powerful mint smell, so I don’t smell like beer.
Cheers from me and my friends!
We had a great time at the Sierra Nevada Brewery. If you find yourself in Western North Carolina, check it out.
What’s your favorite kind of beer? Comment below and feel free to share this post.