Even though the large brown attraction sign on Highway 26 headed in to Asheville, North Carolina announce its existence, it is hard to form an accurate picture in one’s mind just how extraordinary the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company brewery in Mills River, North Carolina really is. Even after you drive along the side of the small regional airport and then take a non-descript road behind it the magnitude of the brewery does not sink it. It is only when you get your first glimpse of the intricate front gates of the complex as you enter the roundabout outside them that you start to get a feel for the splendor that lies ahead.
As you drive along the winding road that leads from the gate to the brewery it is obvious that this brewery was not built in an old warehouse or abandoned brick factory as so many craft breweries are. The care that was given to the look of the road, the safety rails and even the street lights are clues to what will greet you when you arrive at the front of the building.
As round the final bend in the road the first thing you notice are the solar panels placed evenly throughout the parking lot. Then, as you move further in to the parking area you notice the beautiful façade of the brewery building, the eye is drawn to the peaked roof trimmed in copper over a wall of windows looking in on the shiny copper brewing vessels. To one side of the brewing room are a cluster of towering fermenters on the other are arch-topped windows and signs announcing the location of the brewery offices and taproom. The building is a work of art that both impresses and provides a measure of coziness. It exudes class and taste while maintaining a warmth not dissimilar to what one might feel in a mountain chalet.
Inside, the building is equally impressive. The windows let in streams of natural light that reflects off highly polished copper surfaces that seem to be everywhere. Above the entry for the offices and tour desk hangs a beautiful tiered chandelier that upon closer inspections reveals it is fabricated of hundreds of brown beer bottles. The wall behind the tour desk is a modern, yet rustic mixture of layered glass panels with roughly hewn wood planks sandwiched between them.
The guided tour takes visitors deep into the heart of the brewery and along a gleaming central corridor. Stops along the tour include a view at one of only a few wet grain mills in the United States, the hops room full of bins of herbaceous, brightly colored hops, in to the brewing room, the fermentation room and for a look at the yeast propagation tanks and the packaging rooms. It also includes stops in hallways festooned with dark wood display cases showcasing brewing memorabilia including some of the very first bottles of Sierra Nevada beer ever produced.
As is often the case on brewery tours, there is also an opportunity to sample the fruits of the brewers’ labors. On our visit we were treated to a number of special beers because it was the breweries 35th Anniversary of being founded in Chico, Calif.
But, after the tour is over there is plenty more to do at the brewery. Just a few short steps away is the brewery taproom and restaurant. Upon entering this space you will notice that there are several small beer kettles lining the windows to the right. These are used for smaller batch and experimental brews to be served at the taproom bar visible straight ahead.
If you are looking for a taproom with a kitchen slapped on as an after-thought, you are going to be disappointed. However, if you are looking for a restaurant that prepares delicious, thoughtfully created dishes that pair incredibly with beer, you will be in heaven. Dishes like wood roasted pork belly, duck fat fries and pretzels with pimento beer cheese are served on small plates meant for sharing and enjoying together. Special beers along with Sierra favorites are also available in the taproom and can be expertly paired with the menu items upon request.
After dinner, plan on strolling to the back of the building and enjoying a few brews on the patio or in the amphitheater. The space features a roaring fire pit and plenty of comfortable chairs and tables throughout. In addition, there is a bar serving cold brews right on the porch.
It is evident in the attention to detail that the North Carolina brewery was a labor of love for Sierra Nevada. Many have referred to it as the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of breweries. For beer-lovers that are looking for an extraordinary experience that encompasses an interesting look into one of America’s best breweries, lively tasting and delicious culinary experiences in a beautiful setting, the Sierra Nevada Brewery in Mills River, North Carolina is a must-visit.