It’s been a good few of years for Sierra Nevada. The 37-year-old brewery has rung up more than $200 million in sales, watched CEO Ken Grossman break the Forbes World's Billionaires list in 2014, and celebrated the opening of their second location in Mills River, N.C. But in an industry that rakes in $100 billion a year, and has seen a sharp increase in new competition, keeping an eye on the future success of the company means always looking to expand and strengthen a brand. For Sierra Nevada, that has entailed embracing the past through historical ties to both the industry and community, and the future through sustainable building techniques. Both elements are evident in the Mills River brewery.
While their Chico, Calif., location has been a staple on the West Coast since Grossman began brewing in 1978, when peak production met with growing transportation costs, the search was on for the next spot where Sierra Nevada could settle down and take root.
The 185-acre parcel in Mills River proved to be the perfect spot. Located in the burgeoning Asheville metro aea, the outdoorsy township welcomed the brewery with open arms, partially due to Sierra Nevada’s strong sustainability focus. “We went into the jobsite saying we were going to be a LEED Silver Certified-building, and the community really embraced that,” said Cheri Chastain, sustainability manager for Sierra Nevada.
“Sustainability is always the focus for Sierra Nevada,” added Matt Gallaway, principal architect at Russel Gallaway Associates, Inc. (RGA), which designed the facility. While the California facility has provided plenty of learning experiences in retrofitting an existing facility with new sustainable technologies, starting from the ground up in Mills River allowed the team to take sustainability into consideration from the start.
Probably the most impressive element of their sustainability efforts is the use of reclaimed wood. “We did have to clear a bit of the site for the brewery, and one of the things that Ken requested was to save most of the timber that was on that site,” explained Chastain. “We had it milled and till-dried, and then it was reintegrated into the entire design.”
“All of the wood you see in the taproom and restaurant is wood that was reclaimed,” said Gallaway. To ensure no lumber went to waste, Sierra Nevada hired Californian woodworker Vaughn Zellick to oversee the careful removal of the trees, which were milled and treated locally. The poplar, black oak, Spanish oak, and white oak planks were then crafted into the décor. “Tabletops, ceiling, trim, bar—all of the wood came from the site,” explained Gallaway.
The overall effect is inviting. Mixed with copper—reminiscent of historic brewing practices as well as Sierra Nevada’s own history of having cobbled together their first brewery in the 1980s with copper saved from a defunct German brewer—the taproom and restaurant exudes warmth. Oak barrels work as lighting and décor, reminding visitors of brewing history when beer was fermented in wooden casks. The process is proudly on display with the vats viewable through surrounding windows and behind the bar.
In all, the restaurant can hold up to 300 patrons at both community bar-height tables and more intimate two-person spots, and 80 around the curved bar. But the wide space and minimalistic wooden furniture gives plenty of room to breathe.
The importance of space continues to the exterior landscape as well. Of the 185 acres, less than 30 were developed. The remaining forest is cared for by a permanent staff of Natural Resource Specialists who work on improving the health of existing ecosystems. Permeable pavers
used in the parking lot channel water into rain gardens on the grounds. The excess water is stored in underground cisterns for irrigation and grey water systems, but with more than 95 percent of the flora being native, the watering demands for the landscape are minimal, explained landscape designer Susannah Horton of DesignWorkshop.
And while these less obvious means of using sustainable design can be found throughout the brewery, there’s one Sierra Nevada staple the company wanted on display: solar panels.
“The bulk of the panels on the large, flat, and tall warehouse roof don’t have the visibility of those in Chico,” explained Horton. “We incorporated these solar structures into the parking lot so that this large part of the Sierra Nevada story—capturing sunlight to supply a significant portion of the site’s energy needs—was apparent to visitors in an elegant, yet functional way.” In addition to providing energy for the site, the panels were placed along the parking lot to provide shade for parking spaces, decreasing the heat island effect.
There is no doubt that an aspect of Sierra Nevada’s brand involves looking to the future of sustainability, but when it came to the building’s overall aesthetic, it was important to embrace the history and iconography of both Asheville and the company.
“When we started on the facility in North Carolina, there were a lot of different approaches to it. I remember presenting to Sierra Grossman [Grossman’s daughter], and Sierra’s comment to me was, ‘Why are you proposing we use this element?’ or ‘Why are you proposing we use this?’” said Gallaway. “I explained that those are design elements indigenous to North Carolina. She specifically asked, ‘Can we incorporate more of the stuff we’ve used in California so it becomes more about Sierra Nevada’s story?’ So it may look similar to California, but we’re using brick, which is regional, and other North Carolina elements. What you really see is a mix of California and North Carolina.”
While the warm, homey aesthetic may not jump out at visitors as a display of advancements in sustainable technology and techniques, Sierra Nevada’s commitment to green design has become as much a part of its trademark as its iconic Pale Ale.