Sierra Nevada Makes It Official: It's Coming East

The nation’s second largest privately held craft brewer is expanding to the east coast. SierraNevada Brewing Company announced they will open a new brewing facility in Mills River, North Carolina.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

The announcement ends months of speculation about Sierra Nevada’s expansion plans and is a reflection of not just the explosive growth of the craft beer market but an indication that its main players are investing for the long-haul.

Sierra Nevada founder and CEO Ken Grossman says the company looked at more than 200 sites east of the Mississippi before settling on the North Carolina location. The long-rumored move east was driven by Sierra Nevada nearing capacity at the company’s original brewery in Chico, California.

Sierra Nevada brewed more than 800,000 barrels last year — nearly 25 million gallons — and with a maximum capacity of one million barrels at its Chico facility, the company needed to expand. The company distributes to all 50 states and expanding to the East Coast will reduce cross-country shipping costs. But for a company that prides itself on its environmental practices (enough to be named the EPA’s “Green Business of the year” in 2010), reducing its carbon footprint also was a key factor in expanding East.

“We felt the most responsible thing to do was to build a brewery on the other side of the country, to lessen our impact on the environment while continuing to place great craft beer into the hands of our consumers,” says Grossman.

Started in 1980, Sierra Nevada is a pioneer of the craft beer movement, a segment of the beer industry which has seen remarkable growth in recent years. According to the most recent statistics from the Brewers Association, the craft beer segment grew 12 percent in 2010 and sales were up 15 percent in the first half of 2011. The growth has occurred at the same time the larger brewers of mass-produced beer have seen sales decline.

The project will create 95 full-time and 80 part-time jobs. The jobs will pay on average $41,526 annually (plus benefits) in a county where average annual wage is $32,249. Sierra Nevada will be investing $107.5 million in North Carolina over the next five years. For North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue landing of one of the pioneers of the craft brewing movement is a coup.

“This announcement enhances a burgeoning craft beer industry in our state,” says Perdue. “The investment, jobs and brand recognition Sierra Nevada brings will be a boon to this region and help confirm North Carolina as a destination for innovation.”

North Carolina is already home to 28 production breweries and 21 brewpubs.

While hoping to lure Sierra Nevada, the North Carolina state legislature tweaked state laws to among other things, allow larger beer-makers to sell their products on site. In addition to the brewing facility, Sierra Nevada’s North Carolina complex will also feature an onsite restaurant. The facility is expected to open in 2014.

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