Sierra Nevada Founder Talks Craft Beer: Past, Present, Future

Written by Tom Rotunno for

In 1980, Ken Grossman founded the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and over the years turned it into one of the first and most successful craft breweries ever built.

This week at the Brewers Association’s “Craft Brewers Conference” in San Diego, we caught up with this brewing pioneer to talk about Sierra Nevada and the business of craft beer: past, present and future.

What was your first exposure to brewing?

When I was growing up in Southern California I had a neighbor that was actually a rocket scientist, he was an accomplished home brewer and home wine maker. His son and I were best buddies going through elementary school, junior high, and high school. His dad would be brewing something on his stove every weekend and had rows of carboys fermenting away. I was just intrigued by all of that and think it sort of stuck.

What was it like in the early days of building your brewery?

In those days, in the late 70’s when I was planning the brewery, there was only a couple of small brewers in the U.S. The whole U.S. brewing industry was down to about 40 independent companies and I had a very small goal of brewing about a thousand barrels a year. Maybe 1,500 barrels a year and our business plan reflected a limited ambition at that point. On paper it looked like we could survive and make a living. It was a struggle the first year or so, and then people started loving our beer and we kept growing and haven’t stopped since.

How hard was it to get the ingredients you needed in the beginning?

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