Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is the seventh largest brewing company in the United States. It produces a diversity of year-round and seasonal beers. The flagship brand is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, with its characteristic grapefruit-like aroma owing to Cascade hops. This beer is widely credited as the progenitor of the American pale ale style. See american pale ale.

The company was founded in Chico in 1979 by Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi with $100,000 borrowed from family. See grossman, ken. Both Grossman and Camusi had been home-brewers; Grossman had previously opened a homebrew store in Chico. Their first brewery was on a dirt road outside the city and used equipment obtained from failed breweries and the soft-drink and dairy industries. The brewery’s name came from Ken Grossman’s favorite climbing venue.

The first batch of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was brewed in November 1980 but it and the ensuing eight batches were discarded because they were not of the standard expected by the partners. It was in 1981 that the first satisfactory brew emerged, alongside a porter and a stout. In that year the production output was 500 barrels. All of the beer was bottle-conditioned as funds were insufficient to buy a carbonating device. Slowly, local sales picked up—especially to the students at Chico State University—and soon the product was being shipped to San Francisco, where an early devotee was Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, whose fans in turn started to enjoy the brew. When an article on the exciting new brewing company appeared in the San Francisco Examiner Sunday magazine, Sierra Nevada got onto the beer map. Another article in TheVillage Voice in New York alerted the East Coast to the product. In due course the chief beverage buyer for Safeway supermarkets, a man with a daughter at Chico State, brought the Pale Ale onto that store’s supermarket shelves.

By 1987 Sierra Nevada was producing some 12,000 US barrels and was in the market in seven states. As the company grew exponentially (despite a reluctance to advertise, a policy that continues today), they relocated to a new site in 1988 and embarked on major expansions, upgrades, and installations. By 1989 output was a little over 30,000 barrels and broke through 100,000 barrels in 1993. Three years later output was 265,000 barrels from 80 employees.

In 1997 Sierra Nevada began construction on a second brewhouse allowing for the production of 600,000 barrels of beer per year, with the possibility of expansion. A wastewater treatment plant was introduced, the first stage in an ongoing drive toward environmental excellence—continued through the installation of fuel cells in 2005. By 1999 production was 420,000 barrels and Grossman had bought out Camusi. A year later the company’s conference room/auditorium (The Big Room) was opened, to complement the taproom and restaurant. The beer was now sold in all states of the country. Production was 541,000 barrels in 2001. Two years later, Grossman tested the international market for the first time with shipments to the UK. Volumes as of 2010 are well over 700,000 barrels.

Over the years, Sierra Nevada Brewing has gained a reputation for excellence and technical stringency. Aside from their popular Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada also produces a porter, a stout, a well-loved barley wine called Bigfoot, and several seasonal offerings.