Sierra Nevada is now the second biggest craft brewery in America – second to Boston Beer Company – and 7th overall brewery, craft or otherwise. How does one brewery grow to be the second largest in a sea of over 2,500 breweries? Ken Grossman, founder and president of Sierra Nevada tells the breweries story, and in turn his story, in his new book “Beyond the Pale: The story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.” (Amazon Book/eBook). The publishers were kind enough to send me a copy to review and I’m sharing my thoughts with you below.
The entire book is pretty easy reading but was, at least to me, not tremendously interesting at times. Especially so in the beginning of the book as Grossman details much of his early life. In a way it sets the stage for the type of person he is, but could’ve been edited more thoroughly. Much of the story on the beginning of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. would best be described as a crash course in Murphy’s Law with almost everything going wrong in some fashion. It’s also a great tail of triumphing over adversity as – despite all the difficulties encountered early on – Sierra Nevada has become one the biggest craft brewers in the country.
A business that makes beer
“Beyond the Pale” gets into the grittier side of building a massive business from ingenuity and problem solving to legal wrangling with disgruntled business partners. All of this could be a bit of a bore to the average craft beer fan but is good advice to business folks or anyone looking to go pro with a few friends. A separate later chapter on business, again unrelated to beer, is all about going green. I’ll keep my thoughts on this short and simply report the amazing fact that Sierra Nevada now produces almost 100% of it’s own power.
Something Grossman gives quite a bit of attention too, in fact a full chapter, is something that many companies DON’T do these days. Treat their employees fairly. To say Sierra Nevada treats their employees fairly would be a disservice, Sierra Nevada almost borders on socialist hippy shit. Day care, massages, an on-site doctor, a 10% 401k match! Some of these things are extreme but all companies can take a lesson here and learn that treating their employees better will pay off for them in the long run.
What about the beer?
Getting back to beer related things there is a nice discussion of both the hop and barley markets. I’d heard about continual problems with the fluctuation of the market with yields varying by year. Grossman also talked about something I’d never heard before, that Anheuser-Busch had kept a stockpile of hops and then when they merged with InBev that stockpile was reduced and flooded the market. While this may seem like a good thing it was only temporary and served mostly to throw the market into further turmoil.
All said and done there is somewhat of a narrow audience that will get the most value and joy out of this book. I think that audience is the avid Sierra Nevada fan, the craft brewer looking to go pro, the pro brewer looking to take it to the next level, or really any business person in any field.
Two last tidbits
They have a 10 barrel brewhouse just for testing batches and new brewing techniques, that’s the size for most small craft brewers and they spent $5 million on it!
Each chapter begins with a quote all of which are good but this one is great and it’s also my single favorite take away from reading this book:
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.” – Abraham Lincoln
Which may not have ever been said by Lincoln, thanks to Blake for pointing that one out, but the book attributed to him so I’ll stick with that attribution for this review.
If I’ve enticed you into buying this for yourself or a friend then you can pick it up on Amazon.com currently $17 for the Book or $12 for the eBook. It should also be available wherever books and ebooks are sold.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I was contacted by the publishing company who was kind enough to hook me up with a free copy. To our readers, and any companies interested in sending me stuff, giving me free stuff impacts the review in only 2 ways. That I WILL review it and that and I WILL write a blog post about it. Giving me free stuff does not guarantee you a favorable review.