The City of Alcoa is situated in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, but if everything works out the way city officials hope, the taste of the Sierra Nevada Mountains could be brewing in Blount County.
Alcoa is on the shortlist to become the East Coast headquarters for Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Alcoa City Manager Mark Johnson said.
Johnson said the company’s initial investment would be significant, possibly about “half the size of the initial Denso project,” Johnson said. “It depends on how quickly they would expand the market in the East as to the number of jobs.”
The city manager said that in the brewing industry, the jobs are very good, well-paying jobs. “This company is an outstanding place to work,” he said. “You can see it in the faces of their employees. Company officials have been here, and I actually went out there a couple weeks ago.”
Johnson said right now the company brews all its beer in one location in Chico, Calif., facing the Sierra Nevada Mountains. “It is such a fast growing company that they have basically built-out their capacity there, and that, coupled with the distribution costs serving the East Coast market, has them looking for an East Coast location,” he said. “We got on the list, and they are looking at us and a couple of other places. I think we have definitely gotten down to the top group of three. There are still some obstacles to go through, but we hope to have a good favorable announcement before too long.”
Johnson said the company isn’t set to make a decision until about the middle of the summer. “My gut feeling is once we get through some of these obstacles we have to get through in order to do what they want to do here, that they’ll make an announcement,” he said.
The city manager said that, like the facility in Chico, the Alcoa location would be a brewing and distribution center as well as a tourist attraction, gift shop, restaurant and music venue. “It is first class,” Johnson said of the facility that would be in the “general area” of the Pellissippi Place research and development park just off Pellissippi Parkway. “They’re banking on the future of our area and a lot of things falling into place, so it is still very fragile. We’re working through utility issues. It is a major project, and it is complicated,” Johnson said.
Bill Manley, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company communications coordinator, said they are still narrowing down sites.
“We’re still down to a handful of places, and we frankly haven’t decided if we are going to build anything out East. There are a lot of factors that will go into it, and it may take months or even a year to decide,” Manley said.
The communications coordinator said the company is looking at a half dozen sites in two or three states. “We’re looking for a new place to set up shop out East to make shipping more practical,” he said. “Now we make all our beer in Chico, Calif., and it looks like we’re starting running out of space in Chico in the next couple of years. We are trying to see if it would be practical to set up something east of the Mississippi.”
There is legislation being discussed today, Tuesday, May 17, in the Tennessee State Senate regarding an amendment to Senate Bill 1224 that may be one of the obstacles state officials need to deal with in order for Alcoa to be a strong contender.
Beer Law Blog says the bill deals with a Tennessee liquor law that requires a brewery to hold a second license as a distillery in order to produce been greater than 5 percent alcohol by weight. An amendment would re-define “high alcohol content beer” as having an alcohol by weight cap of 20 percent and introduces a pilot program in which a brewery wouldn’t be required to hold a distillery license to produce these beers.
“From the way I understand it, there is a question of whether or not it is legal to make or sell beer over 5 percent alcohol by weight, and we have several beers around that range,” said Sierra Nevada’s Manley. “I understand the legislation is trying to clarify that law or figure out a way to make it equitable for breweries in Tennessee. There has been a little controversy over the way the law is written to only allow three breweries – one in the East, one in Middle Tennessee and one in West Tennessee. We had nothing to do with the original drafting of the bill, and we are waiting to see what shakes out in the committee today.”
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., headquartered in Chico, Calif., began in 1980, the dream of founder Ken Grossman, who still remains involved in the business today. Their first beer was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The brewery has expanded twice and now has a total capacity of almost 800,000 barrels per year.
Grossman began as a home brewer, using homemade equipment, making five-gallon batches of his own beer. He opened his own store. The Home Brew Shop, in 1976 after studying chemistry and physics at Butte Community College and California State University in Chico. Sierra Nevada is named for Grossman’s favorite hiking grounds, the Sierra, Nevada, mountains. Chico is located in the Northern Sacramento Valley of California, approximately 90 miles north of Sacrament.
In the brewery in Chico there is a taproom and restaurant with live music. The Big Room seats 350 and is also rented out for weddings, reunions and business conferences.