Belly up to the bar

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Sierra Nevada employee Jeff Poliquin—a Paradise native whose parents and grandmother lost their homes in the Camp Fire—with a can of Resilience IPA fresh off the line.

As the full cans of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s Resilience IPA sped down the line inside the brewery’s packaging facility, they came to a sharp 180 loop in the track that flipped them upside down so a robot could tattoo each one with the day’s production date: “121018.”

On Monday, Dec. 10, just three weeks after announcing its plans for a Camp Fire beer, the Chico brewery was ready to start selling it. And watching the massive automated packing machinery of the 10th largest brewery in the country corral the dark green and pale blue cans into 12-pack boxes that were then stacked high on pallets, the scope of the project that will contribute 100 percent of all sales to those impacted by the recent fires came into view.

“As far as commitments go, we’re well in excess of $10 million,” said Sierra Nevada owner/founder Ken Grossman about the estimated proceeds, before adding, “I think we’ll blow [past] that.”

He has good reason to be so optimistic. In addition to the Chico brewery’s production of a little more than 4,000 barrels of Resilience (a barrel equals 31 gallons, or about 14 cases of beer), Grossman says there will be about 6,000 barrels brewed by the more than 1,400 partner breweries that responded to Sierra Nevada’s “bat signal” and have signed up to make the beer as well.

“It’s pretty unique, I think, in any kind of business industry for that kind of cooperation amongst your competitors,” Grossman said.

In addition to giving out the recipe for the IPA (which, on canning day, tasted like a traditional piney/citrusy West Coast IPA, a slightly sweeter and less bitter version of Celebration Ale), Grossman reached out to suppliers to donate raw materials—all of the hops, malt and yeast needed—so that the participating breweries would be able to donate all the beer proceeds.

“I asked the brewers to forgo any profit,” Grossman said. “If you sell the beer for $5, you have to send us $5. So, the brewers who are participating, they’re donating their time, labor and their proceeds to the nonprofit.”

The money raised will go into the Sierra Nevada Camp Fire Relief Fund that the brewery set up at Golden Valley Bank and seeded with a $100,000 donation just days after the fire broke out.

Since the beginning of the tragedy, Sierra Nevada has been on the front lines responding to those impacted by the fire, including many of its own employees, 50 of whom lost homes. According to its Facebook page, during the first week, the brewery’s pub served 8,000 complimentary meals to first responders and friends displaced by the fires and gave out $200,000 in clothing. And on Thanksgiving, Sierra Nevada teamed up with Chico State and World Central Kitchen to feed anyone impacted by the fire, with Grossman himself in the kitchen.

“I boiled the potatoes in our old brew kettle, and I spent the day before making stock and gravy,” he said. “I made 75 gallons of gravy.”

Resilience will be poured in the Chico taproom starting today (Dec. 13), and cans will be available in the gift shop Friday and in local stores by Monday. It’s also already showing up in other taprooms all over the country, including right here in Chico, with Secret Trail Brewing Co. tapping its rendition earlier this week.

As the money comes in, Grossman said the brewery will meet regularly with city and county officials as well as community groups like the North Valley Community Foundation to determine the best ways to distribute funds for rebuilding efforts.

“We’re very supportive of our community,” he said. “We’ve grown up here, and we wouldn’t have been successful without the early support from Chico and Butte County.”