Sierra Nevada Brewing eyes Alcoa for Eastern US site
By Robert Norris (email@example.com)
A premier craft brewery from California could be in Blount County’s future.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is working with the city of Alcoa and the Blount County Economic Development Board to determine if the company will select Alcoa for its Eastern U.S. operation.
Alcoa City Manager Mark Johnson said Tuesday the brewing company is also looking at two other Eastern U.S. sites in other states.
“Not just Alcoa, they’re looking at the entire region. Once they landed here, literally, they liked the community,” he said.
Sierra Nevada ranks only behind Boston Beer Co., brewer of Samuel Adams, in volume of U.S. production by an independent craft brewer. It ranks sixth among all brewers.
To enhance the city’s chances of landing Sierra Nevada, the state Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday voted 10-0 to advance a bill establishing state guidelines for high-alcohol beer to a full floor vote.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Ken Yager, of Harriman, would govern the sale of beer with an alcohol content of 5 percent to 20 percent. Tennessee law currently makes no distinction between high-alcohol beer and liquors or wines.
State Rep. Doug Overbey, of Maryville, added the amendment to Yager’s bill that would create a new category of alcoholic beverage in Tennessee: heavy beer. Next it goes to the full Senate.
“I’m cautiously optimistic it will be accepted,” he said.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s office and officials from Knoxville and Knox County have helped with the measure.
Sierra Nevada Communications Coordinator Bill Manley said the new law is necessary because some of its beers are above 5 percent alcohol by weight. That is equivalent to 6.25 percent alcohol by volume, which is how the company measures alcohol content.
“We make some hoppy beers, and several are above 6.25 percent,” Manley said.
Regardless of whether Sierra Nevada chooses to locate in Alcoa, passage of the bill would be “really great for breweries in the state and for craft brewing everywhere.”
The company’s brewery in California has the theoretical capacity to produce 1 million barrels of beer annually. Sierra Nevada’s current production is about 800,000 barrels and growing faster than anticipated, Manley said. Production could reach capacity in about three years, and it takes about one year to build a new facility.
The company began considering a second brewery several years ago because of the environmental impact of shipping across the entire country.
“We started with a couple of hundred sites, and have narrowed it down to a handful,” Manley said.
Toured Alcoa sites
Representatives of Sierra Nevada toured potential sites in Alcoa a couple of weeks ago and were impressed by what they saw and learned.
“It’s rapidly rising on our list,” Manley said.
Manley noted the closeness to the mountains, just like the California brewery, and an attention to environmental concerns as exemplified by the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) requirement for the Pellissippi Place business development park.
Johnson said the firm has looked at a couple of locations along the Pellissippi Parkway, not necessarily inside the park, which has requirements geared toward attracting research and development companies.
“We’re doing whatever we can do to accommodate them. From what we gather about their operation in California, it’s a very good corporate operation and would be a fine addition to the community. ... We do screen any operation very carefully, and this seems to be very first-class.”
Tammi Ford, Blount Partnership vice president of communications, said she could not speak directly about the company.
“The Economic Development Board is and has been working on the project for the past eight months. I won’t name them because of an agreement,” Ford said.
However, she did say the company was looking at Alcoa as a location, it would be an operation of substantial size with quality jobs.
“It would have a significant impact, not only for Blount County but the region.”
Not just a brewery
The eastern operation would be more than just a brewery. Sierra Nevada Brewing’s California facility includes a taproom and restaurant featuring fresh, locally-produced vegetables and choice aged beef. It also has a multipurpose room that seats 350 and serves as a venue for live music and is available for weddings, reunions and business conferences. Tours and tastings are offered at the brewery.
Johnson said the company wants its Eastern facility to be a tourist destination — one reason that Alcoa’s closeness to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an advantage for Alcoa in the site selection process.
Other factors include an abundant water supply and logistical issues such as interstate connections and McGhee Tyson Airport.
“Quality of life, conservation issues, being green. They’re a very environmentally conscious company,” Johnson said.
On Dec. 2, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that Sierra Nevada was the winner of its prestigious Green Business of the Year award.
But it won’t happen in Alcoa without the change in state law.
Changes to the bill adopted Tuesday stripped a provision to allow only one manufacturer of high-alcohol beer in each Grand Division of Tennessee. Manley applauded the move, saying that Sierra Nevada has sought to foster craft brewing.
The bill would also allow brewers of high-alcohol beer to obtain a restaurant license and serve liquor.
Another element of the bill would also change a law that distilleries can only sell whiskey in commemorative bottles, thereby allowing them to offer visitors the same bottles sold in stores.
“We’re pretty pleased about it,” Manley said of the Finance Committee’s approval of the bill.
He said the company expects to make a decision about an Eastern location in a couple of months.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.