Book Review of Beyond the Pale: The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

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Shrewd and resourceful. Mechanically inclined and fiscally conservative. This is the picture you get of Ken Grossman when you read his book. The book is both an autobiography and history of one of most successful U.S. craft breweries. Inextricably intertwined is the story of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Ken Grossman. His workman-like writing style is sparse and to the point.

The book takes you on a first person account of the challenges and hard work invested in the brewery. The work ethic demonstrated and the business lessons learned could benefit any businessperson. Certainly any fan of Sierra Nevada beers or craft beer in general would enjoy the behind the scenes look at what goes in to crafting the beer we love. I would recommend this book to both beer aficionados and entrepreneurs.

Grossman was a mechanically inclined boy, always taking things apart. He spent a lot of time in his neighbor’s garage workshop tinkering and learning. Cars, radios, and bicycles.

Later photography and backpacking engaged Grossman. Experimenting with home brewing before even graduating from high school.  An adult neighbor had introduced him to home brewing and he later discovered, and was inspired by  Anchor Steam when it began distribution to bars and restaurants.

Scraping by to survive in college affirmed the “waste not want not” ethic he had learned from his depression era grandfather. While experience in local bike shops taught him important lessons in how to – and how not to run a business.

Working in and eventually buying a homebrew business in Chico parlayed into the plan to open a brewery. Further inspired by a visit to Anchor Steam and discussions with Fritz Maytag and Jack McAuliffe from New Albion – Grossman and his friend Paul Camusi embarked on the long journey of literally constructing a piecemeal brewery;  focusing on quality and beers with bold flavor and depth.

I make no secret that I admire the business model of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and their deep commitment to being socially and environmentally conscious. Additionally, I have been a fan of their beers for years.

At times very in depth and others too brief, the book only touches the surface of some interesting aspects of one of America’s most influential breweries. I especially wanted more about the environmental sustainability leadership Sierra Nevada has implemented. The productivity bonuses and ways they take care of the employees – an on site medical clinic, Beer Bucks, gym reimbursement, Fresh Fruit Fridays, and on site childcare paint a picture of a place most anyone would love to work.

Despite some in depth information related to the business of the brewery I would have found it very interesting to read about Grossman’s passion for his beers.  His passion for efficiency and success are well demonstrated but strangely there is little information about his beers. I am sure there are so many interesting stories about Celebration Ale, their Estate hops and barley growing program and countless offerings from their vast beer portfolio.  What are the inspirations and stories behind some of their legendary beers?

Overall the book is a very interesting look into what it took to achieve their success. Grossman is savvy and has a burning desire for quality and efficiency. Part control freak, scientist, engineer, environmentalist, and beer geek imparted him with the tools to exceed his vision. The book conveys his dream of providing interesting and consistent beers to the national audience.  Without doubt, Beyond the Pale is an interesting journey of one of America’s premiere craft breweries.

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Beyond the Pale: The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
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