ASHEVILLE, N.C. (ACT) -- The curtain was finally pulled back on Sierra Nevada's new Mills River brewery Monday, as the media was invited to tour a site that dwarfs the many breweries open around Western North Carolina.
The brewery will include a tasting room that could open this summer. Coming later this year will be a restaurant taproom and indoor and outdoor music areas. There's even a space that might be used for an Oktoberfest party.
Sierra Nevada is on pace to make 350,000 barrels of beer a year at the Mills River location, and bottles and cases of the brewery's popular Pale Ale and Torpedo IPA are already being filled and shipped.
Seasonals will follow later this year. For now, the packaging still reads Chico, Calif., location of the original Sierra Nevada brewery, but Mills River will be added soon, said plant manager Brian Grossman.
By comparison, the Oskar Blues brewery in Brevard is turning out 48,000 barrels annually. Highland Brewing of Asheville is aking about 38,000 barrels, but an expansion there this year will increase that number to 60,000-65,000, company founder Oscar Wong said.
Sierra Nevada has kept a fairly tight wrap on the brewery as it came together on a 184-acre site next to Asheville Regional Airport that was once a family farm.
"We don't like to show things that are a work in progress," said Grossman, whose father Ken Grossman founded the company.
While much of the construction is done, work will continue for another seven months to a year, Grossman said.
By July, the public could be visiting a small tasting area inside the plant. The bigger restaurant taproom and music hall would probably not be done before November, Grossman said.
Some trees on the property were cut to make way for the brewery, but Sierra Nevada has "tried to save and utilize" the wood, he said. Construction was slowed this year by weather, he said. "We had 75 inches of rain, and that meant big delays," he said.
There are about 70 full-time employees working at the brewery, and that number will eventually be 125-150 full- and part-timers, he said.
Sierra Nevada is one of two major national breweries opening in or near Asheville, with New Belgium Brewing set to begin groundbreaking May 1 on its plant in West Asheville along the French Broad River. Buncombe County is now home to 16 craft breweries with a dozen more scattered around the mountains.