A view from the bar
A word from the Citizens Advisory Board of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Miles Jordan has been writing jazz and blues reviews for the Chico News & Review since 1981, nearly as long as he’s been appreciating the offerings of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., having been visiting the brewery since its inception in 1980. Jordan and his fellow regulars—the unofficial Citizens Advisory Board—have had an intimate vantage point from which to witness the growth of Sierra Nevada. We asked him to introduce us to the group that’s shared in the brewery’s local history.
It sure is funny how things get started. Take, for example, the Citizens Advisory Board—or C.A.B. It now numbers about 30 or so beer lovers who congregate in the Sierra Nevada Brewery’s pub every Thursday afternoon to sample new beers, savor proven favorites and engage in the sort of good-natured chaffing that comes from long association. It is, of course, an enormous conceit. Imagine the possibility of anyone not working at the brewery having any sort of input into their brewing processes. Of course, we can suggest that they brew a certain style of beer and—as regards their sensationally popular Pale Bock which has been MIA for several years—have repeatedly done so with minimal to zero effect.
It all started more than 30 years ago, when the brewery was housed in a pair of metal buildings on Gilman Way (now South Whitman Place), about a mile south of its current location on East 20th Street. Jack Peters—my good friend, co-worker and C.A.B. co-founder—and I used to drop into the facility on our fortnightly paydays in order to buy a case of “handcaps,” those bottles that are first off the line while the fill levels are being adjusted, and were sold at half-price.
Another attraction was the employees’ multi-tap kegerator. While the lads were busy brewing and bottling, Jack and I would spend an hour or so sampling the beers on offer, waiting until everyone got off work to share jokes, brewery news and bags of pistachios. So, until the new brewery was built and the adjacent Taproom was opened in October 1989, Jack and I were the sole members of the C.A.B. In fact, we make the entirely facetious claim that Sierra Nevada co-founder/ owner Ken Grossman got the idea of opening the pub after noticing how Jack and I attacked the kegerator. “Ken,” we falsely affirm, “figured out that if he put a cash register between us and the beer taps, he could make even more money.”
Once the Taproom opened, a steadily growing throng of beer lovers began assembling on Thursdays, and a few years ago Grossman and Steve Dresler, his brewmaster, chose that day on which to put a cask-conditioned ale on line. Dresler recalled how this came to pass: “When we first got involved in firkins [small casks] and I wanted to increase beer variety in the pub, I immediately decided on Thursday, as that was our historic C.A.B. night. These folks have been coming on Thursday longer than many can remember. It just sort of evolved over time from the early days on Gilman Way.
“I don’t go over to the pub often after work, but the one night I almost always do is Thursday, because [the] tradition is a special part of the brewery’s history.”
Now, of course, the pub is so popular that it’s difficult to tell the C.A.B. group—which includes at least three father-son pairs and one husband-wife duo—from the rest of the revelers crowding the bar. Even more packed are the times when Sierra Nevada beer campers and/or the brewery’s sales reps are celebrating beer-thirty. It’s also a source of delight for some of us C.A.B.-ers who have met beer lovers from around the world and to whom we provide a link to the brewery’s past.
A hallmark of a C.A.B.-er is having one’s own mug kept on display behind the bar. Mary Barrow, a favorite bartender, has been serving us in the pub for many years. I asked for her view of this Thursday phenomenon and she replied, “I think the way the general public views the C.A.B. is pretty impressive. They see this big group … with their giant mugs. They always ask, ‘How do I get one of those?’”
Perhaps the most epic C.A.B. event occurred four years ago, when nine of us were invited to participate in one of the brewery’s Beer Camps. We were the first non-industry group to be special guests of the brewery and create a beer. We made a red ale which, given our C.A.B. roots (pronouncing the acronym as a word helps establish the connection), we called Red Taxi Ale. It was a highlight of the C.A.B.’s history at the brewery. Even Grossman was impressed—he wrote: “I think it was great that we had this … opportunity to say thanks to the C.A.B. for all the years of support, critical comment and educational feedback.”