Sierra Nevada founder talks beer with students

Students traded their desks for barstools Tuesday as they gathered to hear from a special guest.

Ken Grossman, president and founder of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, came to Tempe Tuesday afternoon to address two class sections of BIS 402, an interdisciplinary senior capstone course that focuses on the history of beer.

At Taste of Tops, a local bar on University Drive in Tempe, Grossman spoke to students about his life and experience in the brewing industry.

The class focuses on the legal, cultural, social and historical elements of beer, as well as its biochemistry. Students are also taught how to brew their own beer.

The course, which started last semester, now has two sections with 25 students each. Course professor David Conz said it will continue thriving in the future because of its growing popularity.

Conz was excited to have Grossman speak to his students.

"Ken (Grossman) is one of the pioneers of craft brewing in America, and is a global leader in sustainable manufacturing," Conz said. "We are extremely fortunate to have him as our guest."

Ben VanderMeer, a sociology graduate student, organized the event.

“Sierra Nevada has been producing some of the best beers that America has to offer, and has really helped bring American brewing back,” VanderMeer said. “They have been going strong for 30 years, and we are really thankful that Ken was able to speak to us.”

Grossman started home brewing in the early 1970s. He opened Sierra Nevada in Chico, Calif., in November of 1980.

“The name Sierra Nevada came from my love of hiking the Sierra Nevada Mountains,” Grossman said. His daughter, who was born before he created the company, is also named Sierra.

At a time when microbreweries were suffering in the United States, Sierra Nevada pressed onward. The company’s famous Pale Ale, after several modifications, soon became a launching point.

“We were getting more requests for beer than we had the time and resources to make,” Grossman said. “We had to enlarge our company to be able to survive.”

Grossman did just that. He traveled to Germany, where he bought and brought back a traditional 100-barrel copper brew house for $26,000. It cost more than $30,000 to ship back to California.

Sierra Nevada is celebrating 30 years in the industry, a milestone for a brewing company. When asked how the company was able to survive as long as it has, Grossman said it was because of the continual commitment to quality.

Marshall Young, an interdisciplinary studies senior, was enthusiastic about the course as well as Grossman’s visit.

“[Grossman] started Sierra Nevada as a small company with handmade equipment, and now he’s one of America’s biggest craft breweries,” Young said. “Sierra Nevada is a great beer, and they have done a lot as a company.”

Although Young isn’t planning to pursue brewing as a career, he expressed his desire to practice it as a hobby.

“I would definitely like to do some home brews and test out what I’ve learned in this class in the future,” Young said. Reach the reporter at

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