MILLS RIVER — The question had come to mind ever since the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. announced 26 months ago that it would build its East Coast brewery on the French Broad River in Mills River.
Would the nationally known craft brewer imprint the town's name on its label?
The answer is yes.
Communications Manager Ryan Arnold said that the Chico-based brewery will add the name Mills River to the label, which identifies the brewing location as Chico, Calif., across the bottom. The top corners are flanked by the trademark phrases "Purest Ingredients" and "Finest Quality."
"We'll have a label that does claim both locations but that will be universal," Arnold said last week. In other words, beer brewed here will have the same label as beer brewed in California.
"It's still about Pale Ale being Pale Ale," he said. "It will be the imagery you've come to know and where it says 'brewed and bottled' it'll show both locations."
The company this month started shipping the first Mills River-brewed beer to the public.
"We've dialed this in and we're actually starting to send very small amounts to East Coast distributors," Arnold said. "What we're doing is bringing in Chico-brewed beer to our Mills River refrigerated warehouse and as we're able we'll sprinkle in some of the Mills River-brewed Pale Ale and Torpedo."
Those are Sierra Nevada's most popular brands, and the company has been eager to ramp up production of the top sellers to take the pressure off its Chico plant, which is at capacity. The company plans to eventually brew as many as 20 varieties in Mills River, Arnold said. It currently has about 70 fulltime employees at the Mills River plant on the French Broad River and is aiming to open the brewery and tasting room to the public in August. By the time the tasting room, beer camp and restaurant are operating, Sierra Nevada expects to have 80 to 100 fulltime employees and 40 to 60 part-time employees, Arnold said.
The label change should happen in April or May.
"I had heard rumors," Mills River Councilman Roger Snyder said when told about the Mills River line on the label. "That was one of my original questions when Sierra Nevada first came to Mills River. Would they have a Mills River label? From what I understood, the answer was no and no and no, and I can understand that. I had heard that they were considering putting Mills River on the label. I think it's an excellent idea. It's definitely a commitment to Mills River."
For a small town that was dry until 2007 and remains deeply rooted in farming, it's quite a turnabout. Now, "Mills River" will ride on beers that are shipped across America and around the world.
"Yes, I think it will" increase tourism and bring more visitors to Mills River, Snyder said. "Now, the question is, Are we ready for it?"