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Hoppy days are here at last

Jennifer Milton serves a customer at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Taproom Jennifer Milton serves a customer at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Taproom

Amy Huffman ordered the Side Car Amber Ale and her husband, Brad, chose a Harvest Wild Hop IPA, which suggested no ordinary taste adventure. The finale of the 2014 Harvest series, the IPA is made from a North American wild hop called neomexicanus that "imparts striking melon and apricot aromas as well as floral undercurrent and citrus-like flavor."

Welcome to the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s new Taproom and Restaurant, which offers one of the most varied and locally sourced food selections, driven of course by dozens of constantly changing beer varieties.
The Huffmans, both geologists, were thrilled to be able to stop in at the brewery on their way home from work in Asheville. They live in Mills River.
Bill Manley, who has the enviable title of Beer Ambassador for the brewing company, said the grand opening of the Taproom on Tuesday came after weeks of preparation, training and work on recipes that use beer and go well with beer.
"We've had managers on board for better than a couple of months now, learning about beer," he said. "Almost everybody who works here has got a fair amount of restaurant experience already.
"So we brought them in and taught them the ways of Sierra Nevada, kind of what we do and how we do things, and culturally made sure that everybody who was going to work here was a really good fit. Even the wait staff and the servers have done some pretty in-depth training about beer, our history, technological beer, tastings, pairings, with both beer and food, trying to get them on the same page and to learn as much about Sierra Nevada and beer as we can in a couple of weeks."
Executive Chef Brian Hough came to the brewery from the Stable Café at the Biltmore Estate.
"He's got a ton of working knowledge as far as local suppliers so we're able to source a lot of local products," Manley said. "My personal favorite thing on the menu is pig cheeks. That dish alone is pig cheeks sourced from a local pig farm, braised in Sierra Nevada Porter, made with grits that are ground specifically for us from a mill 30 miles from here, using kale grown by a guy in Asheville and using milk from a creamery in Asheville. So every single possible ingredient is from, like, the zip code."
Among the other offerings on a surprisingly affordable menu are Kellerweis lamb meatballs with heritage grits and Kellerweis gravy ($11), Cannibal Chips ("what they call steak tartare in Belgium," $12), Mason Jar Salad ($7), Wood-Roasted Mushrooms, confit cipollini onion, thyme ($9) and Pretzels and Beer Cheese ($8). Dessert choices include Grilled PB&J with house-made peanut butter, grade jelly, banana Porter ice cream and spicy peanuts for $8 and Blue Cheese Cheesecake with walnut rye crumble for $7.

25 new beer recipes
Bartenders will pour glasses of beer made in the Taproom's 20-barrel pilot brewery.
"We already have 25 recipes that we've got lined up," Manley said. "They're all brand new. All the brewing staff here got to submit recipes they want to see made, we got them all registered so they're legal to go, bought all the ingredients and got them all queued up in the system."
The first one out of the tank will be something called 1979 Stout, which commemorates founder Ken Grossman's start.
"This is exactly the same recipe of beer that Ken used to kick off his first brewery in Chico in 1979," Manley said. "Every time we build a new brewhouse we make the same recipe and in every brewhouse this is the first beer through the system. We'll be brewing it on Friday and it should be ready in about three weeks."
Scott Randall, a tour supervisor, was sitting with coworkers and sampling a beer in the new dining room.
"It's nice to have this option" for visitors, he said. "We've been open since October for the guided tours and we haven't had this. So it'll be nice that people have the option for lunch and a bite and beer afterwards."
'It's going to be huge'
No one knows how many tourists a year the brewery will attract but the number is expected to be big and expected to grow bigger. The brewery and Taproom are open every day but Thanksgiving and Christmas. An estimate in the hundreds of thousands is not unrealistic.
"It's going to be a huge tourist attraction for Henderson County for sure," said Karen Baker, assistant director of the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority. "Since they have such a following across the country and probably internationally too it's hard to say how many. The Taproom and Restaurant are going to add a lot but also they are going to have the outdoor recreation, which is going to attract a lot of people. We've never had an attraction of that scale to compare it to so it's hard to say how much it will add. I think it's going to be a huge amount of traffic."
Visitors to the brewery may also visit Asheville and attractions like the Biltmore Estate and the vast national forests. Even so, Henderson County is bound to gain overnight stays.
"Of the accommodations on Airport Road, all of them on right side are actually in Henderson County," she said. "The only two that are not are the Clarion and the brand-new Courtyard."
Along with new wineries, Sierra Nevada stars in the TDA's 2015 promotions.
"Of course they're going to be in our national ad campaign and we'll be mentioning more and more about Sierra as everything comes on board," she said. "They are already mentioned in the Vacation Planner, they're listed under attractions on our website and also on the brewery and winery page on our website too. We've already been sending people out there."