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LIGHTNING REVIEW: Grossman shares story of brewery’s growth, success

Ken Grossman Ken Grossman

Ken Grossman's story starts when he jams a pair of tweezers into an electrical outlet, gives himself a jolt, blows a fuse and scares the wits out of his mother.


He grows no less adventurous over the next five decades as he advances from bicycle shop mechanic to home-brewing to "going pro" in a jury-rigged brewhouse of salvaged dairy tanks and castoff parts and finally to the phenomenal growth of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., a polestar in the fast-growing craft beer industry.
In Beyond the Pale, Grossman tells the story of his startup, the hurdles he and his early partners overcame, the challenges of the welcome but unexpected growth, the troubled period split from the company cofounder and the success that the Sierra Nevada continued to show as a pioneer in the industry.
Grossman's book about the company's founding and growth in Chico, Calif., ends where the story here begins. Only in the last chapter do we hear of his decision to build a second brewery. He mentions having chosen North Carolina but this account shares none of the high-stakes drama that occurred when Henderson County competed successfully to land the new brewery.
Anyone who has followed the story so far may know that Sierra Nevada is the second-largest craft brewery in the U.S., that the Grossmans are big supporters of conservation and that their new plant in Mills River will be a gem of an attraction that could well draw a half million visitors a year to the banks of the French Broad River.
I had covered the Sierra Nevada story in Big Forest, the in-depth account we published in August 2013 about the recruitment of the company to Henderson County. In that story, Henderson County leaders were the protagonists; Ken Grossman was the target of their courtship.
Beyond the Pale is Ken Grossman's story, from his insatiable curiosity about machinery and electricity as a toddler to his astonishing determination and infinite resourcefulness in building the brewery against the odds.
The book could be subtitled "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Sleeping." It should find a place alongside how-to books on making beer. And it should be required reading for a course on business startups, especially the part about doing all the work yourself, blasting over or around barriers and never waning in the passion for quality.

 An education in beer
My experience with beer is long in years but shallow in scope. I'm among the millions of offenders who drink the mass-marketed watered-down lagers the name-brand breweries proBeyond the Paleduce by the oceans full (although my taste is changing the more I cover this beat).
I don't know hops from malt, or a conditioned bottle from a yeast reaction.
I got a tremendous education on the beer-making process from Beyond the Pale and more than that a profound appreciation for the complexity of the process, the fragility of the chemical reaction and the hazards of the industry from a marketing perspective.
Born in Los Angeles and raised by a single mom, Grossman traveled after high school to Chico, in northern California, and never left. The Chico Chamber of Commerce has got to be glad of that, given the fame and fortune he has caused.
As the owner of the Homebrew Shop, Grossman got his first experience shopping for quality hops, the ingredient that gives beer its flavor and aroma. Because home brew shops buy only a tiny amount of hops compared to breweries, an independent shop owner like Grossman had to scrounge for better quality hops. He traveled to Yakima, Wash., and bought "brewers' cuts — 1-pound core samples brewers used to gauge quality and aroma of the bale. If it was a painstaking way to buy product, it also was one of those blessings that made Grossman an expert. He'd buy several hundred core samples and haul them back to Chico and try them out. "Hops are a little like the spice drawer when you are cooking," he says, "the different varieties all have their own unique flavor." He didn't stop at the water's edge. He tracked down a supplier who would sell him smaller quantities of the best hops from Europe. "Running my home brew shop," he notes, "gave me the opportunity to brew and sample dozens of hops from around the world that had been nearly impossible to obtain before."

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