Interview - Life of Bill Manley, Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada Alpha Hop Society has debuted this year. 12 beers, 4 quarters, limited releases only - wild imaginings of what beer could taste like.

If you missed this, it's because a fairly quiet opening resulted in a sold out membership in less than 24 hours (I missed the trigger and didn't grab it this year). I'll spare you the details of the program because I'd like to delve into my interview with Bill Manley, Product Development Manager at Sierra Navada, who created the AHS program.

Gregarious, upbeat, and patient, Bill explains with great enthusiasm his love for the program. Dare we call this program his brainchild, AHS is very special although not a new concept at the brewery. Based in Chico, Sierra Nevada has always cultivated an open culture of experimentation, letting its employees be the driving force behind new creative endeavors. Armed with a 1 barrel on-site nano brewing system, any employee with a creative urge can crank out a new type of beer and make their ideas a reality. 200 new beers were recorded last year, most of which never ventured out the employee team.

You don’t have to be a chef to know what can taste good. New concepts can come from anywhere. We recently even brewed a beer with smoked corn as an adjunct.
— Bill Manley

This program was difficult to pull off for several reasons. Not only does it influence and interact with every part of the business - graphic design, packaging, beer bottling, barrel movement, trucking, legal, etc - but predicting the variability of barrel aged beers (specifically those never tried before) is more art than science. For example, let's peek at Q1's beer selection:

  • American Wild Red Ale
    • Their first true sour ale. Thus, this was all bottled outside of the main facility to prevent contamination of present beers. With a combination of Brett and dregs from other bottles, this was aged for 1+ years.
  • BA Stock Scotch-style Ale—Aged in Brandy and Absinthe Barrels
    • From Copper & Kings distillery, the absinthe was first aged in Brandy barrels. A base blend of scotch ale and imperial smoked porter was then added. How they came up with this order seems too complicated to even figure out.
  • BA Pentuppel with Chilies
    • A belgium golden ale in tradition, it blends the balance between sweet and spicy. Deep wood notes and fruity characters only achieved through serious blending techniques.

So we've had some amazing first round beers, what's next?! Bill won't say (possibly because it's still undecided) but hints that they will be more balanced in terms of alcohol levels and a variety of experimental hop breeds and varietals. 

In the meantime, a members can indulge in sponsored events at each of their brewery locations (Chico, CA | Mills River, NC) from intimate and hands-on tours, trips to the Barrel Aged facility, and other in-depth seminars into the making of their beers. 

For those who did buy a whopping $250 yearly membership, I'm starting to get jealous. Cheers to you all and hope you enjoy it!

Justin Tung

San Francisco, CA,

Justin Tung is a San Francisco resident, amateur homebrewer, and big beer lover. Often traveling for work grew a natural habit - an obsession - with exploring new regions and beers. The best way to understand a locality? Hang with a local and buy them a beer, hear their stories and the rest is history. This is the golden age of beer revolution and innovation. Fortune rewards the brave.