As Sierra Nevada’s technical lead on flavor and raw ingredients research, Tom Nielsen is part brewer, part scientist and a leading point person on many of the most interesting ongoing research projects today. Based in the research and development lab in Chico, Nielsen works with everyone from CEO Ken Grossman to university professors, from Sierra Nevada’s raw material suppliers through the brewers, bottlers and cellar supervisors, to improve beer flavor and spot innovation coming 5 to 10 years down the road.
His current projects include studies on the effects of enzymatic action on flavor and how different chemical compounds drive hop aroma. He has compared research into aged hop character with the late Jean-Pierre Dufour in New Zealand and travels all over the United States to brew with experimental malt barley varieties grown by Oregon State University and hop varieties grown by Washington State University and the USDA.
“Last year, the R&D department documented 65 research projects,” Nielsen says. “That’s direct analysis support within the brewery or development of new raw materials. Through the brewing organizations that we’re members of, we collaborate with dozens.”
In keeping with Sierra Nevada’s role as an elder statesman in the world of craft beer, much of Nielsen’s research eventually becomes incorporated in the general body of brewing knowledge. But ultimately, his goal is much the same as any other brewer’s—to produce some of the best-tasting beer around. “The finest ingredients, the finest quality,” Nielsen says. “We stand by that.”
This profile appears in the November 2014 issue of All About Beer Magazine. Click here for a free trial of our next issue.