By: Jim Boyce | K&L Staff Member
A Visit to Russian River Brewing Co.
When our domestic buyer Bryan Brick sent us a list of places we would like to see on our first Sonoma Valley work trip, my immediate response was “Russian River Brewing"! After all, when serious fans of adult beverages--beer, wine, or the hard stuff-- are anywhere near Santa Rosa, making a stop at Russian River Brewing Co for a beer, some snacks, and growler fills is an absolute priority. Russian River was originally owned by Korbel Cellars until they offered the brand to brewmaster Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo in 2003. The Cilurzos opened the brewpub in Santa Rosa in 2004, and it didn't take long for them to build a huge local following. In 2008, they opened a production brewery nearby, allowing them to triple production and distribute to new crowds. The pub is now a destination (beer) tourist attraction and continues to produce plenty of delicious beers without compromising an iota of quality. As they state on their website, demand continues to grow “but they prefer to grow their business organically while focusing on efficiencies and quality.”
At K&L we are asked every day if we carry Russian River's Pliny the Elder, one of the most popular beers in the world. Ninety-nine percent of the time that answer is “sorry, we’re sold out.” We receive a generous allocation of five cases a week, but we still sell out within an hour of receiving them, and that happens despite our efforts to keep it fair for all beer lovers by enforcing a three bottle per person sale limit. This should give you a sense of how loved and sought after this beer truly is.
For many traditional “American clear beer” drinkers, Pliny the Elder was the gateway beer that launched them into the world of craft brews. Anyone who is new to the craft beer scene or unfamiliar with Russian River Brewing should absolutely hunt a bottle of Pliny down. At K&L, we have a system of notifying our customers when a specific product becomes available, and it is through this system that our Pliny customers get their beer. Simply go to KLWines.com, create an account (if you don't already have one), and click on the Waiting List link in My Account Center. Use the key word option to and enter "Pliny" and save. Now, you will receive email from K&L when we receive Pliny into stock, at which point you can make your online purchase. Online or calling in your order immediately after receiving the email notification is recommended. Since the bottles sell out within the hour you will likely be disappointed if you plan to drive to the store to pick some up! You can place your order as a Will-Call pick up in an any of our three retail locations (we transfer to all stores for free) or for shipment to any place where we can legally ship beer.
While Pliny is a great beer, I personally think the majority of Russian River's beers are even better! At the store, we currently carry Damnation Golden Ale and Salvation Belgian Dark Strong Ale with the newer Row 2, Hill 56 Pale Ale hopped with Simcoe hops soon to return. At Russian River, there are about fifteen beers on tap. One of my favorites is Perdition, their “Biere de Sonoma,” which comes home with me in a growler every time. At this last visit, we grabbed a round of Gaffers, their English Pale Ale. The fruity malts and biscuity hops made for a great brew to wash down the Pliny Bites, pizza dough bites topped with mozzarella, garlic, cheddar, and jalapenos. As they brought out the Clipper (dipped in savage sauce is a hell of a combo) and Mikey pizzas we ordered a round of Erudition Saison, which is a favorite style of mine. Bright citrus, floral notes and spicy pepper make this beer quite refreshing.
Long story short: visit the brewery if/when possible, taste as many beers as you can muster, and take in the atmosphere. The bartenders are great and the pub food is solid. Russian River Brewing Co. is a gem of north-west California, don’t miss it!