Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California

Russian River Brewing Company

With so many stellar craft brew offerings available today, profiling one brewery’s offerings puts its output under the microscope. Not every brewery offers both a wide range of classics and cutting edge fare that withstands such scrutiny, but Santa Rosa, Calif.’s Russian River Brewing Company fits the bill.

Co-Owner and brewer Vinnie Cilurzo is known as an innovator, and is an award winner besides, with prizes under his belt from the Great American Beer Festival, World Beer Cup; and he’s received the Brewer’s Association Russell Schehrer Award For Innovation in Craft Brewing.

Cilurzo and his wife and partner Natalie purchased the Russian River Brewing brand from Korbel Champagne Cellars in 2003, initially focusing the brewery on fresh, wet hops grown on the property near the Russian River. Today, the company focuses on hoppy ales, Belgian session style ales, and a line of barrel aged beers.

The company may be best known for its year-round brews, such as Pliny the Elder, a slightly bitter, slightly floral beer made with three different hops: Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe hops. Pine and citrus notes augment this beer’s fresh taste.

Blind Pig IPA India Pale Ale is a dryer, richer beer than Pliny the Elder, and it too contains notes of citrus and pine along with its crisp bitter bite. Inspired by Belgian ales, Damnation has a uniquely spicy edge, and notes of banana, which make this dry medium-bodied brew a slightly sweet one.

The four barrel-aged sour beers use open air vats for fermentation, allowing airborne yeast and fruity Brettanomyces yeast to work their magic. Paying homage to RRBC’s roots at Korbel, perhaps, the sours are aged in wine barrels from local wineries to add a stronger flavor to the brews. Temptation is aged in Chardonnay barrels, and a light brew; Supplication is darker, and utilizes three different yeast – the Brettanomyces yeast, Pediococcus and Lactobacillus, for a truly pucker-worthy taste aged in barrels that once held Pinot Noir. Rich, complex, and potent, this is a sour worth exploring.

RRBC is no stranger to lighter brews as well. Redemption is a blonde Belgian-style ale with a mild finish enhanced by spicy notes. With an ABV of 4.8%, it makes an excellent summer beverage. Medium blonde Sanctification treads a line between an ale and a lager. Fermented with Brettanomyces, there are slight sour notes, but nothing overwhelming in this refreshing 6.75% ABV brew. Benediction is a Belgian-inspired Abbey Double with rich, dark notes of chocolate, spice, and tobacco. A malty and smoky flavor contrasts with crisp hoppy bitterness. It also has an ABV of 6.75%

And of course, there’s the limited release Pliny the Younger, which draws crowds waiting to get a taste of this unique beer. A triple India Pale Ale, it’s crafted with triple the amount of hops in a standard IPA, making it time-consuming to produce. Rich with a definitely hoppy character, it’s seasonally released at RRBC’s own pub on the first Friday in February – for two weeks only.

Whether it’s a Belgian ale – or a Belgian inspired one, a potent and puckering barrel-aged sour, or a resonant IPA, Russian River Brewing Company has crafted a variety of choices at their peaceful Guerneville brewery, each well worth a tasting exploration.

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