It's Almost Pliny Time

Out There Guest Blogger Tom Edwards is here to tell you that Pliny the Younger 2017 is coming, and it’s okay to believe the hype.

You’d have to be living under a very large rock to be completely unaware of the craft beer revolution that has gripped Sonoma County. Not only have a slew of terrific new breweries opened up over the past five years, but industry veterans have taken a flamethrower to the phrase ‘resting on one’s laurels’ and continue a relentless expansion of quality and production power. A recent Sonoma Magazine issue said it best: Welcome to Beer Country.

SR_RR2_pliny the youngerAlthough Santa Rosa’s list of beer-powered happenings continues to grow, from bustling beer fests to educational industry conferences, one event has remained the undisputed heavyweight champion of the scene: Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Younger release.

Along with its milder uncle, Pliny the Elder, the brew duo have become household names in most parts of the county, and let us stop for a second to appreciate that fact: the idea that a pair of high quality beers have garnered so much love and respect that the mere mention of their names is enough to evoke a thoughtful nod or reminiscent smile in a large portion of the region’s beer-drinking population. Cabernet Sauvignwho?

SR_RR3_pliny the younger brewing2017 marks Russian River’s 13th unveiling of Pliny the Younger, and despite this relatively lengthy tenure as one of the nation’s go-to beer releases, legend surrounding the event refuses to diminish. Tales still abound regarding the incredibly complex mixture of bitterness and malt character, all under the inexplicably aromatic bouquet of hop aroma – a combination that catapulted Pliny the Younger to rest comfortably atop the charts of all respected beer rating publications.

Tasty beer is all good and well, but it takes no more than a few financial figures to show just why Pliny the Younger’s release left its distinction as world class beer tasting and soared onward to that of economic force. According to most recent studies, the fortnight long pouring spurred on $2.4 million in economic impact, with 65% of attendees traveling from outside the county and spending their money locally. Talk about the power of good beer.

We had a chance to catch up with Natalie Cilurzo, president and co-owner of Russian River Brewing, to get some of her insights into the Pliny phenomenon.

RRbrewing co menu pliny the youngerThe economic impact figures for PtY’s release are quite startling, did you ever think that it would become such a big event for Sonoma County?

We never set out with the intention of this turning into anything other than a winter seasonal beer. The results of the impact study were mind-blowing! Vinnie and I are proud to be able to have our business contribute so much to the local economy.

How has the event evolved over the years, is it as big of deal around the brewery as it is for the beer fans that travel far and wide to attend?

RRbrewing co shelf of growlersIt takes months of preparation from the brewing schedule all the way through to the extra staffing and distributor allocations. It’s really, really time-consuming just getting ready for releasing this one beer! Once the beer is on tap, it’s pretty much business as usual inside. The real event is in line. I have always said that, but now the City of Santa Rosa provides us with an actual Events Permit that makes it official.

It is well accepted that PtY is a very special beer, but non-beer fans may still scratch their heads at the fanaticism it brings. What are some things the average person may not realize about the brew – from time involved, to ingredients – that sets it apart?

RRbrewing co brewery vatsNot everyone is willing to stand in line for hours to drink beer, I get that. With the recent release of Star Wars VII, I found it rather head-scratching to see people camping out for days just to see a movie. The folks over at Apple have had to become good at crowd control, too, when they release whatever latest version of the iPhone. Pliny the Younger IS a special beer and we take great pride in making it better every year through hop selection and fine-tuning the brewing process. Younger takes about 6 weeks to make, tying up already precious tank space. The fermentation is longer due to the higher alcohol, and it is dry-hopped 4 times. Pliny the Elder takes only 3 weeks from brew to package. The extra malt and hops in Younger makes the final yields extremely low, thus making it the most expensive beer in our portfolio! Brewing it just once a year is not only fiscally responsible, but it keeps it special to both us and our loyal customers!

RRbrewing co pliny the younger brewing equipmentHave there ever been any variables/setbacks that have threatened PtY’s release, or is it safe to say we will be enjoying this event for many more years to come?

Managing the line and our neighboring businesses is the most challenging aspect of the release. We have worked very hard over the years to minimize the negative impact on Downtown. Sometimes it is dampened by large amounts of rain, but nothing has ever threatened the release of Pliny the Younger!

Despite Russian River’s beers receiving overwhelming and far reaching praise, you guys have kept production outputs and expansion to a relatively mellow pace. What sort of principles have guided this impressive commitment to quality and thoughtful growth, especially in the face of such rampant development in the craft beer industry?

IMG_0258_1Vinnie and I are firm believers that fast growth is not a sustainable path for our business or our personal life. Organic and conservative growth fits with our business philosophies and our intense commitment to quality. We are constantly reinvesting in our company to make things better. Last year we installed a brand new 50bbl brew house at the production brewery. Our kitchen staff is enjoying a new dishwasher and a 3 compartment sink. The bathrooms at the pub are getting a much-needed facelift. And we have invested about $250K in our small lab! In the past couple of years we also successfully bought out all of our remaining investors. Now we are busy paying off debt and figuring out our next move. This is a lifestyle venture for us and we love what we do.

Get all the details regarding Pliny the Younger’s release at http://russianriverbrewing.com/pliny-the-younger-release/

Cheers!

 

Screen shot 2016-02-03 at 6.29.03 PMTOM EDWARDS spent most of his life in Nevada and abroad, moving to Sonoma County about ten years ago to attend Sonoma State University. Despite graduating with a Kinesiology degree, he became so engrossed with homebrewing and the craft beer world that he decided to pursue a job within the industry, eventually leading to a brewer position at Bear Republic Brewing. On top of brewing, Tom has worked intermittently as a freelance writer, and tries desperately to devote any remaining time to cycling.