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.


Restaurant Week, Reviewed

Last week was Sonoma County Restaurant Week, and the Santa Rosa Out There blog ambassadors are here to tell you what was on the menu around town.

If you haven’t heard of, or gone out to eat during Restaurant Week, you’re going to want to. Participating eateries offer great values on prix-fixe menu options that highlight their locally sourced offerings. So mark your calendar for next March, and get all the information you need here. SonomaCounty.com/restaurant-week 

Amber Lucas, The Tudor Rose English Tea Room

Amber hit a few of her favorites during Restaurant Week, starting with one of the more unique spots in Downtown Santa Rosa, The Tudor Rose English Tea Room.

unnamed"On Friday afternoon I sat down to lunch (after choosing my hat from the wall), selecting their $15 prix fixe menu. It included a pot of tea, a selection of finger sandwiches, a savory pastry, a scone, and a cookie. The selection of sandwiches included cucumber and cream cheese with herbs, egg, and chevre with fig and candied pecans. For my tea I selected the Tudor Rose: it is a fragrant tea with hints of vanilla, and it is delightful with milk and sugar.

unnamed-3But it was the savory pastry that stole the show: buttery and flaky, it was stuffed with vegetables in a brown gravy sauce. My teapot shaped cookie was also a highlight; light and buttery while not being overly sweet. I hadn’t expected to leave full, thinking that I would be going for a “snack experience.” However I ended up leaving with leftovers!"

TudorRoseTeaRoom.com

 

Amanda Janik and Melissa Keyser, CIBO Rustico Pizzeria

By some incredible case of Out There coincidence, Amanda and Melissa both went to the same restaurant. That means you get CIBO Rustico reviewed by two of Santa Rosa’s leading voices on the local gourmand community.

Amanda had an old college friend in town. They chose CIBO Rustico as a way to hark back to their days of pocketing bottle deposit money to buy pizza.

"The space itself is inviting, with its long, family-style tables where you might be seated next to a stranger, but will almost certainly leave having made a new friend.

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Love of community is a clear presence at CIBO. The menu showcases the wine, beer, juice and produce of their neighbors. Behind the restaurant is the CIBO Organic Garden, where much of what you’ll find on your plate or pizza is grown.

We were seated right away and soon presented with a taste wines from around the neighborhood. First the D’argenzio Sagrantino. Then the Krutz Chardonnay. Then the D’argenzio Super Tuscan. Let’s just say: they were generous with their tastes. And, with everything for that matter. While technically they were participating in the 3-course dinner option of Restaurant Week, theirs was a 4-course meal which included an appetizer, second course, main course and dessert.

A quick glance at the menu shows that they make good use of their wood-fire oven. Many dishes are roasted and come out with that amazing smoky flavor. Between the two of us we sampled their Bufala Mozzarella and prosciutto-wrapped roasted asparagus appetizers, their organic arugula salad with shaved parmigiano and roasted prosciutto and their organic roasted cauliflower, broccolini, asparagus, string bean and green onion dish to start. We mulled over our many pizza options for a while - because pizza! - but finally settled on a pesto, garlic and prosciutto for Mary Ellen and a truffle oil, red pepper, mushroom and shaved parmigiano for me.

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Before we had to fret over which dessert to choose, the owner presented us with all three - all local and organic, of course. We shared a cold-pressed coffee with cashews, dates, vanilla beans and sea salt, a vanilla bean cashew milk with dates and sea salt, and my personal favorite, apple slices with burrata and black pepper honey.

After a very long and incredibly busy week, we were their last customers of Restaurant Week, and we were treated with such friendliness and warmth we barely noticed they’d turned off their ‘Open’ sign and were probably waiting desperately for us to leave so they could all go home and sleep for the next two days.

No amount of bottle deposit money could have given us such a nice evening back in our college days. Thank you, CIBO Rustico, for helping me impress my friend!"

Melissa’s experience was no less welcoming.

"Tucked between D’argenzio Winery and Fogbelt Brewery on Cleveland Ave., I had no idea that CIBO Rustico existed. My husband and I were the first to arrive for lunch, and the owner Ray welcomed us with a small pour of a voignier blend. I liked the place already!

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The menu for Restaurant Week consisted of 4 courses, and for lunch, you could choose two. I opted for the buffalo mozzarella with prosciutto and olive oil appetizer, and the fennel sausage mushroom pizza. My husband ordered wood fired mixed veggies and a margherita pizza. While chatting with Ray, we learned that they use veggies from local Imwalle Gardens and import special flour for the pizzas from Italy. The flowers gracing our table were from bolted broccoli, picked from their small patio garden outside.

While we waited for the pizzas to be baked in the wood oven, Ray treated us to a sample of roasted asparagus wrapped with prosciutto. This may have been my favorite dish of the afternoon. Pretty sure the only way to eat asparagus is to roast it at a billion degrees and surround it with salty ham. My sausage pizza was good, but I loved the margherita that my husband had. The sauce was intensely tomato-y and sweet, and you can’t go wrong with buffalo mozzarella. To procrastinate on having to adventure back out in the rain, we decided to also order dessert: burrata with apple slices, honey and black pepper. Because if there is burrata on the menu, one must always order burrata!

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It was a fabulous lunch, and I’m excited to know of another great place to eat in Santa Rosa."

CiboRustico.com

Amber Lucas, La Rosa Tequileria & Grille

Now back to Amber and her big day adventure taking in all the flavors of Sonoma County Restaurant week.

My next top was the La Rosa Tequileria & Grille. I had their $15 lunch menu, selecting the kale-citrus salad, black bean burger, and Mexican chocolate mousse for dessert. I have a thing for kale; I love to eat it while dining out, however, I cannot seem to master preparing it at home. I was excited to see vegetarian menu items (which can be a challenge to find during Restaurant Week), and couldn’t wait to dig in.

bar_3The kale and citrus salad was unexpected: I haven’t seen kale, grapefruit, red onions, and candied walnuts paired together before. The earthiness of the kale paired with the sharp sweetness of the grapefruit and oranges was interesting with the candied walnuts. The spicy black bean burger came topped with avocado, lettuce, garlic sauce, and cheese. Bean burgers can be a challenge, as they often can be dry. However my burger was dense and moist, and absolutely delicious. I was delighted to have such a hearty vegetarian option, and was beginning to wonder if I was going to have room for dessert.

mousse_0Thankfully, there is always room for dessert. The Mexican chocolate mousse was an absolute delight. Rich and creamy, without being too thick. The spiciness of the cinnamon was at the perfect balance, making this an instant favorite of mine. I could see myself returning just for this, when a strong craving for chocolate hits (which is often).

LaRosaSantaRosa.com


48 Hours In SR, v2: Dani Burlison

If you live in Santa Rosa and haven’t had visitors yet, just wait; you will. We here at OutThereSR have taken it upon ourselves to collect some favorite activities of people who actually live here. We asked them what they would choose to do if given 48 hours in Santa Rosa. Over the next few months we’ll be sharing what we found, so the next time your favorite uncle in Nebraska needs a getaway, you’ll be ready.

I asked local writer and Santa Rosa Junior College instructor Dani Burlison what 48 hours of showing friends around Santa Rosa would look like for her. This is what she had for us. (Pro tip: this article is going to be full of links since it’s chock full of places to check out. Don't hesitate to click away for a deeper dive into these cool destinations!)

Day 1

flying-goat-coffee-santa-rosa"The awesome thing about living in Santa Rosa is our proximity to so many cool things. On the first day, we’d get coffee at Flying Goat followed by a drive out to Bodega Bay and a hike at Pomo Canyon, which is the best hiking spot in Sonoma County with its redwoods and ferns and views of the Russian River AND the Pacific. We’d picnic at Shell Beach after the hike, and then walk along Kortum trail so we can check out the DIY community labyrinth (while meditating on the wonders and legacy of David Bowie).

church"On the way back to Santa Rosa, we'd of course stop at the church where The Birds was filmed in Bodega, then eat at the super-old, roadhouse-esque Casino, where legendary Santa Rosa restaurateur Mark Malicki serves his delicious food. After that we’d head back to Santa Rosa for an ice cream at Frozen Art in Roseland.

Day 2

museum"We’d again start with coffee, this time at this cool little spot, Brew, which serves both caffeine and beer, depending on what we need. We’d visit the Sonoma County Museum, it’s fairly nearby and always cool to check out, especially for out-of-towners. Then we’d take a morning hike up to Lake Ilsanjo at Annadel because I can’t let my visiting friends leave without a hike and seeing what I get to see all the time.

east-west-cafe"We’d have lunch at East West, which is super healthy and has a lot of gluten-free and vegan options for us pseudo hippies, followed by a matinee at Summerfield Cinemas; it’s perfect for my art nerd friends because they show great independent and artsy films and have popcorn with real butter!

la-texanita"We'd hit La Texanita in Roseland for fish tacos where those of us who actually live in Santa Rosa have been coming for ages, long before that Guy Fieri featured it on his program. We’d finish up with a cocktail in the mafia booth at Jack and Tony's whiskey bar in Railroad Square.

I have to agree with Dani. Many an evening has ended in the mafia booth at Jack and Tony’s, that’s for sure. Are we hitting any of your local favorites? Check back soon for more ideas for things to do with 48 hours in Santa Rosa, and in the meantime, share some of your go-to activities in the comments!


Romancing the Farmer Side of Wine Country

The Agrarian Lovers Ball -- not your grandparent's barn dance.

By Guest Blogger Evan Wiig

Between rolling hill after rolling hill of sprawling grapevines there simmers in Sonoma County an insurgence of agrarian romance, thanks to the Farmer's Guild. Nodding to yesterday’s traditions but also beckoning a future that’s within reach, these green-thumbed guerrillas and carbon cowboys gather to speak not only of tractors and the price of alfalfa, but of using soil to reverse climate change and collaborating towards a system of true food justice. And on behalf of visitors to Santa Rosa and its surroundings, this same community is working hard to assure that you’ll have something to eat alongside that glass of Chardonnay.

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Each February, brought together by The Farmers Guild, aspiring ranchers, well-seasoned farmers, local food advocates and more all converge in Sonoma County. Attracting crowds from across the state, their annual “Farmers Guild-Raising” concludes with an open invitation to the general public: come stomp some boots, share the bounty, and show your love for a new generation of sustainable agriculture: the Agrarian Lovers Ball.

IMG_6806Three years running, this month, on February 20, the ball takes place at the pavilion of Shone Farm, the gorgeous outdoor educational facility of Santa Rosa Junior College. A homegrown meal, local beer and wine, plus swingin’ live music to keep the crowds moving, this amorous celebration welcomes lovers of the soil, food-centric families, farm-bound couples ready to rekindle a post-season romance and yes, plenty of single young ranch-hands looking for love.

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This isn’t your wine-country Pinot Noir tasting stuffiness that some associate with Sonoma County, but a down-to-earth, DIY, dirt-under-your-fingernails kind of crowd. And while you’ll certainly find epicureans among them, the collective vision forged at The Farmers Guild and the upcoming Agrarian Lovers Ball is one in which good, honest food is a basic human right, one that is threatened each day by global warming, monopolization and the simple yet dangerous fact that America’s farmers are aging faster than we young clod-hoppers can fill their boots. So to preserve that right, that legacy and that basic human necessity, we must work hard, fight for food system reform… and, yes, make some love while we’re at it. Come celebrate with us!

For more information, visit www.farmersguild.org

evan wiig headshotEvan Wiig is the Director of the Farmers Guild, a statewide organization promoting the next generation of sustainable agriculture headquartered in Sonoma County.