The Holy Ale

RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING COMPANY

I suppose all spiritual quests eventually lead to the same place. The top of the mountain. The highest peak. And the chance to sit before the master. And in Santa Rosa, the position of big kahuna is held by Russian River Brewing Company. If hop heaven can be found on earth, this just might be the place.

RRBC is also right downtown on Fourth Street. If anything, its appearance is modest compared to the immense, dare we say, legendary reputation these beers have garnered. So, before we get there, a little history is in order. Russian River actually started quite near the Russian River on the Korbel Champagne Cellars property in Guerneville. As legend would have it, Korbel bailed on the brewery business and generously bestowed the brand to brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo and his wife Natalie. The rest is what you could call storied beer history. From Korbel’s small hop garden, Vinnie received a field education on growing and brewing with fresh, “wet” hops. The most celebrated Russian River brews get the locally grown, farm to brew treatment, the results of which have put these offerings way high on the world’s beer map.

Fast-forward to today and you’re sitting in one of the world’s most buzzed about breweries. And while they brew an eclectic range of beers, one in particular has captured the imagination, and high acclaim, of the so-called ale-teligencia. Pliney The Younger is a Double IPA. Actually, nearly a triple, with three times the amount of hops as a regular IPA. The thing is, it’s so time and space and cost consuming to make, that RRBC only brews it once a year. And therein lies the key element of Pliney The Younger’s almost mythic reputation. It’s incredibly hard to come by.

Come Pliny The Younger time, the beer is released to extremely small distribution, and lines form at the pub for a taste of the beer that made Santa Rosa famous (at least in certain beer geek circles). You’re limited in how much you can have and how long you can stay. That way everyone gets a turn. And, yes, it’s true, beer lovers come from all over for a few sips of Pliney The Younger. However, it would be shameful to dismiss the rest of Russian River’s incredible line-up. Pliney’s adopted uncle, (it’s on old story we’ll save for another time) Pliney The Elder is brewed year round and (only a little) easier to come by. If you ask me, and most of the people who work there, Blind Pig is the best beer in the house. Particularly if you like that fresh, hoppy, citrus, pine, almost fruity flavor with a dry, bitter finish. 

Sitting here at the Russian River Brewing Company pub bar, it’s hard not to feel like you’re a part of something much bigger. Like maybe this is just the beginning of the journey, not the end. Maybe true hoppyness can be found. Maybe not. But here in Santa Rosa, the journey couldn’t be more fun.