All Hopped Up For The Cure 2014

Last night, Russian River Brewing kicked off their annual month-long All Hopped Up For the Cure charity event, raising money for the local Sutter Medical Services in Santa Rosa and specifically their Breast Care Center. They do it every October, in conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a cause owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo feel quite deeply about. It’s a big one for me, too. I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was only 21, when she was just 42. More than two dozen Summit doctors and breast cancer survivors were on hand to show their support. While this year’s efforts just began, there’s plenty of time to stop by the brewpub and help this very important cause in a variety of ways. As they do each year, there are three big items that are being auctioned, and raffle tickets are available until the drawing takes place, on October 30th, 2014 during their annual Halloween Bash. You need not be present to win, but you do have to answer your phone when Natalie calls from the stage. Here’s what you can win:


Raffle tickets can be bought at the pub and placed in lucite boxes at the front of the brewpub. You can also purchase raffle tickets without visiting the pub by contacting Aura Helwick at


The big prize is a brand new White Vespa Primavera 150cc with “All Hopped Up for the Cure” decals. The winner is responsible for claiming their prize in person at Revolution Moto in Santa Rosa! Must be 18 to win. Must answer the phone if/when I call at around 10pm on Oct. 30 to be eligible to win! Raffle tickets are $10 each or 3 for $25.


There’s also a Pink Electra Amersterdam Joyride bicycle, graciously donated by The Bike Peddler in Santa Rosa! Raffle tickets are $5 each or 5 for $20.


And lastly for the big raffle items, a very cool Custom Built Guitar, a pink accoustic guitar hand-made by Timmy Lovold and friends! Raffle tickets are $10 each or 3 for $25.

Brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo also created a special beer for the events, Framboise For A Cure, which will be available on draft and in 375ml bottles available, but only at the brewpub. FFAC is a sour barrel-aged blonde ale with 31 pounds per barrel of fresh raspberries, giving it a beautiful reddish/pink hue. Each year, it’s only around until it runs out, though they’re setting aside a set number of bottles to sell each day so it’s not gone too soon, and 100% of proceeds from sales of this beer will be donated to Sutter. I had some last night, and it’s really tasty, with big fruit flavors, not too sour but just enough jammy, puckering goodness to keep sipping.


And finally, Russian River creates a new graphic each year for the event, and this year’s logo is really cool, as far as I’m concerned.


The logo is available on Men’s T-Shirts, a Men’s Workshirt and a Ladies T-Shirts. All three are available online or at the pub, with 100% of proceeds donated to Summit, as well.

Give generously this year to help make breast cancer a thing of the past, or at least increase the odds that more children don’t lose their mothers, husbands their wives or friends their friends to breast cancer.

Russian River Brewing To Get New Brewhouse

Well this is great news for Russian River beer lovers. I got the news last night that the Santa Rosa brewery will be getting some key new brewing equipment, installing a new brewhouse to replace the current one. The last brewhouse was installed in 2008, when they built their production brewery, increasing annual production from 3,000 barrels to 14,000 barrels, a 466% increase. In February of next year, they’ll be swapping out the old one to install a 4 vessel 50-barrel brew house from AAA Metal Fabrication in Oregon. So how to make beer while the new kettles are being installed? Here’s how, from the press release:

Since this is an equipment swap, there will be no way to brew at their production brewery for about a month. This will not only affect beer sales at their pub, but wholesale distribution since all packaged beer is brewed at this facility (Pliny fans should be gasping right about now). Alas, have no fear! Vinnie and Natalie’s good friends at Firestone Walker Brewing Company have graciously offered to brew several batches of Pliny the Elder to keep the beer flowing during this downtime at Russian River! Firestone Walker will brew Pliny the Elder for draft distribution only, and bottled Pliny will continue to come from Russian River through existing inventory in their fermenters. Vinnie will be working closely with Brewmaster Matt Brynildson to dial in the Pliny recipe in an effort to maintain flavor consistency. If you are at all familiar with the Firestone beers, you know their brewing practices and quality are already first class!

Vinnie and Natalie are grateful to their friends at Firestone Walker for helping them out during installation of the new brew house in February. It’s not exactly like borrowing a bag of malt! The ability to have an uninterrupted supply of draft Pliny the Elder for their wholesale partners and, especially, consumers is invaluable to them and the brewery. This is a true testament to the continued collaborative spirit and friendly nature of the Craft Beer Industry.

No word on when the swap is expected to be completed but the new shiny brewhouse will allow them to keep making great beer.

Here’s the Russian River crew in front of the old system, shortly after it was installed in 2008. As noted in the press release, Vinnie and Natalie bought it from Dogfish Head, but Sam Calagione in turn got it from Henry Ortlieb, a fourth generation brewer in the Ortlieb family, who as you can see, had it built in 1997 when he opened Poor Henry’s Brewery and Pub.


Limited Release Beer’s Pliny the Younger Video

During this year’s Pliny the Younger release day at Russian River Brewing last month, I met Ron and Rob, who have embarked on creating a video series of rare beer releases under the banner of Limited Release Beer. The idea is to go around the country documenting the brouhaha surrounding each rare beer’s release. So far they’ve done videos for Portsmouth’s Kate the Great, Three Floyd’s Dark Lord, Surly’s Darkness, and the Bruery’s Black Tuesday. The latest video, of course, was just released, and it was this year’s Pliny the Younger.

The video runs about 17 minutes, and includes some background history and information, the day itself, a nice interview with Vinnie Cilurzo talking about Pliny, a Mission Impossible-style animation of stealing some Pliny to take back to their “expert taster,” which turned out to be a trick. I assume that must be part of each episode, and they included it only because it’s in the other episodes, too. Then they finish up with their take on the event and some tips to help you survive the next one. All in all, a fun effort.

Limited Release – Episode 5, Pliny the Younger from Limited Release Beer on Vimeo.

Pliny the Younger Day 2013

This is the 9th year that Russian River Brewing has made their seasonal Triple I.P.A. Pliny the Younger, and the fourth year since it blew up into a huge event in 2010. I’ve been going every year since before then, and it’s been fun watching this event grow organically. This year was no exception, and was great fun. Oh, and the beer was pretty good, too.

Each year since they were caught off guard in 2010, they’ve made changes each year to streamline the day, make it easier for more people to get a taste of Pliny the Younger and keep the event from spiraling out of control.

When I arrived around 10:00 a.m., the line already stretched down the block from the brewpub entrance and turned the corner, running back to the beginning of the parking lot in the back of the block.

The first people in line this was a trio from San Rafael, who started waiting in line at 3:00 a.m. the night before!

Vinnie Cilurzo giving a last minute pep talk to the brewpub staff before opening the doors.

Then the entire staff drank a beer shot of Pliny the Younger to prepare themselves for the onslaught of thirsty patrons about to fill the brewpub.

Pliny the Younger 2013. This year’s version weighed in slightly higher than last year, at 10.8% a.b.v. The hop bill changed, Vinnie dropped Columbus, reduced the Tomahawk and stepped up Warrior, using it as the primary hop in the 30 day dry-hopping. Overall, Younger used Amarillo, Centennial, Chinook, Tomahawk and Warrior. He also changed the fermentation temperature, the dry hopping schedule and used even more hops. The result was an even smoother taste, amazing balance and terrific hop character. Big and bold. Vinnie believes it’s the best Younger yet, and it’s hard to disagree.

The first customers of the day, having waited in line 8 hours for this moment. There were about 325 people in line when they opened the doors around 10:30, half an hour early.

Vinnie Cilurzo, enjoying the day.

One fun moment during the celebration, on stage, with Bell’s Hopslam. Last week, John Mallet from Bell’s Brewing came for a visit and left a case of their Triple IPA, Hopslam, and Vinnie and Natalie promised that they’d drink some of the beer on Pliny the Younger Day so Bell’s could post it on their Facebook page. [NOTE: So just to be clear, this is NOT Younger in bottles. There is NO Pliny the Younger in bottles.]

Vinnie and Natalie slamming some Bell’s Hopslam. What did Mallett have to say about this year’s Younger? “It tastes like the rub table at hop selection.”

By lunchtime, the brewpub was packed, and the line stretched down the block with people waiting for their turn to come in all day long.

Back in the brewery, a final moment toasting with Natalie and Vinnie. Here’s to Pliny the Younger 2013.

As I left the brewpub, relinquishing my spot for the next lucky person, I surveyed the line outside one last time, and noticed two artists capturing the spectacle in paint.

Upcoming Pliny The Younger Day On NBC

New England Cable News, an NBC News affiliate, had a nice video on Russian River Brewing, and Pliny the Elder and the upcoming Pliny the Younger release, which this year will take place February 1. It’s a nice piece, by Garvin Thomas, but when they return to the Anchor, she should have just kept her mouth shut, instead putting her foot well and truly in it. But watch the video first, concentrate on the good vibes, and see if you notice it, too.

At the end, they talk about the poll that the American Homebrewers Association takes annually, asking nationwide members to pick the best beer in America, and how Pliny has been picked as #1 four years in a row. The 2012 Poll got a record 16,445 votes from homebrewers around the country. But that didn’t stop the snark. Understandably, since this is New England Cable News, the announcer chided the list because there were no New England breweries in the Top 25 and the highest ranked New England beer was Samuel Adams, which tied for #31. I understand that’s their audience but was the snark really necessary? She then states almost all of the beers on the list were from the West Coast, saying “not a surprise since the American Homebrewers Association is based in California,” implying that the voting must have been rigged in favor of West Coast beers. Of course, the AHA has been in Boulder, Colorado since 1978 and has members all across the U.S., not concentrated in the Western states. That was just moronic and completely unnecessary. Congratulations to Vinnie and Natalie on the coverage.

Russian River Toronado 25th Anniversary Beer

Today Russian River Brewing‘s newest beer is being released, and it’s been some time in the making. It’s a blended beer made with six beers, only two of which are actual finished beers made before, with the other four being brewed just for blending purposes. Some of the beers had been aging for many months before finally being blended and bottled in April of this year, with additional yeast added to referment in the bottle. The beer, if you haven’t guessed, is the Toronado 25th Anniversary, made for the San Francisco pub’s silver anniversary which takes place next week, though the celebrating has already begun.

Tuesday night there was an intimate beer dinner in the back room of the Toronado, to introduce the new beer for their 25th anniversary, which was called the “Toronado 25th Anniversary Dinner and Blending Session.” Homebrew Chef Sean Paxton did the food but was told he could only use one plate. In typical crazy Paxton bizarro world, he did exactly as he was told, but found the biggest plate any one of us had ever seen. The ginormous plate of many foods was paired with all six of the base beers used to create the beer.

Known as “The Plate,” it included 547 Pate (Willie Bird turkey thighs, Liberty Duck — breasts, hearts, livers — and Sonoma County pork, marinated in Toronado 25th Anniversary, mixed with bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, thyme and pistachios), Haight Street Sausage (Sonoma County pork — shoulder, jowl and belly meat — cold smoked in Russian River Consecration barrel staves and mixed with currants soaked in Toronado 20th Anniversary, caramelized shallots and lemon thyme), Egg Head Customers (quail eggs pickled in malt vinegar infused with coriander, bay leaves, chilies and salt with red beets and sugar, garnished with a mushroom flaked sale), Fungi Dave (Petaluma chicken sous vide in Russian River Beatification, chopped and mixed with fennel, candied lemon peel and a Beatification aioli with paper thin mushroom slices, garnished with fennel pollen and truffle salt), Duck Duck Canapé (Liberty Duck confit in Toronado 25th Anniversary, made into rillettes infused with dried sour cherries topped with confit duck hearts on a hemp chia and sesame seed cracker), Riff Riff Salad (Mixed marble potatoes, green bean, yellow wax bean, apple smoked bacon and hydroponic watercress salad tossed with a Beatification funkigrette), Bejkr Bread, Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese, Beatification Jelly, Fatted Calf European-style Ham, and a slice of ripe melon.

The six base beers were:

  1. Sonambic
  2. Blonde Ale
  3. Strong Pale Ale
  4. Ale Aged with Currants
  5. Strong Dark Ale
  6. Baltic Porter

Around 60-70 people in the back room of the Toronado for the Toronado 25th Anniversary Dinner and Blending Session.

I was fortunate enough to be seated at the table with my friend (and Washoes partner), Toronado owner Dave Keene, along with ….

Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River Brewing.

Each table setting included a pipette and an empty tulip glass so that everyone could use the six base beers to blend their own beer.

Arne Johnson, from Marin Brewing, working on his own blend.

Jen Garris, from Pi Bar, Dave’s wife Jen Smith, and Natalie Cilurzo.

All six base beers with the finished product in the middle, the Toronado 25th Anniversary. If you look closely in the center, you can see the proportions for my two attempts at blending my own beers. Both of them turned out pretty well, with the second being more sour than the first (which was what I was going for).

There was also extra pate and the Toronado 25th Anniversary along with a taste of the Toronado 20th Anniversary beer, too.

Sean slipped in a second plate, with a dessert on it, a Toronado ‘Bar’ Cookie (a dark chocolate brownie topped with grafitti composed of oats, pistachios, dried cherries and ribbons of malt syrup).

Dave Keene showing off the special bread Sean Paxton made for him.

At the end of the evening, Vinnie revealed the actual blend percentages for the base beers used to create the Toronado 25th Anniversary, which were:

  1. Sonambic = 4%
  2. Blonde Ale = 16%
  3. Strong Pale Ale = 36%
  4. Ale Aged with Currants = 28%
  5. Strong Dark Ale = 12%
  6. Baltic Porter = 4%

Dave Keene and Vinnie Cilurzo at the end of a great evening, holding a bottle of the Toronado 25th Anniversary.

After which, the stogies came out and the evening began, with Matt Bonney, from Brouwers in Seattle, and Dave Keene getting things started. Thanks Dave, Jen, Sean, Vinnie and Natalie for spectacular evening. As of today, the new beer is available for sale. Pick up some as soon as you can, because when it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s more details on the Russian River Blog on how to get a bottle of your very own. Basically it’s $25 per bottle with a limit of two bottles per day, and it’s very limited. But stop by Russian River’s brewpub tonight for a taste of it on draft.

Pliny the Younger Day 2012

Now fixed as the first Friday in February, today was Pliny the Elder Day for 2012 at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, California.

When I arrived around 10:30, the line stretched from the entrance of the brewpub to the end of the block. I’m told the first fans arrived at around 6:00 a.m. this morning to wait for a taste of this year’s triple IPA.

Owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo now set limits on the number of people that can be in the pub at any give time, unlike two years ago, when it devolved into a madhouse. Between that, and the elimination of growler sales, it remained blissfully civilized inside throughout the morning.

I found a table with some friends, and Natalie brought over a copy of today’s Press Democrat, which featured a story about Russian River’s big day — Credit the Hops — which I read as I enjoyed my first Pliny the Younger of the year.

This year’s version seemed smoother than previous years, and the hops, while monstrously omnipresent, were nonetheless very well balanced and never harsh. This may be my favorite batch yet, particularly because of the smoothness. Plus, it never seemed like a 10.7% beer. The strength was relatively muted behind a rich, thick mouthfeel of full flavors, so that the alcohol never dominated. It seems almost counter-intuitive to use the word delicate for such a big beer, but that why it’s so great, because despite its heft, it’s also complex and elegant; quite recherché.

Meanwhile the patio outside filled up, too. Here Dan DelGrande (co-owner of Bison Brewing), Steve Shapiro (of Beer By BART) and Stephen Johnson (from New Brew Thursday) enjoy some sunshine and Pliny.

While back inside, the bar was full, but not overcrowded.

Eventually, it was time to leave, and hosts Vinnie and Natalie said so long as they toasted another successful Pliny the Younger Day.

Look for Pliny the Younger at select accounts throughout the Bay Area and at their Santa Rosa brewpub for at least the next two weeks. Around 30% more was brewed this year, but you can still expect it to sell out fast, so don’t wait around too long if you’re hoping to get a taste of this year’s triple IPA.

New Pliny The Elder Video By The Famous

The San Francisco-based band The Famous regularly plays the beer circuit and can frequently be seen performing at beer festivals and brewpubs around the Bay Area. They’re a terrific band. I’ve seen them several times, most recently at Vinnie Cilurzo’s 40th birthday party at Russian River Brewing. At Vinnie’s party, The Famous did a song created for the occasion, Pliny the Elder or The Pliny Song, an awesome little homage to the beer and the man it was named for. They’ve now recorded a studio version of it, and have created a music video to go along with it. Enjoy.

The Countdown Begins: 3 To Go

There are only three more beer dinners left that will be held at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco. For the past eight years, the Beer Chef, Bruce Paton, has done over 60 beer dinners featuring beers from around the corner and across the world. But what you probably didn’t know is that many of the recent dinners have been done on borrowed time. A medical corporation owns the land that the hotel is situated on, and for many years has been planning on building a new hospital there. It’s been postponed several times already and the hotel’s been able to keep renting rooms and doing beer dinners. But that’s finally coming to a close as a date is now set and the Cathedral Hill Hotel will be closing.

Only three more beer dinners will be held, and the first of those will take place on Friday, September 18. The dinner will feature the beers of Russian River Brewing. It will be a four-course dinner, and well worth the $100 price of admission. It will begin with a reception at 6:30 p.m. Call 415.674.3406 for reservations before it’s sold out. I’ll see you there.

The Menu:

Reception: 6:30 PM

Beer Chef’s Hors D’Oeuvre
Beer: Huge Large Sound Czech Pils

Dinner: 7:30 PM

First Course

A Mélange of Delicacies from the Sea
Beer: Temptation

Second Course:

Salad of Pepper Cress, Crispy Sweetbread, Cage Free Egg, Cambazola Cheese, Duck Prosciutto, Oven Dried Toy Box Cherry Tomatoes, Avocado, Roasted Corn Vinaigrette
Beer: Empirical 7

Third Course:

Beer Chef’s Surf and Turf
Beer: Hopfather

Fourth Course:

Beer: Consecration and Salvation

Bruce Paton, the Beer Chef, with Vinnie Cilurzo, from Russian River Brewing, at an earlier beer dinner.

Dinner with the Brewmaster: Russian River Brewing
Cathedral Hill Hotel, 1101 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, California
415.674.3406 [ website ]