Saturday, January 18, 2014

Russian River Brewing Company Field Trip

It's MLK weekend 2014. What does the Northern California division of Greens and Machines decide to do on it's day off? Make the pilgrimage to Russian River Brewing Company of course. My roommate and I, joined by our friend Padawan Kannan of "My Lack of Writing Skill", set off on our journey across Northern California to try the legendary brews of Russian River. Russian River Brewing Company is most known for their IPAs, specifically Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger. Although Younger is not ready yet, Elder is still worth going to get. Additionally, they make quite a few sour beers. This was a perfect opportunity to load up on craft beer and try a sour.
Russian River facade
Located in Santa Rosa, CA

We started our journey leaving Davis at around 1:30pm, grabbing some chips and picking up our third amigo before departing. Our path took us through the south part of wine country, specifically CA Route 12. We passed dozens of wineries and hundreds of grape vines on the way over. Since it is January, all the vines are still in dormancy, so much of the scenery was brown and dull. Regardless, I got to see many of the things my winemaking professor taught us about growing grapes at the vineyard.
Wine country
All the vines look like giant twigs.
After about an hour and a half of driving, we finally made it to Santa Rosa. It wasn't hard to find the brewery, as it was the only building on the street with a line way out the door. Luckily for us, we got through the line and put our name in for a table rather quickly.
Russian River Tanks
Some of the large tanks
The first thing I noticed when I entered was the large shelf of growlers in the corner. I knew my roommate was going to be buying one during the trip, but I wasn't expecting our other passenger to be buying one too. Sadly, I was the only person to not bring one back home at the end of the day. Regardless, the container is still pretty cool to look at. I worry that one of them will drop and break the thing when it's full (disaster!). My roommate has been treating that thing like it was his first born child since he has had it home. He refers to it as a magically lamp with a "beer genie" inside it. I guess we can call it that since he got his filled up with Pliny the Elder.
Russian River growlers
The legendary Russian River growler
To help pass the time before we got our table, we went to order some drinks from the bar. Kannan picked up a pale ale (Row 2, Hill 56), my roommate got the IPA (Blind Pig), and I got the Imperial Porter (Shadow of a Doubt). I enjoyed the porter, even though my pour was half the size of the other beers. The other two picked up their growlers at this time.
Russian River bar
I think the camera had too much to drink....
A little time passed (which was used to explore some other shops in town and put the growlers in the car) between when we had our beer to when we got our table. I really enjoyed the food we had; the pizza was good and the beer bites were tasty. The real treat at dinner though was the sampler we got.
Russian River sampler
Sampler of all 18 brews on tap
The sampler was a carrier containing 4 oz of each of the 18 of the beers they had on tap. Their selections were divided 10-8 between Belgian and California style ales. The California ones were all pretty hoppy, just they way they should have been. I enjoyed the darker beers the most (the stout and the porter). The Belgian selections were a bit more interesting.
Russian River bar menu
The brewpub and its menu
Three of the beers on the Belgian side were the sours, beer fermented using microorganisms other than Saccharomyces. They toss in other bugs like lactobacillus, pediococcus, and brettanomyces during the aging process to bring out the sour flavor by lowing the pH of the brew. To perfect the flavor profile for these beers, they age in old wine barrels. There is no shortage of used wine barrels in this part of California, so might as well use them for some crazy beer aging.
Russian River fermenter
60 bbl capacity tank in the backroom
Of these sour beers, I liked Supplication the most. That one was aged in used Pinot Noir barrels and tasted a little like wine unsurprisingly. The other two, Consecration (aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels) and Beatification (spontaneous fermentation) were also good, but then again, I didn't know what to except from a sour beer. From the infection I had in my homebrew, I knew that whatever bug I had didn't taste good. I think the method of aging in used oak barrels is the secret to keeping the flavors under control. Now if you are expecting me to brew up a sour beer now, don't count on it. It isn't easy to clean bad bugs from the equipment, and I do not want to contaminate existing equipment.
Downtown Santa Rosa
Checking out downtown before leaving
I can't say I disliked any of the beer they had at Russian River, but there were some I liked more than others. As mentioned before, I enjoyed the darker beers from the California side and Supplication. I'll give shout outs to Salvation, Perdition, and Rejection too, those ones appealed to my taste buds.

That concludes the trip to Russian River. Maybe I'll come back again next time to get a growler for myself. If you are ever in wine country, I recommend making the pilgrimage yourself. Maybe your taste buds will speak to you differently than mine did. What brewery should I visit next?

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