Brewery profile - Russian River Brewing Co.
When one thinks of the Russian River area north of San Francisco, the last thing that comes to mind is a cutting-edge, Belgian-inspired wild brewhouse. The story of how this good but relatively unremarkable Northern California brewery became so unique is an interesting one. Prior to 2002, Russian River Brewing Co. was owned and run by Korbel Champagne Cellars, a well-known sparkling wine vintner in the Russian River Valley appellation. When it decided to sever its connections to the brewing facility, head brewer Vinnie Cilurzo bought the company and opened up a new brewing facility to cater to his somewhat mad concepts which involve integrating his knowledge of brewing and winemaking. Barrel aging, wild yeast and bacterial strains, méthode champenoise - these are just some of the techniques being experimented with in their newest bottlings. If you do manage to get your hands on a bottle or two, you can even check their online bottling log for information about the specific batch you've got your hands on.
The pub's apparently worth a visit, too. Consider for a minute some of the awards it won in the 2005 North Bay Bohemian reader's poll: Best Free Entertainment and Best Spot for Mindless Chatter.
I, for one, and a huge fan of free entertainment and mindless chatter, believing that the former can often derive from the latter, and am an equally huge fan of their deliriously inventive wild brews. Since I can't comment appropriately on the first two, I'll just go ahead and give a quick run-down on a couple of their recent efforts, beautifully bottled in champagne cork-stoppered 350 mL bottles.
Supplication - Brown Ale Aged in Oak Barrels with Cherries Added
Yum. Refermented in the bottle. Aged for 12 months in used Pinot Noir barrels, and it shows. The bret shows through in a lactic sourness that, combined with the aroma of cherries, displays many of the same characteristics as the finest kriek you can get your hands on here in the states. This is a dry, crisp, delicately effervescent, and vinuous brew that's maybe just a little heavy on the oak. Considering it's bottled with a few years of aging in mind, I imagine that the oak flavor would mellow as it marries into the rest of the palate.
Temptation - Blonde Ale Aged in Oak Barrels
Yum yum. Again, refermented in the bottle. This batch, compared to the other, was aged for 12 months in used Chardonnay bottles. And, again, it shows.Predominantlyy oaky, with vanilla on the front end and coconut on the finish. On their site, they say it "needs some age to mellow out some of the wine flavors that were contributed from theChardonnayy barrels", and I would tend to agree. Both of these beers would benefit highly (unlike most beers, mind you) from being kept in a cool cellar for a few years.
If you're a fan of lambics or Flanders red ales, you would do best to search these out, or order them online direct from the brewery. You may even want to stock up. Considering the amount of risk Russian River is engaging in by tying up their storage space with niche beers that take a year to age before bottling, it's hard to say how long they'll survive in our B-to-the-E world...