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Russian River Brewing expansion update

Vinnie CilurzoOne unusual day last fall, Vinnie Cilurzo – owner, brewer and sometimes forklift operator at Russian River Brewing Co.wasn’t brewing.

He climbed on his forklift when a truck driver showed up with much-needed growlers, took phone calls, planned out the next week of brewing and bottling, and set out tasks for his assistants. All before lunch, so that in the afternoon he could work on a business plan for separate production brewery.

At one point he grabbed a 6-gallon carboy in his left hand hand and a hose in the other, quickly rinsing the glass container and dumping out the water. He swirled his right hand about the brewery, his index finger extended.

“I don’t want to give this up,” he said. “This is the thing I can contribute the most to this company.

“I don’t think I’ll ever give up brewing,” he said. “I’ve had other brewers and brewery owners tell me that eventually I’ll have to.”

He shook his head.


He’s about to find out how easy it will be to run and brew at a production brewery.

He expects the brewery, also located in Santa Rosa, Calif., to be up and running in January. He talked about progress last month after making a presentation at the National Homebrewers Conference in Denver.

He and his wife and co-owner, Natalie, struck a deal in April to buy a 50-barrel brewhouse from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware. They’ve acquired property not far from the brewpub and financing, and now are working their way through permitting and construction.

Not surprisingly for those who know the Cilurzos – “We’re conservative,” Vinnie said – they have a well thought out plan. A few of the basics:

Production – The goal is 6,000 barrels in 2008 and 7,000-8,000 in the next few years. “The max would be 12-to- 15,0000 barrels,” Cilurzo said. “I don’t want to get any bigger.”

The hoppy beers – Pliny the Elder (an Imperial/Double IPA) and Blind Pig IPA will be bottled for the first time. “But I don’t know how much Elder we’ll ship in bottles.”

Pliny the Younger (a triple IPA) will be brewed once a year and in 2008 will be draft only.

Cilurzo hasn’t settled on a bottle size for Blind Pig and Pliny the Elder, but is determined not to sell his beers in six packs. He prefers a 750ml-capped bottle or a 16-ounce bottle for those beers.

The non-barrel ‘-tion’ beers – Redemption (a monks’ strength beer at 4.8% abv), Perdition (a Belgian-inspired pale ale) and Salvation (dark and strong) should all be nearly as easy to find as the flagship Damnation (strong and golden). Cilurzo particularly wants to promote Redemption. “It’s everything I believe in, that we need more lower alcohol Belgian-style beers,” he said. “It is something we do at the pub.”

The brewery will us increase production of Santification, a beer 100 percent fermented with Brettanomyces.

All of those are sold in corked and caged 750ml bottles.

The barrel beers (also ‘-tion’) – The barrel room will have the a capacity to produce 560-plus beer barrels (31 gallons each) per year. Cilurzo recently picked up additional used Pinot Noir barrels (for Supplication) and 100 used Cabernet Sauvignon barrels (American oak). He hasn’t decided what fruit he will blend with a base beer (and of course wild yeast) in those barrels. Affordable used Chardonnay barrels are getting harder to find, so there may be less Temptation in the future.

(Just to be clear, when brewers refer to barrels they mean a measure of 31 gallons. Most wine barrels hold 225 liters, a little less than 60 gallons.)

Then there’s Beatification. Once barrels give up their wine character they’ll be used to age Beatification, which is spontaneously fermented using native yeast from within the brewery. Instead of calling it a Lambic, Cilurzo has dubbed it a Sonamic. A single batch may take two years to produce, and multiple batches may be blended for a bottling.

The standard size for the barrel beers is 375ml (again corked).

Distribution – Currently, Russian River sells beer only in California and Pennsylvania. Virginia and the District of Columbia will soon receive beer along with Pennsylvania (Masschusetts would likely be the next state added in the East). In the West, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington will be the first markets.

One final quick prediction: None will get as much Russian River beer as they want.


15 Responses to Russian River Brewing expansion update

  1. SteveH July 27, 2007 at 6:44 am #

    As long as you’re updating progresses, any word from Dan & Deb on their progress (since RR seems it will never be available in the midwest anyway…)?

  2. Stan Hieronymus July 27, 2007 at 8:19 am #

    Steve – When I talked to them in April things were on schedule for brewing in the fall. But that doesn’t mean they are shipping beyond Wisconsin.

    I suggest reading Teri Fahrendorf’s account of a recent visit.

  3. SteveH July 27, 2007 at 8:31 am #

    “But that doesn’t mean they are shipping beyond Wisconsin.”

    I can almost throw a baseball from my front yard over the Wisconsin border. 🙂

  4. stonecrusher July 27, 2007 at 9:10 am #

    Who the heck cares about NG? We’re talking about RR here.

    I’ve got my tire puncture strips ready and have polished up my machine gun. That RR truck bound for PA is never gonna make it Vinnie. We’ll be lying in wait.

    Why PA and not WI?

    How hath we offended thee?

  5. Loren July 27, 2007 at 10:02 am #

    Never thought I would believe the day when BOTTLED Blind Pig IPA became a reality.

    If two people in the brewing biz deserve to be filthy rich based on their personal characters alone…it’s none other than Vinnie and Natalie.

    Bring on the oink!

  6. SteveH July 27, 2007 at 10:08 am #

    Why PA and not WI?

    And that would be why I brought up NG. Aside from the expansion connection, that is.

    Honestly, I’ve heard the ravings about RR forever, but have never had the opportunity to try it because of their low distribution. Sorry, I’ve lost interest.

  7. Clark July 27, 2007 at 10:14 am #

    Why not trade for it? It certainly is worth it, after all.

    I wonder when it will make it to Massachusetts? Would it be some time in 2008??

  8. SteveH July 27, 2007 at 10:48 am #

    I used to trade when I had better access to UPS and PO deliveries. Now that I’m in a big company I don’t like risking those soggy, smelly boxes being delivered to my desk…

    Besides, there’s honestly enough good beer in my area to keep me occupied! I’ll save RR for a vacation sometime.

  9. Jeff July 27, 2007 at 5:51 pm #

    The only part of the story that sounds strange is that the brewery was bought from Dogfish Head. What the heck is DFH doing owning a brewery all this time in Santa Rosa?

  10. Stan Hieronymus July 27, 2007 at 7:44 pm #

    Jeff – Sorry about that. I went back and added “in Delaware.” this is the 50 barrel system that Dogfish Head put up for sale when it expanded.

    Vinnie was in Delaware this week breaking it down. It will remain in storage until this end of the year.

  11. Jeff Alworth July 28, 2007 at 11:24 am #

    I am the charter member and chief cheerleader for Pliny the Elder in the Porltland area. It makes a single annual arrival for the OBF every year, and every year I promote it almost to the exclusion of other beers. I would pay many sheckles for a bottle should such a thing ever arrive, and therefore your post has filled me with joy and hope, even as the coating of Pliny’s hops (double entendre intended) slowly dissipates from my tongue. I may head back down to the Fest tomorrow (one day for recovery) just for a final pour.


  12. Pete Baur August 14, 2007 at 2:07 pm #

    To the Charter Member and Chief Cheerleader — we are your minions! Ever since the brewfest, have not been able to get the Elder off the mind and soul. NEED a bottle. NEED many bottles.

    Out in Corbett, half-way to Full Sail, and would be fun to stay in touch since we are realtively close. What a hoot.

  13. nels August 14, 2007 at 3:37 pm #

    “…Cilurzo has dubbed it a Sonamic”

    Are you sure he didn’t mean Sonomic, as in, from Sonoma County?

  14. Stan Hieronymus August 14, 2007 at 4:02 pm #

    Nels – He typed Sonamic in writing the speech he delivered at the Craft Brewers Conference. Since the beer is still a year or more from being released he has time to change his mind.

  15. Gilmango September 6, 2007 at 5:35 pm #

    Sonomic or Sonombic is a term created by Moonlight Brewing’s Brian Hunt and adopted by Vinnie to honor the fact that Lambic is a geographically limited term (e.g., like Champagne or Burgundy or Barolo). So the words Sonoma and Lambic were combined. Meaning made in Sonoma of only naturally occurring yeasts (no ale or lager yeast used, no brett innoculated barrels used, just open fermentation allowing wort to spontaneously ferment).

    Beatification ? Batch 002, 100% spontaneously fermented
    Sonamic (Sonoma + Lambic = Sonambic)

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