This is the fifth post in the West Coast! A Week in San Francisco and Sonoma Series. Other posts in this series include Sonoma Starlight at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Sonoma Wine Country Weekend – Taste of Sonoma 2015, Glen Ellen Star Sonoma, and Santé Restaurant at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
Beer from Russian River Valley Brewing Company is really, really hard to get.
Trust us, we’ve tried.
This phenomenal beer from California’s Russian River Valley has reached a cult-like status around the world. You can really only get it in Northern California, and even then, quantities are extremely limited. At the Cask in San Francisco, for example, shipments arrive once a week on Tuesdays. Within a couple hours, the entire allotment for the week runs out. This happens despite the fact that the store only allows customers to buy one bottle each.
I’ve been lucky enough to try Russian River’s flagship beer, Pliney the Elder, the few times Bryan has brought back a couple bottles. I love the hoppy complex beer, and was totally on board with trying to visit brewery.
Russian River Brewing Company does not open its brewing facilities to the public, although it does have a brew pub as well as a gift shop.
Lines can get super long. We showed up around 11:30AM and there was already a sizeable line outside the door. We waited for about 30 minutes before reaching the door, where they finally took our name down and told us that the wait was yet another 1.5 -2 hours from that point.
Once you reach the front of the line, you can at least go inside the building, where you can shop at the gift shop or get drinks at the bar. If you’re really lucky, you might even be able to score a bar seat and get seated early.
We hovered for only about 5 minutes inside before two bar seats opened up.
At the restaurant, you can try ALL of their current brews. There’s unlimited amounts of Pliney the Elder, their largest production beer.
For just around $20, you can try a taste of every single beer they make. It’s great to share, and it’s a nice, structured way to trying every single beer they have. The beers come clearly marked on this nice wooden board. The tastes are ordered from light to dark, ending with some pretty funky sour beers.
It was super fun to try so many different types of beers. I fell in love with Supplication, an incredible brown ale based sour beer that’s aged for 12 months in used pinot noir barrels together with cherries, brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus. The flavors are gorgeously complex. Pliney the Elder, their flagship double IPA, was still one of my favorites.
It was really fun to try some of their other style beers, like their Belgian-inspired beers, stouts, pilsners, and much more. We tried 19 beers in total. They even gave us a little sheet with descriptions so we could follow along. The wooden board on which all the beer tastes sit includes bottle caps that identify each beer.
The food is simple but beer-friendly and tasty. We started with a healthy Asian chicken salad that included fresh spinach, Mandarin oranges, and lots of other vegetables.
We also enjoyed a freshly baked pizza with sausage, corn, and pickled jalapenos. It was the perfect food to enjoy with beer.
The gift shop is pretty small and quite crowded. Instead of fighting with lines again at the shop, we ordered everything we wanted from our table. They’ll give you a catalog at the table where you can just order stuff. They add it to your bill and it’s all pretty seamless.
We found out the limit at the restaurant was one case of Pliney the Elder per person. Even though we were flying all the way back to California, Bryan insisted that we each buy a case. We also got several other bottles, like my beloved Supplication and some other fermented beers (can you tell I love sour beers?).
Hee hee, we ended up trying our best to keep the beers safe by stuffing the boxes full of our socks, clothing, etc. They survived the trip OK. We only lost one bottle, which broke in our luggage and made all of our clothes temporarily smell like Pliney the Elder. Worse things could have happened.
Now, I have Plineys to last me for quite some time before we run out. 🙂
Russian River Brewing Company
725 4th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404