Russian River Brewery: A Field Trip to the Nation’s Best?

Peruse the industry’s headline beer blogs, Ratebeer.com and Beeradvocate.com, and you will find Russian River Brewery on the top of most beer ratings boards.  You will also find rants and raves of beer zealots who would happily rip a bottle of Budweiser from your lips and slap your mother for raising such a heathen.  So, Hooch & Hops doesn’t set these sites as the de-facto resource for our brand of alcohol commentary.  But, there must be something to Russian River’s Pliny the Elder double-IPA and Belgian-style wild ales that causes them to consistently float to the top of Hot 100 lists.   We dropped by the Santa Rosa, California Brewery and Pub for a post-Christmas investigation.

Russian River has apparently expanded its fanbase beyond the BeerAdvocate cannibals.  Dropping in to a brewpub on a rainy Sunday afternoon, we expected a half dozen droopy-eyed denizens chatting it up with the bartender over a pint.  We received a shrug and a shouted, “35 minutes for a table” from the hostess over the uproar of a couple hundred cheery drinkers.  Although the “bar is free”… the bar wasn’t free and probably hadn’t been since the doors opened at 11am.   About half the populace was wearing the team uniform: RR T-Shirts or sweatshirts calling out Damnation or Pliny the Elder.   Our country-club polo’s concealed under dripping rain coats didn’t blend with local wildlife.  One in our party’s order of a caeser salad raised eyebrows of the waiter accustomed to pulling out more pizzas than a post-Tee Ball Pizza Party.  She paid the $3 extra for chicken, though, so he can button it up.  Snapping photographs of the environment wasn’t out of place, however.  This was a beer shrine.

A half hour in, our beer sampler arrived.  Stocked full of 15 of the on-tap selections, this behemoth had to be air lifted in by helicopter.   Once it hit the tarmac the feast began.   Pliny, Blind Pig, Damnation, Consecration, and another dozen beers that all top the charts rested like bullets in a beer bandalero before us.   Like the Lost Boys in Hook, this buffet quickly became “ghost” as our gang laid into it.  Our Patagonia rain coats didn’t protect from the envious looks at our groups’ luck at snagging one of the tasting platters.  Blind taste tests to challenge the buds of the beer-acute resulted in an impeachment of one’s credibility.   RR’s IPAs have the bitterness to blast anyone’s pallet. Their sour Wild Beers pucker like Wally Warhead.   And, although those in the H&H group had yet to sprout pallets as refined as the BeerAdvocate loyal, we could appreciate these relatively extreme beers for their artistic merit.

These brews were caviar when we would have been pleased with smoked salmon.  But , for less than $4 a pint, it was as if nobody had told Russian River that their caviar was more than just fish eggs.   In sum, this was the best scene ever witnessed at a brewpub and we would stongly encourage everyone to Drink Better at Russian River Brewery.  Next time you are in the Napa Valley, detour from the cookie-cutter wineries, forget to shave in the morning, and let loose on some pizza and Pliny at Russian River Brewery.   Don’t take BeerAdvocate’s word for it.  Take ours.

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