I was first turned on to sour beers in 2012 at Ashley’s Belgian Beer Festival. In researching sour beers in the following months, I learned about Jolly Pumpkin, a Michigan based brewery that specialized in well-reputed sour beers. I acquired JP’s beers with frequency and was pleased, but I kept reading more and more about California-based Russian River Brewing Company and their wine-barrel aged sours. I was able to try these for the first time when I received a bottle of Supplication as a present for my 40th birthday.
In 2014, my dream of finally visiting Russian River came true, when my wife and I visited there for our wedding anniversary.
We’d flown into Oakland earlier in the day, and had stopped at another famous brewery, Lagunitas, on the was to Santa Rosa.
Our visit didn’t start off very well. When we showed up a little after 6pm, we were told that the wait for a table was over an hour and a half. Having been up since 1am California time to travel this far, we were more than disappointed to hear this news.
It turned out that, in all of our research, we’d missed the fact that the brewery was hosting an event to celebrate their donation to Sutter Breast Care Center of Santa Rosa, a local organization that specializes in the research and treatment of breast cancer. The annual event had been a huge success, raising more than over $112,000.
After telling our story to a sympathetic manager, we were finally were seated. This allowed us to not only order some of the brewpub’s fantastic food, but also gave me a chance to order the famous 18 beer sampler, featuring 2.5 oz. pours of all of the brewery’s famous beers, but also the pub only beers I had long thought about.
We told the story of the journey to the brewpub to our server, and asked if he thought it would be ok to go over and introduce ourselves to Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, the couple that has guided Russian River since purchasing the brand from Korbel Champaign Cellars in 2002. He said they were great people and to go over and introduce ourselves. We were shy (and a little tired and jet-lagged), so when we hesitated, Vinnie and Natalie came over and introduced themselves to us. We spent over an hour with them, and it was hard for me not to act like a star-struck teenager. They were so warm and hospitable, and we enjoyed talking about our mutual passions, beer and travel.
We returned the next morning to purchase a large number of bottles to bring back to Michigan. We did visit many other breweries on that trip to Northern California, but we knew as we left Santa Rosa, that it would be impossible to top the experience we’d had at Russian River. I’ve visited a lot of breweries, and this still remains at the top of my list of favorite visits.