Beer 511

Exploring Craft Beer and Homebrew in Peru (Country Code 51) and the USA (Country Code 1)

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What to expect in this year’s Pliny the Younger release

Every year Russian River Brewing stages what is arguably one of the most anticipated events in the Beer Geek Calendar: the release of one of world’s most famous beers, Pliny the Younger.

It probably hardly needs mention by now, but Pliny the Younger is a triple IPA -the world’s first, in fact- which means that it has more of everything that goes into an IPA. It clocks in at a bit over 10% abv, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 90-100 IBU. It is released only once per year, for a two-week period. It is served on tap at Russian River Brewing, only for in-house consumption, and only until each day’s allotment runs out. Only a very small amount goes out in kegs to select accounts.

This year Pliny the Younger will be released on February 1st and be served until the 14th.

In years past, people have been known to wait in line for up to twelve hours in order to get into the pub, and sometimes the day’s allotment ran out before the line cleared. However, with the opening of the new brewery in Windsor, Russian River is hoping that things will be different from now on.

First of all, there is the obvious advantage of having the beer released simultaneously at two different locations: the original brewpub on 4th Street, in downtown Santa Rosa, and the Windsor brewpub.

Then, there is the increase in output. Not only is the Windsor brewhouse’s capacity triple that of the 4th Street brewhouse, but Russian River’s brew staff pulled out all the stops and ran four back-to-back brews of Pliny the Younger, in a marathon, 24-hour brew session! This year’s batch of Pliny the Younger is 300 barrels.

The dregs of Pliny the Younger left behind in the open-top fermenter after transfer to the finishing tanks (January 4th, 2019).

With that amount, Russian River will be able to provide, not only full allotments to both pubs, but also larger allotments than have been available in the past. The hope is that thus they will be able to lessen wait times for guests and not have anyone go away disappointed.

This year will also provide other contrasts with those of years past. For one thing, no one yet knows what the effect will be on the yeast and the beer of the much larger batch size. Nor, does anyone really know what, if any, difference being fermented in open-top fermenters instead of closed-top fermenters will make. Russian River employees that I spoke to last week were intrigued and excited to find out

While no one knows precisely what to expect this year in terms of lines and wait times, the staff’s recommendation is to skip downtown, and head for the larger pub in Windsor. Not only should its greater capacity help move people through faster, but its 2 acres of free parking will save you from the worry of feeding the meter and having to move the car every two hours.

Another thing to note: This year, Russian River will be serving Pliny the Younger to guests on the guided tour at Windsor between Feb. 1st and Feb. 14th. Booking a tour will not get one into the pub any faster, but it is a way to get to get a taste of Pliny the Younger without standing in line. Weekend bookings are pretty full, but as of now there are still plenty of spaces on weekdays, specially in the second week. Go to Russian River’s webpage to book.

A visit to Russian River Brewing’s new Windsor campus

Wrapping up my Winter Break vacation and taking advantage of a sunny day in between bouts of rain, I hopped in the car and made the 1+ hour drive north check out Russian River Brewing’s new digs in Windsor.

Maybe “digs” doesn’t quite convey the feel of it. The place is huge.  Sitting on a 10-acre site, the building alone covers 85,000 square feet.

Even though it is an industrial plant -which includes not only the brewhouse, but also kegging, canning and bottling lines- it is, to an amazing degree, centered on the visitor experience.

First of all, unlike downtown, the Windsor site offers 2 acres of free parking, including electric vehicle charging stations.

Guests have a choice of four different areas.  Most immediate to the parking lot is a  lounge from which visitors can relax and from where to start on their tours. Next to it there is a large gift- and bottle-shop. There is also a tasting room offering 5-oz pours of a selection of RR’s brews and walk-up growler fills.

The heart of the guest area, however, is the 195-seat pub. It is itself divided into two main areas -one with pub-style seating, with tall bar chairs and tables, and one with more of a dining room arrangement. There is also a lounge area surrounding a round fireplace.  The whole thing is open, airy, and well-lit, with plenty of natural light.  In the back, there is a glassed-in bay that will one day house a pilot nanobrewery in full view of pub patrons.   It is all very comfortable and well-done, but I think regulars would miss the intimacy of the 4th Street pub.

The tap list is still somewhat abbreviated compared to what what can be had at the old 4th Street pub, but the bulk of what’s offered is what has been actually brewed on the premises. (Tip: Don’t bother asking about the “Procrastination”. I’m sure you can guess why.)

Russian River offers two types of tours. One, is the free self-guided tour, which ventures down a long hall from the guest lounge and allows one to view the production process from brewing to bottling.

The second option is the $15, 1-hour guided tour. This one allows one to get more intimately acquainted with the brewing process, from being able to look into the lab, stroll amongst the kettles, peer down into the open fermenters, and more. Three beer tastings and a souvenir goblet are included.

The the addition of the 75-bbl German-built brewhouse, Russian River has quadrupled its total brewing capacity, up from the 25-bbl system at the Santa Rosa pub.  They have also installed a several open-top fermenters, and a number of 75-bbl and 300-bbl closed fermenters.

In addition, the guided tour takes one beyond the areas visible on the self-guided tour, into the barrel house and to what is quickly coming to be regarded as the sanctum sanctorum of the Windsor brewery.

Beyond the already-fabled wood door (an Ebay find, it turns out), lies a room paneled in unfinished, soft pine wood. In it, rests the koelschip (or coolship), an open vessel in which hot wort (unfermented beer) is allowed to cool naturally, exposed to the ambient air, and to the wild microflora allowed in through the open windows.

The hope is that in the long run that flora will colonize the wood in the steamy room, allowing Russian River to develop a unique “house flora” much like Belgium’s old lambic breweries have done.

Of course, we’ll have to wait another year or so to see what flavours the koelschip contributes to the beers that are now being passed through it on the way to the barrels.

Barrel-Fermented Chimay Grande Réserve Ale (2018 Whisky Edition)

In this post I am sharing my impressions of Chimay’s Grande Réserve Ale, Barrel Fermented (2018 Whisky Edition).

To make Grande Réserve Ale, Barrel Fermented (2018 Whisky Edition), Chimay’s brewers took the regular Grande Réserve Ale and put it through a secondary fermentation in a combination of  French oak, American oak, and used whisky barrels. (According to the Chimay website, the ratio was 34% French, 41% American, and 25% whisky.) The unpasteurized and unfiltered beer was then blended, and naturally carbonated in the bottle.  Thus, Chimay says that it is “triple fermented”: in tank, barrel, and bottle.

The result is a limpid, not opaque, dark brown beer with a light to moderate head, and which clocks in at 10.5% abv.

Upon tasting my first impression was of liquorice, and I was thinking rum-soaked raisins, but that’s probably the whiskey.  I definitely got dark raisins, but also prune, black cherry, some vanilla in the background, and a little note of barrel char character at the back end.

As it warms, the flavours round out, specially the liquorice, and the alcohol makes its presence known.

Even though the head was thin and didn’t hang around long, the beer was quite effervescent in the mouth. In body it was malty and pretty smooth, overall, with a dry finish.

I liked it. I did, quite a lot. It is a solid beer, but, honestly, I was not wowed.  I think this is a beer that promised more than it delivered.

That said, it may be worthwhile to pick up another bottle and to hold on to it for a bit to see what the beer will do with another five or six months.

 

Barrel-Aged 2017 Christmas Ale from Anchor Brewing (2018 Release)

At the end of November, courtesy of the brewery, I attended the release of Anchor Brewing’s Barrel-Aged 2017 Christmas Ale at an event held in the Brewery’s tap room and brewhouse on Potrero Hill in San Francisco.

The event included small bites, and a vertical flight of four years’ of Anchor Christmas Ale – 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018- in addition to a taster of the featured barrel-aged beer. (It was crowded so I didn’t get to try the 2018, but the 2017 and 2016 aged well. The 2015, not so much.)

I did make sure to try the barrel-aged release, and I came away with a couple of bottles of it; one of which I have opened and am drinking tonight.

The Barrel Aged 2017 Christmas Ale was created by aging the 2017 Christmas Ale in bourbon, red wine, and brandy barrels, and then blending them. It has 10.3% abv and 30 IBU  (the original, unaged, version had 6.7% abv and 40 IBU).

It is a dark ale. Dark, dark brown, almost like a really dark cola, but with a hint of green to it.

It smells smooth, not alcoholey -which is a good sign, considering that it is pretty high in alcohol.  There is a bit of dried fruit in the nose, a bit of aroma of fried bananas.

It is malty, and a bit sweet, with flavors of vanilla, raisins, dark cherries, red wine, maybe a bit of port. There is just a hint of roastiness and barrel char.  Hop bitternes is quite moderate, with a slight note of evergreen.

As the beer warms,  some of the vinous character dissipates, and a bit of dried apricot starts to show up.

It is very pleasant. It has good body but is not too heavy; not cloying at all. It goes down smoothly, and is pleasantly warming. A good choice for this cold winter’s eve.

 

Upcoming releases of Resilience IPA

 

As Resilience Butte County Proud IPA comes out fermentation, breweries all over are preparing release events in the coming weeks, including a number of  breweries around the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Fieldwork Brewing Company already released their version (hazy, of course!) on December 6th, and Altamont Beer Works in Livermore poured theirs on the following day.

Monk’s Cellar Brewery and Public House, in Roseville started pouring theirs today.

Del Cielo Brewing, in Martinez, and Shadow Puppet Brewing Company, in Livermore,  will each start pouring Resilience IPA at 4 pm on Wednesday, December 12th.

On Saturday, December 15th, Martinez’ Five Suns Brewing will release their version of Resilience in time with their one-year anniversary party, and it seems that Sierra Nevada’s own Resilience IPA will also be on tap on Saturday, at Jack’s Taps in Pleasant Hill.

On Wednesday, December 19th, Calicraft Brewing Company will be having Sierra Nevada’s Resilience IPA on at the Calicraft tap room in Walnut Creek.  However, Blaine Landberg, Calicraft’s founder and owner, has taken thing one step further, and, on the 22nd, will be holding a “Resilience Day” and pouring Calicraft’s own Resilience IPA “5 Ways”: Classic, POG, OPM, Coffee, and 2 firkins!

 

UPDATE (12/12):  I’ve got word that Drake’s Brewing Co., in San Leandro, is pouring Resilience today. New Helvetia, in Sacramento, is doing the same, starting at 4 pm; so is Grillin’ and Chillin’ Alehouse in Hollister.

Danville Brewing Company, in Danville, is releasing its version of Resilience IPA on Thursday, Dec. 13th.

The Bistro, in Hayward, will be serving Resilience starting on Friday, Dec. 21st.

Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant in Campbell will hold a release party for Resilience IPA, in conjunction with the Santa Clara County Firefighters union, on December 28th.

 

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