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.