VINNIE CILURZO

Russian River Brewing Company has become one of the most famous brew pubs in the country. Originally opened by Korbel in 1997, it was purchased in 2003 by husband-and-wife team Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, who opened the Santa Rosa location in 2004. It’s known for aggressively hopped California ales, Belgian styles and barrel-aged beers, with quirky names like Supplication, Rejection and STS Pils (named after Sonoma County’s airport).

Although he grew up in a winemaking family—his father planted the first vineyard in Temecula Valley in 1968—Vinnie Cilurzo was destined to make beer. He started homebrewing when he was in college. “Almost immediately I knew I wanted to brew professionally,” he tells me over a flight of samples. “IPA was my first interest. It was a big flavor and a distinctive style. At the time there were no American IPAs. It was a style that really interested me, but I wanted to put an American twist on it by using American hops.” Vinnie made a double IPA at his first brewery, Blind Pig, in the mid-1990s. “Looking back, it’s considered the first double IPA made in America.”

Although the raw ingredients for beer are simple, the list of beers available at Russian River’s pub is long, with almost 20 selections and new brews being added all the time. So how do brewers create so many different styles of beer from so few basic ingredients?

“You have the flexibility to make so many flavors of beer because there are so many variations of malt and hops and they all impart different flavors,” he explained. “The same barley can be used to make 20 different types of malt with varying colors and flavors.” The same is true for hops. There are many different breeds, which all impart different characteristics—sort of like different types of grapes in winemaking. “Hops grown in the US are a lot more forward in flavor and aroma than European hops,” Vinnie said. “About 95% of our hops comes from the US, and you get different flavors from different breeds of hops. Some give citrus notes, floral notes and woody qualities. Others give more fruity character. English hops are more earthy and herbal, while German hops can impart a certain grassiness.”

A fan of Lambic beers, Vinnie became interested in the roles of yeast and bacteria in beermaking and began experimenting with barrel-aged sour beers. “I wanted to work with my favorite component of Lambic beers—those funky, earthy, leathery notes,” he explains. “In 1997 I had two wine barrels and I put a blonde ale in them and pitched them with some brettanomyces. I kept making barrel-aged beers and began incorporating bacteria: lactobacillus, pediococcus, brettanomyces. The flavors were good and unique and it was challenging—there were no books at the time on how to use brettanomyces in beer.”

Vinnie pours a sample of Sancitifcation for me to try, his 100% brettanomyces-fermented beer. Contrary to what a wine-lover might expect of something fermented with the brettanomyces yeast (the culprit of barnyard, horse sweat and manure notes in some wines), this was fruity, spicy and refreshing with just a hint of pleasant funkiness underneath. “When brettanomyces are used in the primary fermentation, it’s incredible how neutral the resulting beer is. It doesn’t taste like brett, because the yeast has been given a healthy environment in which to ferment the beer,” Vinnie explains. “It’s only in bottle that you really capture those bretty flavors.”

“There is a lot the beer industry can learn from the wine industry,” he continues. “We bottle condition our sour beers with saccharomyces, the winemaking yeast, because it’s more tolerant of the higher alcohol and acidity of those beers. That’s how we get natural carbonation in the bottle.” Vinnie also regularly uses barrels from local wineries. “We’re fortunate to be in wine country, because we can go directly to winemakers to get barrels instead of having to use a broker. Winemakers can teach us how to take care of barrels, like how to fix a barrel with a leak, or what kinds of flavors aren’t fixable in a barrel—acetic acid, for example. If one of your barrels develops volatile acidity, you may as well throw it out.”

Vinnie and Natalie are particularly forthcoming about their methods and recipes. “Our mentor was Ken Grossman, the founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. He always had a giving, open approach. Now we’re 20-plus year veterans of the industry and we try to do the same and give back where we can,” he says. “For example, think about sour, funky beers. If someone has a bad barrel-aged beer, they may never have another one. We need to be an open book for the industry because this affects us as much as it affects other breweries.”

The popularity of barrel-aged beers is on the rise and super-hoppy brews continue to be in high demand. “Consumers can’t get enough IPA right now,” Vinnie said. “It’s hard to be in the beer industry and not make one IPA or several.” Although Russian River Brewing Company has seen huge success with its Pliny the Elder double IPA and Pliny the Younger triple IPA, Vinnie continues to experiment constantly with new brews. “We don’t want to rest on our laurels with Pliny. We always run the business with that paranoid sense that we need to continue to make new beers, whatever they may be.”

“We just got some Petite Sirah barrels and in the future, we plan to create a brew using Merlot barrels,” he says, excitedly. “In the past we made a Pilsner in Sauvignon Blanc barrels, retaining some of the Sauvignon Blanc juice, so that’s something we’ll make again this coming harvest.” He pours a sample of his latest brew, Apical Dominance, a 5.75% alcohol hoppy blonde ale with refreshing citrus and grapefruit flavors. “For Apical, we used 692, an experimental new breed of hops,” he says, smiling. “We’ve been looking at this breed for years and finally someone grew an acre of it.”

RECIPES

Russian River Blind Pig

RUSSIAN RIVER BLIND PIG CIRCA 2000

USA HAZY IPA - ALL GRAIN

20 LITERS | ABV 6.2 | IBU ~64 | SRM 5.5 | MASH EFFICIENCY 75% | PRE BOIL 24L | OG 1.061 | FG 1.014
MASH 90 MIN @ 67⁰ C | BOIL 60 MIN

NOTES:

MALT:

MASH:
• 4850g AMERICAN ALE MALT 2.5 SRM
• 168g CARAPILS MALT 5.1 SRM
• 224g LIGHT CRYSTAL 32 SRM 

HOPS:

BOIL: BITTERING:
• 12g CHINOOK 13% AA @ 60 MINUTES
• 12g CTZ 15.5% AA @ 60 MINUTES
FLAVOUR/AROMA:
• 12g AMARILLO 9.2% AA @ 30 MINUTES
WHIRLPOOL/STEEP FOR 30 MINUTES - WAIT UNTIL TEMP HITS 90°C:
• 14g CASCADE 5.5% AA
• 14g AMARILLO 9.2% AA
• 14g CENTENNIAL 10% AA
• 14g SIMCOE 13% AA
DRY HOP FOR 3 DAYS BEFORE PACKAGING :
• 28g CASCADE
• 28g AMARILLO
• 28g CTZ

YEAST:

• 1ST CHOICE: WLP O90 SAN DIEGO SUPER YEAST

ADDITIONS:

ADD 15 MINS BEFORE FLAME OUT:
• 1/4 TSP IRISH MOSS (or clarifier of choice)


Russian River Pliny the Younger

RUSSIAN RIVER PLINY THE YOUNGER

USA DOUBLE IPA - ALL GRAIN

20 LITERS | ABV 10.2 | IBU ~200+ | SRM ~4.4 | MASH EFFICIENCY 75% | PRE BOIL 24L | OG 1.091 | FG 1.015
MASH 90 MIN @ 66-67°C | BOIL 90 MIN

NOTES

MALT:

MASH:
• 6700g GLADFIELD AMERICAN ALE MALT 2.5 SRM [87.1%]
• 454g CARAPILS MALT 2.0 SRM [5.9%]

HOPS:

BOIL:
• 426g DEXTROSE 0 SRM [5.5%]
• 113g CANE SUGAR 0 SRM [1.5%]
• 10ml HOP SHOT (65%) (CO2 EXTRACT) @ 90 MINS [50 IBU]
• 56g CTZ 15.5%AA @ 60 MINS [69.9 IBU]
STEEP FOR 30 MINUTES - START @ 90°C:
• 112g AMARILLO 9.2% AA [41.5 IBU]
• 85g CENTENNIAL 10.0% AA [34.2 IBU]
• 56g SIMCOE 13% AA [29.3 IBU]
DRY HOP 3 DAYS BEFORE PACKAGING:
• 28g AMARILLO 
• 28g CENTENNIAL
• 28g SIMCOE

YEAST:

• 1ST CHOICE: WLP001 CALIFORNIA ALE

ADDITIONS:

• 1 tsp Irish Moss @ 15 minutes before flame out (or clarifier of choice)
• 15ml Biofine Clear 3 days before packaging 


Russian River Pliny the Elder

RUSSIAN RIVER PLINY THE ELDER

USA DOUBLE IPA - ALL GRAIN

20 LITERS | ABV 8.3 | IBU ~100+ | SRM 6.0 | MASH EFFICIENCY 75% | PRE BOIL 24L | OG 1.074 | FG 1.014
MASH 90 MIN @ 66-67⁰C | BOIL 90 MIN 

NOTES:

MALT:

• 5800g 2 ROW PALE ALE MALT 2.0 SRM
• 390g CARAPILS MALT 2.0 SRM
• 130g CRYSTAL MALT 30 SRM 

HOPS:

BOIL:
• 450g DEXTROSE 0 SRM 
• 78g WARRIOR 15.6%AA @ 90 MINS
• 14g CHINOOK 12.2%AA @ 90 MINS
• 28g COLUMBUS 14.3%AA @ 45 MINS
• 28g SIMCOE 12%AA @ 30 MINS
STEEP/WHIRLPOOL 30 MINS @ 90°C:
• 64g CENTENNIAL 9.1%AA
• 28g SIMCOE 12%AA
DRY HOP FOR 5 DAYS BEFORE PACKAGING:
• 96g COLUMBUS
• 50g CENTENNIAL
• 50g SIMCOE

YEAST:

• 1ST CHOICE: WLP 090 SAN DIEGO SUPER YEAST
• 2ND CHOICE: WLP 001 CALIFORNIA ALE YEAST

ADDITIONS:

ADD 15 MINS BEFORE FLAME OUT:
• 1/4 TSP IRISH MOSS (or clarifier of choice)


Russian River Firestone Walker Stivo

RUSSIAN RIVER / FIRESTONE WALKER STIVO 

USA PILSNER - ALL GRAIN

20 LITERS | ABV 5.3% | IBU ~40 | SRM 3.3 | MASH EFFICIENCY 75% | PRE BOIL 24L | OG 1.047 | FG 1.006
MASH 90 MIN @ 67⁰ C | BOIL 60 MIN 

NOTES:
KELLER PILS STYLE UNFILTERED
WON GOLD MEDAL 2018 WORLD BEER CUP

MALT:

MASH:
• 4100g PILSNER MALT (1.7 SRM) [92.5%]
• 168g CARAPILS/DEXTRINE MALT (2 SRM) [6%]
• 84g CRYSTAL MALT (30 SRM) [1.5%]

HOPS:

BOIL:
• 14g MAGNUM 12% AA @ 60 MINUTES
• 28g SPALTER SELECT 4.1% AA @ 30 MINUTES
STEEP/WHIRLPOOL FOR 30 MINUTES:
• 14g ARAMIS 8.1% AA
• 14g SAPHIR 4.1% AA
DRY HOP 3 DAYS BEFORE PACKAGING:
• 28g ARAMIS 8.1% AA
• 28g SAPHIR

YEAST:

• 1ST CHOICE: WLP 830 GERMAN LAGER
• 2ND CHOICE: FERMENTIS W-34/70

ADDITIONS:

ADD 15 MINS BEFORE FLAME OUT:
• 1/4 TSP IRISH MOSS (or clarifier of choice)


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