Brewery Name: Russian River Brewing Company
Type of Brewery: Brewpub
Location: Santa Rosa, CA
Facebook: Russian River Brewing Company
Background: The legendary Russian River and their Pliny the Elder. It took me longer than I'd like to admit to make it out to Russian River since moving to California, but at last I was able to get there. Pliny the Elder is one of the most famous beers in the world, and perhaps the most well-known US beer. It was also one of the first beers I made sure to get Shane and Pete a bottle of when we started our bottle share. The extremely limited distribution and exclusive on-premises brews make Russian River a true destination experience, and they delivered on every expectation of world class beer!
Growlers: Full and half growlers available. Bottles of a subset of the brews are available to take home as well. The bottles include a few of their sours and, of course, Pliny, among a few others.
The Beers: One of the many things I underestimated about Russian River was the amount of beer available on tap. I've visited the website many times, but for whatever reason had it in my head that a lot of what was listed would be kicked/coming soon/bottles only or whatever else. There were 19 beers on tap, so I did my best to try everything I could, but there's certainly justification for another trip. Here are a few of the highlights:
Vibe: Russian River is one of the most energetic brewpubs I've been to yet! I went right around dinner time on a Friday, so it was presumably a bit more crowded than normal--but I expect that it's always pretty electric. It gets extremely crowded in the bar section, but there were about six to eight bartenders all making sure glasses were full, and, despite being a few people deep, it was pretty easy to get a beer.
This is much more of a restaurant-style brewpub than a lot of others, with a very large portion of its space devoted to sit-down tables and chairs, along with an outdoor seating area in a similar style. The bar itself is long, but there isn't much space behind it so that area gets really crowded really fast.
Russian River is part of craft beer lore, and is well known for being a pretty modest industry giant. They don't do too much in the way of social media or marketing, their fan base is extremely local and loyal, limited distribution keeps an aura of exclusivity without driving prices through the roof, and their venue is designed to be entrenched with the locals. The decor is busy and covered with t-shirts, signs, beer bottles from breweries all over. Brews are written in chalk on a giant blackboard, and the taps are a very simple handle system with a steel backsplash. It's easy to see that Russian River isn't trying to be flashy in any sense, and that mentality is really refreshing to see from a brewery that has the cred to be extremely showy.
Dogs: The outdoor area has plenty of space for dogs to join, but indoors is much more of a restaurant setup, so it's not a spot to bring your pup inside.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$. I was ready for this to be a bank-breakingly expensive trip. To my true delight, Russian River doesn't use their exclusivity to justify killing you on prices.
Food: Great bar food menu to keep you going on all the different beers. Pizzas, apps, and sandwiches make up most of the options. I didn't eat while I was there, but it seemed like a pretty good amount of the people were there for a full beer-centric meal.
Final Thoughts: Russian River is a spot on every craft beer fan's list. I'm happy to say that the beer fully and completely lives up to the hype. Not only are the well-known brews as good as advertised, but there's a slew of amazing beers on top of that. I admittedly went in expecting only a few beers to be available and knowing that it would be tough to live up to such lofty expectations. The experience went quite the opposite way, with over a dozen beers pouring and every bit of expectation met.
I'm not a huge fan of the venue, but recognize that it's a style that a lot of people in the craft beer community do like. The local lore is a huge focus, and the cozy feel is definitely what they're going for, just not exactly what I dig. I have heard that they are in the process of (or at least considering) opening another venue, though I don’t have many details on it. I'll personally be rooting for more of a brewery taproom-style setup than the brewpub in Santa Rosa. This is the only tiny half-criticism I have, and it is completely forgotten about with how great the beer, service, and energy of Russian River is.
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