A Steady Stream of Amazing Beer Flows Forth from Russian River Brewing Company
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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Brewery Name: Standard Deviant Brewing
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: San Francisco, CA
Facebook: Standard Deviant Brewing
Background: In my forever-expanding goal of visiting all craft breweries in San Francisco proper, my latest quest brought me to Standard Deviant Brewing. It's nestled into a really fun part of the city that is home to some top notch beer bars like Zeitgeist and not far from some other spots like Black Sands. I had heard about the concept of pinball clubs in San Francisco, but didn't realize until I arrived that Standard Deviant takes part in this fad. It adds a level of fun to an already very laid back setting that includes giant Jenga, food trucks, simple beer names, and a very social setup.
Growlers: Yes! And I believe all beers are available to be growlered. They sell full and half sized growlers of their own in case you come empty handed.
The Beers: With half pours at three bucks apiece, I couldn’t resist trying all eight beers they had on tap. They modestly name most of their beers only by the style, which is an ode to their focus on experience and not on gimmicky names or marketing. There is definitely a German-style vibe to a lot of their offerings, but it's a decently large spread for such a modest style list. Here are a few of the highlights:
Vibe: Standard Deviant does an amazing job of feeling like a local destination. This is the type of place I'd love to live a bit closer to, and would absolutely be a regular at. It's also the type of setting that would appeal to any craft beer fan who has dreamed of opening a brewery of their own.
The face of the building doesn't attempt to mess with the natural facade of their industrial-style building. A massive garage door is the way in and out, and other than a small sign streetside, it's relatively indistinguishable. That huge doorway opens up into a seating area comprised mostly of wooden picnic tables that you're free to move around to fit your group and a massive solid wood bar. I don’t know this for certain, but I’d like to think that the bar (and art hanging behind it) are some sort of redwood or sequoia cut from the coast. Pictures fail to do this sort of thing justice but a single piece of wood that big is really impressive in person.
The "single big room" feel includes a wall of kegs, a clear sightline into the brewing section and cooler, and access to all sorts of games. Oh, and pinball. While pinball isn’t something I've ever really paid much mind to, it's clearly a popular hobby for many. They've got a handful of machines that are available for play and are also used for pinball club events that the brewery hosts.
I visited late in the afternoon on a Saturday and the place was packed, but it seemed to be mostly locals who weren't in any hurry. The resulting vibe was extremely low key for how many people there were. The staff didn't seem to be fazed by the massive amount of people and were constantly attending to empty glasses, offering their recommendations, and asking how we liked our beers whenever they came by.
Dogs: Yes! And unequivocally. This section is very often unclear to me, and I try to be ambiguous if I'm not sure, but dogs are welcome at Standard Deviant!
Price ($ to $$$$$): $. Some of the best craft beer pricing I've come across in San Francisco. All beers are offered at $6 for a pint and $3 for a half. I didn't notice any posted pricing for growlers, but, based on the pour prices, I have to assume it's at least fair.
Food: No food from Standard Deviant other than a chip rack, but they're seemingly always pairing up with some sort of food truck or local kitchen. The day I visited, a local BBQ joint had set up a grill and was offering ribs, pulled pork, and all sorts of other goodness.
Final Thoughts: What a great local spot. The beer is designed to be simple and satisfying. If you're looking for an uppity bar with all sorts of flavors and alternative brewing methods, this is not your spot. But if you want somewhere you're guaranteed to enjoy drinking a bunch of solid craft beer, Standard Deviant is it.
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York: I'm really not sure how to sum up the style of this batch. I finally made it out to Russian River and couldn't resist picking multiple brews from them for the guys. That already makes for two sours in one batch, and add to that a coffee cream ale from Ballast, our first cider exchange, and a couple other fresh hoppy beers. It's all over the map for damn sure, which speaks to the luxury I've got as far as the accessibility of really fun craft brews. I'm beyond excited to see if the fellas are nearly as into the Russian River sours as I am. Lagunitas is a brewery that I know at least Shane and I have been very hit or miss on, and I think the Born Yesterday might put that to rest. Never thought I'd be the first to send a cider, but go ahead and read about it below and tell me how I could possibly not give it a shot. I went from an all-IPA batch to a shotgun approach here, so let's see how it lands!
Shane: When York reached out to let us know that he was headed to Russian River, I could not have been more excited. Pliny the Elder is probably the most famous West Coast IPA (California's answer to Heady Topper), but we already had the chance to try that one. No, I was more excited for the opportunity to sample some of their other brews. Much like those on the West Coast may have heard of Heady Topper but are less likely to have heard of Focal Banger, everyone on the East Coast knows about Pliny the Elder, but not so many know about, say Supplication. As the craft beer scene expands throughout the country, sours have quickly become en vogue, and (although it took a brief adjustment period) I couldn't be happier about it. The chance to try not one, but two sours from arguably the most famous brewery on the West Coast? Well, that's too good to pass up. Needless to say, I'm pumped...and I haven't even mentioned how thrilled I am to finally get my hands on more Pizza Port beer!
Pete: This is one of the more diverse batches that any of us has managed to gather. I also like that it's more on the pale ale side of the spectrum, which is where I prefer. The Pizza Port beer seems like a fun find, and the Born Yesterday beer was something I wanted to try last year. This one is fresh, so it has to be good. Both Pizza Port and Born Yesterday have Mosaic, so one can naturally assume that I am going to drink that. Calm Before the Storm has been on my radar for awhile, and I am glad that York was able to get some, because I have wanted to try it. I don't know why, but I just have not had it. Both of the Russian River beers sounded amazing when Brian told us about them while he was at the brewery (jealous). The only one that I am a little gun shy on is the Grumpy Bear. I have had a good number of ciders with different ingredients that might have seemed "off" (maple syrup and cocoa nibs for example). I just don’t know about coffee because it is so bitter, I don’t know if it will mix with the sweet cider or overpower it. Overall, cheers to Brian for an interesting group.
Brewery Name: Sante Adairius Rustic Ales
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: Capitola, CA
Facebook: Sante Adairius Rustic Ales
Background: Sante Adairius is next-level craft beer. They're frequently named and discussed on websites, blogs, podcasts, etc concerning the best of the best small-batch breweries. SARA makes mostly Belgian-inspired ales that use a simplicity-done-right approach to make stellar brews that are all humble in flavor and drinkability. Lots of wild yeast, barrel aging, and dozens of styles make this one of the most impressive craft breweries I've been to. Add that to the fact that it's in a quaint little coastal town on Highway 1, and you might just find yourself living the dream.
Growlers: Yes and no. They do offer growler fills, but it seems that it's typically for about half of the beers on the menu. Totally understandable with such small specialty batches, but definitely take a look before you go to check which ones are available for take-out. They also have some bombers available for purchase at the brewery, which helps close that gap a bit and sometimes includes the extra-special specialties.
The Beers: Suffice it to say that there is something in your style at SARA. Doesn’t matter what that style is, because there is almost every kind I can think of available. Here are a few of the highlights that were on tap during my visit:
Vibe: This is a place for friends. It's low key and cozy, almost reminiscent of a coffee shop. Lots of rustic benches and chairs made from barrel parts, iron, and logs. SARA describes itself as the type of place where beer can bring people together, and they're surely right. Not the type of place you'll want to go if you're looking for a lot of excitement or rowdiness, but that is most definitely intentional.
Dogs: Dogs welcome and encouraged to hang with at least one who seems to call the taproom home.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$$$. Pours go for about 6-8 dollars each, which is consistent with most high-quality beer in California. Growlers and bottles are pricey, likely based in part on the limited production. Half-pours are offered for $4-5 each and are fairly generous.
Food: No food served at SARA, but plenty of different beers to make you forget about eating!
Final Thoughts: SARA brews beer that makes you feel fancy. These are bottles you show up with in place of wine or covet a growler to show off to fellow beer fans. It’s just about the pinnacle of craft beer that utilizes Belgian styles and components such as barrel aging and multiple fermentation. A must stop if you’re anywhere near, but definitely best to do with a fresh palate and no hurry to be in.
Shane: York inspired me recently. When he put together a collection of West Coast IPAs from up and down the coast, highlighting the different available styles from several renowned regional breweries, I thought it was a very cool way to really dig deep into a specific style of beer. It also occurred to me that when I’ve been putting together beer for us to sample together, I’ve been focusing too much on what I personally enjoy. And while big, hazy, fruit-bomb New England IPAs dazzle my personal palate, I know that York in particular enjoys a different style. So, for this batch of beers, rather than grab a few of my favorite fruit-bombs and package it off, I’ve nabbed a bunch of IPAs and double IPAs from area breweries that run the gamut of styles. There’s a lot to dig into here, and I’m excited to see what both Pete and York have to say. In particular, I’m interested to see York’s impression of Space Juice, a beer that has drawn some acclaim in New England while never quite hitting my personal sweet spot, and Ricochet, a beer brewed in Boston but specifically marketed as a "West Coast IPA."
York: Now we’re talking! Bunch of double IPAs plus a myriad of other hoppy brews on top of that?! Pumped for this batch, especially the Simcoe dry-hop from Backlash and the intense delicious hop profile I’m expecting out of space juice. I've only had one brew from Liquid Riot and a handful from Lawson’s, but they were some of my favorites of our entire Beercation numero uno, so definitely looking forward to their IPA, too. I love variety in beer and it’s how I’ve gotten through most of my self-teaching on beer, but this is my favorite way to really take it to the next level. Having six or seven brews of a similar style, especially from a similar region, is assuredly going to help me pin down what I do and don’t like about the IPA’s we typically get from Shane. I’m expecting a decent gap in preference between the three of us on a few of these which always makes for good discussion so thats something to look forward to as well!
Pete: So this is a lovely collection of hoppy beers. Punctuating this batch with Green really intrigued me. I have tried some of these breweries and some I have not. I am interested to see how my ratings hold up. My first reaction to this list was...how am I going to space these out. Because if you have too many hoppy beers back to back, you can’t really taste the differences. Plus, as time goes on they start to lose the quality that the brewer intended when they created it. Overall, this is a nice group of IPAs.
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