After getting my fill of Russian River beer the night before, the alarm that jolted me out of bed at 0700 was certainly an unwelcome sound. At first I didn't even remember why I had even set my alarm for such an early call time! Then it slowly came to me. The group of craft beer nerds I was traveling with had planned to get a little more Younger when Russian River opened at 11:00am. We assumed the line couldn't be that bad so early in the morning. So, we grabbed some fuel for the day at Omelette Express in the beautiful historic part of downtown Santa Rosa. At breakfast, the lack of conversation and drawn faces indicated most of us were nursing mild hangovers from the previous night of revelry at Russian River Brewing. We rallied with food in our bellies and checked out of the Marriott and off we went to get in line at Russian River.
Crap! The line was about four times as long as the day before and it was only 9:30am! We parked anyway and walked to the back of the line, which wrapped around two city blocks. It didn't take long for us to realize that we may not even get into the brewery before our flight at 6:30pm so we ditched the line and formed an alternate plan. Someone in our group verbalized so the others in line could hear, "We'd be lucky to get in there by 4pm!" That elicited some shocked looks from those who had heard the comment.
After a short 20-minute drive up US-101 we arrived just as they opened. I'd never been so this was of interest to me.
We went inside and were greeted by the friendly bartender. I can't recall his name, but the fact is that he has been with Bear Republic since the beginning, and poured the very first Racer5! While I was taking this picture, he invited me behind the bar to take my picture with the taps. Cool guy!
My friends and I grabbed a table and I decided to order a flight since there were several beers I had never tried. They had several tasting flights available and of course being a self-proclaimed hophead, I chose the "Hoppy Flight." Of the flight my favorite was the Apex and the Cafe Racer. The latter was sublime and quite similar to Pliny the Younger and as pleasant on the palate, but without a four-hour wait. And did I mention the people at Bear Republic were very friendly? They were.
It was too early for food since we had just eaten breakfast, so we chilled for a bit sampling their fine brews. Most of the guys agreed that the Apex or Cafe Racer were their best beers. We also tried the El Oso, a Mexican style lager, which if you like that kind of beer, was most excellent! Another favorite was the Black Racer, a black IPA version of Racer 5. It was very drinkable.
By the time we left at 12:30pm on a Wednesday the homey brewpub which seats maybe 100 and 20 at the bar was packed. It's great to see them doing so well in this somewhat off-the-beaten-track locale. Next stop would be Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma.
We arrived just before they opened at 2pm but a brewery tour was just starting so we tagged along. First stop was the massive bottling facility which runs 24 hours per day, three shifts. Along the way we learned that Lagunitas is the 6th largest craft beer brewer in the USA and the 16th largest brewery overall. Wow! I knew they were well distributed, but this was impressive.
After seeing the bottling line, we saw where they stored the incoming blank bottles. One of my compatriots stood next to them for scale. Wow is all I can say.
Next they took us outside to explain to us how their seasonal beer Lagunitas Sucks got it's name. Apparently they had ordered a new mash tun from Germany to expand production. Well, the container ship carrying it hit a bad storm in the Atlantic and was tossed around and the mash tun was damaged (see photo below). The mash tun is that alien spacecraft looking thing. Anyway, once they got it to the brewery from the port of Oakland, incurring $30,000 in traffic fines due to it's size they found they could not brew all their beers due to the damaged mash tun. So they temporary stopped production of seasonal favorite Brown Shugga. Many customers and retailers called in to complain why they couldn't get their beloved Brown Shugga and asked why. Lagunitas would tell them they story, and often the customer's response was the same. "That sucks!" So, Lagunitas later decided to make a beer called "Sucks" to make up for their inconvenience. It became one of their most sought-after, favorite beer of their customers. That doesn't suck!
In typical Lagunitas quirky, whimsical style, the owner plans to someday situate the "alien spaceship" on the entry lawn in front of Lagunitas.
Next we headed out to their fermentation tank farm. These massive metal monoliths are glycogen-cooled tanks that sit outside and ferment their beer. Each fermenter can produce 18,000 barrels of beer per year! Whoa! Only four are shown here but I think there must had been at least 20-30 of them!
Next we entered the brewing building. This place was a very high-tech facility with cool ideas like a stainless steel hand railing that also doubles as their water line. This facility also runs 24 hours a day, three shifts!
After the brewery tour we were thirsty again so headed over their taproom/beer garden. Again, I chose a tasting flight since there were several beers I had never tried. I tried the Daytime IPA, a session IPA, the Sucks, Nelson Showers, and San Francisco Fusion, all on the hoppy side of things. My favorite was the Sucks, with Daytime being my second favorite.
The smoked brisket sandwich I ordered was tasty and soaked up the beer nicely. We enjoyed the ambience for a while and then before we knew it, we needed to head to the airport. Our Pliny Pilgrimage was coming to an end.
We all had a great time and the general consensus was that even though Russian River Pliny the Younger is delicious, there are so many other excellent beers out there that it just isn't worth a 4-12 hour wait in line! But we didn't let a little wait in line with friends taint our trip, it'd been a great success! We'd checked this off our beer geeks bucket list and could forever tell stories of the trip to our jealous beer geek friends back home. Cheers!