Beer is such an ancient beverage that it was used to pay the workers who built the Pyramids. In olden Europe, a woman’s beer-making abilities were a critical factor when it came to choosing a wife. Thus, it may not be a stretch to say that while beauty and passion may fade, a good beer recipe is for life.
And Santa Rosa and Sonoma County have no shortage of good beer.
Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewery in downtown Santa Rosa have no trouble believing in the power of the hops because they are convinced beer chose them as mates. In their 22 years together they have never stopped making beer.
"Vinnie was a homebrewer when we first met," says Natalie.
These days they specialize in barrel-aged hoppy California brews. Their biggest seller is Pliny the Elder, but their seasonal triple IPA called Pliny the Younger has become a cult beer with crowds showing up at their brew pub for its release each year (the next one is in February 2013.). Watch for the lines crowing downtown sidewalks as a telltale sign that the Younger has arrived.
The Cilurzos make up to 25 brews a year and distribute their bottled product up and down the west coast and in Philadelphia.
Just one street over from Russian River is Third St. Aleworks, another Santa Rosa beer hotspot. It specializes in making brews mostly in the five percent alcohol range with an occasional foray into eight percent beers.
"We want to keep them drinkable – more classic than super strong," says brewmeister Randy Gremp. "We also make classic German beers in addition to the hoppy west coast style. I think we are the only brewery making a cream ale."
Their big seller is Puddle Jumper, a pale ale, and they also make a popular Bombay Rouge. They began bottling a year ago to spread the word. So far they distribute to four counties. In a year, they brew 20 to 30 different beers seasonally.
The establishment holds brewer dinners pairing beers with the courses – including dessert.
"We have a great chef who mostly cooks our standard pub fare, but at the dinners he gets to pull out all the stops," says Gremp.
A bit further north from Santa Rosa but still in Sonoma County is Bear Republic.
That brewery, which has its own loyal following, has a large bottling operation up in Cloverdale operating round the clock, but always has a number of beers brewed on site on tap in their brew pub in downtown Healdsburg.
"Racer 5 is our flagship beer," says Brian Denn, brewmeister for the pub. "It’s an IPA."
Like Russian River and Third Street, Bear Republic has been honored many times in regional, national and even international beer-making competitions.
Bear Republic won two medals at the prestigious Great American Beer Festival in Colorado, including a silver for Racer 5 and a bronze for the Peter Brown Ale.
A new addition to the Sonoma County beer-making scene is BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, a Southern California-based chain that recently expanded into a large, new location at Santa Rosa’s Coddingtown Mall.
BJ’s is known for its Oktoberfest-style beers along with several other German-inspired flavors. More than a dozen hand-crafted beers are on tap, spanning the range of palates. For a lighter direction in your stein, their Belgian wheat beer is a North American Gold Medal winner.
But really, you can go just about any direction when it comes to homemade beer in Sonoma County. Just find a bar stool at any of these friendly brewpubs, scan over your choices and hoist a pint.
"We all have our distinctive house characteristics, so you can really go beer tasting, like wine tasting," says Russian River’s Natalie Cilurzo. "It would get boring if we didn’t and who wants boring beer?"
Locations, hours, and contact information:
All of these breweries have numerous happy hours and appetizer specials. Russian River offers live music on Saturday and Sunday.
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