Hopheads the world over revere Russian River Brewing Co.’s Pliny the Elder double IPA, and thousands line up around the block each February for a chance to taste the limited-edition Pliny the Younger triple IPA. Before there was Pliny, however, there was Blind Pig.
Vinnie Cilurzo brewed America’s first double IPA, appropriately named Inaugural Ale, at Temecula’s Blind Pig Brewing in 1994. A few years later he closed Blind Pig, moved to Northern California with his wife, Natalie, and began brewing at Russian River Brewing Co., which was owned by Korbel Champagne Cellars at the time. When Korbel decided to get out of the beer business in 2002, the Cilurzos bought Russian River and in 2004 opened their Santa Rosa brewpub.
Pliny the Elder still accounts for most of the brewery’s sales, but other Russian River beers of distinction such as Temptation, a wine-barrel-aged sour, and the Brett (a type of yeast with particularly vivid characteristics)-fermented Sanctification have loyal followers of their own.
Russian River’s downtown brewpub seats fewer than 200 people, so scoring a table or a seat at the bar can be challenging. But the place more than compensates for the lack of elbow room with friendly patrons, delicious beer, and a casual dining menu. There’s also a happy hour weekdays from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and all day Sunday. In 2018, the Cilurzos opened a larger brewery and brewpub in nearby Windsor. It features the same great beer along with a new menu, outdoor seating, tours, and an expansive gift shop.