Best Local Brewery/Spirits: Russian River Brewing Co.

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Owners Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo pictured with members of their team at the Russian River Brewing Co. in Windsor.
“We are always striving to improve everything from beer quality to the customer experience, safety in the brewery, company culture and the health and well-being of our team.”—Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner & president
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Owners Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo pictured with members of their team at the Russian River Brewing Co. in Windsor.

Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo never envisioned themselves as the co-owners of Russian River Brewing Co. And yet, here they are, as their brewery tops the Best Local Brewery/Spirits category in the Best of the North Bay 2024 competition.

The brewing company was founded in 1997 by Korbel Champagne Cellars—Vinnie was hired as the first employee, working as brewmaster.

The Cilurzos purchased the beer business outright in 2003—Korbel signed over the rights to the company and beer names, as well as the recipes for each specific brew. The company’s best-known brand, Pliny the Elder, was first brewed by Vinnie at the Korbel facility in 1999 and continues to collect accolades for the brewery.

The Double IPA has a perfect score on the online beer-ranking site Beer Advocate. Brewed with four variations of hops—Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ and Simcoe—Pliny the Elder is well-balanced with malt, hops and alcohol. Its flavor profile includes notes of floral, citrus and pine.

“We are always striving to improve everything from beer quality to the customer experience, safety in the brewery, company culture and the health and well-being of our team,” says Natalie, who serves as co-owner and president.

The popularity of Pliny the Elder’s nephew—Pliny the Younger can be compared to that of a cult following. This year’s limited release of the triple IPA marked the 20th anniversary of its debut.

Each year, fans of Pliny the Younger come from far and wide, waiting in anticipation (and long lines) to taste the medium-bodied beer that has notes of oranges, stone fruit and citrus. Each year the hops vary slightly to create a well-balanced and smooth result. This year’s production included Simcoe, Amarillo, Citra, Mosaic, Elixir, Warrior and Nectaron.

The flagship Santa Rosa location opened in April of 2004. Here patrons can pick from a selection of beers on tap and order select foods like pizza, calzones, sandwiches, salads, chicken wings and more.

With plans for expansion, the Cilurzos were determined to set up another location upon obtaining ownership of the brewery. The search began and eventually the brewpub in Windsor opened its doors in 2018. Larger than the Santa Rosa brewery, the Windsor brewery has an outdoor beer garden, gift shop, administrative offices, free parking and a selection of its high-quality beers on tap as well as bottles of sour barrel-aged beers.

Natalie describes a continued commitment to quality which involves everything from simply updating machinery to generating the best possible product. She let NorthBay biz know that they recently installed a new 20-barrel brewhouse in the Santa Rosa brewery to make the beers taste that much better.

“We may not make a lot more beer each year, but we continue to experiment with new techniques, equipment and quality ingredients in our beer recipes,” Natalie continues. “We listen to customers and our employees and make improvements to our business operations where possible. We are also committed to supporting not only the community in which we live, but the craft beer industry which we love.”

russianriverbrewing.com

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