MankerBeer Meets: Pre Cantillon Quintessence – Vinnie Cilurzo/Russian River

1391939_735407506485748_1865815303_nAbout 6 months ago my sidekick M2 and I ventured the American west coast in hopes of hops and glory. Great American Beer Festival (GABF) was over and it was time to see what the warm west could give us except for sun and a sense of being at home. Arriving in San Fransisco the day after GABF our mid-size American huge car set off for Sonoma and Russian River – why settle with less for the start of the real beery vacation?

During a lazy evening after one of the GABF sessions we managed end up at a table next to three of my all time beer role models – Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewery), Tomme Arthur (Lost Abbey) and Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River). Three pioneers who have helped develop the international as well as American beer community into what it is today. Happily for us Tomme and Vinnie were friendly enough to tell us to give them a heads up if we would ever be around San Diego or San Fransisco – both parts of our post-GABF tour.

Said and done, a couple of days later we rolled in at Russian River’s brew pub in cozy Santa Rosa and for all of you with Google translate skills and/or knowledge in Swedish you can read about that here. Unfortunately, Vinnie was still back east in Denver so we didn’t have time to catch up, until now.

The occasion is contrary to what one might think that we cross over to the states again but that Vinnie and founder of Allagash Brewing Company Rob Tod are coming to Europe to team up with lambic master galore Jean van Roy of Cantillon. One day not too long ago it was announced that the trio had joined forces and made a special Wild Friendship Brew consisting of equal parts 3 year old Cantillon Lambic, 2 1/2 year old Allagash Coolship and 2 year old Russian River Sonambic. More than that Cantillon released the information that on the 1st of May 2014, between 10.00 and 18.00 Cantillon would host the Brewery Quintessence. The three mentioned breweries will all attend with beers such as Russian River Pliny the Elder, Allagash Resurgam and Cantillon Zwanze 2012 (among bunch of other goodies). Tickets were limited to 60 per half hour to be able to have a rolling schedule and at the moment there are 43 tickets left divided over 2 of the later sessions. 30€ each which includes some Brussel food treats. Only days after Grote Dorst’s Night of the Great Thirst and the Zythos festival and the day before Copenhagen Beer Celebration kicks off in Copenhagen, Denmark it is guaranteed to be week full of beer.


Together with our “Surisarna” (Sour Dudes) we will travel to Brussels on the 29th and try to share as much passion as everyone else. To prepare for Quintessence I though it was time to reconnect with Vinnie and see what he had to say about the event, the collaboration and give us his thoughts on what is happening right now in the beer community.

MankerBeer (MB): How come you, Jean and Rob teamed up for this one-day festival and what gave birth to the ideo of Wild Friendship Brew?
Vinnie Cilurzo (VC): The idea was actually Jean’s, he invited Allagash and Russian River to come in and blend our spontaneous fermented beer with his and make an event out of it. Neither Allagash or Russian River would be spontaneously fermenting now if it weren’t for Jean and his family. They gave both American breweries so much inspiration and knowledge when it came to spontaneously fermenting.

MB: We rarely see RR or Allagash beers in Europe, due to the demand from the home markets or why is that?
VC: At Russian River we have no distribution outside of the US and we don’t plan to. We brew at 100% capacity year round at both our breweries and as it is we do not have enough beer for our regional distributors, local accounts, or even our brewpub. We still sell 80% of our beer in California and distribute the remainder of the beer in three other states. Becoming a super large brewery is not our goal so we will most likely always have enough market here to sell to.

russian-river-beatificationMB: One of our readers wanted to ask if RR already have one, or is planning to make a 100% spontaneously fermented beer?
VC: We already make one, it is called Beatification and we’ll be pouring it at the event. We start out making our equivalent to a Lambic, except we call it Sonambic out of respect for our Belgian friends. We take several batches of Sonambic and blend them to make Beatification. It is a barrel of Sonambic that we shipped to Cantillon to make the Friendship blend.

MB: “Pliny” is arguably one of the hoppy beers that have generated the most discussion on freshness with one side arguing that it has to be poured within a week while others enjoy it perfectly well after some weeks – what is your take on the freshness debate on hoppy beers?
VC: It isn’t just Pliny the Elder, but really any hoppy beer should always be kept cold and should be consumed as fast as possible. The one reason I think Pliny often comes up in the discussion is because of the way we have marketed Pliny and with all the verbiage on the label about drinking it fresh. Pliny has about a 8 to 10 week shelf life and the earlier you drink it the better the hop profile will be. I’ve had perfectly good 8 week old Pliny but the hops still don’t shine through at that point as they did when that particular bottle was younger.

MB: Apart from not being brewed in Pajottenland, how come we don’t see proper US brewed lambics when every little US craft brewery seems to have their own American Sour?
VC: First off, I think it is a misconception that every small US brewery is making sour beer. It seems like everyone is making one but the truth is it is still a very small segment with-in the US craft market. With those that are making sour/barrel aged beer most don’t have a coolship or horny tank and due to the potential of cross contamination most US brewers want to stick with just pitching the Brett and bacteria to make a different version of a sour/barrel aged beer. Also, making spontaneous beer is very hard, it takes up a lot of space and blending is a real part of spontaneous beer so having a lot of barrels to chose from is important and most breweries don’t have the space for this. I’d say above and beyond everything it comes down to cross contamination.

western-beer-tasting-russian-river-brewing-natalie-vinnie-cilurzo-1012-xMB: After a few years of not receiving attention or being deemed as odd sours, goses and berliner weisses have grown into the “it-beer style” right now, have the brewers improved their skills for sour beers or are there any explanation for this?
VC: I’d go back to my previous answer, there still are not that many brewers in the US making goses and berliner weisses. I judged this category at the Great American Beer Festival in 2013 and in total I think there was maybe 50 entries. That is a lot, but it’s not like the IPA category where there was over 200 beers. Those that are brewing these styles are probably interested in exploring new sour styles. Also, these types of sour beers are easy for the first time sour beer brewer to make as it doesn’t take much additional equipment other than maybe some additional parts for their fermenter. I know when I give sour beer presentations I always advocate for the first time sour beer brewer to either make a 100% Brett fermented beer, a goses, or a berliner weisse. All three of these styles are great starter beers for someone who is just getting into making funky beer.

MB: I love RR beers but I must admit that it wasn’t until I visited the brewery the week after GABF that I could try the selection of non sours and “not-Pliny”. With so much focus on the special beers isn’t it sad that people might miss amazing brews like the OVL Stout or Aud Blonde?
VC: Thanks for the kind words. One thing we always say, “we can’t force people to drink our beer.” And even when they are drinking our beer at our pub it is up to them to decide what they want to drink. We make a lot of beers that are only sold at the pub and many are lower alcohol beers. From an operational side, right now we have a good mix of popular beers as well as year round beers that don’t sell as well along with a good number of one-off brews that we brew on occasion. The fact that we don’t distribute many of these beers outside of the pub is because we don’t have the capacity to make any more. With that said, having a bunch of unique one off beers is fun to have at the pub as it is nice to hear from customers that they found a new favorite RRBC beer. My favorite new brewpub only beer is called Dribble Belt, it is a 4.2% ABV hoppy session beer. Here is a link to our web site chalk board, I think we have 19 beers on right now-

MB: What is in store for the future of RR? Right now we are just holding steady with our current production and distribution.
VC: We are not opposed to expansion but we will never be a large, fast growing American craft brewer like some of our friends are doing. We are happy with slow growth and in some cases no growth. This brewery is as much a life style for Natalie and myself as it is a business. Some day we might make more beer but for now we will keep doing what we do at our current level.

MB: What are you looking forward to the most with going to Brussels for Quintessence?
VC: Going to Belgium use to be more about learning for me, I would try to learn as much as I could from any Belgian brewer I could meet. Now, going to Belgium is about seeing all of our Belgian friends, that is what I look forward to the most. It will be a real honor to drink the Friendship blend in Belgium, Natalie and I are completely flattered that Jean invited us to do this project along with Rob and Jason at Allagash.

MB: Finally then, when will we see you or RR beers in Sweden?
VC: Sorry, as I said above, we don’t plan to take on any distribution outside of the US. The truth is, if Russian River distributed outside of the US, when the American craft beer drinker got wind of this they’d be upset. For now, you have to come to beautiful Sonoma County and drink our beers fresh.

We appreciate that Vinnie took the time to talk to us and hope that you have learnt something or is on your way to book the last few tickets for the event. It was a long time I was looking forward for an event this much and this time it is not all about the beers but the feeling of being down in Belgium, sipping on some of the best beers out there with the best brewers and beer lovers out there. I hope to see you all there!

Magnus "Manker" Björnstjerna

Grundare och skribent på Från ett fokus på allt vad USA har att erbjuda och med en kärlek till gedigen amerikansk mat, bra bourbon och framförallt all landets fantastiska öl har Manker nu börjat förstå storheten i belgisk öl.

Magnus "Manker" Björnstjerna

Grundare och skribent på Från ett fokus på allt vad USA har att erbjuda och med en kärlek till gedigen amerikansk mat, bra bourbon och framförallt all landets fantastiska öl har Manker nu börjat förstå storheten i belgisk öl.

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3 Responses to “MankerBeer Meets: Pre Cantillon Quintessence – Vinnie Cilurzo/Russian River”

  1. Greg Zyn says:

    It’s good that you guys went on this adventure. I am sure you had a fun time on this adventure, and you learned a lot of things. If you have some details about the new Cantillon drink, then please share it on this website.


  1. […] faster and is finally less than two weeks away. In 7 days I will be in Belgium, drinking beer with Russian River, Cantillon and Allagash but first thing Friday morning we depart from Brussels heading for Copenhagen. These last couple of […]

  2. […] vi berättar lite mer om bryggeriets historia och bakgrund. Manker har redan intervjuat legenden Vinnie Cilurzo från Russian River om det eventet, Quintessence, som var ett av målen med vår resa så läs gärna den för att få […]

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