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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hat Tip to Vinnie

Someone just tipped me off to this interview with Russian River brewer Vinnie Cilurzo. It starts out with fairly fluffy content, but then there's a passage about how a commercial brewery must handle brettanomyces yeast and what the costs are to hand-craft barrel-aged beer. It's worth reprinting, if only underscore Russian River's commitment to good beer.
This brewery is not that large. How do you keep the yeast from spreading into the other beers?

We keep two of everything, if not more. And what I mean by that is, we have a separate pump just for the funky beers. Different hoses, different valves, different gaskets for hoses and doors, and even the rubber gloves we use for cleaning and handling. And we keep the barrels of aged beer in a separate room.

How did you first decide to start experimenting with aging beers like wine, in barrels?

The first beer we made with Brett, Temptation, was also our first aged beer. It was made in 1999 and released in 2000. It’s a blond ale aged in Chardonnay barrels. You don’t have to ferment in barrels if you use Brett; you can do it in stainless steel. In fact, my very, very favorite beer, [the Belgian] Orval, is made that way. But I wanted to put Temptation in wood, because Brett is a yeast that’s so strong, it just wants to keep on eating. If it runs out of sugars in the beer to keep eating, it won’t die. It’s almost impossible to kill. But if you give it a place to live in the porousness of the barrel, it can keep eating the sugars in the wood, and keep kicking out all these interesting flavors while it’s doing it.

How long do you age your beers?

Consecration is aged 6 to 9 months, Temptation 9 to 15 months, Supplication 12 to 18 months. The average brewery is on a 24- to 25-day cycle. It’s a pretty big financial hardship for us to make beer this way. Our biggest-selling beer, accounting for over 50 percent of our sales, is the [unaged Double IPA] Pliny the Elder. We could make a lot more [unaged] beer in here if we didn’t commit this much space to funky beers, but that’s my passion.

Full interview here.


  1. I liked this line....

    "I kind of invented the Double IPA at the [now-defunct] Blind Pig in San Diego, where I worked prior to Russian River [Brewing Company]. I did it mainly because the equipment we had there was so rustic that if there were off flavors, the hops would cover them up."

    I wonder how many NW brewers sphincters puckered after reading those statements.... ;-}

  2. It made my mouth water more than anything. I couldn't be happier that Pliny is now available in our market.

    After reading more about Vinnie he seems to be widely quoted about accidently making an IIPA by not adding enough water. I've known many a homebrewer that has made high gravity beers for the same reason.

    Either way, thanks!