Take a look at the pic above. One of these is from a Sonoma County winery, the other is from Russian River. Which is which?
As mentioned in an earlier post, local provenance is big here. Sonoma is one of the largest agriculturally-active counties in the US, but the most obvious activity is wine-making, with around 300 wineries producing in a dozen American Viticultural Areas. But beer is here, too, with Moonlight, Bear Republic and Lagunitas well-known alongside Russian River, who take wine barrels for ageing of their highly-regarded sour beers from local wineries. Evidence of this part of California's past links to be beer can be found from the tasting rooms of the Russian Hill winery, where three hop kilns sit amidst the rows of vines.
My mate Rap, as well as being an oenophile, loves his beer, and he's friends with Natalie & Vinnie at RRBC, so it's off to sunday brunch then a quick look around the production brewery.
I visited the production brewery in late 2008, and it's changed a lot since then. There's extra fermenters in the main part of the brewhouse, while the separate area for the sour beers has an extra tank too. Huge pallet racks line the walls near the loading area, and cages define the interior much more than a few years back. They've taken extra space to set up climate-controlled barrel and bottle storage, as well.
We get to look inside the Aladdin's cave of the vintage bottle store, and there's some planning for the future. A beautifully-appointed tasting room is being created, with all the timber for shelves and the bar coming from a salvaged wine tun. That future requires some change to Californian law, so nothing will happen anytime soon, according to Vinnie, but they want to be prepared.Aladdin's Cave; funky kegs - look away Kevin...; hullo, hullo...
Soon we're heading back to the Bay Area, dodging heavy rain showers which freshen the air and leave it full of eucalyptus as we drive past small groves of the trees. A quick stop at Marin Brewing for a so-so pint of Mt. Tam Pale Ale (too sweet), then back to Oakland where Mr & Mrs Snake join us for a vertical tasting of RRBC Supplication. Batch 1 is past it now, says Vinnie, so we have 2,3, 4 and 6 to sample. The latter two are fermented slightly differently to earlier vintages, and are a bit too young to be developing any funky notes, but the 2 and 3 are full-on. Fantastic in the mouth, still retaining their sour cherry fruit notes. Supremely drinkable. I wonder whether the beers would experience the sort of 'sine wave' John Keeling at Fuller's sometimes describes to demonstrate how his Vintage Ale changes from year to year...
That's the final part of this series. Not enough days, too much beer for somebody who only drinks for a few hours a week, and the joy of enjoying good beer with good company. Let's do this again, soon.