Not to deviate from the emphasis of this blog for too long, but since our beer guy Bryan Brick doesn't care much for weblogging, I'm going to give it up for Russian River Brewery today. For those of you out there who haven't noticed our beer department lately, it has been completely transformed. No longer sporting Becks, Corona, or Budweiser six-packs for those last minute wine shoppers who forgot they needed a few cold ones, our new selection is on a single bottle basis and features the best and brightest craft-brewed beers from artisan brewers world-wide. The entire Redwood City staff has been along for the ride and we have witnessed an entirely new base of customers frequent our store on a daily basis. Some of these bottles are priced like a normal bottle of Anchor Steam, and some can be as much as $40 (for a single bottle of beer!). Like whiskey, many beers are now being aged and enhanced in bourbon barrels, wine casks, you name it. It is a market that has taken the booze world by storm and, in my opinion, it is the most exciting part of our store at the moment.
My epiphany during this entire process came with my first sip of Russian River Brewing's Pliny The Elder. When Bryan first aqcuired this beer for us it was nothing short of a phenomenon. We were selling out our allocation in minutes with people rushing over to get their hands on the two bottles we limited our customers to at that time. Some people were driving over 100 miles to reach us! Wondering what the fuss was all about, I threw down my money, bought a bottle, and I've never looked back since (once you've tasted Ardbeg or Talisker, can you really go back to Glenlivet 12). I can safely say at this moment that it is my favorite beer in the world and my appetite for it is insatiable. Brimming with concentrated hoppy flavor, the palate is soft and graceful with smaller bubbles and it finishes with a clean and refreshing bite. The intensity of the flavor never overpowers - like other beers that I can't drink more than a few sips of despite their deliciousness.
While the Pliny has been their bread and butter, Russian River Brewing has made beer geeks everywhere salivate with their heavier offerings noted for their big rich flavor, as well as Belgian-styled ales that made our locals forget about Brussels; the Consecration - a dark ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels; the Temptation - a blonde ale aged in French Oak Chardonnay casks; and the award winning Damnation - a strong Golden Ale done in the Belgian style. While I enjoyed each of these beers, they weren't something I wanted to unwind with after a long day of stocking whiskey bottles.
Last night, however, I finally brought home the newest release from RR Brewing called Supplication and I was very impressed. Having been introduced to sour beers last year with Bryan's selection of Belgian Lambic Geuze ales, not only was I fully prepared for the tartness, I was eagerly anticipating it. Adding some barrel-aging to the sour beers seem to be the hot thing right now, but I've been bowled over by the last few I had. Something about the combination of tart with the dark, thick richness of a stout was too much for me. However, the Supplication - not nearly as heavy as some of the others - was spot on. While some barrel-aged sours had tried to punch you in the mouth with intensity, Russian River Brewing knew how to tone it down a notch and balance everything perfectly. The brown beer is aged in Pinot Noir barrels with sour cherries added and then fermented in the bottle. The result is a masterpiece of harmony with the tartness, the bubbles, and the hoppiness of the ale all working together in perfect unison.
I now face a tug-of-war between two amazing flavor profiles both hankering for my complete love and affection. The Supplication is no one-trick pony - it is a sour beer that I can drink on a nightly basis. Now I just have to afford it.