Pliny lives! Firestone Walker steps in to keep vaunted brew flowing

While upgrading their own brewery, Russian River will make Pliny at Firestone Walker

Paso Robles’ Firestone Walker Brewery is lending a hand, and a brewhouse, to their friends at Russian River Brewing to keep kegs of Pliny the Elder flowing while upgrades are made to the Russian River Brewery.

Russian River Brewery is perhaps most loved for its superlative double IPA Pliny the Elder, and the Santa Rosa brewery has long struggled to keep up with demand for the hoppy brew. A new production brewery was built in 2008 that included a secondhand brewhouse (the equipment that cooks the grains and boils the wort in the brewing process) sourced from Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery.

After six years and countless batches of Pliny, the equipment is showing its age and needs to be upgraded. A new, more efficient, stainless brewhouse is being built for a February delivery, but Russian River’s production brewery will have to be taken offline for about a month while the new equipment is installed.

Instead of letting the flow of Pliny dry up, Russian River’s co-owner Vinnie Cilurzo called up his buddy David Walker -- co-founder of Firestone Walker Brewery -- and asked for some help.

“It was really cool,” Walker told me about being tapped by Cilurzo, adding “Matt [Brynildson -- Firestone Walker’s brewmaster] and Vinnie go way back. It’s a good fit.”

Cilurzo and Brynildson will work together to adapt the recipe for Pliny the Elder for Firestone Walker’s larger, state-of-the-art brewing system, and the resulting kegs (bottled Pliny will still come from batches brewed in Santa Rosa) will keep Russian River’s fervent draft accounts happy until the new equipment is running.

Unfortunately for Pliny’s fans who are often frustrated by the beer’s limited availability, even after the new system is running at Russian River, the brewery isn’t planning to increase production of the beer.

“Please understand this is not an announcement that we are expanding capacity! As stated many times before, there is no possible room to make anymore beer at either brewery,” reads the statement from Russian River.

While there’s been no announcement, and Walker was cagey when I asked, a collaboration brew between Firestone Walker and Russian River seems natural. I can’t help but (wishfully) think that while Cilurzo is in Paso Robles working with Brynildson that the two will cook up another collaboration brew. When two of the country’s best IPA brewers are in the same brewery talking shop and working together, it seems inevitable that a little side project gets launched.

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