Welcome back loyal readers, casual visitors or anyone who has accidently stumbled across this page. It’s nice to be back reviewing beer after a hiatus for a few weeks. My last review was actually written before Jim & Phil contracted that STD (Server Terminating Download) together, making it four weeks since I have been able to write about all the wonderful beers I’ve drank. This week I’ve decided to go with a Redemption by Russian River from my “beer cellar” (the place in my kitchen that I keep warm beers until there is room in the fridge). In a roundabout way, this ties in with the Philly Beer Week strip and subsequent discussion. No, the beer is not brewed there, or have any actual association with the city of brotherly love, but I did have to drive to Philadelphia to purchase it.
Russian River is a California-based brewery originally started by the Korbel champagne company but then was sold to the head brewmaster, Vinnie Cilurzo. Anyone familiar with California beer scene in the early 2000’s may remember his last brewery, The Blind Pig. While working as owner/head brewmaster at the Blind Pig, Vinnie was recognized as one of the most inventive microbrewers in the country and is even credited with creating the Double IPA, or Imperial IPA, beer style. In addition to having a celebrated brewer, Russian River has quite a few accolades itself. According to BeerAdvocate.com, Russian River’s Pliny the Younger and Pliny the Elder are ranked #1 & #3 beers in the world respectively. After reading that, I’m sure most of you are thinking “These beers sound great! I should run out to the beer store right now and grab a case or two.” I wish I could tell you it was that easy. Until recently, the only place you could enjoy Russian Rivers was in the western half of the country (their Damnation was on tap at the Oskar Blues restaurant in Colorado). Luckily for those of us that spend the majority of our time in Eastern Standard Time Zone, a distributor in Philadelphia is the first to sell Russian River beers east of the Mississippi.
After learning this incredible news, I convinced my girlfriend and another of our friends to take a road trip with me. I did admit a two hour road trip just to buy beer sounded a bit insane (even for me), so we also took a trip to the Victory Brewery which is about 30 minutes west of Philly. Before the trip I called all the highest ranked beer stores in the Philadelphia area to see what they had in stock. I quickly realized there were four different beers currently available and that most stores only had one or two of them. After about two hours of calling around, I finally found a store that had all four in stock. Even though the trip was planned and it wouldn’t make much of a difference, I asked about the prices of them. I was told one bottle was $10, two of them were $15 each and the last was $20. These weren’t horrible prices considering I buy several 22 ounce bottles a week that cost around $15. It wasn’t until I got to the store the following day that I found out the bottles I was purchasing were only 12 ounces. Yup, your math is correct. That is $60 for 48 ounces of beer.
Before heading home, we stopped off in a decent bar called the Devil’s Den, recommended by the cashier at the beer store. They have 16 taps that were predominately dispensing local PA beers (Troeg’s, Yards, Victory, Weyerbacher, etc.) and a very impressive 5 page bottle menu that was dominated by imports but still had plenty of American craft brews.
Once I got my recently acquired stash of Russian Rivers home, I didn’t do the whole “junkie getting his fix” thing and through them all in the freezer and count the seconds until they would be drinkable. I actually didn’t put any of them in the fridge for a few days and still have two that are still warm. I didn’t want them to be drank some late night after I got home from the bar and couldn’t appreciate them so I saved them until I had a night I knew I would be able to sit back and truly enjoy a beer. When this night finally came, I felt like I really deserved it. I removed the wire basket and cork from the bottle and took a sniff before I even poured it. There was an obvious odor of Belgium yeast and not much else. I then poured it into my Delirium tulip glass where it showed its nice golden color with bone-white head full of tiny bubbles that quickly dissipated (looked similar to the head on a glass of champagne). The yeast was still the most pungent smell coming through but was now accompanied with some clove spice and lemon zest. The first taste actually had me a little nervous because nothing was really standing out. However, after a few more sips I really began to embrace the balance I found in this beer. While nothing was standing out, there were several perfectly balanced subtle flavors in there. The yeast was present but toned down from what was in the odor, as was the clove that I smelled. There was also a citrusy grapefruit flavor that came through with grassy hop flavor I a perfect combination. Each sip finished with a dry, bready taste with a tingly mouthfeel from that light champagne-like carbonation. After finishing the glass, I could really see why this company is revered the way they are. It takes a truly skilled craftsman to find such a perfect balance between such different flavors.
The other three Russian Rivers I have are also Belgium-style which I am looking forward to. Its not one of my favorite styles, but I do enjoy them occasionally. I am really looking forward to the day I can get my hands on some of their Double IPA’s. With that said, anytime any of you are heading to Philly be sure to let me know. I’ll either take the trip with you or give you beer money. Bottoms up!