Russian River Brewing Company has been a great inspiration to me in many ways. Of course, the many awards on their walls, from the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival, would be inspirational to any brewer, but there is something very special about this place. If our own brewpub becomes even half as successful, I will consider that one of the greatest accomplishments in my life - and one that I owe to the inspiration and advice from Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo.
I have enjoyed their special atmosphere since the first month they opened, over 4 years ago - and I am fortunate that I live within walking distance! Their sunny patio is across the street from the town library, and I have often enjoyed a new book in the warm sun with a cold Pliny.
Their food is also top-notch. In fact, when my father came to visit over Christmas, he said theirs was the best pizza he ever had in his life!
And yet, there are several places that make good beer and serve good food, but somehow they lack that je ne sais quoi that makes Russian River such a special place. Some have suggested that part of their magic comes from the New Albion Brewery sign that graces the top of their barrel-aging room - a relic from the very first "micro-brewery", founded in nearby Sonoma in 1976. That may be part of their secret, but Vinnie and Natalie are also the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.
I have felt privileged to attend a couple brewfests with them, but it is a little strange having people tell "me" how great I am - when I know they really mean Vinnie. It is like being the batboy for Babe Ruth's team: my hat and shirt might look the same, but I know I am not even in the same league. All I can hope is that by letting me stand in his shadow, I might someday grow into a giant.