Vignette #21, Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River)

As brewers in the United States began developing their own approach to brewing hoppy ales, a few beers became watersheds in advancing the American palate. One of those is certainly Russian River's Pliny the Elder. I spoke with founder and brewer Vinnie Cilurzo about it back in 2012.

“If you want to know the difference between it and a barley wine, [Pliny's] got 3.5-4% crystal malt in it. So having a low level of crystal malt you really let the hops come through. They’re not being muddled by the caramel character of the crystal malt. Also, we’re using a lot of sugars in the fermentables, dextrose sugar, so it’s drying the beer out and giving the beer a nice light, dry body. Super crisp, but really dry yet really bitter. And like you said the malt just lays the foundation and it’s just there to keep the hops in check without being sweet, malty, biscuity. It’s a real simple malt bill and the hops are the shining star in that beer.” 

“We do use a lot of hop extract for the bittering of Elder. We do it for two reasons. One is to keep the vegetal matter down, and one is also—and this is just a secondary thing—we gain a lot of yield back. We do two dry hops; one at the end of fermentation and one in the middle of that twelve to fourteen day [period].”

Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo. Photo: Liz Hafalia/San Francisco Chronicle

VignetteJeff Alworth