Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Hopmonk Dinner: The beers of Russian River – Pliny with a Temptation chaser

By William Brand
Monday, September 22nd, 2008 at 9:15 pm in Uncategorized.

How about this? A glass of Russian River Pliny the Elder, with a Russian River Temptation chaser? Two of Russian River’s most famous beers, Pliny,  one of the world’s first double IPAs and Russian River’s first “tion” beer fermented with brettanomyces (wild yeast.) Wow.

Did that the other night at a beer dinner featuring Russian River’s beers at Hopmonk in Sebastopol. It was the second in what promises to be a long series of excellent dinners featuring the cuisine of Hopmonk chef Lynn McCarthy and the beers of great craft breweries. Next will be tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 23) at 6:30 p.m. featuring Lagunitas. Call 707-829-7300 for a reservation.

The Russian River dinner was an interesting, intimate dinner.  This is the first restaurant Hopmonk proprietor and Gordon Biersch co-founder  Dean Biersch has opened in years and he’s done a bang-up job on the site of the former Sebastopol Brewing Co. There’s a main dining room, a beer garden and a cozy music hall, where the dinners are held. The hall, carved out of a cavernous storeroom is wclcoming:  dark beam ceilings, candlelight, long community tables.

Most of the diners were folks from Sonoma County, many of whom had followed every nuance of Russian River since Vinnie first opened shop in 1992 in a specially-built brewhouse at the Korbel Champagne Cellars on the Russian River.

The rest is history: In 2003, Korbel decided to give up the beer business, sold the name to Vinnie and his wife, Natalie. They built their brewpub in Santa Rosa and reopened a year later.

In opening remarks, Vinnie saluted Lagunitas. He said that when he closed the Korbel brewery he had 40 to 50 pub cuistomers in the Bay Area. “I asked Ron Lindenbusch (of Lagunitas) if they would take care of his customers. He said, ‘Sure.’ And when we opened in 2004, we got all our beer customers back.

“That never happens in the beer business. Yes it does., Lagunitas really helped us,” he said.

Vinnie shared a number of anecdotes, some I’d never heard, like how he and Natalie got the brewing equipment for their first brewery, Blind Pig, in Temecula  in San Diego County where they grew up.

“I bought the equipment from a guy who was in jail in Arizona for selling marijuana,” Vinnie said,. “They called him “Electric Dave” and he sold me his whole plant. It turned out the brewery was a side business, a cover for his marijuana business (in Bisbee, AZ.)”

Under federal law, the government had the right to all Dave’sproperty. But through an error, they had the wrong address for his brewery. Vinnie bought  the plant, took it away, depositing as Dave’s girlfriend requested, the money in a sink in the brewery. “When we left there was nothing in the place but the sink and $20,000.  The feds never found it,” Vinnie said.

About Pliny, Vinnie explained that he got a call from Vic Kralj, proprietor of the Bistro in Hayward, CA, who was planning his first Double IPA Festival.   He asked if Vinnie could do one. He could. But what about a name?

“I was thinking of “Gargantuan,” but that was not quite right,” Vinnie said. “Finally, Natalie brought out a beer dictionary. We looked up hops and found the Latin,  “humulus lupulus.” Then we found Pliny (the Roman author of the first encyclopedia, which included a section on beer and who, with his contemporaries, named hops). Voila! ” Pliny the Elder.

The beer currently accounts for 50 percent of Russian River’s sales and Vinnie estimated they’ll produce 10,000 barrels of beer this year, 7,000 barrels at the new production facility and 3,000 barrels at the brewpub.

The beer itself is 8 percent, 100 International Bitterness Unit (Bud is 13 IBU, 5 percent). It;s a blend of two row pale barley malt, acidulated malt from Weyermann in Germany, – malt which is treated with lactic acid to lend a tart and slightly sour note to beer.  In this case, it helps balance Pliny’s malt sweetness. Pliny also includes Carapils malt, a crystal which gives the beer  color and more body.

“I always use the small amount of crystal,” Vinnie said. “I don’t reallylike crystal. Crystalk malts and American hops are like a train wreck.” The flavors collide, he said. “Most of my beers are about the same color,” he said.

And Pliny is indeed a tribute to American hops. The signature hop is Simcoe, which gives it lots of pine, pineapple, citrus and floral notes. Whew.

Follow that with Temptation. Oh my. Temptation is a  7.25 percent, Belgian-style blonde. It’s fermented with brett and aged in French oak Chardonnay wine barrels treated with bacteria. Taste is dry, then a rush of sourness. And this was for starters.

Chef McCarthy served a number of appetizers and a plate of herbed bread with cranberry and crab apple jam and artesian cheese. It all worked.

Here’s the rest of the menu:

  • Second Course: Scallops with tomato creampaired with two different years of Damnation, Belgian-style Strong Golden Ale.
  • Entree’  Course: Rabbit Pappardelle w/cream sauce paired with Salvation Belgian Style Dark Ale.
  • Dessert/Appertif Course: Key Lime Pie paired with Supplication, Barrel-Aged American Wild Ale.

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  • The Duke of Dunkel

    So when you say Pliny with a Temptation chaser, do you mean a glass of Temptation immediately after you finish a glass of Pliny, or do you mean both glasses filled at once, and following each sip of Pliny with a sip of Temptation?

    If you could answer before I get home, that would be great. I’ve got a bottle of each in the fridge and they’ve been bellowing my name all day. I’m dying to answer the call.

  • William Brand

    Hey Duke… 1. a glass of pliny. 2. a glass of Temptatiion. But the imporant thing is to eat something during and between. Soft cheese, herbed bread, maybe just whole wheat bread with some kind of not to sweet jam.

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