Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Beer of the Week: Russian River Temptation’s a wowzer

Note: This column was published in the Oakland Tribune/Contra Costa Times in June.

What’s on Tap:

Russian River Temptation

Gives sour a good name

By William Brand
Staff Writer

I’M NOT A HUGE FAN OF BELGIAN SOUR OR BELGIAN-STYLE SOUR BEERS, the kind that are made with wild yeast and aged in funk-ridden wooden barrels,. But I love the concept and history.

I can see those old blue-collar factory workers slogging into a dark, cozy pub after a tough day in an unpleasant factory back in the 18th-century Lowlands, and gulping glasses of Lambic beer, thirst-quenching and mildly sour. Wow, way cool.

But I’ve never worked in a factory and I grew up slurping Coca-Cola and Pepsi. So sour is a new taste for me and often far from thrilling. It took me many months to work up the courage to open a bottle of Temptation, the well-named, barrel-aged beer, brewed by Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa.

I pulled the cork a couple of nights ago and I was blown away.
Temptation **** is a wild, 7.25 percent alcohol by volume, Belgian-style “blonde” ale. It was aged in French oak chardonnay wine barrels for 12 months.

It was an orange color with a crisp, white head of small bubbles and an aroma that is best described as “horse collar.” Those are the big, smelly leather collars that draft horses wear. Call it eau de barnyard.

But the taste? Oh my. It’s initially dry with a growing sourness that lasts and lasts. But it’s not a mouth-puckering, vinegar taste, just mildly sour, balanced by vanilla notes from the wood and a faint malt sweetness to balance the onrushing sourness.
In a sense, Temptation is more like a dry wine than a beer and I’m betting that most wine snobs would find it interesting.

It’s the first one of these American sour beers I’ve ever tasted that reminds me of one I tasted one morning in Brussels. It was so enticing, so refreshing that I began tasting sour beers everywhere. Mostly, I’ve been disappointed. Until now. Viva Temptation.

By the way, Vinnie Cilurzo makes a number of barrel-aged beers. So does Port Brewing in San Marcos and several others.

And furthermore: One beer that’s creating a lot of buzz this month is Stone Brewing’s 12th Anniversary beer. Ready for this: It’s Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, a really big, 9.2 percent beer that is dark as night and a testimony to the brewer’s art.

When Stone founder Greg Koch hired Mitch Steele away from Anheuser-Busch to become head brewer at Stone in Escondido in Southern California, it would have been hard to imagine he’d produce a beer like this one.
It’s nearly as far from Budweiser as is possible to get.

The company explains that the recipe is a combination of Stone brewer Jeremy Moynier’s Oatmeal Stout, brewed in Stone’s pilot brewery, and a homebrewed Imperial Stout with Oaxacan chocolate added along with hops during the boil, made by Jake Ratzkes. Steele used unprocessed cacao, the beanlike seeds that are the source of chocolate and oatmeal.

The beer is on sale now at good beer stores around the Bay Area.

My suggestion: Buy three bottles. Drink one tonight, drink another at Christmas and the third in a year. While the beer is very drinkable now, it’s neither pasteurized nor filtered and with time those oatmeal, chocolate and roast grain flavors will meld into something very cool.

Can’t find these beers? E-mail me and ask for our 2008 Retail Beer Store List.

Reach William Brand at or call 510-915-1180 and ask for his Retail Beer Store List or Good Pub List. Read more by Brand at

***** World classic
****Don’t miss it
*** Very good.
** Good beer; no defects.
* Demand a refund.