My Love/Hate Relationship with Russian River
I don’t usually get to drink very much Russian River as they do not distribute in Missouri. Still, I’ve been lucky enough to try quite a few of their bottles over the years via trades, gifts, tastings, etc. So, I know their beers well enough to form an opinion on them.
Sunday evening, I pulled out a bottle of Damnation for dinner. What an amazing beer. I just wished it wasn’t plastered with Comic Sans all over the labels…and that’s what brought me to this post. I both love and hate Russian River Brewing Company for several reasons, reasons I will list below, switching things up a bit by starting with the reasons I hate Russian River…
Five Reasons I hate Russian River:
1. Why, after carefully crafting beautifully tasty beers and placing them in fancy, Belgian-style, corked bottles would you cover the labels in Comic Sans? I recognize that I’ve mentioned this fact twice in the first 150 words of this post, but my displeasure over this assault on typographic decency cannot be overstated.
2. Russian River is hard to get in Missouri. Beer geeks are a crafty lot, but it’s difficult to get our hands on small-batch brews that don’t come to our market. Sure, there are ways, but it’s hard enough to keep up with what is distributed here without including hard-to-get beers from other markets. Of course, if Russian River expanded their reach, either the quantity or quality of their beers would suffer. Still, this is a risk I’m willing to take to see Russian River on local shelves.
3. My wife was giving me a hard time the other day when I casually mentioned spending $12 for a bottle of beer, an amount she rarely approaches when buying wine, conflicting with my argument to beer’s relative affordable pricing. (Of course, my real argument is that the best beers in the world can be had for $12 or less while the best wines are five times that or worse.) Anyway, the point is that Russian River beers are expensive. I know one typically gets what one pays for, but some of the Russian River prices are a bit steep. This makes mail-ordering a ridiculous proposition. Try paying $7 to ship a $12 12 oz bottle. It just doesn’t make much economic sense.
4. The hype over both the younger and elder versions of the Pliny franchise overshadows what Russian River really does well: sour ales and various Belgian styles. I have liked not loved Pliny the Elder. There. I said it. Now, I fully expect commenters to tell me all the reasons I’m wrong in my assessment of one of the most beloved and possibly (over-)hyped beers of all-time. I will admit that the times I’ve had Pliny that it might not have been as fresh as possible, but isn’t that also an indictment that the supposed best beer in the world has a short shelf life? Give me a Supplication any day of the week.
5. Did I mention the comic Sans?
Five reasons I love Russian River:
1. Aside from the Pliny beers, Russian River features some of the best artwork on any beer labels. The pen and ink drawings on their labels hearken back to olden times when beers were wild and fermented by the cat hair and spider webs surrounding open fermentation vessels. The sketches feature olde-skool tools that look more like torture devices than gardening implements, suggesting a challenge to your tongue lies within. I don’t know who the artist is, but Russian River figured out the label art factor even if they don’t understand typography.
2. These beers are really well-crafted. I often grumble about the Comic Sans and hefty price tag whenever I score some Russian River. Then I pour the beer into a glass. That’s when the complaints end. Let’s take the Damnation I had this week. Here’s a brief review:
Upon releasing the cage holding the cork, I observed the cork slowly rising from the bottle’s lip. Luckily, I grabbed the cork before any damage was done. The only other beers I’ve seen this much activity upon opening has been when opening a Jolly Pumpkin. However, if I’m not careful, I’ll lose half a JP brew just from the beer shooting out as soon as I lift the cap. The Damnation was fully active but not to the point of spilling all over the place. I poured the beer to find it golden and cloudy. The head was a good two-fingers thick, only dissipating to half that throughout the meal. I’ve never been overly concerned with head retention, but I’ve read that it helps to protect the beer from oxidizing while in your glass. This beer did not oxidize thanks to this unbelievable head. Then, I tasted it… It’s not as sharp or tart as Green Flash’s Rayon Vert (another favorite Belgian Pale), but it more than makes up for that by simply being complex and dry with loads of fruit without being fruity. Really, this was a freaking awesome beer!
Even my distaste for the hype surrounding Pliny subsides a bit when I get enjoy some. There really are no better crafted beers than those from Russian River.
3. I love that Russian River thumbs its nose at the wineries that surround it by aging beers in discarded wine barrels, often infecting them with bacteria and yeast strains that would normally destroy wine, causing some winemakers to avoid RR’s brewery altogether. That’s some some bad-ass punk posturing right there. Plus, even at a dollar per ounce, I can afford a Russian River bottle more often than I can afford the best wines from that same region.
4. The indie-craft ethos I love to promote on this blog is alive and well at Russian River. It stays relatively small and sticks to making artisanal ales that defy style and convention. I realize that the other side of this is the lack of availability, but I get enough RR to fulfill my needs. Never change, Russian River. Never change.
5. In case you haven’t noticed, even most of my complaints about Russian River have to do with how great this brewery is. It’s on my bucket list to visit their brewpub, if I actually had a bucket list. I don’t order and trade for loads of their beers, but I drink them whenever they’re available. So, really, it’s just a love/love relationship I have with Russian River. I’m okay with that.