Brewing Innovation: Vinnie Cilurzo

Ten years ago, Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo set out to challenge the status quo in the heart of California's wine country by introducing a fully hopped lineup of beers from their own microbrewery, Russian River Brewing Company. Fast forward to today, and all their hard work has paid off, with numerous awards, and a barrel-aged sour Belgian beer that's revolutionizing the craft beer scene! Come discover Vinnie and Natalie's story, and explore the incredible journey of Russian River Brewing Company.

Vinnie Cilurzo and his wife, Natalie, are legendary craft brewers who first brought aggressively hopped beer to California’s Sonoma County, often known more for its wine than its beers. The pair have made waves as owners of Russian River Brewing Company since they took it independent in 2009, winning countless awards and pioneering an incredible lineup of barrel-aged sour Belgians.

Brewing the Dream

Vinnie and Natalie truly started from humble beginnings after they acquired their first brewpub in the 647 square-foot former Deer Lodge restaurant in downtown Guerneville, California in 1997. Though it had been home to a brewpub since 1988, Vinnie and Natalie were the first to bring their innovation and passion to the initiative.

A little over a year prior, Vinnie had been hired on as a brewer to the Santa Rosa Brewpub in Santa Rosa, California. While the prospects of owning his own brewery were exciting, the couple thought twice about the switch — going from a sure job to a major financial risk. But driven by their passion, they made the leap.

Bold Beer in Wine Country

Vinnie and Natalie brought something to the area no one had ever seen before — increasingly hoppy beers, a rarity back then. This, of course, came as great surprise to many Sonoma County residents, but it was a move that would earn the couple a resounding praise.

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Getting creative with their beers, the pair started experimenting with recipes, giving customers a reason to keep coming back. One of the first special beers Vinnie produced was the Blind Pig I.P.A., a recipe which he would return to years later once Russian River was operating independently in 2009.

Going Independent

Vinnie and Natalie took sole ownership of Russian River Brewing Company in early 2009, resulting in a production capacity of over 6,500 barrels annually. The move meant a world of possibilities for the couple, such as the ability to increase the production of the fan-favorite Pliny the Elder Double IPA.

That same year, the couple debuted their first barrel-aged beer, Confessional Sour. A red ale aged in red wine barrels and re-fermented with wild yeast, Confessional set the stage for other classic barrel-aged brews like Temptation, a blonde ale aged in French oak chardonnay barrels and Consecration, a dark ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels.

Thanks to Vinnie and Natalie's hard work and dedication, these wild Belgian-style ales have become a hit and put Russian River on the craft beer map.

Festival Phenom

The couple has managed to take Russian River to new heights, and their fanbase is scarily devoted. Every February, hundreds of devoted beer lovers flood Santa Rosa for the release of Pliny the Younger, a limited-release Triple IPA, triggering an frenzy unlike any other. However, Russian River has no shortage of exciting brews that confidently cater to the demands and expectations of the craft beer.

The arsenal of unique, high-octane offerings includes:

  • Blind Pig® I.P.A.™
    A citrusy, hoppy, mid-level ale meant for the experienced I.P.A. fan.
  • Pliny the Elder®
    A Double I.P.A. jam-packed with bold and delightful flavors.
  • Pliny the Younger®
    A Triple I.P.A. that, as mentioned before, has cult-like followers waiting in anticipation every February.
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Award Winning Brews

Vinnie and Natalie's success has resonated, and it doesn't show any sign of slowing down. They've won numerous awards, screaming their name around the world. The list is too long to go through all of them here, but here are a few of the big ones:

  1. The Elder took home a Gold Medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival®.
  2. At the 2018 World Beer Cup®, Consecration took home a Gold Medal and Row 2, Hill 55 won a Bronze Medal.
  3. Pliny the Elder has also won beer awards beyond the
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