Most craft beer enthusiasts have at least a few favorite breweries. I have several but two of my favorite breweries are Firestone Walker Brewing Company and Russian River Brewing Company, both from California. Unfortunately, Russian River stopped distributing to Washington state a couple of years ago; right around the time our state liquor laws changed and places like BevMo and Total Wine & More moved in. Personally, I miss their wonderful sours more than I miss Pliny The Elder (and Pliny The Younger).
One of Russian River’s reasons for halting distribution to Washington was due to the changes in our state laws (I heard rumors that BevMo wanted to try and buy out Russian River’s entire supply of Pliny The Elder the year they moved into Washington). However, it was also a financial as well as a supply and demand issue. The last Russian River Brewing Company beers were shipped to Washington in December 2012.
According to Russian River Brewing Company:
“(Washington) is our only market where, due to state liquor laws, we have little or no control over the managing over our brand.”
They also stated: “Our brewpub accounts for more than 50 percent of our revenue which is quite remarkable for a brewery our size,”
The unusually high percentage of revenue Russian River gets from their brewpub in Santa Rosa, California means they have extremely strong demand in local markets and have made the decision to pull out from out of state markets as a primarily financial decision. Thankfully, Firestone Walker continues to distribute to Washington though, and has given no indication they have any plans to stop.
Now, due to a new collaboration between Firstone Walker Brewing and Russian River Brewing, it looks like we’ll have the chance to see another ‘Russian River’ been distributed to Washington State. That beer is STiVO, “A Craft Pilsner Lovechild.”
Here is the full press release from Firestone Walker Brewing Company:
Santa Rosa, CA and Paso Robles, CA—After a lengthy courtship, Russian River Brewing Company and Firestone Walker Brewing Company announced today the imminent arrival of STiVO—an immaculately conceived mashup of their respective craft pilsners, STS and Pivo.
A collaborative beer made by Russian River owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo and Firestone Walker’s Brewmaster Matt Brynildson, STiVO Keller Pils was brewed to commemorate the 2016 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest on June 4. It will be released at the fest, and will thereafter be available for a limited time at select draft accounts in Firestone Walker markets nationwide.
Both brewers say that STiVO is as much a testament to personal friendship as professional collaboration.
“This beer has 10 years in the making,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “Vinnie and I respect each other immensely as brewers, but more important, we’re good friends.”
Brynildson noted that when the Cilurzos built their brewery, Vinnie Cilurzo would call regularly seeking technical input. Conversely, when Firestone Walker established its Barrelworks wild ale facility, the brewing team leaned on Cilurzo for his expertise. Cilurzo even gifted his original bottling line to Barrelworks. In 2014, when Russian River was undergoing a brewhouse expansion, Firestone Walker temporarily brewed Pliny the Elder to help keep the taps flowing (“That was the ultimate collaboration,” Brynildson said). Both brewers are also founding members of Hop Quality Group.
“It had to be inspired…”
Naturally, over the years, pressure began to mount with regard to a potential collaboration brew. “People have been asking us for years about a collaboration beer, but we never wanted to force it,” Brynildson said. “It had to be inspired.”
That inspiration finally struck when they began discussing the idea of a collaborative pilsner to commemorate the 2016 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
“Neither Matt nor I started out as pilsner brewers when we each got our start in the craft beer industry, but it’s a style we are both passionate about,” Cilurzo said.
Added Brynildson, “I think people were expecting us to come out with something like Pliny The Elder-meets-Double Jack on steroids, or some extreme barrel-aged beer. But it ultimately came down to us wanting to make the type of beer we personally like to drink when we’re hanging out.”
The result is STiVO, a happily arranged marriage of the STS and Pivo recipes. “Our water philosophies and malt profiles were already essentially the same, and our yeast strains were pretty similar, so it really came down to how we wanted to handle the hops, and the overall weight of the beer we wanted to make,” Brynildson said.
“Although many pilsners from around the world have influenced me, none give me more inspiration than Pivo,” said Cilurzo. “Blending our two pilsner recipes to create this special brew for the 2016 Firestone Invitational seemed only natural. Natalie’s and my friendship with Matt and the Firestone Walker family is at the very heart of this beer.”
Cilurzo and Brynildson ultimately split the hops down the middle between Pivo’s German Saphir hops and STS’s Alsatian Aramis hops, both of which belong to the new wave of European hop cultivars.
“These hops are more similar than they are different, and they blend really well together,” Brynildson said. “They don’t taste like fruity American hops, but they’re not like Old World Hallertau hops, either. They’re perfect for this idea of a new age hoppy pilsner.”
Cilurzo and Brynildson also bumped up the front-end malt for a slightly higher gravity and a resulting ABV of 6.3%, a distinct notch above the 5.3% of STS and Pivo while still remaining dry and super drinkable. Also, like STS, STiVO was racked to kegs unfiltered and will be presented in the classic keller style, naturally carbonated and slightly hazy.
As Brynildson put it, “STiVO is the desert island beer that Vinnie and I would share if ever we were thrown off the boat together.”
STiVO is set for release at the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest on Saturday, June 4, and will be available on draft shortly afterwards, for a limited time, in Firestone Walker markets nationwide, including Washington. There’s no confirmation yet regarding which places around Seattle will see kegs of STiVO, but I would bet on places like Brouwer’s Cafe, The Pine Box, The Beer Junction, Chuck’s Hop Shop(s), and other local craft beer spots where you usually find Firestone Walker beers on tap.
Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.