Renowned chef Thomas Keller has a palate that's not easily impressed. And yet the brews of one lanky, rustic, unshaven man turned his head.
Vinnie Cilurzo is no ordinary brewer.
At 39, he makes highbrow artisan beers that push the brewing envelope at Santa Rosa's Russian River Brewery, and that's why Keller tapped him to make a specialty brew for him.
“As I understood it, Keller was looking for a beer that a line cook could drink a couple of after an eight-hour shift on the line,” said Cilurzo, who aimed to fill that need when he developed the beer he dubbed White Apron.
The beer is being served at Keller's Bouchon restaurants in Yountville and Beverly Hills, and it may be offered at Bouchon in Las Vegas and Ad Hoc in Yountville before long.
Keller may be Cilurzo's most high-profile fan, but it turns out he's one of many.
The brewer has a cult following, with his February release of Pliny The Younger forcing his fans to endure a 3-hour wait, lined up for blocks to get into his Russian River Brewery on Fourth Street.
“It was nuts,” said Cilurzo, with a laugh. “We had people from Japan, Sweden and 20 states come just to get a taste. We had people from all over the country. .
His cult standing is also evident from a recent worldwide beer competition. In January, the website ratebeer.com had a “Rate Beer Best” competition and Cilurzo's beers came in sixth place.
Two-million-plus consumers rated 110,000 beers, and other North Bay brewers didn't fare as well, with Bear Republic in Healdsburg the highest-scoring competitor in 37th place.
Joseph Tucker of ratebeer.com said what sets Cilurzo apart from other brewers is his passionate experimentation, particularly when it comes to second fermentations.
“Vinnie has been doing this for a long time,” he said, “and he is truly a pioneer of aging beer in oak barrels.”