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Staying calm amid the 'Pliny the Younger' clamor (w/video)

  • Natalie and Vinnie Chilurzo at the Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

When Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo showed up for work on that day in early February in 2010, they were greeted by an astonishing sight — a crowd waiting outside on the sidewalk clamoring to get into their Santa Rosa brewpub, hours before the restaurant was scheduled to open.

The unexpected draw was the annual release of a seasonal beer that brewer Vinnie had created on a whim six years before, known as Pliny the Younger. Every year, he would put it on tap for a few weeks in the gray, rainy days of February and March, a little treat for regulars to survive the winter season. Russian River Brewing Co. had done no advertising for the event and had never bottled a single drop of the beer, yet here on that surprising day were hundreds of people waiting for release day.

The beer was gone in less than a day. Within hours, half-gallon jugs, known as growlers, were showing up on the online auction site eBay with asking prices well over $100.

Pliny The Younger Release

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Turns out that Pliny the Younger had been rising steadily and quietly in the ratings at websites such as RateBeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com and had recently topped a list of best beers in the world.

“It is kind of mind-boggling,” said Natalie, 45, recalling that frantic day in 2010. “We never got into this for any kind of notoriety or fortune. We're just passionate about beer. We wanted to work together and make a living doing it.”

Since 2010, Russian River Brewing has become a little more adjusted to the fame. The beer, often known simply as “The Younger,” is strictly rationed now to make sure it lasts for at least two weeks. They've installed crowd control stands and hired security to police the line. They refuse to put the beer in growlers. Natalie even launched a campaign that eventually forced eBay to quit allowing the black market trade in beers across state lines.

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