Despite the rain and hours-long wait, beer drinkers began lining up Thursday night in front of Russian River Brewing Co. for its annual Pliny the Younger release.
Thousands from all over the globe will make a pilgrimage to Santa Rosa to get a sip of the extra-hoppy triple India Pale Ale, which some claim is the best brew in America and is consistently at the top of various beer aficionado websites.
The beer, named after the ancient Roman lawyer and author, is one of the most exclusive in the world, sold for only two weeks at the downtown Santa Rosa brewpub and a few select places, mostly in California, in very limited amounts.
The first customers, a couple from the Los Angeles area, arrived at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to make sure they were first in line. When the doors open Friday morning, patrons will eagerly plunk down $4.75 for a 10-ounce glass. But that’s not all they will spend.
A 2013 survey by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board found that Pliny the Younger brought almost $2.4 million in economic activity to the area, with about $1.4 million in direct expenditures related to the event. Those figures are likely to go up this year.
“They have an effect on craft beer like that of the Mondavi family for wine in Napa,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. “They have created an awareness of Sonoma County, an image for Sonoma County. It really has become a hallmark for Sonoma County.”
The list of economic impacts is long: Taxis. Coffee. Hotel Rooms. Gas. Food. And even women’s clothing.
At first glance the brewery’s target demographic for its two-week event probably isn’t the same as Punch Clothing & Accessories, a boutique women’s clothing store nearby on Fourth Street. After all, Russian River’s mostly male customer base favors baggy denim jeans, baseball caps (worn backwards) and T-shirts. It’s more Phish concert than “Project Runway.”
But at least 30 percent of Pliny the Younger’s customer base is female, made up of many fashionable millennials, said Natalie Cilurzo, who owns Russian River Brewing Co. with her husband, Vinnie.
Last year, Punch sold out of its stylish ladies’ “Beer Drinker” T-shirts that retailed for about $40, forcing the store to reorder. This year the store will also have a “Beer Lover” T-shirt for $52 by local designer Odessa Gunn.
“It’s something that girls can get into and still feel a little girlie with the guys,” said Camille Weber, manager.
Over at La Bufa Mexican restaurant, owner Delia Mora thinks standing in line for as long as 10 hours the night before is crazy, but she doesn’t mind all the customers who order a burrito to go.
Entrepreneurs have sought to capitalize on the hubbub. Last year, a mom brought her daughter downtown to sell Girl Scout cookies to the hungry beer fans. “They probably sold thousands of dollars worth of Girl Scout cookies,” Natalie remarked.
But across Fourth Street, Starbucks was closed one week for remodeling last year during the Pliny release.
“We were joking that somebody in management made the wrong decision,” she said.
And with the annual Pliny release now entering its 11th year, the sharing economy is getting involved. On Airbnb, one person is offering his studio loft for $75 night during the release, which they note “is walking distance from downtown (10-15 min).”