Each winter, beer lovers from across the United States and beyond line up in downtown Santa Rosa when Russian River Brewing Company releases its cult-classic ale, Pliny the Younger.
The extra hoppy "triple IPA," rated by one U.S. website as the best beer in the world, typically sells out within two weeks. But demand for Russian River's other brews has grown so strong that the Santa Rosa company has reached production capacity and doesn't have enough suds to supply its current list of restaurants and bars.
Craft brew aficionados in Washington state may have cried in their beer last week after learning that Russian River won't be sold there any longer. The company ended distribution in Washington last month after more than four years in the Evergreen State.
2012: Pliny The Younger Release At Russian River Brewing Co.
"We pulled out of Washington simply because we don't have the beer," said Natalie Cilurzo, who owns Russian River with her husband, renowned brewer Vinnie Cilurzo. "We need it at home because of the pub. That beer is going straight to the pub."
The pub, located on Santa Rosa's Fourth Street, will draw special attention next month as the Sonoma County Economic Development Board seeks to quantify the economic benefit of Pliny the Younger, slated to be released Feb. 1. Researchers will randomly survey patrons, who in past years have come from Scotland, Japan and Denmark.
The survey is part of a larger study this spring on the county's craft breweries, micro distillers and cider producers.
The sector is producing jobs and drawing new attention to a county best known for its wine, said Ben Stone, the board's executive director. And when he happened upon last February's Pliny release, he beheld "the longest line I'd ever seen downtown."
The survey will take place after Russian River's pub enjoyed a brisk Christmas season, with business up 60 percent from a year earlier. And it comes as the Cilurzos are talking together about whether and how they might expand production from their current level of 14,000 barrels a year. Natalie Cilurzo said the couple is "in the middle of the evening discussion phase" and wants to take time to develop a well-thought-out solution.
"We probably need to make a decision in 2013," she said. An expansion could cost between $10 million and $20 million, an amount of debt she considers sobering.
The 70-employee Russian River is known for making world-class beers and for taking a controlled approach to growth.