When world-class beer connoisseurs dream, they behold the snaking queue that starts this time of year in downtown Santa Rosa at Russian River Brewing Co. and ends blocks away, then they float above the other seekers of seasonal Pliny the Younger triple-IPA and are greeted at the door like royalty.
Except for the floating, that dream came true Monday for a fellow who asked that I not use his name.
I can tell you this: he’s a firefighter who was on the job as he and the members of three households in his extended family lost their homes to the Tubbs fire, and he’s a most grateful and optimistic guy.
“It was a quadruple hit that night,” he said.
AS HE SIPPED one of Earth’s most acclaimed beers, he was acutely thankful to a stranger named Matt Mernmer. Matt had paid 25 bucks for a ticket in the drawing to determine which Pliny fan would bypass the line outside Russian River Brewing on Monday and be the first served.
This year alone, nationwide sales of cut-to-the-front raffle tickets have brought more than $114,000 to efforts by the brewery’s Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo and the King Ridge Foundation, co-founded by cyclist Levi Leipheimer, to assist people impacted by the October fires. To date they’ve raised more than $900,000.
So Matt won the drawing for the right to ascend to the head of the line on Monday. He told Vinnie and Natalie he’d like for the honor to go instead to a local first responder.
The Cilurzos, deeply touched by the kindness, reached out to a fellow brewer who’s also a firefighter: Aron Levin, co-founder of St. Florian’s Brewery in Windsor and a captain with the Windsor Fire District. Could he recommend a colleague who’d make a good recipient of the Pliny the Younger line-cutting prize?
HE COULD. Aron thought of a member of the Santa Rosa Fire Department who fought the firestorms that destroyed his home and those of three individuals or families close to him — and who likes good beer.
I stopped by the firefighter’s table at Russian River Brewing on Monday. He was sitting with an older man.
The fireman told me that when Aron Levin asked him if he’d like to take advantage of the front-of-the-line pass, his inclination was to say no, to let another first responder go.
Then he thought of his father, who lives in Southern California and is the true beer aficionado of the family. The firefighter decided it would be very cool to invite his dad up to share the gift from Matt Memer.
I asked his dad what he thought of Pliny the Younger.
“Probably the best I’ve ever had,” he said. “And I’ve drunk beer all over the world.”
His son said there are reasons he’d prefer not be named as the firefighter selected for special treatment at the brewery.
He said also that he and the people close to him who lost homes “are all kind of muddling through the process” and striving to focus on the opportunities ahead and not the obstacles.
“We’ve really tried not to be negative about all this,” he said.