Russian River Brewing set to soon open its long-awaited brewery and restaurant in Windsor

Brewing has begun at Russian River Brewing Co.’s grand facility in Windsor, but beer lovers will have to wait a few more weeks before they can belly up to the bar in the new taproom to sample its beloved craft beers.

The brewery and restaurant - an 85,000-square-foot building situated on 10 acres off Highway 101 - should be open by Oct. 15, co-owner Natalie Cilurzo said Monday. The tab for the sprawling complex and the innovative German-made brewing system inside that will enable the brewery to double its annual production to 35,000 barrels is more than $30 million.

The opening is arguably the most anticipated event in the American craft beer sector this year, industry insiders say, as well as a massive economic lift for the town of about 30,000 residents.

Russian River is regarded by fans and critics as one of the best craft breweries in the United States. Every February, loyal customers wait in line for hours at its Santa Rosa brewpub to taste the limited release Pliny the Younger triple India Pale Ale specialty brew named after the nephew and adopted son of its flagship beer Pliny the Elder double IPA; that 14th annual spectacle this year generated $3.3 million alone. In 2017, almost 400,000 people visited Russian River’s Fourth Street taproom.

“There’s always been a hype for the beer for a long time,” said Peter Lopez Jr., owner of Juncture Taproom & Lounge in Santa Rosa and a founding member of the NorCal Beer Geeks group. “Now they will have the facility to go with the beer. That’s the wow factor.”

The new Windsor brewery, Lopez said, should serve as a tourist attraction in its own right because it will have both guided and self-guided tours of the beer-making operation, providing a sensory experience of seeing and smelling the fermentation process similar to some of the major wineries in the Sonoma County area. He compared it in scope to the large Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. facility in Chico and its sister East Coast brewery/restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina.

“There will be some who will want to check it off their bucket list,” he said of craft beer aficionados who will want to visit.

Brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo, Natalie’s husband and co-owner, last week brewed the inaugural batch in Windsor. It was a porter made in an open-top fermenter - a first for Russian River. He followed with two sour beers, a brown ale aged in pinot noir barrels with sour cherries and a dark ale aged in cabernet barrels with currants.

“It’s a challenge turning on the equipment for the very first time and brewing beer,” his wife said. She said the porter finished with a density and alcohol content near what it is brewed at the Santa Rosa brewpub. “We’re happily surprised with it.”

The company held a job fair on Monday at the Huerta Gymnasium in Windsor to hire about 120 people to staff the Windsor brewery/restaurant, including cooks, security, bartenders, servers and a delivery driver.

Even in a tight labor market, Russian River received job applications from highly qualified bartenders and servers who are working at area restaurants, she said, adding “We’re very pleased with the quality of candidates we’re getting.”

Eleven workers from the Santa Rosa brewpub will come over to the new sister brewery, Cilurzo said, though none of the longtime bartenders who prefer to stick with their local clientele.

“Downtown is home for a lot of people,” she said.

Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, previously compared what the Cilurzos have done to boost the county’s craft beer sector to how Robert and Margrit Mondavi helped popularize premium wine in Napa Valley.

“They have been to craft beer here in Sonoma County what the Mondavis were to wine in Napa,” Stone said of the Russian River Brewing owners.

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