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Russian River Brewing prepares for rush as Pliny the Younger sales go online only for 2021

The annual quest for Pliny the Younger will start Thursday but beer fans won’t have to endure the cold to wait for hours at Russian River Brewing’s taprooms.

This year quick dexterity on a computer or smartphone will be paramount as a limited amount of the highly coveted craft brew goes on sale online.

Since the pandemic has ruined the annual February pilgrimage to its brewpubs, Russian River is producing 6,000 cases of its beers — each containing four bottles of Pliny the Younger triple India pale ale — for sale starting at 11 a.m. on its website.

The cases only will be available to California residents and will be shipped overnight once packaged. The price tag: $80 plus taxes and shipping means most buyers will pay $115 for the 12 bottles. The special online sales will be limited to one case per person.

The big question is how long the specialty craft beer — ranked one of the best in the world — will last before it sells out?

“I don't know if it's going to be minutes or an hour, but I feel like it's probably going to be pretty quick,” said Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner of Russian River.

Her business partner and husband, Vinnie, is the brewmaster and first brewed Pliny the Younger in 2005. Within a few years, the craft became an international sensation in the beer world and fans from around the globe started traveling to Sonoma County to taste it.

Traditionally, each February, Russian River taps the special release for a 14-day run at its brewpubs in Santa Rosa and Windsor, which opened in fall 2018. The event attracts thousands of beer drinkers who typically wait in long lines to taste the extra hoppy beer with a potent 10.25% of alcohol content. The related tourist activity attributed to Pliny pumped a record $5.1 million into the local economy last year.

With the coronavirus showing no signs of subsiding, the Cilurzos in November announced they would do online-only sales of the specialty craft brew this year.

“I fear if we open for outdoor dining, there will be people who assume that we must have Pliny the Younger and I don’t want any unintended consequences from large groups of people descending,” said Natalie Cilurzo who indicated Russian River won’t reopen for outdoor dining until mid-February.

Still, to be prepared for an online stampede for Pliny the Younger, the Cilurzos have taken steps with their internet sales vendor Shopify Inc. to be able to handle 4,500 transactions per minute, she said. The brewery will audit every single order to ensure customers receive only one 12-pack case to prevent resellers. The 12-pack also will contain its flagship Pliny the Elder and a specialty sour cherry beer among other brews.

“We're going to look for any potentially nefarious activity like many cases going to the same address. We'll start making phone calls if we suspect that something looks shady,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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