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Shorter lines for Russian River Brewing's annual Pliny the Younger release

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Crowds of enthusiastic beer drinkers lined up on Friday to sip, savor and swirl Pliny the Younger, but the waits for one of the most famed brews in the world were far shorter than in years past.

Russian River Brewing Co. opened the doors to its downtown Santa Rosa brewpub and its new facility in Windsor before 11 a.m., allowing customers to sample this year’s version of the triple India pale ale widely regarded as one of the best beers in the world.

By mid-afternoon, people were waiting about an hour to get inside one of the two locations — down from three- to four-hour waits on opening day a year ago when Pliny was only available at the brewery’s Fourth Street pub.

The reviews for this year’s recipe?

“It’s fabulous. The finish is smoother. It has got a lot more floral (flavor),” said Dave Pyne, a Santa Rosa resident who was first in line at the Windsor location on Friday. It was Pyne’s 10th year waiting in line, which in some past years has been up to eight hours at the Santa Rosa location.

But with two places to taste Pliny this year, wait times were much shorter. Some in line said they would try to visit both the Windsor and the Santa Rosa facilities if possible, though maybe not in the same day.

Co-owner Natalie Cilurzo said she was pleased with the response. In past years, the Santa Rosa pub drew up to 15,000 customers during the two-week event. Smaller crowds make the visitor experience more enjoyable and provide more incentive for local residents to come out and at least drink one of the 10-ounce pours, she said.

The rules for the limited release, which ends Feb. 14, have been designed to get more people through the doors as quickly as possible. Customers are allowed to purchase up to three Pliny the Youngers per person, given the beer has an alcohol content of 10.25 percent, and there is a three-hour limit for each round of seating to move people along.

“This is kind of what we wanted,” Cilurzo said. “We don’t want people to wait in line a lot.”

By 7 a.m. Friday, more than 100 customers had lined up at Russian River’s original pub in downtown Santa Rosa, a queue that while impressive on a winter day was still nothing compared to the waits of years past.

“Way shorter. I think it will still get pretty busy eventually, but the people who come later are definitely going to be lucky now,” said Brian Nevinger of San Francisco, who started waiting in line at midnight on Friday.

Other Pliny fans opted to go to the new Russian River brewery and restaurant in Windsor, which opened in October. There were almost 100 people outside the 10-acre facility at 9:30 a.m. Friday. Those who showed up shortly before 11 a.m. were able to get in the first seating, a scenario almost impossible since the annual two-week beer release exploded on social media in 2010, attracting visitors from across the globe.

Those fans said they appreciated some of the perks that came with the Windsor location. It has 2 acres of free parking — including charge stations for electric vehicles — as opposed to the paid parking lots in downtown Santa Rosa. The Windsor brewery also has a bathroom that can be accessed by customers from the outside. Santa Rosa visitors must rely on port-a-potties or the nearby Starbucks or Peet’s Coffee restrooms.

“It’s the Motel 6 versus the Hilton,” said Diane Williams of Apple Valley, comparing the experience of waiting outside the downtown Santa Rosa brewpub to that of the new Windsor location. The new location also has an expanded and varied menu that features items such as flank steak with garlic and herb roasted potatoes, an open-faced pastrami sandwich and avocado toast.

Still, others preferred the charm of waiting outside at the original location.

In his third year, Nevinger said he wanted to go back to Santa Rosa because he can reconnect with people he has met standing in line in past years and knows exactly what pizza to order.

“I need no menu,” he said.

Nevinger also bought Girl Scout cookies from one local girl and paid cash, saying he learned from previous years to be prepared.

“We briefly talked about going to the other one (in Windsor), but we were like, ‘nah.’ This is like our home. It’s our home bar,” he said.

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

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