New Russian River Brewing in Windsor takes menu up a notch
Is this really the sleepy little town of Windsor? Here I am, in a 2-acre parking lot, gazing up at a multistory, multibuilding campus spanning 85,000 square feet of beer brewery, a 195-seat restaurant, a beer-tasting salon, a 1-acre, pet-friendly beer garden, two bars and a gift shop. All in all, the property sprawls across 15 acres about 1½ miles from the city’s quaint Town Green park.
It seems a bit surreal, but yes, this is Russian River Brewing Co.’s new location, adding to its original spot on Fourth Street in downtown Santa Rosa. Founded as part of Guerneville’s Korbel Champagne Cellars in 1997, then sold to its original brewer, Vinnie Cilurzo, in 2003, RRB is a point of pride across Sonoma County. In America’s ever beer-loving culture, RRB has gathered international attention for its innovative, hoppy microbrews like Double India Pale Ale (Imperial IPA), sour beers and rabidly sought-after triple-hopped Pliny the Younger ale that is only available for two weeks each February.
While the 135-seat Santa Rosa spot remains highly popular, the huge Windsor palace is drawing lots of clientele, too. Opening week last October drew thousands of customers, and each time I’ve stopped in since then, the restaurant has been busy and loud. The concrete and grass garden has been mostly empty (thank you, historic winter-spring rains), and so has the beer salon, with its nine brews on tap (which isn’t too surprising, really, considering that the restaurant boasts up to 20 oft-changing beers, so why not just sip there, with a nice nibble alongside?).
RRB Santa Rosa has food — pizza, sandwiches and snacks like chicken wings and antipasto. But RRB Windsor sports a bit fancier food — a cup of silky, overly sweet fall squash soup drizzled with pistachio butter and honey ($9), and roasted half-chicken that’s pleasantly dressed with squash-sourdough panzanella, arugula and crunchy hazelnuts ($22).
Personally, I wouldn’t make a special trip for the good enough but mainstream eats. Yet if meticulously crafted beer and a party atmosphere is your thing, make a beeline.
Like at the original pub, chicken wings are well-executed, delivering a half-dozen meaty gams ($11) glistening in a gently hot honey-chile glaze. I’d like more spice, and there’s no sauce served alongside, so I add a splash of the Sonoma County-made Chiligods red pepper sauce my server brings.
Most self-respecting brew pubs have fish ‘n’ chips, and RRB’s version is satisfying, delivering three big, fluffy, beer-battered pieces of flaky cod set atop too-soft, thick cut Kennebac fries ($15) with a side of mild, creamy tartar sauce. I do my work with the red pepper sauce again, and it adds more attitude, a welcome touch since so many of the beers here are so big and bold. That ever-popular Blind Pig, for example, wallops my palate with its hugely hoppy, full-bodied brew underlaid with pine notes and a dry, bitter finish.
I wouldn’t necessarily crave salad with beer, but this chopped recipe is layered with the meaty flavors of cubed salami, provolone, hard boiled egg and garbanzo beans among the creamy vinaigrette-dressed cucumber, arugula and tomato ($13). I can see enjoying this while lounging on the garden lawn when the sunshine returns, relaxing with friends and my mellow Rhodesian Ridgeback. To go with: an Aud Blonde, a light, nutty ale kissed with grapefruit zing.