Nearly 30 months after first announcing plans to build a new production facility in Sonoma County, Russian River Brewing Company will open its nearly $50 million, 85,000 sq. ft. brewery, taproom and restaurant on Thursday, October 11.
The opening comes a year after wildfires ravaged Sonoma County, killing 44 people, and displacing thousands of residents.
“Our community has definitely changed,” Russian River co-founder Natalie Cilurzo told Brewbound. “I think this is sort of our new normal. But it’s still really beautiful here and hopefully our new brewery will help drive tourism back to a whole new level and bring even more people back to the community.”
The power of the beloved Pliny brand just might bring the tourists back. Earlier this year, the annual February release of Pliny the Younger — the boozier brother of Russian River’s flagship offering, Pliny the Elder — generated $3.36 million in revenue from tourists visiting Sonoma County as visitors traveled from 40 states and 17 different countries to get a taste of the triple IPA, according to the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.
And there should be more Pliny to go around in 2019, as Russian River ramps up production in Windsor. Beer production on the company’s new 75-barrel brewhouse began in early September, Cilurzo said.
“We haven’t brewed as much beer as we were hoping to brew by now, but I think we’re getting all of the kinks worked out,” she added.
As those issues get ironed out, Cilurzo and her husband, Vinnie, are planning to significantly grow the brewery’s production in 2019. Last year, the company produced 17,000 barrels of beer, and the company is on pace to sell upwards of 25,000 barrels in 2018.
Next year, Russian River is targeting production of up to 40,000 barrels — about two-thirds of its 60,000-barrel capacity. Cilurzo said the increased output will be used to feed their new taproom, and to “backfill demand” with its existing wholesalers and local retailers. The company also plans to open new markets in California.
“We’re making a big giant leap right now, but we’ll maintain that level for awhile and then just kind of comfortably grow into it,” she said. “I don’t foresee us getting up to 60,000 barrels anytime soon.”
Although Russian River’s national footprint won’t extend beyond its existing territories of Oregon, Colorado and Philadelphia, Cilurzo said the company will add new markets in California — including the Central Coast, Mendocino and Humboldt counties, Northern Sacramento and possibly Chico — while also filling holes in the Bay Area and Southern California.
In anticipation of growing its production and expanding the distribution footprint in its home state, Russian River promoted Michael Benz from brand ambassador to director of sales about a year-and-a-half ago. Benz is the first official sales director for the company, assuming the responsibilities from Cilurzo, and he’ll lead a staff of three in California.
“We definitely staffed up our sales side of things to help support our wholesalers and make sure we’re giving the best customer service that we can,” she said.
As one brewery opens, another will close. Russian River is slated to package the last of its beer brewed at its original production facility by the end of October, Cilurzo said.
“It’s a little chaotic, but if I had a crystal ball, I’d say by the end of the year, we should be pretty settled into our routine,” Cilurzo said. “In the meantime, we’re trying to run three breweries with a staff for two. It’s been very challenging.”
Although Russian River will maintain its downtown Santa Rosa brewpub, the company is looking to sell its original production facility, where it has operated for nearly a decade.
The Cilurzos are asking $1.7 million for the turnkey brewery, which is capable of producing up to 20,000 barrels of beer annually, and sublease the property for a little more than three years. The operation includes a 50-barrel brewhouse with four 100-barrel and two 200-barrel fermentation tanks, two 200-barrel Brite tanks, a yeast brink, a wastewater treatment system and other pieces of brewery equipment.
Although Russian River is trying to sell the brewery turnkey, Cilurzo said they would consider selling the equipment “if the offer was right.”
“Hopefully, we won’t have to pull all of that and then broker it out,” she added.
Meanwhile, the company has doubled the size of its staff, adding 120 employees to its Windsor operation, Cilurzo said.
As that facility begins pumping out beer, Russian River isn’t planning to add cans to its packaging lineup just yet, however, Cilurzo wouldn’t rule it out in the future.
“I think it would be really fun to see Pliny in a can someday,” she said.