Brewery News: WA: Russian River Brewing leaves Washington state and the reason why.

 image courtesy of +Russ's Flickr page How many New Year's resolutions did you come up with? Now answer how many you've already broken. Was one of them to finally try Pliny the Elder or Pliny the Younger? Or better still, have you enjoyed a bottle of Temptation, Damnation, or Supplication? If you have answered no to one of  our questions you're S.O.L. (insert your own version for the abbreviation).

Why? Russian River is retracting from Washington state as one of their primary states of distribution.

But this isn't all doom and gloom, depending on what end of the economic food chain you inhabit.

For the publican or grocer this means failing to promise a bottle or case of Russian River to your customer. While the consumer will be left  making a trip to Oregon or California. More importantly this revelation impacts more than just your next pint (or bottle) of Pliny the Elder or Pliny the Younger.

An explanation from Russian River co-owner and Vinnie Cilurzo’s wife Natalie Cilurzo.

Applying some seriousness we contacted Russian River, confirming their disassociation with Washington state. The short answer is yes they are retracting (pulling out, withdrawing, etc.) from Washington. The long answer is about supply and demand, while doing your homework prior to commitment.

Often when a brewery commits to selling in a state, it's with the understanding that anyone can buy their beer. In Washington's case this isn't just Bottleworks, Malt & Vine, By the Bottle, or Beer Junction. This is also grocers like Whole Foods, Quality Food Centers, Fred Meyer, or Haagen (aka Top Foods). And despite what you might think the list above alone is hard to manage when one attempts to meet orders just for Brouwer's or Bottleworks. So you can imagine the headache in keeping up with the QFCs and Whole Foods that operate in the area.

Unfortunately with the passage of 1183 Washington has attracted 'big-box' liquor chains like BevMo and Total Wine.  This translates to financially backed warehouse-style stores buying pallets of beer, instead of cases. They (Russian River) simply cannot keep up with orders, while ensuring that their pub in Santa Rosa has plenty of beer. This translates to shortages and frankly this won’t happen at their brewpub.

image of Russian River Pliny the Elder courtesy of Portlandbeer.org's Flickr pageParaphrasing co-owner Natalie Cilurzo, there are no delivery guarantees in Washington. One week you can be the lucky recipient of a case of Pliny the Elder, the next week nothing. It sucks but it's the way the state works. And it mostly benefits the chains.

Much of the blame falls with the way that Washington state liquor laws treat competition and small breweries. This isn’t a distributor issue this is a Liquor Law issue. To better explain we thought we would include some facts. Keep in mind we aren’t quoting word for word. We aren’t lawyer’s so don’t call upon us as a witness.

  • Fact, a grocer or restaurant can purchase any beer on the floor in the warehouse of a Liquor Distributor. All you have to do is show up, have the correct permits, and the beer, wine or liquor is yours. This is presuming that someone else hasn't already cut a check for it.
  • Fact, a wholesaler (aka Distributor) cannot withhold sale of beer if it's on the floor and unpaid for. Putting it this way, if someone failed to issue payment for a case of Deschutes The Abyss, it would be up for grabs. However this scenario doesn't occur that often since wholesale employees ensure that every case of beer ordered is guaranteed paid for.

So what the he** does this all mean to me?!

No more Russian River ... for now.

Is this the end of Russian River in Washington? More than likely no, since we've already seen breweries like Speakeasy retract and re-stock, all within 5 years. Will there be any expansion at the brewery? The current answer was no.

So if you really need to get your hands on a bottle of Supplication, Consecration, or Temptation, you only need to take an Amtrak, Bus, Plane, or friend down to PDX and hit up your local Bottleshop.

Meantime let's look at the benefits and consequences associated with Russian River's absence.

Pro

  • No more batsh*t crazy publicans (bar owners for the lay persons) distributing raffle tickets for 'the only keg'.
  • No more publications contributing to the hype and stressing bartenders, grocers, and bar owners.
  • No more waiting lists to guarantee your allocation of 'the Elder.
  • No more bottleshops going home stressed out because a promised bottle or case of Russian River beer never showed up, on the agreed upon date.

image from Noble Fir's Pliny the Younger raffle courtesy p_d_gibson's Flickr page

Cons

  • No more Russian River on draft or in bottles throughout the I-5 corridor.
  • No more Brouwer's Cafe Big Wood, Brouwer's Cafe Sour Fest, or Brouwer's Cafe Hopfest; featuring Russian River beers.
  • No more Russian River Pliny the Elder
  • No more Russian River Damnation
  • No more Russian River Supplication
  • No more Russian River Redemption
  • No more Russian River Pliny the Younger
  • No more Russian River Consecration
  • 'Bootlegging' your beer back into Washington state.

Buy'em if you find'em. It's not as serious as the Hostess Twinkie crisis but it's still sad to see a brewery go away.

Cheers

About the photos’ featured in this story.

Photo #1

+Russ is a photo blogger and an avid beer drinker"

Photo #2

"Matt Wiater is a photographer covering the Portland beer scene for portlandbeer.org."

Photo # 3

Paul Gibson originally hails from Carlsbad, New Mexico, so it’s no wonder he prefers the Northwest’s cooler temperatures and its vast selection of hoppy delicious beers. As a kid, he first started taking photos with an Instamatic of his friends on their BMX bikes. Now he takes photos of beer, breweries and on occasion street photography, events and concerts—minus the Instamatic. You can see more of his photos on Flickr (www.flickr.com/photos/p_d_gibson ).

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