It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing is one of the country’s best-known brewers—largely for his extreme-beer cred. (In fact I might go so far as to say he’s a rock star of the brewing world, but people seem to cringe when terminology like that gets thrown around…)
Anyway, CHOW magazine is running an interview with Cilurzo that’s a good read; it gets into some of the behind-the-scenes at Russian River and also highlights some of the, er, dangers in working with wild yeasts.
You’re known in the brewing world for being adept at using this challenging type of yeast, Brettanomyces, that’s used in many Belgian ales. What’s the appeal?
Brett creates a rustic, unique flavor, like leather or barnyard. It’s really distinctive. But it’s extremely aggressive. Some winemakers won’t even come in here because they’re afraid to get it on them. I’ve had brewery owners call me and say, “My brewer wants to start brewing with this yeast; what do you think?” Then I tell them all the risks—the wild yeasts, bacteria floating around your brewery, and it’s dangerous from a brewing standpoint [because it can infect other beers]. Then usually the brewer calls me up all mad, because I’ve talked the owner out of it.
This brewery is not that large. How do you keep the yeast from spreading into the other beers?
We keep two of everything, if not more. And what I mean by that is, we have a separate pump just for the funky beers. Different hoses, different valves, different gaskets for hoses and doors, and even the rubber gloves we use for cleaning and handling. And we keep the barrels of aged beer in a separate room.