I just experienced one of the best beer events I have ever attended in Sacramento. I’m referring to the $120 per person beer-pairing dinner at Pangaea Bier Cafe in collaboration with Russian River Brewing of Santa Rosa. Here was a cozy neighborhood pub in Curtis Park partnering with a craft brewery widely considered one of the best in the world.
It was a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness, featuring Russian River’s acclaimed Framboise For A Cure, a tart and fruity barrel-aged sour that is sold only in October. It has become an annual tradition and a great community endeavor in Santa Rosa, with all proceeds from this limited-release beer going to Sutter Breast Care Services of Santa Rosa.
Rob Archie, Pangaea’s owner and a longtime admirer of everything Russian River, had an epiphany that perhaps Sacramento could take part in the effort. His grandmother, Emily Collin, is a cancer survivor, and his mentor, Ralph Branch, is facing a daunting cancer diagnosis.
During the inaugural California Craft Beer Summit in September, Archie had mentioned to Natalie Cilurzo, Russian River’s co-owner, that cancer was a personal affair for him and wondered if he could do something locally to help with Cilurzo’s admirable fundraising efforts.
Soon, a one-of-kind beer-pairing dinner idea was hatched, featuring six Russian River beers and concluding with Framboise For A Cure. Yes, Pliny the Elder was in the mix, paired with roasted leg of lamb with a spicy harissa sauce.
This was an excellent charitable endeavor and the kind of thing that helps take Sacramento’s craft beer reputation to new heights. Hosting a dinner of this magnitude shows moxie, and will surely help put promote Sacramento in beer circles. Pangaea chef Brett Stockdale created memorable dishes to go with each terrific beer. Archie’s bold stroke is the kind of thing that should embolden others in the local beer business to aim high and not hold back.
First, Russian River simply doesn’t do this kind of thing off site. Natalie Cilurzo attended the dinner (husband Vinnie Cilurzo is the legendary brewmaster) and provided her thoughts on each beer as it was served.
“I really loved all of the pairings,” she told me later by phone. “The execution was flawless and the quality of the food was outstanding.”
Asked about our city’s position in craft beer these days, Cilurzo said, “I would say that of all the markets in California, Sacramento might have been a little late to the party, but it’s certainly making up for lost time.”
That was evident when I looked out from my perch at the bar that evening and saw such a wealth of local craft beer talent, including the owners of red-hot Bike Dog Brewing; Ryan Graham of Track 7; Ken Anthony of Device; and Jeremy Warren (formerly of Knee Deep and about to launch Revision Brewing in West Sacramento), whose little-known hoptologist once bested Pliny the Elder in the prestigious Bistro Double IPA Festival in Hayward.
I knew we were in for a great night when the starter beer was Blind Pig IPA. The aromas alone are so vibrant. It also happens to be Natalie Cilurzo’s favorite beer at Russian River. Pliny? It’s not her jam.
“The alcohol, dryness and hops of Blind Pig are in the sweet spot of aromas and flavors for me,” she said. “I don’t drink Pliny the Elder because it’s too alcoholic for me.”
Her regular order at Russian River’s pub – a half pint of Blind Pig – is known to the staff as a “piglet.” I’m not sure if ordering it that way yourself would make you seem really cool … or extraordinarily dorky. Try it and get back to me.
Then there was STS Pilsner, which is a gold and silver medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival. That was followed by Temptation, a relatively subtle and elegant barrel-aged sour. Then came Pliny. In Sacramento beer circles, you usually have to know which retail stores carry it in bottles and then ask the right person if it’s in stock, since Pliny is almost always hidden away. Sacramento definitely has close ties to Pliny.
The fifth course of braised short ribs with roasted root vegetables was paired with the acclaimed Consecration, a full-bodied sour aged in cabernet sauvignon barrels for up to eight months.
Drinking through these beers paired with delicious food shows Russian River’s beers at their best, for a great pairing can enhance all the right flavor notes and make the beer drink even better.
In this instance, given the cause, the setting, the stakes, the energy and passion in the room and all that local talent taking part, this was without doubt a great event that will help take Sacramento’s beer scene to greater heights.