Mecca for beer

There is a god.

There is a god.

There’s a 10-minute wait just to get into the Russian River Brewing Company and, the door guy tells us, likely another 90-minute wait once we’re inside.

I’m already hungry and it’s cold, but instead of turning around to find another place to eat, we walk to the back of the line and settle in for the long haul.

This is, after all, the entire reason we drove to Santa Rosa in the first place.

“Leaving now would be like getting shut out of Walley World,” my husband says.

Tucked away on a corner in the NorCal town’s downtown district, the Russian River Brewing Company is a destination, a mecca for all things beer.

It is, of course, home to the famous Pliny the Elder, a high-octane double IPA with a fruity taste and kick-ass wallop.

The beer, named after the Roman naturalist and philosopher, is available in Sacramento at various stores and restaurants such as Taylor’s Market, but retailers and restaurateurs can’t seem to keep up with its demand. And so, locally at least, it’s developed a feverish following.

At its Russian River point of origin, however, Pliny is always on tap.

After a few minutes, we’re ushered in—a red-velvet rope would not be out of place here—and put our names on the waiting list.

“It’s probably an hour-and-a-half,” the hostess warns us, handing over a beeper. Undeterred, we immediately head to the bar to ponder drink choices, finally setting on the Redemption ale.

With its relatively slight 4 percent alcohol content, this seems like the wise choice on an empty stomach.

Despite the hostess’s warning, we’re seated less than a half-hour later at a high table near the jukebox (Nina Simone! Motörhead! David Byrne!) where we task ourselves with the rest of our meal.

The brewery, founded in 1997, might be nestled in wine country, but here it’s all about the beer. There are numerous on tap—it’s overwhelming, really. So, for the indecisive (or adventurous) a 15-beer sampler seems like the best way to go.

The set arrives, housed in a wood tray fitted with 15 shot-sized glasses, each holding 2 ounces of beery goodness. The samples, the waitress tells us, are arranged in a succession of light, dark and, finally, sour. She hands us a menu that describes, in detail, each taster.

We order a plate of “Pliny Bites”—wedges of pizza dough topped with gooey cheese and jalapeño peppers—and get busy.

Throughout the night—it takes us nearly three hours to make it through the sampler and bites, salads, another round of beer and a shared dessert—we watch as people make their way through the crowded pub, many of them clutching growlers like prized possessions. They are, of course, the half-gallon glass jugs that can be purchased and filled (not all beers are available for this option) and later returned for another refill. We’ve brought two of our own on this trip and buy another. All three are filled, straight from the tap.

Total cost: $48, plus $50 for dinner, the cost of a hotel room and the price of gas to and from Sacramento.

Worth it? Definitely.