Russian River Brewing and the Washington Market

By Iron Chef Leftovers

I think I just lost all respect for Russian River Brewing. I will explain why.

They are pulling out of distribution in Washington State as of December 2012, which means no more Pliny, but more importantly, no more of their really good Belgian style beers. Russian River is not a big brewery, but Pliny created a huge cult following for them, so the demand usually far outstrips supply. Russian River distributed in 5 states – California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Pennsylvania, so they weren’t exactly widely available except on the West Coast.

Earlier this year, I found out from talking to someone in the industry that Russian River was cutting back their shipments to Washington, which I thought was rather odd since they had increased them a few months before that. It wasn’t a big deal – it just made getting Pliny a bit harder. Then they dropped the bomb on us a couple of days ago.

They wrote a letter which, in summary basically says they are at capacity at the brewery and, because of the state laws in Washington, have no control over their brand here, so they are pulling out. This to me doesn’t sound like it is the whole story – as far as I know the laws surrounding beer distribution have not changed in several years and they distribute in Pennsylvania, which has some of the most draconian laws involving alcohol in the U.S. I am not sure if we will ever know the real reason for this, but I suspect that the owners of RR aren’t particularly smart about how they are controlling their growth and it is causing problems. As a result, the 2nd biggest craft brew market in the country doesn’t get access to arguably the most in-demand beer in the country.

Whatever the reasons, I will be making a raid on a couple local shops for Damnation and Suplication before they are all gone. As for Pliny, I have 1 bottle at home that I will be cracking open soon with some friends to enjoy.

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