Russian River Sanctification

During the first weekend of February I finally had the opportunity to visit the Russian River brewpub in Santa Rosa, California. As it happened, we arrived there at what must be the most anticipated day of the year; the annual release of Pliny the Younger. As much as I like Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, it was a strange experience to stand in line for more than one hour with Pliny the Younger fanatics, to be seated, and to order a number of their (barrel-aged) wild ales instead. First we enjoyed a beer called Compunction, which was a sour blond ale with pluots. Then I spotted that Sancitification was on tap as well. Unlike Compunction, Sanctification was for sale in 375 ml bottles, so we took two bottles home after closing the evening with an order of…Pliny the Younger.

Russian River describes Sanctification as a beer that is “fermented with 100% brettanomyces.” A quick glance at Vinnie’s homebrew clone indicates the use of the following strains of Brett and bacteria: 50% Brett Bruxellensis, 10% Brett Claussenii, 10% Brett Lambicus and “30% Russian River Brewing “Funky Bunch” house yeast culture- mix of Brett, Lacto, Pedio, & other wild yeast.” As such, the claim that  the beer is fermented with 100% Brettanomyces does not exclude the use of bacteria but  is intended to convey that the traditional Saccharomyces yeast was not used here. Sanctification is different from Beatification, Temptation, Supplication and Consecration in that this beer is fermented in stainless steel instead of (old) wine barrels.

The beer pours an attractive light hazy orange with little head retention but the carbonation is quite hefty, reminiscent of the “foamy” mouthfeel of (aged) Orval. Its aroma is flowery, tropical fruity with a hint of caramel – the Brett is not dominating here.  The taste is crisp, mildly tart, with notes of orange, ending on a short  bone dry note. Nothing is pushed to extremes, unless one prefers some residual sugar left  instead(I don’t). With a 6.75% alcohol percentage, this is quite a refreshing beer. I do not know what Russian River’s usual final gravity is for their wild ales before bottle refermentation but I do not remember their other beers having as much carbonation and its associated mouthfeel. This aspect was more than offset by many of its other great characteristics though.

Special mention needs to be made of the label, which reads (on Batch 005):

Who’s afraid of the “big bad BRET?” We’ll tell you who: winemakers! Because of our close proximity to several hundred wineries, we often get winemakers visiting our brewery. (After all, it takes a lot of great beer to make great wine!) Because we use 100% Brettanomyces yeast to ferment Sanctification, most winemakers will only smell the glass, and only a very few will venture to taste the beer. They think the Brettanomyces will attach to their clothing and end up in their winery. A simple solution was offered: keep a smudge pot burning at the door of our brewery so they can burn their clothes when exiting, but even that was not enough. After giving it more thought, we concluded that winemakers think Brettanomyces might scar their taste buds and possible even permeate their skin? Sanctification is refermented in this bottle with Brettanomyces to create its fine carbonation. Spent yeast cells form a thin layer of sediment in the bottom of the bottle, adding more complexity and flavor. Pour slowly, allowing the natural yeast sediment to remain in the bottle.

I now have tasted most of Russian River’s publicly available wild ales, but never side by side. Having said this, Beatification and Sanctification may be among my favorites.

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