Russian River Brewing too much hype
I've been to the place on several occasions and it was noisy, crowded and ordering a beer was about a 10-15 minute wait depending on crowds.
The beer is quite tasty but the food is just your average sysco processed junk. Even the pizza is not so spectacular when you consider the quantity and quality for the price.
I am astounded that Pliny the Elder remains so popular. The beer has gone through changes. When the pub first opened the beer was more floral,citrusy,piney, earthy than it's new incarnation. Over the years the recipes have been changing. It seems like the Blind Pig used to be a much better beer. Now it is more husky and grainy tasting.
The beers are not as dry as they once were. I am tasting the signature base malt from Idaho in the beers more and more. I suspect the beers are being produced faster, hence the lack of dryness they once exhibited.
I can't fathom why people get so fanatical about the beers produced from Russian River Brewing. Although I find some merits in the beer the overall craft appeal is not there. I taste the Belgian style beers and I find that the overall character is very much over hopped and Americanized.
The Erudition Saison is one particular beer that is quite unbalanced. There is less belgian yeast profile available to the pallet because of the over abundance of hops.
I simply don't understand how many patrons of Russian River Brewing exclaim "It's the best beer in the world." I often retort "You've tried every beer in the world."
Yes, the food is not good. Some of the pizzas are OK, but I have never heard anyone say it's worth going there for the food. Better to eat first somewhere else.
W.r.t. the beer, I also agree, it's not true that they can do no wrong. But there are several that seem pretty special to me: Row 2/Hill 56 (seasonal, I think) is beautifully floral -- better than Pliny, although it seems totally different. I think Salvation is consistently good, and the Brux collaboration has a lot of interested flavours, as long as you're not expecting a truly sour beer.
They make the best domestic sour beers I've had. I've never had them at the Santa Rosa pub. Tried to go there once and it was totally packed, had an unpleasant sort of frat-boy atmosphere.
I ignore the food and the left side of the board entirely.
I have had to institute a "don't go if you're not there by 1pm on weekends" policy, but I challenge you to name a better brewer of Belgian-style ales (particularly the barrel-aged sours as Robert points out) in California. Consecration is one of my favorite beers of all time.
re: Pius Avocado III
To me the sours are over hyped. They are good but I think the scarcity of the product creates an artificial demand. It's not that they are bad beers it's just they are nothing to get all fanatical about. I'd rather have a bottle of Cantillion than anything Vinnie has produced.
Native wild yeasts of Belgium have a certain character that Vinnies artificially induced sours lack. Yes I understand the barrel rooms are full of wild goodies. But the flavors do not have that authentic barnyard/horseblanket/earthy goodness found in Cantillion.
If you're going to compare Vinnie's product to frickin' Cantillon, well, I don't think you'll get much argument from me about the superiority of the Belgian product - hell, you probably wouldn't get argument from Vinnie himself. If Cantillon were as readily available around these parts as RR's sours (and at non-Monk's Kettle-esque prices), I'd take the stuff intravenously. Are people really hyping up RR's sours as better than Cantillon? That seems like a bit of a straw-man argument to me.
As others have said, Russian River is producing some of the best Belgian style and American Wild / Sour beers in the country currently. The last 2 batches of Beatification, the latest batch of Compunction along with Supplication, Temptation and Concentration are pretty hard to beat.
And while I have always preferred Blind Pig over Pliny some of the smaller batch IPA's and APA's being produced are outstanding - Row 2 / Hill 56, Hopfather, Happy Hops etc
Pliny *is* overrated, especially The Younger. But they are hands down my favorite US brewery; I especially like Supplication and Consecration. They excel at barrel aged sours which is a pretty hard style to master.