pliny-younger

No More Pliny in Washington. Russian River Brewing Retreats

By now, perhaps you’ve heard. It seems that Russian River Brewing will no longer ship beer to Washington. Based in Santa Rosa, California, Russian River is perhaps best known for the ever-popular Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger. Truth is, the two Plinys just scratch the surface of the great beers produced by Russian River, but that is a different topic. No more Pliny in Washington; that’s what most of you want to know about.

I learned via Facebook the other day that Russian River Brewing sent a letter to some of its better retail accounts explaining that it was withdrawing from the Washington market. What does that mean? Did we do something wrong? Did we fail to properly worship at the altar of Pliny? Did the State of Washington unfairly hamstring Russian River Brewing?

No. I seriously doubt this change is because of anything that we (or the State of Washington) did. It’s a business decision. I will not speak for Russian River Brewing, but I would guess it must pick and choose its markets with some care. The world is clamoring for Russian River’s beer and they simply cannot keep up.

Local bottleshop owners deserve your sympathy. In the coming months, they will surely deal with a lot of customers sporting insistent, indignant attitudes. People feel entitled to the beer they desire and do not care about the details. I encourage those people to read the information below.

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I know some people will blame the State of Washington, saying that Washington’s policies make it difficult for out-of-state breweries to do business here. I encourage those people to arm themselves with information. I provide some of that below. The policy hardly seems draconian to me.

I will miss Russian River Brewing’s products. I will miss Supplication, Damnation and all the other ‘ation beers. I will miss the spike in web traffic whenever I put the word Pliny in a headline.

I’ve heard rumors that there is an expansion project underway (or at least in planning) at Russian River Brewing. I do not have confirmation, but maybe that means someday Pliny will return to Washington. In the meantime, I suggest you make the trip to Santa Rosa, California and visit the Russian River brewpub. There, you will encounter a vast selection of Russian River beers. You will learn that there is much, much more to this great brewery than Pliny the Whatever.

What You Can and Cannot Get in Washington

There are over 2,000 breweries in the USA. Not all of them sell beer in Washington. In fact, only 142 out-of-state brews sell beer here.

Here’s how it works. For an out-of-state brewery to sell beer in Washington, the state requires the brewery to have a Beer Out-of-State Certificate of Approval (COA). Super-simplified: the brewery must be on the state’s official list. There are currently 142 breweries with those credentials: 142 out-of-state breweries are licensed to sell beer in Washington. That is it. Period. I provide the list below. If an out-of-state brewery is not on that list, your local bottleshop or pub cannot legally get the beer.

Do not get bent out of shape when your local bottleshop owner says, “You cannot get that in Washington” or “I cannot get that beer for you.” If the brewery is not on the list, you will need Uncle Larry to stash a couple cases of 3 Floyds Alpha King in the trunk of his car next time he comes to visit from Chicago.

This is a somewhat simplified explanation. It does not deal with tax reporting and every aspect of selling out-of-state beer in Washington. Still, I think it works for our purposes.

As far as I can tell, it is quite easy and inexpensive to get a COA to sell beer in Washington. It costs $200 and there is some paperwork. If you own a brewery and do this kind of stuff, I suppose you are not intimidated by paperwork. I assume a brewery’s COA must be renewed annually. I assume Russian River Brewing decided not to renew. Either that or it just decided to stop shipping beer to our market. The impact is the same either way: no Pliny for you.

There is an additional endorsement available that allows a brewery to ship/sell directly to retailers, which means they do not need a distributor. Of the 142 breweries with a Beer Certificate of Approval, 21 have the endorsement.

Non-domestic (import beers) is another topic. The state handles those beers differently.

Beer Out-of-State Certificate of Approval.  $200

To allow a US brewery located outside of Washington, properly licensed with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and the state in which they are located to sell beer of their own production to licensed Washington Beer Importers and Distributors.

Beer Out-of-State Shipping Directly to Washington Retailers. $100

To allow a US brewery holding a Certificate of Approval with Washington to ship beer directly to a licensed retailer approved to receive shipments. Licensee must also hold a Beer Out-of-State Certificate of Approval.

Here is the list of out-of-state breweries holding a Beer Out-of-State Certificate of Approval. If you want to earn bonus points, explain why Elysian Brewing is on the list.

  • 10 BARREL BREWING COMPANY
  • 21ST AMENDMENT
  • ABITA BREWING COMPANY LLC
  • ALAMEDA BREWING
  • ALASKAN BREWING CO.
  • ALESMITH BREWING COMPANY
  • ALLAGASH BREWING COMPANY
  • AMERICAL BEVERAGE GROUP
  • ANCHOR BREWING COMPANY
  • ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING COMPANY
  • ANHEUSER BUSCH
  • AVERY BREWING COMPANY
  • BACARDI U.S.A.
  • BASE CAMP BREWING COMPANY
  • BAYERN BREWING
  • BAYFRONT BREWERY
  • BAYHAWK ALES
  • BEAR REPUBLIC BREWING COMPANY
  • BEER VALLEY BREWING COMPANY, LLC
  • BIG SKY BREWING COMPANY
  • BITTER ROOT BREWING
  • BLACK DIAMOND BREWING COMPANY
  • BONEYARD BEER
  • BOULDER BEER CO
  • BOULEVARD BREWING COMPANY
  • BRIDGEPORT BREWING COMPANY
  • BURNSIDE BREWING CO.
  • CALDERA BREWING COMPANY
  • CAMO BREWING CO., INC.
  • CAPTURED BY PORCHES BREWING COMPANY
  • CASCADE BREWING COMPANY LLC
  • CASCADE LAKES BREWING CO
  • CHICAGO AMERICA HOLDING
  • COALITION BREWING COMPANY
  • COLD SPRING BREWING CO.
  • CORONADO BREWING COMPANY
  • DESCHUTES BREWERY
  • DIAGEO – GUINNESS USA
  • DOGFISH HEAD CRAFT BREWERY
  • DOUBLE MOUNTAIN BREWERY & TAPROOM
  • DRAGONS GATE BREWERY
  • DUVEL MOORTGAT USA
  • E & J GALLO WINERY
  • EEL RIVER BREWING CO
  • ELYSIAN BREWING COMPANY
  • FEARLESS BREWING COMPANY
  • FIRE MOUNTAIN BREWERY
  • FIRESTONE WALKER BREWING CO.
  • FIVE STAR BREWING CO INC
  • FORT GEORGE BREWERY
  • FULL SAIL BREWING COMPANY
  • GIGANTIC BREWING COMPANY
  • GLACIER BREWHOUSE
  • GOODLIFE BREWING COMPANY
  • GOOSE ISLAND BEER COMPANY
  • GORDON BIERSCH BREWERY RESTAURANT
  • GORDON BIERSCH BREWING COMPANY
  • GRAND TETON BREWING COMPANY
  • GREAT DIVIDE BREWING CO INC
  • GREEN FLASH BREWING CO
  • HAIR OF THE DOG BREWING COMPANY
  • HARVEST MOON BREWING
  • HARVESTER BREWING
  • HIGH FALLS OPERTING CO.
  • HOOK & LADDER BREWING COMPANY
  • HOPWORKS URBAN BREWERY
  • HUEBERT BREWING CO.
  • JACK DANIELS BEVERAGE COMPANY
  • JACOB LEINENKUGEL BREWING
  • JOSEPH JAMES BREWING CO.
  • KELLS BREWPUB
  • KONA BREWERY
  • KOOTENAI RIVER BREWING COMPANY
  • LAKEFRONT BREWERY INC
  • LAUGHING DOG BREWING
  • LAURELWOOD BREWING CO.
  • LEFT COAST BREWING CO
  • LEFT HAND BREWING COMPANY
  • LOGSDON FARMHOUSE ALES
  • LOMPOC BREWING
  • LOST COAST BREWERY & CAFE
  • MAD RIVER BREWING COMPANY
  • MARK ANTHONY BRANDS
  • MAUI BREWING CO.
  • MCMENAMINS EDGEFIELD BREWERY
  • MELANIE BREWERY COMPANY, INC.
  • MENDOCINO BREWING COMPANY
  • MIDNIGHT SUN BREWING COMPANY
  • MILLENNIUM PRODUCTS
  • MILLERCOORS
  • MINHAS CRAFT BREWERY
  • MJ BARLEYHOPPERS BREWERY/SPORTS PUB
  • MOYLANS BREWING CO.
  • MT SHASTA BREWING COMPANY
  • NEW BELGIUM
  • NINKASI BREWING COMPANY
  • NORTH COAST BREWING CO.
  • OAKSHIRE BREWING
  • OCCIDENTAL BREWING CO
  • OSKAR BLUES BREWERY
  • PABST BREWING
  • PALE HORSE BREWING COMPANY
  • PELICAN PUB & BREWERY
  • PERNOD RICARD USA
  • PHAT MATTS BREWING CO.
  • PHUSION PROJECTS
  • PIGS EYE BREWING COMPANY
  • PITTSBURGH BREWING COMPNAY
  • PORT BREWING
  • PUGSLEY BREWING
  • PYRAMID BREWERIES INC.
  • ROGUE BREWERY & PUBLIC HOUSE
  • RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING COMPANY
  • SAINT ARNOLD BREWING COMPANY
  • SEVEN BRIDES BREWING
  • SHIPYARD BREWING COMPANY
  • SHMALTZ ENTERPRISES
  • SIERRA NEVADA BREWING COMPANY
  • SILVER MOON BREWING
  • SOUTHERN OREGON BREWING COMPANY
  • SOUTHERN TIER BREWING COMPANY
  • SPEAKEASY ALES & LAGERS
  • SPOETZL BREWERY
  • STONE BREWING CO
  • TERMINAL GRAVITY BREWING
  • THE BOSTON BEER COMPANY
  • THE BRUERY
  • THE COMMONS BREWERY
  • THE GAMBRINUS COMPANY
  • THE LAGUNITAS BREWING COMPANY
  • TRUMER BRAUEREI
  • UINTA BREWING COMPANY
  • UNCOMMON BREWERS
  • UNITED BRANDS COMPANY INC
  • UNITED STATES BEVERAGE
  • UNITY VIBRATION LIVING KOMBUCHA TEA
  • UPRIGHT BREWING COMPANY
  • VICTORY BREWING COMPANY
  • WALKABOUT BREWING COMPANY
  • WALLACE BREWING
  • WIDMER BROTHERS BREWING CO.
  • WINERY EXCHANGE

The following breweries have the retail-direct endorsement.

  • BAYFRONT BREWERY
  • CAPTURED BY PORCHES BREWING COMPANY
  • CASCADE BREWING COMPANY LLC
  • CHICAGO AMERICA HOLDING
  • DOUBLE MOUNTAIN BREWERY & TAPROOM
  • DRAGONS GATE BREWERY
  • FIRE MOUNTAIN BREWERY
  • FORT GEORGE BREWERY
  • HARVESTER BREWING
  • HUEBERT BREWING CO.
  • KELLS BREWPUB
  • LAURELWOOD BREWING CO.
  • MCMENAMINS EDGEFIELD BREWERY
  • MJ BARLEYHOPPERS BREWERY/SPORTS PUB
  • OCCIDENTAL BREWING CO
  • PELICAN PUB & BREWERY
  • PIGS EYE BREWING COMPANY
  • PYRAMID BREWERIES INC.
  • SAINT ARNOLD BREWING COMPANY
  • SHIPYARD BREWING COMPANY
  • THE COMMONS BREWERY

 

 

 



21 comments

  1. A couple weeks back I headed up to Super Deli mart to get a growler filled with Pliny, and the proprietor informed me that Russian River is trying to avoid doing business with Bevmo. I wonder if this is related somehow.

  2. Kif, I changed the we to I to avoid further confusion. Sorry about that?

    Pete,
    You may be on to something. I don’t know enough about the laws in other BevMo markets to comment further.

  3. According to the letter they sent to their WA wholesale customers: “This is the only market where, due to state liquor laws, we have little or no control over the managing of our own brand.”

    The remainder of the letter talks extensively about their capacity constraints, but that quote makes me wonder if something else is going on as well. Minimally, it implies that WA’s liquor laws were a negative factor in determining which market they’d discontinue.

  4. I had the pleasure of visiting Russian River back in June. As mentioned, they have many very good choices besides the Pliny clan. I’ve been to a lot of breweries, and Russian River still holds the distinction for including the most beers in their sampler tray, with 18 (and that didn’t include Pliny the Younger)!

  5. That sampler tray at RR is awe inspiring, to be sure. Humbling, really.

    Perhaps Pete’s comments and Paul’s comments are more closely related than they seem.

    I am not going to speculate.

  6. I know why Elysian is on the list…Well I think I do! Because of their relationship with New Belgium in Colorado! Do I win bonus points? 🙂 Thanks for a great article as usual Kendall. You explained the basics in layman’s terms…may I copy parts of this article in our next newsletter?

  7. Erika, yes you may borrow at will. And yes, Elysian and New Belgium have a collaborative relationship. As I understand it, some Elysian product is brewed in Fort Collins at New Belgium. In some circumstances an Elysian product may come from there. That also explains why New Belgium is licensed as a brewery here. They make beer here as part of that collaborative relationship. Now, I don’t doubt that some people will read that the wrong way and assume that Elysian is now owned by New Belgium, but they obviously are not. It is a collaborative relationship. They are working together to make the world a better and more beery place, God bless them.

  8. Yes, I left that kind of vague. Sorry. I don’t want it to sound like I don’t know certain things, so here is some stuff to think about. In Washington, if your beer is in the book (in the distributor’s book, price list, price book, product book, whatever it is called), any licensed establishment can order your beer. If the distributor has it in stock, they must deliver/sell the beer. By law. No playing favorites. You cannot be picky about who does and does not get the beer.

    Now, if you want to prevent your beer from ending up at certain retailers, you can kind of work around it. You can do what you can to make sure that only good beer bars, good bottleshops, and high-quality retailers sell your beer. Russian River (and some others) do a good job of it. But in the end, if Olive Garden wants your damn beer they can get it. If Discount Beer Depot & Beyond wants to buy your beer, you cannot stop them.

    I can only assume that in other markets a brewery can choose who does and does not get the pleasure of selling the beer. Perhaps that is an important piece of this puzzle. I don’t want to speculate. And I don’t want to turn this into a discussion of the three-tier system. Which I guess it has already become.

  9. I work for a Seattle based distributor and what Kendall says is not entirely accurate. We get limited releases all the time and we allocated them to select customers, usually at the winery or brewery’s request.

    If Russian River is having a problem with where their products are sold, they’re probably having a problem specific to their Distributor not with state law.

  10. Thank you Kevin for correcting my error of omission. I was trying to avoid details, but I probably should have included that one instead of just saying, “You can kind of work around it.”

  11. Good on ya Erika. I was under the impression Elysian required an import license to transit libations from the mythological afterlife realm of their namesake to our thirsty corporeal selfs.
    Foiled again 😀

    Thanks for great article!

  12. Washington’s law, as written, requires distributors to sell their inventory to anyone who requests it. So, if you are an out of state brewery, like RR, and you have a limited supply of product, like RR, theoretically you don’t have much control over what happens to your product once it arrives in WA and theoretically, a large retailer, like BevMo, could come in and corner the market and buy up all RR product every time it comes in. Now on the other hand, if you are a retailer or distributor in WA and understand the benefits of spreading the RR around to benefit everyone, then you all might operate under an honor system where everyone understood that the best system is to spread things around so everyone gets a taste. Now, if you were a large retailer, like BevMo, who recently moved into the state, like BevMo, and you had a legal department and an existing sour relationship with RR, like BevMo, you could reasonably use your resources to challenge the legality of the working system, threaten everyone with lawsuits and corner the WA RR market. So, if you were RR, and you were threatened like that, wouldn’t you give BevMo the finger? (And as a result, WA gets screwed)

    I’m not saying that’s what happened, but I don’t patronize BevMo.

  13. A few weeks ago I was at one of my favorite grocery stores taking up space and staring again at the large selection of beer, and trying to make choices and not buy way too much,(again). To my surprise, one of my “friends” at the store walked up to me and asked, “Do you want these? It’s the last two we have.” She held out two bottles of Pliny The Younger. I guess it’s good to develop a relationship with the people who stock the beer! I already finished one off before reading this bad news. But the good news is, I still have a bottle!

  14. For the sake of my own journalistic soul, I must come clean. Confession. I feel a bit dirty for sensationalizing what must have been a difficult business decision for Natalie and Vinnie. It’s just too tempting to write a post with “pliny” in the headline. Google Analytics go BOOM.

  15. @ Tiffany..

    Ooops. You’re correct.. The enjoyment of still having a bottle got the best of me.
    I still have a bottle of “Pliny the Elder”.
    And thanks for your feedback from Russian River.

Comments are closed.