Vinnie Cilurzo recalls his earlier days in the brewing
business with a sense of irony.
When he was running the Blind Pig Brewery in Temecula,
Calif., he traveled to San Diego to buy yeast from Chris White, who at the time was
producing it on the side while pursuing graduate studies.
White would meet him in a parking lot and hand over the vials for cash. "It must
have looked like a drug deal," Cilurzo recalls.
Despite their modest beginnings Cilurzo assembled his first brewery on a
shoestring budget both have gone on to better things. Cilurzo is head brewer at
Korbels Russian River Brewery in Northern California and has won several major
awards for his beer (see sidebar). was named 1999 small brewer of the year at the Great
American Beer Festival. He won three other medals at the 1999 GABF. He also won medals in
1997 and 1998 for his porter and two in 1996 while with Blind Pig, one for ESB and the
other for IPA.
White Labs, meanwhile, has grown into a major supplier of yeast worldwide.
Cilurzo, 29, believes he and White have been successful because they both focus on
quality and consistency. And his attitude about yeast hasnt changed from those
earlier days. Of the four main ingredients in beer, he still believes yeast is the number
"You can have great yeast and mediocre malt and hops and still come out with a
good beer. But if you have mediocre yeast, even the best hops, water and malt cant
save your beer."
He likes making full-bodied beers, and finds that using White Lab yeast makes for a
"Ive rarely used anything but White Lab yeast. I still think its the
best available, because of the attention to detail, the variety of strains and the
And when he wants to make an order, he no longer has to worry about late-night visits
to a parking lot.