Saturday, June 9, 2012

Pliny the Elder – Russian River Brewing Company

            So, the legendary Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing Company  Those who have been lucky enough to find it have called it one of the greatest beers in the world and its legend has grown far outside of Russian River’s distribution area.  I have made my admiration for Vinnie Cilurzo and Russian River known in my previous post on Damnation, so I will refrain from doing so again here.  I have long been on the lookout for this beer, missing its distribution in Colorado by just a few short months when I moved to Wisconsin.  Then again, when I lived in Colorado my craft beer experience was still limited to a few breweries in Denver and the four that were open in the Fort Collins area.  Heck, back then I hated IPAs, and it wasn’t until a trip to Stone in California that I started to develop a taste for hops.  Back then Pliny would have been wasted on me.

            I have been out to California multiple times over the past few years, but was never able to hunt down a bottle of Pliny.  During my most recent trip out, I was informed at the liquor store that Pliny was a rare commodity that sold out the same day that it arrived in his store.  With that being my last planned trip out to the bay area I resigned myself to the possibility of never tasting Pliny the Elder.  However, last Thursday one of my good friends brought me back a “surprise” from his latest trip to San Francisco for a scientific conference.  I was intrigued; I gave him a list of beers to try on his next trip out there.  I thought that maybe he had brought back one that I recommended.  It never even occurred to me that he was able to find a bottle of Pliny the Elder while he was out there, much less that he would pick up a bottle for me!  Thanks Mike!!  I have finally tried the beer that is supposedly the #1 Double IPA in the world.

            I know there is no shortage of reviews for Pliny the Elder, and in writing one now, I am likely to step on some toes.  However, I am going to give it a go.  I am going to write a standard review up and then at the end of it I am going to address whether Pliny is indeed worthy of its reputation, or if it has been blown so out of proportion that it would leave the average craft beer geek disappointed.  To be fair, this bottle was bottled on 5/16/12 and I drank it on 6/8/12, so perhaps it was not quite as fresh as some hop-heads prefer, then again a beer with the reputation of Pliny the Elder should be able to withstand three weeks in the bottle before the volatile hop oils fade.  If anyone has any doubts about how quickly Pliny the Elder should be consumed, just read the label.  It says not once but 12 times that it should be consumed as fresh as possible.  Personally, if I had easy access to bottles, I think I would cellar one for 4-6 months just to see how it survived (I can almost hear the gasp from the hop-heads reading this post).

On to the review:

            At Beeradvocate, Pliny the Elder has a 100, with a 100 from the Bros.  Over at ratebeer it has a 100 overall and a 100 for style.  Perfect scores all around, which leads to high expectations not only from myself but from any craft beer drinker who is on the lookout for this, a beer touted as the prime example of all that a double IPA should be.

And now for one of the longest commercial beer descriptions in the world…

They say:

Pliny the Elder is brewed with Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe hops. It is well-balanced with malt, hops, and alcohol, slightly bitter with a fresh hop aroma of floral, citrus, and pine. Best enjoyed FRESH! That is why we make it in such limited supply. Actual bottling date is printed on each bottle!

Where did we come up with this name? Back in the year 2000, our friend, Vic Kralj, who owns the Bistro in Hayward, California, decided to have his first ever Double IPA festival. Vic invited 10 breweries, 6 of whom (including us) had to brew something special for him since we had nothing that would fall under this style category. Vinnie had made a Double IPA at Blind Pig in 1994, but was not brewing one at Russian River Brewing at the time. He had an idea for the recipe, but not a name. After much research in beer books, brainstorming, and deliberation, we came up with "Pliny the Elder". Pliny, the man, lived in the first century- 23 to 79 A.D. According to our brewing references, he and his contemporaries either created the botanical name or at least wrote about Lupus Salictarius, or hops, currently known as Humulus Lupulus. That was a very early reference to an important part of any Double IPA! Pliny the beer has now become one of our flagship brews!

            Pliny the Elder was immortalized by his nephew, Pliny the Younger, who wrote about his uncle succumbing to ash and smoke during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. while rescuing people. Cheers to the scholar, historian, officer, writer, and Roman Naturalist- Pliny the Elder!

Pub draft and bottles, local distribution draft and bottles, all distributors draft, West Coast and Colorado bottles, year-round

Original Gravity:
Alcohol by Volume:

Since the official review does not say, word is that it weighs in at 100 IBUs.

I say:

            Pliny the Elder pours a golden in color and was slightly hazy (bottle conditioned) with an excellent think foamy white head that had decent retention, it dissipated faster than I thought it would, but did leave behind impressive lacing.  Upon pouring Pliny I was confronted with heavenly, strong hoppy aromas which I took plenty of time to enjoy.  The aroma was pine and resin forward with grapefruit and mango in the finish.  By the end of the glass there was a strong Juniper note that reminded both Christmas and my favorite gin.  I spent way too much time enjoying the aromas both at the beginning of the glass and at various points as I was drinking.

            I did manage to stop enjoying the aromas long enough to drink my entire glass.  The flavor was very piney with strong grapefruit notes with a strong malt backbone.  It was pleasantly bitter, not overwhelming, with a nice, sweet caramel finish.  I have had plenty of Pale Ales, IPAs, and Double IPAs that left a lot of bitterness in the aftertaste, and was very pleased by Pliney’s sweet finish.  There was no noticeable alcohol in the flavor, surprising given its 8% ABV.  Pliny was nicely carbonated and medium bodied with both the malt and the hop resins making it slightly viscous.

            Pliny the Elder was an excellent beer, but does it live up to the hype?  That is a very hard question to answer, because there is so much hype surrounding Pliny the Elder.  For years I was told that I should hunt down a bottle of Pliny and was repeatedly told that it was the best double IPA in the world.  The label of the best example of the style is a lot for any beer to live up to.  But I promised that I would answer the question of whether or not it lived up to the hype.  I thoroughly enjoyed every sip of Pliny the Elder and I can’t wait for the chance to have it again. However, I am not sure if it is the best Double IPA that I have ever had.  It is certainly in the top 5, maybe even the top 2 but I don’t know about being the best ever.

            That’s all for today, I think my next write-up will likely be on Finch’s Cutthroat Pale Ale, I am planning to have it tonight so the review should be up some time on Monday.  I am also working on a rant/post about the beer ratings sites and the impact they have on craft beer exploration.  It was going to be included in this post, but I am holding it off for a post of its own.  It will be posted when I am happy with it.

            Happy Drinking!

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