There are some beers that encourage angst on the part of the beer geek. Should I open this now? Should I wait one year? Two years? Ten? We are often worried about opening that special beer too soon.
With Pliny the Elder, the legendary highly-rated Double IPA from the revered Russian River Brewing Co. out of Sonoma County, CA, there are no such fears. With a “Pliny,” there’s no time like the present. Waiting to open one of these is foolish – for maximum hop aromatics and flavor, open as soon after the bottling date as possible. This is true for all IPAs, Double or otherwise, but the hop character in Pliny in particular burns very brightly early in its life, and unfortunately tails off rather quickly. So, drink ’em if ya got ’em. Speaking of which, don’t even bother asking where you can buy Russian River in Miami. You can’t. And given the RRBC’s utter disinterest in expanding its operation, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Pliny to hit area shelves.
Want some Pliny? Travel to one of the following states, and it should be relatively easy to come by:
-Pennsylvania (specifically Philadelphia)
Yes, a grand total of five states. Sorry.
My bottle is dated December 2, 2011 – just under a month old, pretty good by making-it-all-the-way-back-to-Miami standards. It looks appetizing in my tulip glass, clear gold with just a hint of amber with a very sticky foam that leaves some intricate lacing on the glass.
The aroma jumps out as soon as the beer is poured. Oh yeah, this is the dank, green herbage I’ve come to expect, a love letter to sticky icky American hops. It is very herbal and piney, as are most relatively fresh Double IPAs. Pliny, however, also shows a finely nuanced fruit aroma. It is citric, of course, with grapefruit, blood orange and lime, but also brings some of the tropical fruit (mango and passionfruit) and melon-y character you might expect from a chilled Sauvignon Blanc.
With an aroma like that, its effect on the palate becomes a foregone conclusion. There is the well-structured piney bitterness along with hints of the above juicy fruits. What I like most about this beer is that it is not an austere Double IPA; it isn’t tongue-scrapingly astringent. While certainly bitter (as it should be), it’s also quite round and “juicy.” At a robust 8% ABV, it’s very easy to drink in that I taste little or no alcohol.
As of this writing, Pliny the Elder is a lofty #4 on the Beer Advocate Top Beers list, just behind Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout, Trappist Westvleteren 12, and, appropriately enough, Pliny the Younger, the reigning #1. Incidentally, I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple measures of the Younger, and I prefer the Elder. At 11%, while its hop attack is undeniable, and there’s no aroma quite like it, I just find it too boozy and boisterous. I think the Elder is the more elegant, structured beer, by far. This is a great thing, at least for me, because the Elder is far, far easier to come by than the Younger.