I have the extreme honor of being able to write a brew review about a special beer that I’ve heard many stories about. My #1 son had the opportunity to take a short vacation and visit friends in San Diego, California. I asked him to see if he could find some Pliny the Elder and bring some back to flatland Illinois. He did and he gave me three bottles of Pliny upon his return on Tuesday of this week.
I was overjoyed. I had in my possession three bombers of Pliny the Elder Double IPA from the Russian River Brewing Co. out of to examine and taste on a first-tongue basis. But wait. Something was wrong. Upon further review, the bottles weren’t bombers after all. Each one held only 1 pint, 0.9 ounces. That’s 16.9 ounces of beer! That’d be a full pint glass’ worth with some overflow onto the table. I wondered how much this stuff cost. My son stated that each bottle ran between 5 and 6 bucks and was available virtually anywhere. Sounds reasonable enough. Too bad we can’t get it here in Illinois.
Friday night, three bottles of Pliny the Elder went into the beer fridge. By Saturday night they should be ready for popping. Rated at 8% ABV, I wondered if 3 pints and 2.7 ounces would be enough.
Time to examine the label. Not much. Olive green background with a red and white circle on the front. In the perimeter frame of the label are statements advising that this beer must be consumed fresh.
DO NOT AGE! PLINY THE ELDER IS A HISTORICAL FIGURE. DON’T MAKE THE BEER INSIDE THIS BOTTLE ONE!
That was probably the main reason why Pliny isn’t available in Illinois. The beer would go bad before it got here. This whole fact flies in the face of how IPAs came to be in the first place, with the ocean voyages to India in the 18th and 19th centuries. I found it interesting that DFH’s 120 Minute IPA can be stored for years but this beer’s gotta be had now.
The beer weighed in at 8% alcohol which put it towards the low end of the BJCP style guidelines. Vinnie Cilurzo is the brewmaster at RRBC and Pliny is his brainchild. The Pliny selection from their website states that Pliny the Elder is brewed with Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe hops and had a nice starting gravity of 1.070. It’s great when breweries let you know the details of their recipes. That’s class.
When beer time rolled around, I selected the Duvel snifter so that I’d be able to bury my nose in the aromas coming with each sip. I grabbed the first Pliny and poured, knowing that I’d probably never taste this beer again.
The beer poured with a nice yellow-orange color, more yellow than orange. The head came up to a glorious inch and a half full of thick, white foam. Carbonation was somewhat sparse but there was a good stream coming from the nucleation point at the bottom of the Duvel glass. The aroma smelled only slightly of hops, but there was another scent intermingled, that of tropical fruits.
The first sip was just short of sublime. A nice medium body carried some sweetness then a big taste of grapefruit at first, and then the zap of the hops as the sip went down the pipe. My initial thoughts were: Is that it? Is this what the legend is all about? Yeah, I’ve tasted better, rounder IPAs than this one. Maybe as the beer warmed up and my palate became used to the new visitor things would get better.
Slowly, sip by sip, some of those tropical fruits surfaced. A bit of mango perhaps, a bit of pineapple and of course, grapefruit. The sweetness was barely there, being overwhelmed by the hop flavors and the tropical fruit characteristics. Halfway through the first glass I was still thinking that this beer is sadly overrated.
The balance between the hops and the malts was there but the taste favored the hop side of the ensemble. Certainly not a beer brewed for the sake of showcasing the hops, but I desired a little more body, a bit more mouthfeel and a bit more tropical fruit. My immediate memory came to rest at what I remembered about 3 Floyds Zombie Dust. Pliny was quite similar to it. Not exactly, but close.
By the bottom of the first glassful, the tastes mellowed out, with more of the malt body coming through and more sweetness stepping forward all under the drumbeat of the larger hop ubermeister which is what this beer is all about.
If it wasn’t for the 8% alcohol in this beer could qualify as a possible summer slammer, but as it is, it has to have a place out on the back deck or patio for a bottle or two only. Nicely citrus in flavor, with a good hop-kick at the end, Pliny would be the goto IPA if I lived in southern California. Here in Illinois, it was just the name on a label on a legendary beer on the Internet.
Guys in San Francisco are probably wondering what all the hubbub was about Pliny. After all, it was available everywhere there. Delis, liquor stores, supermarkets, etc. Back here in the midwest, it is available NOWHERE. It is perhaps the rarity of this beer in most of the US as to how it achieved its legendary status. But I must be honest. Dark Lord is a legend. Pliny is a folk tale.
I’m only slightly disappointed in the taste of this beer, perhaps only because of all the hype it receives. But having taken the IPA stroller around the block a few times, I can say that this beer is a great IPA but not a grand IPA. I’d like to taste compare some Pliny against the likes of Firestone Walker’s Double Jack and 3 Floyds Arctic Panzer Wolf or Dreadnaught.
If this beer was available here in Illinois, I’d probably buy 4 of these tallboy bottles every few weeks just to satisfy my craving for a DIPA every now and then. Can’t leave these beers lying around for long though. Odd, isn’t it?
Pliny the Elder is a great IPA as IPAs go and certainly not what I was expecting. I’m satisfied with what I tasted. A west coast version of Zombie Dust. Now I hear stories of Pliny the Younger from Russian River. Available only on tap at selected SF locations. I also hear that only buxom blonde babes can serve the beer. Now THAT might be the beer that legends are made of.
Taste: A nice fruit laden firecracker.
Smoothness: Like slipping on a mango peel.
Drinkability: Each sip is like a perfect Tetris taste game.
Bang for the buck: Even at 7 bucks a bottle this is worth it.
Paid price: N/A – a gift.
Get it again? Hell yeah, if it was available here.
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: It’s light. (sniff) I smell something familiar. A little peachy. (sip) I get a lot of peach actually, but it’s dry. (sip) Then you get that grapefruit right after. I like the peach better. (sip) I wouldn’t go all the way to California for a bottle. (Once again, my thoughts exactly. I’m glad I married her.)
Video review from that ‘symbiosis’ beard guy
The Pliny the Elder Song – The Famous
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