Food Porn: Pliny the Younger


By Pierzy - Posted on 09 March 2012

Where Pliny

 

 

 

 

 

(image via Drink Philly)

The explosive growth of craft beer in this country over the past decade is nothing short of remarkable. At the turn of the millennium, if you were to ask most people to name their favorite craft beer, they would have probably said Yuengling. Now in 2012, it seems as if gastropubs, bottles shops, and beer bars are ubiquitous and everyone has at least one favorite microbrewery. While I love having such great beers to taste and great places to try them – my favorite is Memphis Taproom – craft beer’s rise to prominence is also a fad and being a beer snob is the cool thing to do these days.

Even still, the national microbrew movement does bring some notable benefits. One of those benefits is the occasional opportunity to sample some of the best domestic beer ever invented. I had such a chance the other day.

Every February, the Russian River Brewing Company releases a very limited edition of its marquee brew, Pliny the Younger, and every February beer heads around the nation act like four year-olds waiting for Christmas morning. Waiting is a good word since the lines at Russian River’s Brew Pub “have been quite long (up to a 5 hour wait over the weekend)” just to have a glass. When it was announced that the elusive beverage would be arriving here in Philly, websites created a calendar of events just to monitor and track its arrival.

So, why the hype?

Well, a few reasons.

First, it’s rare, only appearing for a few weeks per year (not unlike Santa Claus), so it’s impossible to get tired of it or take it for granted. Secondly, it’s a thing to do. By saying that you were at a tasting like this, you can brag that you’re part of a select group that was able to partake in imbibing this miracle liquid. Third, and most importantly, it’s a really good fucking beer.

In fact, Pliny the Younger may be the best beer in America. Period. That’s not just me talking. It is the top rated beer on Beer Advocate and has a perfect rating of 100 on both Beer Advocate and Rate Beer. Of course, I’m sure a partial reason for such high marks is the beer’s lack of availability. As a result, it considered by some to be overhyped and that often leads to a backlash.

I didn’t care. I had never tried it and since I missed the frenzy last year, I was determined to not be shut out again.

I was successful. Last week, I received an email informing me that if I were one of the first 50 people to contact Resurrection Ale House, I would be given a glass before the bar opened at noon on Tuesday. After everyone had their one glass, they would be invited to enjoy several other Russian River offerings for the rest of the day. Resurrection, Memphis Taproom, and Local 44, three places each situated in a different section of the city, are all owned by Leigh Maida and Brendan Hartranft (here's video of Hartranft doing what he does best). I had a long email conversation with Leigh and she informed me that for Memphis they were going to do an entire Russian River six-course dinner (including the Younger). That sounded excellent, so I ordered two tickets for that event as well. I couldn’t resist. I was excited. I couldn’t wait for Tuesday My wife quickly became tired of hearing about this stupid beer.

I wasn’t the only one looking forward to it. I was told to arrive promptly at 11:30 am on Tuesday. I arrived at 11:20. The place was full, but not crowded.  I gave my name at the door and approached the bar slowly, almost fearing like I was about to do something wrong. I felt like I was asking for heroin, not beer (although I probably would have been more at ease asking for heroin). The bartender poured a glass of Pliny the Younger on the bar and said “$7.70.” For a beer that was being sold for as much as $35 per glass, this was a bargain.

As I do with all beers, I looked at it, smelled it, inhaled, and took a sip…

Pliny the Younger

Call me brainwashed all you want, but that may just be the greatest beer I’ve ever tasted. For a beer with over 10% abv (alcohol by volume), it was incredibly smooth and for a triple IPA, it wasn’t at all bitter. I’m an IPA head, but even I sometimes believe that there is such a thing as too many hops (Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA is a perfect example). Just adding hops and letting them ferment is not the way to make a great IPA. And that’s the beauty of the Younger – it seemed to find the perfect balance between strength and taste.

I can’t do it justice, so I’ll suggest you visit Beer Advocate and read the reviews by people that know what they’re talking about and, more importantly, can express what they taste into words.

I savored it for as long as I could but, ultimately, it was gone. That was it.

I spent a few more hours at Resurrection, drinking the rest of their Russian River lineup, all of which I had tasted before:

- The Younger’s “dad,” Pliny the Elder (ranked #5 on BA)

Pliny the Elder

 - Blind Pig IPA (not ranked in BA's top 100 but does have a rating of 96)

Blind Pig IPA

- Consecration (#68 on BA)

Consecration

 

- Supplication (#19 on BA)

Supplication

 

I also treated myself to this: 

 

Broccoli Rabe and Ceci beans sandwich with Ricotta cheese and currants.


Finally, as I was able to secure a seat at the bar, I began speaking to Brendan, who was bartending. He knows me by face since I’m often in his bar (#Humblebrag), but not by name, and we were just talking beer when he pulled out a bottle of something special (he often keeps a stash of rare stuff under the bar for himself and regulars). He poured me about a third of a glass and, when I asked what it was, he said, “<inaudible> 2006.” I was not about to ask him to repeat himself, so I just nodded and thanked him. It was very good.

Bonus

Of course, all of the beers that day were excellent. However, I had been there for one reason – Pliny the Younger – and once I had tasted that, the rest was icing on the cake.

Is it a great beer? Absolutely. Is it overhyped? Certainly. Will I do all that I can to have another taste next year? Without question.

If you’re any type of beer fan, I suggest you do all that you can to get a taste of Pliny the Younger. Even if you don’t agree that it’s the best beer in the world, you can always brag that you actually tasted it.

After all, isn’t that the most important part?


Pierzy writes a weekly NBA column during the season, as well as columns revolving around other sports, hip-hop, movies, TV shows, food, beer, marriage, (impending) fatherhood, and many other topics. You can follow him on Twitter here. 

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