By: Russian River Brewing Company
California, United States
Style: American Double / Imperial IPA (DIPA)
At some point everyone hears about Pliny. It’s currently rated the fifth best beer in the world on Beer Advocate and, aside from the stronger and rarer Pliny the Younger, this is the highest rated Double IPA. Reputations and beer hype aside, it’s a beer that really ought to be searched out. And I mean searched.
I got this one in California last month when I was there. I had dropped into a few beer bottle shops and Whole Foods’ only to find that Pliny was a hot commodity. It was always the one people mentioned to be about being particularly hard to find. When I had an afternoon to wander around Pasadena (and already a lot of beer picked out to bring home) I decided to try the Whole Foods there. The idea was that if I didn’t find Pliny I’d get as much Firestone Walker Union Jack as possible and ship home what I could. That’s a good, good, good, beer.
While there was a huge aisle of beer to choose from, I wanted to figure out if this beer lived up to the hype, so, doing as I was told, I asked the guy working in the beer section. I basically said, “this might be a stupid question, but do you have any Pliny?” He, happily, said yes. On our way to the back where they keep this beer – either to keep it cold and fresh or because it was a hot commodity – another guy asked him for some too. He said the limit was two per person, but I begged for three so I could bring two home and drink one right away. It was about as happy as I was when I got the QV IPA and ranks as one of my happiest beer moments (up there with my first IPA in Montreal, my first Leffe in France i.e. first abby/Trappist style anything, and having wonderful flights at brewpubs).
Anyway, I drank that one asap. I later ended up trying another on tap at a nearby bar. I drank my third with friends in Ontario while comparing my IPA haul. This one, my fourth and last, I drank with the soul goal of focusing and reviewing it. It was a few weeks ago now that I made these notes, but it is still pretty fresh in my memory. Hype or not, it was a fun time tracking it down. It’s an awesome beer either way, in my top five for sure. I don’t know if beer-hype is good or bad, but getting involved in it a little sure can be fun, even if it has the tendency to vault certain beers to – deserved or not – rockstar status.
From my notes. Drank on March 9, 2012, bottled on February 6, 2012. Freshness is lauded in this beer, so a month old one is sometimes frowned upon. It was still good, freshness be damned!
Appearance: It’s much lighter than most IPA’s I’ve had, near a tangerine orange color, maybe more amber than copper. The lacing is subtle, but firm. It’s really a pretty beer.
Smell: Syrup sweet malts, with resiny piny hops. There are layers of passionfruit and pineapple too. It’s a combination of those tropical fruits from the West Coast with a sweet malt and pine that is pretty unmistakably a Pliny (I’ve had it before on tap and in bottles when it has been fresher).
Taste: It opens with citrus. There is almost a sour note, like a saison or some lemon zest, in the citrus which could either be the hops or the yeast. It grabs the back of my tongue a little with the sourness. Then there is the malt sweetness, some caramel but really balanced with the hops which are more grapefruit, citrus and tropical fruit. The bitter is rich but tempered to the rest of the beer. Nothing out of control.
Mouthfeel: Thick, smooth, with only a light amount of carbonation. A tinge of alcohol at the end.
Overall: Ok, so maybe this is the prefect exercise in balance. That sour taste with the balanced hops and bitter, the sweet, syrupy malt, the, well, the everything. Its all just right. I don’t know if this is the best beer ever, it’s a damn good beer. Is it worth the hype? Probably. But, really, versus something like Firestone Walker’s Union Jack, Stone’s Double Bastard, or Great Divide’s Hercules DIPA, I’d be hard pressed to choose a favourite. It would depend on where I was, what I was doing there, and how much the bar was charging for each.