Russian River Pliny the Elder

Review Date 10/12/2014  By John Staradumsky

Guest Video Review by Dale Roberts

Let’s get one thing straight: I hate the term “whales” when it comes to rare beers. I know it’s popular among beer geeks today to use that term, but I have never understood or accepted it. Here’s why. Sure, I get that there are some great and rare beers out there that folks want to try thanks to scarcity and a great reputation. Usually, they're wonderful beers to boot.

They are not, however, what being a craft beer enthusiast is about. Not for me, and not for most craft beer lovers who have been doing this for a while. If I have a chance to try one of these sought after brews the likes of Russian River Pliny the Elder or The Alchemist Heady Topper, I would and did absolutely pounce on that opportunity. I’m not going to turn the world upside down looking for them, however. Not when there are so many wonderful beers being made by small local breweries. And the explosion of such local brewers offering a wealth of magnificent brews is what craft beer love is really all about.

That said, craft beer love is certainly about trying different beers from around the nation and globe, and Pliny the Elder is one that I have long wanted to try. This delightful Double India Pale Ale is not sold in Georgia (or anywhere near here for that matter), and is not likely to be sold here anytime soon. That’s because Russian River sells all the Pliny they make, with demand for far more. That said, they aren’t interested in making more, so the current preponderance of demand over supply will likely persist. If you want to know why, there is an excellent article/audio story at NPR’s Marketplace website. Just click here to read and listen. No need to hurry back. We’ll wait while you do.

Welcome back! Now a few facts about Pliny the Elder. The beer is named for good old Pliny, a Roman scientist and statesman, because he is credited with discovering hops. Fortunately, you won’t have to work as hard as he did to discover hops in your bottle of Pliny the Elder. The beer has an alcohol content of 8% by volume, and no telling how many IBUs (Russian River does not seem to be telling anyway). Pliny sells for around $5.99 per half liter bottle, which is quite fair considering the scarcity and demand. As I said, this beer is not sold anywhere near Georgia, but our own Dale Roberts was kind enough to supply a bottle.

From the website:

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!

Russian River exhorts you to drink the beer fresh, not aged. My bottle of Pliny the Elder has a bottling date of July 16, 2014 on it, and we drank it on October 12th, 2104. So, roughly 90 days on this one when we drank it. I actually received it about a month or so earlier, and immediately refrigerated it. It did not seem any worse for the wear. I know that beer geeks today have this crazy notion that you have to drink IPAs 5 minutes after you buy them; anyone so stating does not understand IPA at all. That said, I do agree with Russian River that this beer is one not meant for hanging onto for a year or years.

My good friends at Canton’s Stout’s Growlers had mentioned they had brewed a Pliny clone, but had never been able to try the beer. So, I brought the bottle over and we split it three ways. Good beer always tastes better in good company, you understand. Here is the consensus.

Russian River Pliny the Elder pours to a bright golden orange color with a very light head formation and a huge citric, very grapefruity nose. Taking a sip, the malt is a bit thin to start with but there’s enough to set the stage for the hops to come. Upon first sip, I got more of the very fruity, citrusy hop flavors; the beer literally bursts with them. But there wasn’t a lot of bitterness, at least not at first. We all remarked, though, that the more we sipped, the more that bitterness built on the tongue, becoming intense and long and dry with a lingering potency. This was not a function of temperature, as the bottle had warmed slightly in the car on the way to the tasting.

Resiny, piney hops emerged eventually and poked their way through, though at the last the beer did not seem its 8% ABV. Overall, the delicate but omnipresent hoppiness was quite remarkable here. I very much enjoyed it.

This is a very well-crafted double IPA indeed, certainly one I would enjoy frequently were it available in my area.

And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.

*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.