I had an uncontrollable feeling of giddiness when I got the bottle of Russian River’s Pliny the Elder from a friend. I had actually never seen the bottle in person before (If I had, I’m sure I wouldn’t be writing this post considering the tasting experience would have already occured). It was narrower than I thought—my mind told me it was a 22oz bottle. I instantly thought about how I was going to drink it, which glassware to use, and that I should hold off dinner for another hour so I can have a clean pallate.
I wanted to give this beer all the respect it has deserved after the hype from articles, forums, and word-of-mouth.
So I pulled it out of the fridge. I briefly chilled my Spiegelau IPA glass. I took photos of it and with it. I grabbed my least-kinking bottle-opener and pulled gently.
Beautiful two-fingered foam sat on top of a golden, slightly amber body. Grapefruit and the distinctive Simcoe hop jump out of the nose. A little dry, almost chalky.
And here goes the taste. I clean my palate as best as I can and go for it.
First thoughts—Dry. It’s a clean beer with a light flavor for the 8 percent ABV it holds. The hop flavor is very crisp and well balanced. But it finishes with a sweet caramel taste that rounds out the body. Not crazy about a sweet backbone, but the style largely requires it.
Impression of the beer after a couple of swigs: it’s friggin good. I’m not always crazy about double IPAs because they can get boozy and sweet easily. But, this is a very well controlled version of what I believe is a Northwest double IPA. Is it the end-all-be-all of beers? Have I just seen the light? No. Honestly, I feel like Stone’s Enjoy By 4.20.14 is about the same, if not better.
Either way, I think this introduces an interesting commentary on what is happening in the craft beer industry: we are getting the cream of the crop. There are a lot of great breweries out there creating great, classic beers. They are all going to reach a governor for the style because, simply put, I feel styles reach their maximum potential at a point.
What does that force brewers to do? Look toward other styles to master—Cascadian Dark Ales, Saisons, and Reds are all hugely popular right now because everyone is looking to make the Pliny of that style: the “must have,” the “experience,” the “perfect beer.”
Quick side note, as Pliny is warming up little by little, I’m enjoying it more. Either the beer’s balance is honing in, or my tasting is becoming distorted by booze.
In any event, Pliny has opened up an interesting narrative for beer: it is perfect. But, there are other perfect ones out there with similar but tweaked flavor profiles. The chase for Pliny started two years ago when I dove into craft beer, and today I was surprised by a friend who thought no beer geek should go without trying it. She was right—It really was a moment for me where I felt like part of the craft beer drinking elite as I sat down with my green-labeled unicorn.
Either way, I need to get some dinner now—8 percent takes its toll on an empty stomach.