99 Bottles

Review: Pliny the Elder

Every now and then I get an e-mail from a reader saying something to the effect of, "You have the best job in the world." I usually reply by saying how lucky I am and throw in something self-deprecating enough to make me not sound like a total jerk.

I am genuinely lucky, and never more so than last month, when a reader, Vinny (@RealABM) and my friends, Courtney and Kevin, told me within weeks of each other that they could bring me bottles of Russian River Brewery's Pliny the Elder, one of the best IPAs in the world. In an effort to review seasonal and local beers first I've held off on posting the review until now, but rest assured I drank both bottles as fresh as possible. In what I chalked up to an inventory error, I drank them without sharing with anyone else. So much for the not being a jerk part.

Russian River brews several standout IPAs, and their two most famous, Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, were both were recently passed by The Alchemist's Heady Topper on Beer Advocate's list of the best beers in the world. On the surface, those ranking changes reflect a bias toward the older products and a preference toward the hot, new one. It might not reflect that one beer is truly better than the other. A taste test would confirm or deny my theory.

pliny.jpg Pliny, the man, was a Roman author and naturalist who wrote an encyclopedic work, the Naturalis Historia, bringing together much of the known knowledge of the first century AD. He wrote about botany, zoology, and a range of other subjects, and one item he described were Lupus Salictarius, or hops. Russian River brews their beer with Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe hops. The beer named after Pliny's nephew and adopted son, Pliny the Younger, is a triple IPA released once a year on draft only.

My review is a combination of tasting notes from both sittings of Pliny the Elder. The beer pours lighter than expected with a white, fluffy head that quickly gives way to the army of bubbles marching to the top of the glass. A big, fruity nose, expected from one of the world's best IPAs, is no less welcome without the surprise. Bright grapefruit, pine, and lemon notes dance up from the glass. Even the bottle cap smells like delicious hops

The first sip is "wow" smooth. Grapefruit and pineapple -- hello, citrus -- are predominant, and the earthy, forest-floor flavors that you get from some IPAs, even good ones, are absent. I expected balanced and bitter, but I didn't expect the mouthfeel to be so light. For an IPA of 8 percent and around 100 IBUs, this is just about perfect.

I've had a lot of good IPAs this year, but Pliny stands out as one I could happily drink day in and day out without growing weary. It's not as good as fresh Heady Topper, which I was lucky enough to have several times in recent months. I'm assuming my Pliny was as fresh as possible, but I can't be sure it was as fresh as the Heady I drank at the Alchemist cannery. If I want to truly be sure, I'll need to take a trip to Russian River's brewery in Santa Rosa, Calif. myself. Lucky me.

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