Pliny the Elder is a fascinating beer, and not only for the fact that it is an incredible IPA. There is such an allure, mystique, and reverence for this beer.
It is one of the highest rated IPAs in the world. Despite it’s year round availability, it never seems to be available in its distribution markets. And when it is available, retailers often limit the amount that can be purchased at a time, or, it is hidden in the back and must be requested for by name, possibly with some sort of secret password. Combined, this makes it a sort of liquid gold amongst craft beer enthusiasts.
Is Pliny that significant? Are there no other IPAs that are as good as Pliny? Is it truly, a one of a kind beer that cannot be recreated by any other brewery than Russian River? When you word it like that, it begins to sound ridiculous. Of course there are other incredible IPAs that are just as good as Pliny, so why the hype? Answer: It’s always fresh.
How much, exactly, does freshness matter? If you travel deeper into the inner craft beer circles, you’ll start to hear the purists declare that Pliny should only be consumed within 30-45 days of bottling. They say that it has to be as fresh as possible, otherwise it’s not as good. But the same can be said for any IPA. As I mentioned in my aging guide, hop aroma and bitterness fade rather quickly. Being as the whole point of an IPA is the hops, it makes sense that the fresher it is, the more vibrant the aroma and flavor is.
Owner Vinnie Cilruzoe is extremely cautious of growing too fast, to the point where Russian River’s slow growth is causing an exponential expansion in demand for their beers. But this has ensured that the hop forward beers, like Pliny the Elder, don’t sit on the shelf very long, meaning that if you are lucky enough to find it, it is likely to be extremely fresh.
Stone Brewing Company is another brewery that comes to mind that emphasizes how important freshness is. They have repeatedly stated that none of their year-round beers should be aged. The above image can be found on the back of their IPA bottles. The above link serves as a method for consumers to report Stone beer that was not available within the ‘best by’ date. Most notably, this past summer Stone released a new IPA titled “Enjoy By XX-XX-XXX,” with the ‘X’s’ being replaced with a specific date. Stone has a significantly larger distribution map than Russian River does. To ensure that Enjoy By is available as fresh as possible, Stone limits each batch to only 2 or 3 markets at a time, determined by consumers voting at the Enjoy By site.
To clarify however, Pliny the Elder is an amazing IPA. It has a sweet, lemony nose with a rich piny taste. Pliny has a crisp, light body, likely from using an addition of sugar in the boil. The freshness factor definitely helps, as it accentuates the pine and citrus flavors. But even if you drink a bottle 2 months past bottling, it is still a fantastic IPA.
If you want a clear example of how important freshness is in beer, visit one of our local breweries, like Tenaya Creek, Big Dog’s, or Chicago Brewing Company. There is no travel time in the beers that are served at these brewpubs. The beer is brewed and served on premise, making it the freshest beer you can find. Joseph James is another local brewery that makes a fantastic IPA. While they don’t operate a brewpub, their beers still have a very short travel time to our local retailers. You’ll notice that IPA’s from all of these breweries have an aroma and bitterness unlike most other IPA’s available in our state that were distributed from somewhere else.
For more information in understanding freshness and aging, check out our aging guide.
Lately I’ve been trying to figure out what the primary driver of innovation in craft beer is. Is it consumer demand? Do savvy brewers notice shifting tastes or coming trends and whip something up that fits the bill? Does the local brewpub brewer get badgered by enough beer geeks and homebrewers that he decides something like a Nelson Sauvin IPA is worth a shot?
Or are some of the more innovative offerings a result of the brewer’s desire to make something that he or she finds interesting? To what extent can professional brewers push the envelope and get consumers to follow? Any rational person might’ve thought a hop monster like Stone Ruination IPA was wildly out of place in the craft beer market 10 years ago. Now, not only is it my regular go-to when I want my tongue to swim in a sea of C-hops, but it’s one of the highest rated Imperial IPAs around. Hell, I can get a bomber of it at the gas station down the street while picking up a meatball sub.
Now you may be wondering why I’m spending so much time thinking about this topic, let alone writing about it. I doubt it’s keeping many of you up at night or fueling in depth discussion at your dinner parties. It’s at this juncture that I’ll let you in on a well kept secret: I plan to be a very successful and well-decorated brewer in our quaint little town of Las Vegas.
So how does a lowly homebrewer go about doing this? The first step starts Monday: A part time job at Big Dog’s Brewing Company. I’ll be washing kegs, cleaning lines, graining out the mash tun etc. It’s not glamorous, but it’s a foot in the door at one of the finest and more innovative beer habitats in this town. Trust me: if you haven’t had Dave Otto’s hoppier offerings like Dirty Dog IPA & War Dog Double IPA, you’re doing yourself a terrible disservice. We may even strip you of your Hop Head merit badge.
All that aside, we get back to our initial line of questioning. If I get the opportunity to develop new beers in this highly customer-interactive brewpub setting, what’s the best way of going about it? My first inclination is to lean on what I’ve been successful with and enjoy drinking. Who doesn’t like a Saison with a ton of fruity aroma from dry hopping? Probably a fair number of you out there.
That’s where the real fun of a brewpub setting comes into play. I can talk to you while you experience the fruits of our labor. You can come pepper me with questions and comments any time you like. Please trust me when I tell you that I want to know what you liked, what you didn’t, what new experimental hop you’re homebrewing with, what beer you loved from your recent trip to a new brewpub in Antarctica, what you had for breakfast, etc. I want it all.
I want to push the envelope, innovate, and make great beer by hook or by crook. Whether it’s a crazy idea I have, or it’s based on something you and your buddy drunkenly brewed in your kitchen, I’m all about it. In the process, I hope we can help our local brewers make great beer for you, and thereby thrive.
Most importantly though, please come fill as many growlers as you can if Big Dog’s has a new seasonal farmhouse style beer! Just in case my fancy schmancy beer geek Certified Cicerone tastes don’t quite latch on to the taste buds of the masses.
Big Dog’s Brewhouse
Periodically throughout the year, local Big Dog’s Brewery hosts what they call Brew School. Brew School is a chance for their customers to take part in brewing one of Big Dog’s award winning ales. Not only do you get to help brew a beer, but a month later when the beer is finished, you are invited back to take part in a graduation dinner featuring the beer you brewed! Since I had first heard of Big Dog’s Brew School, I had been wanting to check it out, and I finally had the chance this past Saturday. Saturday’s Brew School featured Big Dog’s imperial IPA, War Dog. I’ve yet to try this beer out, but I’ve heard countless times how great it is. Brewing a batch of this beer myself is probably the best way to experience, and appreciate, this immense beer.
Fresh Malted Barley
One of the greatest things about Brew School, is that head brewer Dave Otto is extremely candid and honest about their brewing process. It is clear that he is genuinely passionate about brewing and wants to ensure that everyone in the class is learning and getting involved in any way that they want. Attendees stirred the mash, cleaned up spent grain and added hops to the boil. Dave gave everyone a taste of the grains and also a taste of the wort after the mash, so anyone who hasn’t brewed before can have a better understanding of the brewing process. One of the things I found most interesting about this beer, is that it’s been several years since they last brewed it. The reason being, is that they have been unable to purchase enough of the simcoe hops that are needed. This year changed that, when Sam Adam’s found that they had an overabundance of the hop, and Big Dog’s was able to buy some off of them!
Dave Otto Mashing In
There were several home brewers who attended the Brew School, and as I mentioned earlier, Dave was very open about the brewing of War Dog. This beast of a beer uses 1,300 lbs of grain and about 60 lbs of hops! Dave mentioned that he really wants the malt to take a backseat in this beer so it can be primarily hop focused. With this in mind, there is very little specialty malts, it’s primarily just standard two row barley, with the tiniest touch of caramel and Vienna malt to add the slightest bit of color and sweetness. Not only that, even though the beer is about 8.3% alcohol, he wants to ensure the the beer is still extremely drinkable, with a light body, and little malt presence. To achieve this, Dave adds sugar to the beer as well. I’ve always preferred imperial IPAs that have sugar over ones that do not. Having a dry and crisp body helps to accentuate the hop bitterness. In my mind, even when the flavor is perfectly balanced, having a heavier body detracts the refreshing character that every IPA should have. This was one of my complaints of Stone’s 16th Anniversary IPA. The taste and flavor was amazing, but it was a very heavy beer. War Dog, on the other hand, not only has a strong, immense flavor, the light body makes it crisp and light.
Weighing Out The First Round of Hops
As I mentioned earlier, a month from now we are all invited back to the brewery for a graduation dinner, featuring our beer cooked with one of the dishes. Of course, we also get to have a pint or two of our hard work, as well as take home a growler! I’ll provide additional details of the dinner when that time comes. In the meantime, be sure to check out Big Dog’s website. They should be posting details soon of their next Brew School on January 12!
Below are some additional photos from the class.
Our Beer’s New Home For The Next Month
Our local New Belgium Ranger was kind enough to give some of their newest beers to Dave, which he happily shared with us. Thanks Karl!
Barrel Aged Deliciousness
A shot of the festival grounds with local band Tribal Seeds
On October 20th, Motley Brews presented the follow-up to their 2012 Great Las Vegas Festival of Beer: The Las Vegas Downtown Brew Festival. After having a blast at the last Motley Brews presented festival, I was more than excited for this one. To start with, the location and timing of this event could not have been more perfect! The Clark County Amphitheater is a nice, large, outdoor venue, and the great October Vegas weather made for a phenomenal marriage!
For their first outing in 2011, I had complained that the event seemed disorganized, and way too compact. These problems were pretty much resolved on their second go around. This time, I can only tip my hat to the organizers and sponsors of this fantastic festival! We arrived a bit late (roughly 2:15 PM), but had no trouble finding parking in the large adjacent parking lot. Upon walking up to the entrance, we were quickly able to redeem our Groupons, and were inside and ready to drink within just a few minutes.
Upon entering, we made our way right to the Joseph James tent to try and wet our palettes with their R/D #11 Ginger Lemon Weizen. Thankfully, and remorsefully, we were able to get our hands on the very last drops, which may have proven to be the best beer I had the pleasure of experiencing. The beer tasted like a mix of spicy ginger ale with a refreshing lemon twist. I really hope this one sees a bottle release, as I want everyone to be able to taste this amazing local brew! Their other two R/D offerings did not disappoint either; both the Black Rye Session Pale and the Bourbon-Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout were quite the tasty offerings! Joseph James never ceases to amaze me when it comes to what they pull off for these special events. I will continue to look forward to more R/D batches, while still sipping on their great year-round fermented offerings.
Karl Herrera, the Las Vegas Beer Ranger, pouring some New Belgium brews
Our next stop was to the New Belgium tent to get a pour of their refreshing Shift Lager. Shift really is a perfect summertime beer with its light-body, and flavorfully crisp finish. While chatting with Las Vegas’ new Beer Ranger, Karl Herrera, he officially coined the term “Get Shift-faced!” which pretty much demands to be on the front of a T-shirt! New Belgium was also pouring their Red Hoptober, Ranger IPA, and of course, Fat Tire. Their Super IPA was also on display at the Get Hopped Up Tent, along with Stone 16th Anniversary IPA and Bear Republic’s Racer 5.
Tim and Alex from Tenaya Creek
From there we hit another local favorite in Tenaya Creek. They were happily pouring their new Dutch-style Belgium Tripel, Oktoberfest Lager, the recently bottled Hauling Oats Oatmeal Stout, and their iconic Hop Ride. Not to mention, they also decided to unveil a Hop Ride infused popcorn! Being a Las Vegas staple for years, you really can’t go wrong with anything that Anthony and Tim brew up. Their year round beers are top-notch, and their seasonal brews always leave you looking forward to the next one! If you haven’t been to the brewery yet, you should make it a point to do so. Hell, there’s a good chance you’ll see your’s truly at the bar sipping on a Hop Ride!
Another local staple, Big Dog’s Brewing Company was pouring just nearby. Their selections included Dirty Dog IPA, Las Vegas Lager, Lake Mead Monster Double Red Ale, and the Great American Beer Festival 2012 Silver Medal winning Red Hydrant Ale! Big Dog’s is another local brewery that you just can’t go wrong with! While I would have loved to have seen the seasonal Pumpkin Ale, or the monster that is War Dog IPA, I was more than pleased with what they had to offer! With 2 locations in the Valley, there is no reason not to stop by and grab a drink!
After making our rounds with the local breweries and New Belgium, we decided to hit the outside circle and try and get our hands on some beers we haven’t had before. Our next stops were to Tommyknocker’s and Moa. Tommyknockers, from Colorado, is fairly new to the Las Vegas craft brew scene. They had with them a nice assortment, including Vienna Amber Lager, Maple Nut Brown, Imperial Nut Brown, and a nice, mild, Pumpkin Ale. All of their offerings were solid, and can be found locally at this time.
Moa, from New Zealand, is a brewery that I have yet to try, but I’ve always been curious about. They had samplings of their Breakfast, Pale Ale, and Blanc Evolution. I only tasted the first two, but I was quite fond of both! As a nice contrast to most breakfast inspired stouts, Moa’s Breakfast had a bright, wheat, sweet cherry flavor that would pair nicely with a berry muffin or eggs. While it won’t be for everyone, I think it would be a nice substitute for a mimosa at brunch. The Pale Ale had a subtle citrusy hop nose and flavor, which was balanced by a bitter malt aftertaste.
From here, we went along the line, sampling well known beers from the likes of Dogfish Head (Namaste and Midas Touch), Firestone Walker (Pale 31, Union Jack), Sierra Nevada (Hoptimum, Pale Ale, Torpedo, Kellerweis), Lagunitas, Indian Wells, Three Monkeys, Chicago Brewing Co., and a newer name to the Las Vegas scene: Riley’s
To be honest, I had not heard much about Riley’s until this event. Riley’s is a smaller brewery from Madera, CA, who are in roughly their fifth year of existence. Their lineup consisted of: Sancha, which reminded me of a cross between a pale ale and a honey ale; Vixen: a coffee/chocolate inspired stout; and Wildcat IPA. All three were quite tasty brews, and show a lot of promise for this new brewery. I’ll be looking forward to what they decide too cook up next!
If there is one beer trend that I really enjoy, it’s the new “Session IPA/Pale Ale” trend. Something just appeals to me about a low ABV, flavorful IPA that won’t make you feel all nice and fuzzy after just one glass. Thankfully, one of our last stops, Ballast Point, brought along a beer that is a perfect pale ale for this occasion. Their Even Keel Pale Ale, was just fantastic, and perfect for this mild October day. It had a perfect pine aroma, with just enough citrus to hit your nose. The taste was quite the same, with a great dry finish that didn’t linger for too long. Not be outdone, they also brought along an arsenal of their other lovingly-crafted brews: Big Eye IPA, Calico Amber, Pale Ale, and the incomparable Sculpin IPA.
I can’t finish this without giving a shout-out to all of the food vendors that made it out to quench the hunger of the beer sipping crowd. From restaurant representatives to food trucks, there was something for everyone. Our eatery of choice ended up being Haulin’ Balls, who serve a variety of gourmet sandwiches based around, you guessed it, the meatball. The food was nothing short of remarkable, and I would recommend that any carnivore seek them out.
All in all, this may have been the most pleasant beer festival that I’ve had the opportunity to attend. A big thanks is in order to all the vendors, sponsors, and especially Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada for all the phenomenal brands that they helped bring together! As a group, we’d also like to thank any of our followers that found us and said hello. It’s always great to meet you guys in person, and we appreciate all of the kind words and constructive feedback that we receive.
In closing, if you have not had an opportunity to attend one of these festivals, then you are missing out! Do yourself a favor and make sure that you clear your calendar off and come out and have a blast! …I’m sure you’ll see us there!
Your’s truly filling in for Karl at New Belgium, while he took a well deserved bathroom break
There came a time in my life that I was deeply enamored with IPA’s. The more bitter the better. An American IPA is probably about as American as you can get. Loud and in your face with a giant floral aroma and a painfully bitter bite. Sadly, after trying countless IPAs, I began to get bored with the style. It seemed there were only so many ways to make an IPA. Nearly every IPA I had began to taste like the last IPA I had. Sure, there were my go-to IPAs that never let me down, but anything new that I tried, tasted too familiar.
Thankfully the good folks at the Alpine Beer Company came along and reminded me that while everyone can make an IPA, not everyone should make an IPA. An IPA is a balancing act of so many different elements. If all the different attributes of an IPA are in perfect balance, it is truly a work of art. Too many brewers strive for this perfection, but fall short.
When I first heard that New Belgium was collaborating with Alpine to make ‘Super IPA,’ I was disinterested. Just another double IPA, I thought. Then Armando introduced me to Alpine’s IPA, Duet. What an incredible beer, unlike anything that I’ve had before. Perfect balance of pine, citrus, and pineapple, with a perfect balance between the firm bitterness and malt backbone. After drinking Duet, I had been reminded of what a good IPA tastes like and was immediately looking forward to trying Super IPA.
Thanks to our local New Belgium Ranger, Karl Herrera, I finally had the chance to try Super IPA.
Alpine and New Belgium are artists when it comes to formulating a perfectly balanced IPA. This beer clocks in at 9% alcohol by volume, so creating such a heavy beer, with all the proper IPA nuances is no easy feat.
First of all, there is an incredibly sweet, citrus, and fruity aroma coming off this beer. Mango, lemon, grapefruit zest, a little pineapple, altogether it kinda smells like Fruity Pebbles!
Considering the high alcohol content, it is a relatively light bodied beer, making this extremely drinkable. There is very little malt presence, but along with the light body, there is a nice bit of sweetness from the residual sugars. This sweetness balances the strong, piney bitterness that follows. The bitterness on this beer is amazing. While it’s not too overwhelming on the palate, the pine and citrus zest linger for quite a while in your sinuses, even after you swallow. The high alcohol content hides itself well, but it does give a little warmth in the aftertaste.
As I mentioned in the beginning, while everyone can make an IPA, not everyone should. This beer is an example of two breweries that should keep making IPAs.
Stone has really been on an IPA kick lately. In past year, or so, they’ve released 6 new IPAs that I can think of. 15th Anniversary Escondidian Black IPA, Japanese Green Tea IPA, More Brown Than Black IPA, TBA (not labeled an IPA, but it’s a “hopppy, bitter, brown ale), Enjoy By IPA, and now 16th Anniversary IPA. This is a double IPA brewed with rye, lemon verbana, and lemon oil. Here are some of my tasting notes:
The beer has a bright crystal clear golden hue. It has a strong lemon rind smell, along with a wet grass and flowery aroma. Despite having lemon oil in the beer, the hops don’t veer too much in the citrusy direction. Instead the hops have more of a clean bitterness with more of an herbal flavor . The finish is a sweet, sugary lemon finish, with the rye spiciness balancing it out.
This definitely a different take on an IPA. Whereas Dogfish Head used Hellhound On My Ale to make a lemon IPA bursting with citrus flavors, Stone goes a different direction and instead uses the lemon flavor to accent more of a grassy, flowery, earthy IPA.
The one aspect of this beer that threw me off a bit was the mouthfeel. This beer seems to have a bit of a heavy body. In addition to this, there isn’t too much carbonation either, giving this beer an almost syrupy consistency. At 10% alcohol, it is in the high end for beer, but the mouthfeel is almost comparable to the beers that have more than 14% alcohol. This still is a great beer, and it hides it’s alcohol well, but the consistency of this beer makes it difficult to want to drink more than a small glass. I think a lighter body, and stronger carbonation would make this beer a bit more refreshing to have in the current 100+ degree weather. Once the temperatures drop, this will make a nice cold weather beer.
Prior to this writing, I had some difficulty finding where this beer was available. It didn’t seem like it was immediately available like last years 15th Anniversary beer. I grabbed the only bottle I saw at Whole Foods in Town Square. However, it has been confirmed on Facebook and Twitter that the beer can also be found at Aces and Ales and both Total Wine locations. Also, despite only seeing one bottle at Whole Foods, I can confirm that they have 13 cases left.