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.