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.
We rolled into San Diego at roughly 5:30 PM and checked into our hotel. We were both pretty beat from the day’s events, but we didn’t want to waste time. I checked my Twitter feed and noticed that Ryan from Aces and Ales had recommended a pub called Churchill’s. I was amazed to see it was only about a mile from the hotel!
We decided to take a walk and embark on our first stop for fine ales.
Aside from the outside sign, sporting the likeness of the man himself, the first thing I noticed was the old English telephone booth standing next to the entry way. As we walked in, we were greeted by beer signs aplenty. After being seated, we got our menu’s, including the extensive list of draft beer, which is, well, why you’re probably reading this in the first place. Prices range from $3-$10 per glass, or you can get a 4oz. taster for a fraction of the cost.
Evil Twin Soft X-mas with a Cherry on Top – Vanilla Imperial Stout w/ Cherries
–Sadly, this beer was dominated by the sour cherry flavor, with only a minimal tasting of vanilla. As the beer warmed, the coffee flavors began to sneak out, but overall it was disappointing.
Karl Strauss Cask Conditioned Padre Porte
–This was a bit underwhelming. It had a standard porter flavor, a bit spicy, but the light body made it feel a little watered down.
Russian River Blind Pig IPA
-My wife exclaimed “This tastes just like it smells…DELICIOUS!” …and I’d have to agree! The grapefruit and pine notes come through in a big way, both in smell and in flavor, with a nice bitter finish. This was my first experience with Russian RIver, and I cannot wait to get my hands on more of their brews! Highly recommended!
Karl Strauss Flan-Diddly-Anders Red
-On first smell you get a nice nose full of maple and sweet cherries. The flavor has a nice acidic sourness to it which give way to a bit of sweetness. Not the best sour beer that I’ve had, but quite pleasant.
Monkey Paw Santa’s Pet Monkey – Chocolate Vanilla Imperial Porter
-The chocolate and vanilla flavors hit you right away with the coffee porter smell coming in shortly after. The chocolate is by far the dominant flavor, as the vanilla seems to rarely come through. All in all, a decent porter, but nothing to go out of your way for.
Coronado Stoopid Stout
-The coffee notes hit you right away, with a nice dose of chocolate, and a hint of grapefruit. This stout is huge with a big coffee flavor, big alcohol, and a nice, unexpected hop overtone. One fantastic stout!
Green Flash Fizzy Yellow Pilsner
-I’m not a fan of pilsners, however, alongside Tenaya Creek’s, this may be the only pilsner I’ve enjoyed. It has great notes of lemon zest, malt, and even banana. A fine, refreshing beer!
Karl Strauss Two Tortugas – Belgian Quad
-My wife and I both loves this one! Smells and tastes like brown sugar and molasses, with a nice, rum-like finish. Very complex and tasty!
Evil Twin X-mas in a NYC Hotel Room
-Bitter chocolate, smoky coffee, and toffee were the prevalent flavors here. All shined through great, and each drink felt as if I was unveiling a new layer of flavors. Quite a bold stout!
Not to be outdone, the food here was also great! My wife raved about the clam chowder and scotch eggs, while I feasted upon an “Epic” grilled cheese sandwich. If you are in San Diego, this pub is a “must go,” and I’m sure it will be the first place I go on any future trips! Great food, phenomenal beer selection, and top notch service…5 stars all around!
Coming soon: Stone Brewery day 1