Wanna know a secret?
Pliny the Elder isn’t as good as you think it is.
[Pause for audible gasps of shock and horror]
OK. Well, it is good. In fact, it’s kind of amazing. But it’s not for the reasons you might think.
And it’s not necessarily the best IPA or double IPA out there.
[Pause for screams of terror]
So here’s the thing: I was able to procure a bottle of Pliny from Friend of the Program Allen, of Active Brewer, after he recently made a trip to California. I was ecstatic. Pliny, with a perfect 100 score on Beer Advocate and RateBeer, is one of the White Whales of the beer drinking world. My Pliny was bottled on Dec. 2 and in my glass on Dec. 14.
From a sensory perspective, Pliny is fantastic. It’s smell is ridiculously dank, like plopping yourself down in the middle of a tropical forest and being overcome by aromas of pineapple, peach, mango or papaya. Even some tangerine. There’s a certain amount of stickiness to the smell, as if you’re opening up a bag of freshly-plucked hops and just shoving your face into it.
There’s a little cattiness (i.e. cat liter-ish smell) on the nose from Simcoe hops, but that gets pushed aside from a lingering smell of something akin to a tart grapefruit or unripe orange.
Yes, Pliny tastes great, too. While it starts out a little more piney than I expected, citrus fruit took over the taste with a dash of pineapple. You could transfer the aroma description to taste and it would mostly be true.
Before you break out the virtual torches and pitchforks and release the Internet trolls from under their bridges, let me explain.
Pliny is a fantastic beer and most certainly deserves all the accolades it’s received. But it’s also one of the most hyped beers out there, perhaps aided by its very limited distribution range. Despite being available in only a few states, Pliny has been named the Homebrewers Association “Best Beer in America” five years in a row. How can that be, with thousands of voting drinkers spread all across the country and Pliny only available in such a limited geographical space?
You can have beer mules like me or you can find trade partners so you can try the beer for yourself. You you can simply buy into the hype and believe it’s the best beer out there.
The tastes and smells of Pliny could be put up against any IPA and definitely win people over, but the most impressive part of Pliny, to me, was how it was made.
For a beer with 100 IBUs, there was little to no bitterness with any aspect of this beer. The volume of hops that must go into Pliny is intimidating, yet all I could think of was the fruit and pine that overtook my senses. That’s a hell of a job.
The clarity of Pliny is unlike any other IPA I’ve seen. It’s translucent to the point of a pilsner.
Perhaps because of it’s phenomenal hop usage, it was never dry on my tongue. In fact, the mouthfeel was almost a little chewy, a la Sound Brewery’s Humulo Nimbus. I did not expect that from an IPA.
As much as the smell and taste are good, the secondary aspects we so often overlook are what make Pliny truly great.
And to me, that’s why Pliny is something to behold and seek out … and judge for yourself.
Pliny the Elder stats:
- Malt: N/A, but 2-Row must be involved … Carapils?
- Hops: Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ and Simcoe
- Additives/Adjuncts: N/A
- ABV: 8 percent
- Brewery: Russian River Brewing of Santa Rosa, California
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac