Russian River Brewing Company – Pliny The Elder

One of the biggest problems beer lovers have is attempting to find beers brewed by companies that don’t deliver in their area.  
Russian River and Three Floyds are two of the brewing companies I can think of off the top of my head that are really frustrating living in this area.  Three Floyds sounds like one of the more interesting breweries out there today.  They always seem to come out with interesting flavor combinations, and you hear people say a lot of good things about them.  However, Russian River would have to be the most regrettable one that we don’t get in our area.  I have managed to enjoy an occasional brew from them every once in a while, but it is definitely rare.  I managed to have the Collaboration Not Litigation collaboration brew with Avery last year, and I had their Redemption beer at a bar in Philly just last month.  Evidentially you can find Russian River in Philly.  Well that leads me to my latest hunt.  Actually, I can’t take credit for that, all of the hunting was done for me.

There is one beer that comes out of Russian River that every person seeks out: Pliny the Elder.  Somehow, occasional guest reviewer John managed to find a bottle online that could be shipped to your house.  It was through a distributer, and although shipping wasn’t cheap, he didn’t pay through the nose through a site like Ebay.  Since he lives in Maryland, he couldn’t get it shipped to his house.  Therefore, I had the joy of receiving it, and a few other beers, at my domicile.  Since we do enjoy sharing most important beer, and beer is better when you have someone to discuss it with, we finally cracked it open this past weekend after we got home from a long day of teaching.

Pliny the Elder is the double IPA coming out of Russian River, and it is regarded as one of the best beers around.  It has a rating of 100 on Beer Advocate in both the bro and pro categories.  People love this beer!  According to the Russian River site, the real Pliny was also one of the first people to reference hops. I guess that would make him the perfect subject to use to name your beer after.  They tell you Pliny has to be enjoyed as fresh as possible, and even though the bottling date was in January, we were hopeful that we would still get a good experience after waiting till February to consume it.

The beer pours out a very amber yellowish color. John, or someone, said it resembled sunset.  We may have been getting a little too poetic in the face of such a high profile beer.  There is an ample white fluffy head that develops on top of the beer that sticks around for an extended period of time.  Swirling the beer gives you some nice lacing and a lot of sticky residue clinging to the sides of the glass.  The beer has a lot of haze to it, but it actually doesn’t have any real visible carbonation in the glass.

One thing really stuck out to me in the smell of the beer, it really wasn’t as potent as I was expecting.  There is only one thing you do when you hear about a beer for so long and “pine” after it: build up expectations.  We managed to build up a ton of excessively high expectations, and this is where I was scared our expectations might not be met. There was definitely a lot of light floral hops proceeding out of the aroma.  There is a lot of pine and typical hop aromas associated with the smell.  I definitely do pull out some of the grapefruit and other citrus flavors, but I wouldn’t say they dominate the profile.  Overall it does have some slight sweetness and earthy undertones as well.

I was slightly surprised by my first sip of this epic beer.  I really thought I was going to be blown away by hops like a lot of double IPAs I’ve enjoyed in the past, but I soon came to realize Russian River decided to do the unexpected.  This one starts with a surprisingly sweet malty introduction.  The surprisingly sweet introduction is followed by a rather subdued bite of bitter hops.  These hops give way to some well-balanced citrus and grapefruit flavors.  The really pleasant pine and floral hop flavoring continue all the way to the end of the taste.  The surprising part is the high amount of sweet flavoring that flows throughout the tasting of this one as well.  John tells me there are 40% more malts in the recipe as well, which I can assume can be to blame for the sweet quality.

There was plenty of carbonation on the mouthfeel and not much syrup to it at all.  Overall, I felt that it has a clean and crisp nature to it, but it has a slight thickness brought on by the sweet flavors as well.  This might be one of the most drinkable double IPAs of all time, and I think that is why people love it so much.  It displays both skill and restraint in brewing it.  The strong pine and citrus is met by enough sweet malts to create a really well-balanced beer.

You may never have the opportunity to purchase this one based on where in the country you live; however, if you ever see it, you have to get one.  Despite building up my own expectations, I was still really happy with this beer.   It’s definitely far more drinkable than I was thinking, but don’t let drinkability be a four letter word.  Russian River know how to brew a good beer, and they definitely did it here.

Teacher Grade: A

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