Beer Review 0359: Russian River Pliny The Elder Imperial IPA
Well, here it is. One of the top rated beers on just about every beer review website, a brew that has a lot of hype around it…Pliny The Elder, an Imperial IPA brewed by Santa Rosa, California’s Russian River Brewing Company.
Russian River started life in 1997 when Korbel Champagne Cellars decided to try brewing beer — they hired Vinnie Cilurzo as brewmaster, but quickly exited the business in 2002, and sold the brewery to Mr. Cilurzo and his wife. Head brewer at Blind Pig Brewing Company previous to being hired by Korbel, Vinnie is credited with inventing the Imperial (or Double) IPA beer style.
Russian River are a small brewery, producing only about 1,500 barrels each year. Pliny The Elder is based off Vinnie’s Blind Pig recipe, and the name of the beer comes from Gaius Plinius Secundus, an actual once living man, better known as Pliny The Elder. Pliny wrote extensively about hops, and is credited as giving hops their botanical name of Lupus Salictarius. Today, they’re better known as DELICIOUS, or actually HUMULUS LUPULUS.
Seems like a match made in heaven, right? The creator of the Imperial IPA naming his creation after a man who gave the superstar ingredient it’s scientific name.
Brewed with Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe hops, Pliny is 8% ABV (alcohol by volume). You are encouraged multiple times on the bottle to drink this beer as fresh as possible, and the bottling date is stamped on the side. The bottle I am reviewing was born on March 8, 2013 — and even though this review is being published on April 8, I sampled the beer on April 3, which means it is just under a month old. Yeah, I’m sure some of you west coast people are wrinkling your faces at 3.5 week old Pliny — but here in North Carolina, where we don’t get it, we take what we can.
In fact, hardly anyone gets Pliny, which may be one reason why so much hype surrounds it. Outside of wide distribution in California, scattered availability in Colorado and Oregon, the lone place on the east coast that gets Russian River product is the city of Philadelphia, PA. Kind of a kick in the pants if you’re trying to sample one of the supposed best beers in the world.
Before I get into what you’re after, a huge thanks to Dave (OnWisconsin on Untappd) for sending me this bottle of beer. Had he not taken a trip to Los Angeles and put in what sounded like too much effort to score this, I’d never be able to sip it. Thanks, Dave! I’ve been waiting for this one, well…since I first read about it several years ago.
Pliny The Elder pours an average size, frothy and creamy head, lasting atop a perfectly golden ale that has just a smidgen of hop haze to the body. Translucent, the liquid is free of particles and sediment, and features a plethora of carbonation bubbles that zoom to the top to support the head. Lacing is excellent, leaving clumpy, solid sheets stuck to my glass.
The aroma has a blast of hops, as expected. Tons of grapefruit, pine, and citrus, especially lemons — combine with pineapple and passionfruit. Pine rounds things into a dull bitterness, and the malty backbone is ever-present, with the standard sweet caramel and bready notes. Subtly in the background, there’s some melon and cucumber. Striking, yes…but I’ve smelled other IPAs that are this good, and a few that are even better.
Is the hype machine worth it? In one word — yes. Pliny launches over the palate with a soft grapefruit and orange peel, then fully opens up with a gentle blast of bitterness; pine comb, ripe and juicy pineapple, earthy soil, and resin. The finish gives ample bitterness but displays a baseline bready malt, slightly sweet with some thick caramel. The parting notes feature a bouquet of ripe citrus fruits, orange, lemon, and passionfruit. There’s no alcohol present on the nose or palate until you let the beer warm. Medium-bodied, the mouthfeel is creamy and has an average carbonation.
Without doubt, Pliny The Elder is a classic beer that I’d love to have in my fridge any time. Drinkability is through the roof and the flavors are super delicious. But…and yes, there is a BUT — here in North Carolina, we have at least three or four beers that are just as good as Pliny, and they are HERE, every day. That’s not taking anything away from this beer, at all — amazing brew, and if you can try it, you’ll be rewarded handsomely.
My final thought is this: If you have an opportunity to get Pliny, you owe it to yourself to try it. But, if time goes by and you haven’t had it…odds are, there are a few incredible Imperial IPAs in your neck of the woods, too. Seek those babies out and tell me about ‘em!
Russian River Pliny The Elder Imperial IPA, 99 points. Price: $5.49 US for one 16 oz. bottle.