For this month’s Session, Mr. David Bascombe asks everyone to discuss beers surrounded by hype.
If there is a beer surrounded by hype, it is Russian River’s Pliny the Younger. The first Friday in February is Pliny the Younger Day, when hop aficionados eagerly line up outside the Russian River brewpub in downtown Santa Rosa their annual fix of Pliny the Younger. You might say Triple IPA Pliny the Younger is the older brother of Russian River’s legendary Pliny the Elder, their storied Double IPA. Pliny the Younger supposedly takes “the Elder’s” stratospheric hopticity up to yet another notch to an almost incomprehensible level, at least according to the buzz surrounding it. Only a small, limited batch of “Younger” is released each year, which is why so many people willingly queue up for it in early February, often waiting well over an hour to taste the brew.
Which has inevitably led to a backlash of anti-hype against this beer. Beer geeks now gain a supposed air of sophistication by declaring to their friends that Pliny the Younger is overrated or “just isn’t that good” and that if you really want the good stuff, it’s from some brewery they’ll whisper in your ear, which of course, you’ve never heard of. On top of that there is the “anti-nerd” faction of beer geekdom, deriding the whole enterprise as lemming-esque, as simply no beer is worth standing in line over an hour for.
But this misses the point. The point is not whether Pliny the Younger is really this breathtakingly euphoric experience worth waiting over an hour for. The point is that standing in line for Pliny the Younger is a shared experience with other like-minded individuals, showing a certain commitment to both “beer” and a local brewery known for brewing excellence. Of course, the pay off at the end has to be a pretty good beer or the whole journey falls flat. But it doesn’t have to be one of world’s greatest beer simply because it’s one of the very few people clamor for it in this way.
And I’m here to tell you that while it probably isn’t the worlds greatest beer, it’s pretty damn good. No, I don’t wait for it each year during Pliny the Younger day. I’m not a patient man, and yes, there are nearly equally good beers I can pick up with a lot less trouble. But I’m willing to wait a week after Pliny the Younger day to sample it at the Bistro Double IPA Festival held the first Saturday of SF Beer Week. Get there early and there’s hardly a line for it. And how good is it? Let’s just say among the many examples from the finest West Coast brewers pushing the limits of their skills to create hop-alchemy, Pliny the Younger clearly stands out among that crowd.
Which does raise the question, do I find Pliny the Elder to be a great beer because of its hype? Or is it due to some mischievous notion I have to be part of the backlash to the backlash to the hype?