In Search of Pliney The Elder
November 22, 2017 § Leave a comment
I can’t recall when I first heard about this beer. It may have been a review I read, or it could have been my friend Christopher Tucker who texted me a query about it. When I googled the beer and got an image label, I felt like I had seen this once before but had ignored it. I am not swearing on this, but visiting Austin a number of years back, I feel like bottles of this were in the glass front fridge that I could see, and that label did stick out in its simplicity. Why I didn’t pursue, I cannot guess. My loss.
By the time we visited Seattle in July 2014, I knew going there that I if I was going to sample this West Coast IPA, then this might be the chance. A longtime friend of Susan’s from High School, Lynn H lived in Seattle, and during pre-trip preparations I asked her if I could get Pliney in Seattle, and she recognized the name and was pretty sure I could. As it turned out, it was not available in any of the places we looked, as that opportunity came and went unfulfilled.
Judging by the “Where to get our beers” page on the Russian River Brewing site, it would appear my memory of Austin may be a hallucination, and here on the East Coast, Philly is the only place that appears to carry it, though the page for the listed distributor fails to list it or any other product from The Russian River Brewing Co.
In August of this year Susan got word from work that she hadn’t taken her 2-week vacation yet, nor had she submitted any plans to do so. In the banking industry, Federal Regulators insist that every employee of a bank has to take at least 1 two consecutive week vacation every year. The theory being, that any scam they are managing at work cannot survive two weeks without their input. Employees are usually locked out of their accounts, and have to turn in their work phones during this period.
This led to a plan to visit Corinne in San Francisco, which later morphed into a plan to see both girls, as Alyson would fly in and work from there until we expanded the range of our travels. My first thought about this trip was “Yea! I can rent a bike and ride San Francisco club rides!”, and my second was “Maybe this time I can find some real Pliney The Elder!”.
My first attempt was to have daughter #2 do my work for me, so I sent her a text telling her that I wanted her to greet me with a bottle of Pliney The Elder in her hands. “I’ll try” was the reply, and when I checked on status, “Pliney? What’s that?”. I tried again and this time she her results reflected the state of places she knew, so no go. It wasn’t until I was texting my old friend Chris about it that he found this link to 15 places you can find Russian River products. Number 3 on the list was The City Beer Store on Folsom. That was only about 10 blocks from our hotel, and it was all downhill. So we walked. Our walk was rewarded, as they had Pliney on tap fresh.
City Beer looked a lot like the old Brick Skeller on P street in DC back in the day, long before there was “Craft Beer”. The Brick Skeller had a huge collection of imports, and that meant they had a large variety of the full spectrum of beer. It was one of the first places where I got to taste what beer was supposed to taste like. Anyway, City Beer has a very unique selection of high gravity beers from the US and overseas. But they didn’t have any bottles of Pliney. As the bartender explained, “On Wednesdays we get about two cases of bottles and usually by Thursday, they are all gone.” Many times they don’t make it to Wednesday night.
Pliney is what is called a Double IPA, but it is also more than that. It is a West Coast IPA, which is California speak, meaning Pliney might be a high gravity fermented beverage, but it is still delicate, and it’s best consumption is now. Don’t put this in your closet and come back in 6 months, because this isn’t an aging beers. This best fresh, and it is best now, and all the flavor and aromas of the hops come out best in its freshness, and so it doesn’t feel heavy. I am going to speculate that they don’t have a very high final gravity so that most of the sugars are fermentable, and get fermented. It probably has the same final gravity as a normal IPA, so it “feels” the same. The Double means that to make Pliney they use twice as much ingredients, and take mostly first runnings off the mash. That gives them a higher concentration of sugars, and if they mash for Alpha Amylase over Beta which gives them a high percentage of single-chain fermentable sugars.
My search was over. Bringing Pliney home to NJ just wasn’t in the cards, as I didn’t have time to get to City to see if the bottles came in, however, after a hike with D2 in Lake Tahoe, we picked up Susan for some breakfast, and went to a cafe on the water, and what did I see on tap? Pliney the Elder. After breakfast, we all went for another hike on Rubicon Trail in the Emerald Bay part of Tahoe, and upon returning Corinne suggested we go back to the cafe for some Pliney. She was driving, so we were a captives to her whims, and so I had a second bonus Pliney The Elder session.