Pliny the Elder – Beer of the Week from a Boy Named Sue

By A Boy Named Sue

BARLEY POP #2:  PLINY THE ELDER Double IPA (Russian River Brewing Co. – Santa Rosa, CA)

PLINY THE ELDER for years has had a mystique about it and a reputation that proceeds it for beer lovers near and far all across this great and noble beer guzzling nation. In the annals of American beer brewing and consumption, Pliny (having been first brewed in 2000) really was on the forefront of the craft beer explosion that swept across the country during the 2010s and continues to go strong today.

(RELATED: Beer Review from a Boy Named Sue)

Pliny the Elder is a slightly orangish-deep golden color and it is HOPPY. Yep, that in-your-face smell and taste that beer-drinking hopheads adore. Like many an IPA, Pliny has a citrus and floral bitterness on the tongue, oft described as “like pine cones” that doesn’t quite pucker out the pallet in a sour sense, but more dries it out in a biting-of-your-mouth.

The malt (that rich body of the beer) is relatively sweet and not overpowered against that bitterness and fragrance of the hops jumping out at your senses. The beer has a refreshing, almost strong effervescence as you taste and swallow it–especially the fresher you drink it to its bottling/kegging.

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When I stopped to smell the “Santa Roses” while sipping my latest Pliny in “research” for this column, I, for the first time, tasted grapefruit…but not this bourgeois hipster essence…NO no no no…grapefruit like when your mom had ya sprinkle a li’l sugar (American Crystal from the Red River Valley in North Dakota–best in the world–but I digress) on that gigantic pink half at breakfast and it made it taste pretty darn good. That’s the grapefruit I get on the gulp. Enjoy in a pint glass if they’ll pour it, but it’s typically served in a smaller, sexier glass that rocks all the right curves.

You may recall (ya better, it was just last week in my first column) I explained how, in general, I will introduce to new beer drinkers the basic idea that ya either have a malt palate (richer, sweeter, smoother flavors) or a hops palate (aromatic, bitter, pungent flavors) that more suits your tastes and seems to be more enjoyable. Me being a malt guy: it’s taken time; and what I mean by time is drinking a bunch of ‘em to build an appreciation of hoppy beers. And, I gotta admit…I get it hopheads…Pliny the Elder is pretty friggin’ good. And, in the realm of the kingdom of IPA, it’s delicious and rarely matched. (We’ll get to you Heady Topper warriors and all your alchemy magic down the road…settle down.)

Russian River Brewing got rockin’ & rollin’ in 2004 as a brewpub in Santa Rosa, CA, and has been heralded as making one of the best Double IPAs out there: Pliny the Elder. Successful acquisition of this fine libation has been troublesome for many a hop head and considered a special delight upon finding it due to Russian River’s boutique brewing of it and even more selective distribution of it. It’s commonly held up (and swallowed) by vast swaths of those that drink it as their favorite IPA of all time.

But, you ask, what’s with all this IPA/Double IPA mumbo-jumbo? Does it have twice the hops or something and that’s why it’s called a Double IPA instead of an IPA…but wait, I just heard that guy call it his favorite IPA ever…I’m confused…why does this IPA I’m loving make me feel about as confident as an IDK??? Well, true to form, we’re gonna keep it simple. [Queue Prince’s, “KISS”] So here goes.

IPA means India Pale Ale. Long story short, the British military needed a way to keep their beer (ales/pale ales) “fresh” as they were making the journey from jolly ol’ England to her territory of the British Empire: India. Apparently, Nigel and the Brit boys figured out hops would keep the beer from spoiling (which it had been doing) and help preserve it for the longer journey. Well, that’s the story anyways. My guess, the hops also helped to mask flavor that was starting to turn or was just different and new to beer drinking, and the soldiers, in particular, liked it! (So weird, the boys in uniform liked drinking…who woulda thunk it!)

Hops are simply flower buds of a specific plant family that are grown and harvested by farmers. There are numerous varieties of hops grown throughout the world. When ya hop a beer, in layman’s terms, the more you dry the hop out before you throw it in with the malt to be fermented and made in to beer, the more bitter the flavor of the hop will be resulting in a “hoppier” beer.

So…Double IPA has more hops…right? Nope…it means more ALCOHOL…now we’re talking! Double IPAs have a higher ABV% (more bang for your buck, ya might say) than IPAs. IPAs typically max out around 7 or 7.5% ABV on the high end. Any higher…we’ve now ventured into the world of Double IPAs. You’ve basically fermented more malt (the sugars) and made the ABV% go up and up and up. Double IPAs are typically a lot more malty than IPAs. I like ’em better because (as noted), I’ve got more of a malt palate.

So, what the heck is this other term “Imperial” IPA I’ve heard now and then? It simply means higher ABV% and is really used interchangeably with Double IPA depending on the brewer…and I DO like them oh so much! Every now and then ya come across “Triple” IPAs…so, do the math–yep, just even higher ABV%s than your Double IPAs (typically starting around 10-11% ABV!). Watch out!…those big bad boys will sneak up on ya in a hurry.

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