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What's the secret of America's most sought-after beer? Pliny arrives

February 15, 2013|By John Verive
  • 38 Degrees Alehouse in Alhambra, where you can line up for a tapping of Pliny the Younger on Saturday.
38 Degrees Alehouse in Alhambra, where you can line up for a tapping of Pliny… (John Verive )

Have you heard the buzz of excited beer fans or seen mention of a mythical beer of white-whale proportions? It's time for Pliny the Younger -- considered one of the best beers in the world --  to make its annual appearance at the better craft beer destinations in the Southland.

What about the beer compels people to line up for hours, or purchase raffle tickets, just for a chance to taste it?

Pliny the Younger, brewed in Santa Rosa at Russian River Brewing Co., is not to be confused with Russian River's more-common Pliny the Elder.

The latter is a double IPA -- brewed with more malt and more hops than a standard IPA -- and the former is a triple IPA that is so difficult to brew and uses so many expensive ingredients that Russian River makes it only once every year.

The beer is released in the Santa Rosa brewpub on the first Friday of February, none of it is bottled, and only a small quantity of kegs are sent out to Russian River's best accounts.

Vinnie Cilurzo, founder and brewmaster of Russian River, is credited with inventing the wildly popular double IPA style in the '90s as a way to mask off-flavors produced by the rudimentary brewing equipment at the Blind Pig brewpub in San Diego.

The beer was a hoppy hit, and Vinnie soon began developing an even more intensely hopped brew. The resulting triple IPA -- named for the historian nephew of the elder Pliny -- has hops added eight times during the brewing process, and the potent alcohol-burn of the nearly 11% ABV is concealed by Cilurzo's choice of hop varieties.

Writing about his brewing process in the July/August 2009 issue of home brewing magazine Zymurgy, Cilurzo said, "We add in a good portion of Amarillo hops, which ... work hand in hand with the Simcoe hops, which is the signature hop in Pliny the Elder. The choice of these hops is very much by design, since these hops are very fragrant and fruity. ... These hops will help mask some of the big alcohol flavors that usually come through in a beer that is high in ABV."

Pliny the Younger is big, bold, and a showcase for fruity new-world hops, but it's the balance between hops and malt-body that's the highlight. You can find Pliny the Younger beginning this weekend at a variety of local craft-beer hot spots. Here are a few confirmed tappings:

--Beachwood BBQ (Seal Beach and Long Beach): Feb. 18, though you'll need to purchase a raffle ticket by Friday the 15th.

--Haven Gastropub (Pasadena and Orange): Feb. 18 and 19, respectively

--Mohawk Bend (Echo Park): Feb. 19th

--38 Degrees Alehouse (Alhambra): Feb. 16

--Tony's Darts Away (Burbank): Feb. 17

If you'd rather not queue up for a glass of beer, there are a few triple IPAs that are somewhat easier to find but may still give you a sense of the interplay between sweet malts and pungent hops showcased by the style.

Have you tried the elusive Pliny the Younger? Did it live up to the hype?


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