Pliny the Elder - Russian River Brewing Company, Santa Rosa
Pliny the Elder. A lot has been said about this beer. It wouldn't be any understatement to say that it is considered the best IPA in the world. Even though big India Pale Ales aren't my favorite style I've been looking forward to this one based solely on its reputation. Russian River doesn't distribute to my area so I had to wait quite a while for a bottle of this beer... A generous local homebrewer and like minded aficionado hooked me up with a couple bottles of Pliny the Elder that came to him direct from California. The date stamp on the bottle says it was bottled about two and a half weeks ago, so it's pretty fresh. If this beer is as good as they say it is, this will be the time for me to try it at its best...
I expected a lot of hops from this beer. It's an Imperial IPA and the internet hop heads rave about it. Expecting no hops from it would simply be delusional. Pouring this beer into my glass wasn't any different than any other IPA. There is plenty of hop aroma, like you'd get with most hoppy beers, no surprise there. The only difference was that under the hops there was a rich orange and grapefruit sweetness that added a lot of complexity to the otherwise piny aroma. Pliny smelled interesting, maybe a little intriguing, but it wasn't anything I hadn't had before.
The flavor of this beer was another story... another story in the same series of books. Right up front you get the bitter, albeit balanced, hop flavor. It's acidic but not enamel melting... this beer has a lot of the flavor a hop head craves without the drawbacks of being inapproachable to a novice drinker. As my palate adjusted to the big hops in this beer I was able to pick up on the subtler flavors. There is a good deal of sweet citrus in this Imperial IPA. It's worth noting because this is something other brewers usually don't do. When their big IPAs have citrus in them it's usually tart or sour. These flavors are complementary in the sense that they make the beer even more unpleasant to drink when combined with so much hop flavor... Pliny the Elder however has a great sweetness under all those piny hops. It goes a long way to balance out the flavor.
There is a lot going on in this beer. A lot, but not enough in my opinion. The sweet fruit mellows out the hops a little but this beer is still a big helping of hops... I can see why people like it so much, to a degree. If you're crazy about hops because you can't get enough of that bitterness, then you'd love this beer. If you love IPAs and want something extreme with a touch of citrus to class things up a bit, great... this is your beer. If you're looking for an IPA that is more than just a showcase for bitterness, you'll find a little of that in this beer but it'll probably leave you a little disappointed in the end.