After over a decade of hearing about this beer, years of wanting to try it, and a couple close misses, I finally got to drink Pliny the Younger.
Before I get into my thoughts, the mythology of Younger, both at a macro beer and personal level, must be explored. Russian River first brewed Pliny the Younger in 2005 as a winter seasonal, aiming to push the envelope on Pliny the Elder, an already big IPA especially by mid-2000’s standards. Building upon Elder’s 8% and impeccable balance between malt and hops is no easy feat as Russian River sought to increase all the elements of this beer. What resulted was a mythological beer only brewed once per year. Its legend quickly grew as more people heard of this amped up Elder and more and more people became attracted to craft beer. Younger continued to only be released once per year at the Santa Rosa Brewpub, and the release became a huge event in the craft beer world. People would wait hours in line just to try a single pour of this beer, making it one of the first beer events where people willingly subjected themselves to this tortuous and now ubiquitous ritual. Eventually Younger was selectively distributed within California and then a larger brewpub was built in Windsor and then it was distributed to a couple states.
I never found myself in California or another state that received Younger around its February distribution date until 2019. I was in the Bay Area for training, and I was determined to hunt it down. The most obvious destination was Toronado, the legendary beer bar in San Francisco. I saw that it had been tapped earlier that day, so I made the trek from the East Bay into SF. Excitement mounted as I reached the Haight and walked through the Old Western style saloon doors of my destination. I confidently asked the bartender for Pliny the Younger only to be shot down, told that it had kicked a little bit ago. Deflated, I settled for West Ashley by Sante Adairius, an incredible and legendary beer in its own right but no Pliny the Younger. A couple days later in my trip I was riding the BART, looking for Untappd verified venues that had Younger on draft. I found one, but it was unfortunately a bit out of my way and would have made me very late for dinner with a friend. I was regrettably not an asshole and did not get to drink Younger during that trip.
It was not until this year of our lord 2022 that my dream of drinking Pliny the Younger would be realized. After my move to Denver last year, I found out that Colorado was one of the lucky states to receive shipments in February. I also found out that we received a lot – I would have my choice of where and when I wanted it. Naturally I chose one of the first spots in Denver to be tapping it and also one of my favorite beer bars in the city, Finn’s Manor. I was slightly nervous that I was not there right when their doors opened at 5. With identification and age verified and seating quickly sorted out, I ran-walked to the bar, nervously asking the bartender for 2 pours of Pliny the Younger (one for my wife and me). “You got it!” he exclaimed, inducing a huge shit eating grin across my face as I was finally about to slay a huge personal whalezbro of mine. Obligatory bartop pictures were taken as a cocktail was being made for my mother-in-law.
Beers in hand, we walked back to our table, and my joy was properly captured (evidence in featured photo at top of article). I had it! The moment had arrived! Now it was time to drink this elusive beast. The nose is big pine and grapefruity citrus with little discernible alcohol. The taste? Oooh boy the taste! As advertised, it’s a straight up “turn the dial to 11” Pliny the Elder. Perfect balance between malt and hops, West Coast pine and pithy citrus. There’s a lot of every element, but nothing stands out in contrast against anything else. I’ve been drinking Pliny the Elder for over 10 years now, and every time I have it I’m always amazed by its balance. Younger is exactly like that. It’s incredible that Russian River has been able to massively load a beer with so much malt and hops while keeping everything in check. At 10% ABV, Younger is dangerously drinkable. Compared to most Triple IPAs, there is very little heat and almost no sweetness hinting at its high alcohol content. For West Coast Triple IPAs, Boneyard Notorious IPA3 is the only other I’ve had to approach this level of balance and drinkability.
Was it worth the wait? Yes. Did it live up to the hype? Absolutely! Pliny the Younger is an amazing beer that has stood the test of 18 years time. At the same time, is it the best beer ever? Not in my opinion. Would I wait a couple hours in line to try it? Hell no. There is so much incredible and accessible beer being made everywhere now that waiting in a long line to try a single beer seems like an antiquated ritual. I am lucky enough to live in a location that makes it easy to drink Younger, and I took advantage of that. I’ll continue to drink Younger as long as it’s available, but I would not make a special trip or vacation out of it. That’s the reality of our current craft beer landscape in America, and that’s a very lucky thing for all of us. Good beer is just around the corner – make sure to take advantage of that fact.