Here’s the bad news: you missed out on a bunch of chances to wrap your fingers around a snifter of Pliny the Younger.
Here’s the good news: There are still a few chances to imbibe Russian River’s hoppy nectar, but more about that later.
Here’s the bonus good news: even if you don’t get your hands on it, life will go on. This may sound like the idle assuaging that a parent gives to a disappointed child, but trust me…there are plenty of other beers in the cooler.
Every February, legions of hopheads stand in line for hours (yes hours) to have their chance to drink Beer Advocate’s number two beer, and I personally think it’s a waste of time.
For the uninitiated, here’s a rundown on Pliny the Younger. Pliny the Elder is the flagship beer of Russian River Brewing out of Sonoma County. If you haven’t had the chance to visit their brew pub on 4th Street in downtown Santa Rosa, it’s well worth the hour trip if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area. Besides making fantastic beer, they also make pretty good pizza, and the staff is extremely friendly.
My first taste of this beer ruined my palate for IPAs. From that day forward, if an IPA wasn’t super hoppy, it was almost a disappointing experience. Pliny the Elder is truly one of the top five beers I have ever had the opportunity to drink, and thankfully it’s available year-round.
Pliny the Younger is the seasonal variation that Russian River cranks out every February. One look at their Facebook page shows how big an event the release of Younger is for them every year.
People line up like Cold War-era Soviets waiting for toilet paper in order to get their share of the brew pub’s daily allotment. The release event lasts for two weeks, and after that, Pliny the Younger won’t be available again until the following February.
The beer itself is a bigger, bolder version of Pliny the Elder. It boasts a higher alcohol content (11% vs. Pliny the Elder’s 8%), and a bit more of a hoppy flavor. I personally find Younger to be a bit bitterer than Elder, and to have a less balanced flavor profile. It’s good…but it’s not wait in line for hours good, and that’s the rub.
Pliny the Younger comes around once a year, and ranks second on Beer Advocate’s top 250 beer list. Pliny the Elder is available year-round, and ranks third on the list with more than triple the number of reviews. To put it bluntly, the only thing that Younger has over Elder is rarity. It’s a forbidden fruit. If you take away the novelty aspect and look objectively, missing the annual appearance isn’t the end of the world.
Elder is almost always available somewhere in San Diego, and there just isn’t much of a drop-off between the two. Even if you can’t get Pliny the Elder, you can always get Firestone Walker’s Double Jack, Ballast Point’s Sculpin or Stone’s Ruination. You’ll do just fine.
I did say there were still some chances to get your hands on Pliny the Younger during his annual San Diego tour. The SDBeerGeeks blog put together a handy list of who has kegs, and when they’ll be tapped, so you still have a chance to stand in line to get a glass…yeah, I’ll see you in line.