When I started this blog a few years ago, never did I think that I'd find myself writing a review such as this. One which pits titan against titan, son challenging father, junior versus senior, Elder opposite Younger! If you haven't figured it out by now, I had an opportunity to drink both Russian River's Pliny the Elder and more impressively, Pliny the Younger within a day of each other. Though I did not plan on reviewing the two, I couldn't help but write about them in comparison and contrast as to what makes each unique; And if at all possible, to find out which one reigns supreme.
|Pliny the Younger at Library Alehouse|
Without delving too much into detail, I happened to come across Pliny the Younger through a raffle offered by Santa Monica's Library Alehouse. Myself and two drinking friends all won tickets for a pint of this elusive and epic beer. Since it was only 1 pint's worth, obviously I couldn't use this as an opportunity to measure the typical Beer Hates Me parameters of 'beer', 'buzz', & 'hangover'. However, on my way to the event, I stopped off at a local Whole Foods to pick up some lunch for the following day. Never one to pass up the beer isle in this massive store, I took a quick peek to see what they might have in stock. To my surprise and delight, there were bottles of Russian River's Pliny the Elder available (and at only $4.25/each!). I quickly snatched up three bottles paranoid that there was going to be a stampede of sorts to pillage their supply and headed to check out. Leaving the store on my way to the Alehouse, I immediately knew that I'd be taking serious mental notes on what was to come as this was a chance to analyze the differences between the two related brews.
|Kopek leading us in a Pliny cheers.|
The following night, I couldn't wait to continue this exploration of Russian River's premeire IPAs, and I propmptly opened a bottle of Pliny the Elder after work. Unlike at the Alehouse, I chose to drink the beer in a glass of my own preference right out of the fridge. Whether or not this had any impact on comparison between the two didn't really matter to me. After some thought about Younger during that day, I came to realize that there are intangibles to any product that one reviews. Whereas "hype" affected my initial thoughts on Younger, price and availability may have done the same for my impressions of Elder. So, in order to think about what these beers really had in common and contrast, I had to step back and try to remove any pretenses that were affecting my judgements and evaluate the beers on their merit alone. With that established, I proceeded to enjoy what I felt was a more accurate representation of an IPA. Elder had a much more pronounced hop-forward profile. Pine and grass were present in the aroma along with a bit of fruit. The taste was considerably more bitter than Younger but with that same clean and crisp finish. This was a more powerful beer in terms of taste yet considerably lighter in the alcohol (though not exactly a lightweight at 8.5% abv). However, unlike my experience with Younger, I didn't find myself as eager to drink more and more, quicker and quicker. Younger seemed to have a more drinkable characteristic to it than Elder. Perhaps the strong bitterness in Elder reigned in the rate at which my palate desired more beer. This is not a bad thing at all though. Often, I prefer to take my time with a beer and appreciate it's complexities. Elder seemed more suited for that but only because the flavors were more bold. Younger, on the other hand had many, many subtlties and nuanced ingredients going on that the balance Russian River was able to achieve is absolutely astonighing. And so, thinking about both beers side by side I could really tell that the Younger was a more refined and intense brewing experiemnt than Elder. Which was better though? That seems to be the question that can't be avoided no matter how much I want to.
The what? The buzz? Oh, right, this is the Beer Hates Me blog. The place where I write about beer's ill affects on my physiology and try to narrow down what ingredients or brewing processes make me feel sicker than others the following day. This is the blog where I try to answer questions like why a light beer such as Anchor Small Beer fuck me up so unbelievably worse than something like Sierra Nevada Double IPA. And as a part of that monthly experimentation, I like to evaluate the inheriant buzz that may or may not accompany each beer. So, as I stated earlier, Pliny the Younger was ineligable for proper testing for my blog due to its limited quantity. Pliny the Elder, however, was ripe for the picking! And after taking my time with the first bottle, I moved on to bottle number 2. Again, another pour into my glass of choice and a gradual consumption as I worked on my computer. I am not sure if the slow rate at which I was drinking this beer had anything to do with what appeared to be a lack of any buzz, but I know that none of my work suffered from any inebriation. All the T's were crossed and I's dotted. No drunk emails were sent and I did not enter into foolish ebay auctions. Nope, everything seemed perfectly fine...that is, until I stood up after I finished the second drink. That was when I had my Benny moment (see approximately 1:15:00 into "Dazed & Confused" for reference). It was as if all the alcohol in my body had been backed up somewhere and standing released it throughout my bloodstream instantaneoudsly. I was not fall-down drunk, but I was caught by surprise and unaware of just how potent Pliny the Elder truly was. After shutting down my computer and making my way downstairs, I opened bottle number 3 with the intent of having just a taste worth of beer. Just enough to meet the 36oz minimum requirement for my testing purposes. I ended up drinking closer to half the bottle but still stayed under the maximum 48oz limit in one sitting. That last bit of beer however was just the right amount to put me out for the night. Put me out on the couch with the TV still on AMC playing reruns of The Walking Dead.
There isn't much to write about this hangover because there wasn't one at all. I was as shocked as you. nearly 40oz of a beer that is twice the national average in abv and not a hungover symptom in sight. I suppose it could be due to the slow rate of consumption, the large protein-heavy meal I ate that night, or magical anti-hangover elves that came to me in the night and rid my body of any toxins. Whatever the cause, it was a welcome result. The sweet and unfortunate irony of this however is that a) Pliny the Elder is a difficult beer to find in bottles where I live, and b) when one does find it, it says specifically on the label that the beer is not for storage and meant to be consumed as fresh as possible. So much for stock piling this awesome IPA for future magical consumption where I get pleasantly buzzed with no after effects whatsoever. Oh irony, you're such a bitch!
|Three drunks who can't pose for pics.|
Where a typical verdict from me about a beer is whether or not I can drink it safely without any sever hangover side effects the following day. Then I usually give a snappy little summation of said beer and cheers you all in a freeze-frame ending credits sequence ala 1988 sitcom TV. But for this post, let me cut straight to the answer that matters: Which beer was better? The answer: Pliny the Younger. To be a triple IPA and seem so light, fresh, and balanced is a phenomenal feat. It must have been quite a different beer when it was first brewed because I can not imagine how a brewer would nail this sort of depth and complexity and balance right off the bat. Even professional brewers who have been doing it for years would be hard-pressed to manage that sort of mixture of flavor, aroma, texture, and alcohol. The only thing that Pliny the Younger has going against it is the absurd level of hype behind it. Due to things like raffles, tickets, 2 hour lines and such, no matter how amazing a beer is, unless it gives you an orgasm upon hitting your lips, you will be disappointed. And if your disappointment stems from not being able to secure a pint of it, then Pliny the Elder is perhaps one of the greatest alternatives you could ask for...if you can find it, that is!