Thursday, March 29, 2012

Russian River Pliny the Elder (and Younger)

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
The Beer:
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.
First up to bat was obviously Pliny the Younger. It was served to the three of us in proper glassware at what appeared to be the correct temperature. With such a rare beer, it was nice to see the establishment get all the details about serving it up correct. Right off the bat, Younger had an incredible aroma. Fruity hops and sweet citrus notes seemed to be dancing off the glass. However, the first sip was...anti-climactic. This was a good beer for sure, great even, but the best in the world? I don't know. Hype is a fickle beast. It creates something intangible that likely can never be achieved. Chuck D and Flavor Flav had it right so many years ago...Don't Believe the Hype. But not because you won't find something great, you'll just always be disappointed. That said though, Pliny the Younger was in fact impressive. An amazing accomplishment in brewing when you take the time to savor each sip, which was hard to do being that all the notes blended together so seemlessly that I found myself halfway through the glass without even realizing I had drank so much. The balance in this beer is astonishing. Not too bitter or sweet, not alcoholic at all (an amazing feat being that it clocks in at 11.5% abv!), and crisp and refreshing as well. As I came to the end of the pint, I had great respect for this beer and I understood why it was a White Whale for so many beer aficionados. Would I consider it the best in the world? Maybe...maybe not, but it did earn my accolades as something that I would drink again if only it were easier to do so.
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 Buzz:
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.
The Hangover:
      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.
The Verdict:
      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!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ballast Point Sculpin

After a month of analyzing my own branded beer, I return to the world of craft brewing in an ongoing effort to experience, experiment, and enjoy different brews. This month, I decided that I was long overdue in reviewing a beer from one of my absolute favorite breweries, Ballast Point. It's one that I've long enjoyed and even got to visit this past September. In choosing just which beer to review, I went with their most well-known and awarded, Sculpin IPA.
The Beer:
Ballast Point is very clear and concise with how they brand their beers. Each one is nautical in theme, cleverly alluding to the specific beer style and taste profile they present while also tying in to the overall identity of a brewery focused on all things sea. This particular beer, Sculpin, sounds like a familiar fish; but to be honest, if it's not named Salmon, Bass, Catfish, or Shrimp, I really couldn't explain to someone how the beer and it's namesake are related. So, after a trip to my local Wikipedia, I discovered that a Sculpin is a brightly colored bottom feeding fish that has sharp spines rather than scales and large, sharp teeth that can inflict serious bites on people. Okay, I can jive with that in relation to this beer. Ballast Point's Sculpin is an IPA with a strong bite and sharp hoppy notes. It's color is a beautiful and clear orangish copper hue that alludes to the layered aromas of apricot, grapefruit, and lemon layered throughout. The taste is initially quite bitter and piney but quickly settles in with a sweeter aftertaste that doesn't linger or sticky up the palate. Simply put, the Sculpin is a crisp and tasty brew! I can see why it has won countless awards for the brewery. It's a perfectly balanced IPA in my opinion.
The Buzz:
Before I sat down to drink my two 22oz bottles of Sculpin, I thought long and hard about even doing a proper review this week. I wasn't entirely in a mood to drink for one (quite rare, but possible), and secondly, I didn't know if I'd even make it to the second bottle before passing out on my own. You see, the night before I had stayed up late brewing my second batch of beer while sipping on a bottle of another Ballast Point brew (the seasonal and intense Sea Monster Imperial Stout) and foolishly followed that with a bottle of the rare (and disappointing) Faithful Ale from Dogfish Head Brewery. So, as you might surmise, I was a little hurt when I awoke that day and certainly quite worn out from so much beer the night before (making and drinking and reading about beer was becomming to be a bit much). Additionally, throughout the day, in an effort to cure my Sea Monster/Faithful hangover, I devoted myself to outdoor activities in the beautiful 70 degree weather we have almost year-round in Southern California. I manicured our lawn, walked our dogs, trimmed the hedges, played with the dogs, and weeded the yard. While my plan worked and I avoided any pitfalls of the dreaded hangover that I was sure I'd suffer, it had backfired somewhat in that my body was completely spent before I had drank a single drop of the beer I intended on enjoying all along. Yet, with help from a healthy and hefty Mexican dinner and the promise of an epic night of UFC fights, I mustered up the courage to crack open a bottle of Sculpin and enjoy my hard won sobriety. Whether it was the fatigue or mole burrito, I found that the buzz from the first bottle of Sculpin was very minimal. I took my time in drinking it, choosing to enjoy the developing tastes as it warmed in the glass; but found that the lack of any overpowering alcoholic presence allowed me to open bottle no. 2 about halfway through the night of fights. With a 7% abv, Sculpin measures in perfectly as far as I'm concerned in alcoholic content. It doesnt have the double IPA/imperial stout/barely wine punch that usually makes me balk at drinking more than one glass, nor does it have the minimal session beer levels that sometimes make me feel robbed when I'm looking for a nice mellow buzz. At 7%, and being so incredibly crisp and drinkable, it's the sort of beer that I wish I could have on hand at all times. It's no wonder that this is the most wanted beer from Ballast Point and the measuring stick of success for them. Between the awards and (presumed) sales, it's certainly a proud beer to stand behind.
The Hangover:
As with the morning of my review, the morning after my review started out quite rough. Upon waking too early due to a restless dog, my head and body were completely broken. Fear that such a wonderful beer from a favorite brewery could find itself on a no-drink list filled me with dread as I popped some Advil and Pepcid to try and remedy these ailments. I couldn't possible have another Lagunitas on my hands, could I? Had I just avoided this pitfall with other Ballast Point brews before by temperng my consumption? Or was this pain specific to Sculpin itself? Whatever it was, I put it out of my mind, drank a large glass of water and went back to sleep for a few hours. When I awoke again, the body had healed somewhat, but the brain was still fractured. Optimistic, I took to the same remedy that had worked just 24 hours prior --- I went outdoors. Whereas the day before I consumed myself outside with activity, this time I opted to relax and enjoy fresh February air. A walk with Murdoch, our boxer, through the neighborhood was the most taxing thing I attempted throughout the day. And after a coffee and small bite to eat around noon, any remnants of a hangover disappeared. The brutality that other beers have punished me with in the past was not to be found from Ballast Point. Instead, a "normal" hangover, very likely a result of overindulgence two nights before combined with general weariness from work and chores, is all that I experienced. And the overall success of Sculpin was complete.

The Verdict:
Simply, briefly, Ballast Point's Sculpin is a beer that I will always buy a bottle of anytime I see it on the shelves of a store. Just one to have. Maybe two to share. But something I'd like to constantly have "in stock" anytime I feel the need for a supurb IPA.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...