The yearly clamor for an elusive glass of the renowned Pliny the Younger from Santa Rosa’s Russian River Brewery has already begun. Before you join the scrum for the intensely hoppy triple IPA, ask yourself what you hope to get out of the glass.
Scoring a taste of the brew has long been a beer-geek badge of honor, and for years Pliny the Younger has been considered one of the best beers in the world.
The man behind the brew — Russian River’s brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo — first created the vaunted hop-bomb in 2005, and in the 10 annual releases since its introduction, the stature of the beer has grown to a mythic level matching that of its namesake Roman.
And for good reason: the beer checks all the boxes. It’s as attractive — all shimmering gold and topped with just a wisp of white foam — as it is delicious. Layers of hop aroma and flavor unfold on the palate, but with a curiously sprightly body. There’s a firm bitterness, but it isn’t the overwhelming punch that the pungent aroma might suggest, and there’s a subtle sweetness that lingers on the tongue just until the warmth of the brew’s 10% alcohol content overtakes it.
It is, by any honest account, a spectacular beer and a stunning showcase of brewhouse artistry. But the craft beer world has come a long way in the 10 years since its introduction, and Pliny’s days as the biggest India Pale Ale on the block are over.
Cilurzo (who is often credited with inventing the double IPA style) made an innovative brew back in 2005, but many other talented brewers have followed his methods, and Pliny the Younger now has some real competition.
There are even a few local breweries producing some triple IPAs that are every bit as absurdly hoppy and complex as Pliny the Younger — and it doesn’t require standing in line, buying a raffle ticket, or being in the right bar at the right time to score a glass of these would-be usurpers.
Note that these alternative are every bit as hoppy and well-made as Pliny the Younger — but they're not the real thing.
The whole experience of tasting the real-deal Pliny is a bucket-list item for any dedicated beer fan, and finding a local establishments lucky enough to get a keg is just a quick Google search away. Anyone that would deride you for seeking out a taste of this unique piece of American craft brewing history is missing the whole point of the beer. It isn’t about the aroma or the flavor or the booze. There is something special about the experience that goes beyond just the liquid in the glass; it’s about the community and the interactions with like-minded beer lovers that you meet while waiting for your taste.
Still, a hophead has to drink.
Beachwood Brewery — Hops of Fury
Every year around the time that Pliny the Younger fever starts, the lauded Long Beach brewpub releases its own triple IPA, and Hops of Fury is every bit the bitter monster that Pliny is. It’s still on tap in Long Beach, but probably not for much longer. 210 E. 3rd St., Long Beach, (562) 436-4020. beachwoodbbq.com.
El Segundo Brewing Co. — Power Plant
Released just a couple of weeks ago in bottles, this 11% ABV potion has a sweet-bitter balance similar to the Younger, and Power Plant scores nearly as high as Pliny on beer rating websites. Hit the El Segundo taproom for a glass of this liquid hop candy, and try the brewery’s other hop-forward ales while you’re there. 140 Main St., El Segundo, (310) 529-3882, elsegundobrewing.com.
Eagle Rock Brewery — Populist XL
Brewed to mark the fifth anniversary of the Glassell Park brewery, Populist XL is a version of the Eagle Rock’s flagship Populist IPA writ large. Very large. At well over 11% alcohol, the brew is potent indeed, but all that booze is deftly masked by layers of pine-and-citrus hops. It showcases the same deceptive drinkability that makes Pliny the Younger so popular. Bottles are available across town, or stop in the taproom — or Eagle Rock’s new Public House restaurant for a taste. 3056 Roswell St., Los Angeles, (323) 257-786, eaglerockbrewery.com/main.
Noble Ale Works — Citra Yum Yum
The Orange County brewery has remade this fan-favorite showcase of the pungent citrus-and-tropical power of the Citra Hop, and kegs of the over-12%-alcohol brew debuted at Noble’s fourth anniversary party on Saturday. Boozy and hoppy in nearly equal measure, Citra Yum Yum shows off Brewmaster Evan Price’s skill with hops. 1621 S. Sinclair St., Anaheim, (714) 634- 2739, noblealeworks.com.