Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Finally Pliny! Review #10 - Russian River Pliny the Elder

Posted by: Stonecipher

Mar. 28, 2011

Finally!  A Russian River Pliny the Elder!  I have been to the top of the mountain and I have seen the Pliny!  Seriously, I pretty much had to go to the top of a mountain to finally get my hands and taste buds on this thing.  After a brutal disappointment at the Falling Rock Tap House in Denver earlier this week, the woman and I trekked up Highway 36 to Estes Park, Colorado.  Our target was a pizza place called Poppy’s that was rumored to have the Pliny on tap along with some outstanding pizza.

Before getting into this review, though, I need to say a few words about Poppy’s – it was downright awesome.  In fact, I believe that for many years this will be one of the more memorable experiences I’ve ever had at a restaurant. 

For starters, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder was actually on tap at Poppy’s and it was brought out to us by Rob, the owner of Poppy’s.  He asked if we had ever tried it before and when we told him we had not he spent about five minutes talking to us about it.  One of the things he wanted us to take note of, aside from the spectacular aroma, was the color.  He loved the color of the Pliny and really wanted us to appreciate it.  We did. 

This, of course led to more beer conversation and to make a long-story-short, after finishing our fantastic dinner Rob stopped back at the table and spent about 20 minutes with us talking beer and bringing out samples of some of his favorites.  He helped us narrow our dessert beer down to two Barley Wines and when we finally settled on one, he brought out a bottle of the other for us to take home. 

Since you may be wondering, the Barley Wine we drank in the restaurant was Moylan’s Old Blarney Barleywine, a tough beer to find, and it was outstanding.  The other was a Canadian Barley Wine called Solstice d'hiver from a Montreal's Brasserie Dieu du Ciel.  Anyhow, enough back story, here’s some specs on Russian River’s Pliny the Elder before we begin the review:

ABV: 8.0%
IBUs: 100
Brewery Location: Santa Rosa, California
Style: American Double/Imperial India Pale Ale
Average Beer Advocate Rating: A+/4.59 – World Class
My Beer Advocate Rating: A+/4.53 – World Class
Current Number of Reviews/Rank in the Top 20 on Beer Advocate: 1,999/4th
Brewery Description: Pliny the Elder
Bottled On: NA

APPEARANCE: (4 out of 5)  The Pliny was poured into a couple of tulip glasses and just as Rob instructed, we took note of the gorgeous, orange and ever so slightly hazy color.  The head was not enormous, but bubbles continued to flit to the top of the glass throughout the pint making the beer look very lively.  The lacing was solid with a thick wall of lace on the opposite side of the glass.

SMELL:  (5 out of 5) I know that at some point in my beer reviewing past I claimed that some other beer was the best beer I had ever smelled.  Before I tried a Pliny I remembered what that beer’s name was.  Now if anyone asks what’s the best smelling beer I’ve ever had there will be no hesitation or pause to think – the answer is clearly Russian River’s Pliny the Elder.  As my notes say, the Pliny “…smells like flowers.  Like delicious, hoppy, magic flowers.”  I had my nose in the glass for about five minutes before taking my first sip and I kept sticking it back in throughout both glasses I had.

TASTE: (4.5 out of 5) The Pliny takes the palate on precisely the balanced ride that it is supposed to go on with every Double IPA it encounters.  It may sound odd to say, but Pliny the Elder is a very technically sound DIPA.  Starting out sweet and piney the hops kick in towards the end of the sip along with strong floral flavors and a hint of honey.  Elegant is Pliny the Elder in a word, at no point does it taste too sweet or too bitter.  It is a near perfectly balanced beer. 

MOUTHFEEL:  (4 out of 5) As I mentioned above, bubbles continuously floated to the top of the glass throughout the entire pint and that kept the beer lively during the whole experience.  It was certainly better carbonated than many DIPAs, but it also had a slightly oily feel to it.

OVERALL:  (4.5 out of 5) I am very happy I was finally able to track down a couple of pints.  The hype is well-deserved, but may have also served to disappoint me just a bit.  This is everything a Double IPA, and in my mind, a beer should be - almost perfect balance with an absolutely spectacular nose, but not quite the life-changing event some have made it out to be.  That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this beer and it would have been easy to keep drinking this stuff all night.

DRAWBACKS: There are very few holes to poke in Pliny the Elder’s quality, but I will say it was not quite as exciting as I thought it would be.  While I appreciate the accuracy and precision with which Russian River crafted this Double India Pale Ale, it did not become my favorite beer ever.  It may very well have been the best beer I have ever had, just not my personal favorite, which is what I was expecting from all of the hype.  My favorite beer needs to have something distinctive, something that sets it apart from the rest. 

SOUND:  Some of the most technically sound music I have ever heard has come from James Brown and his musicians.  One particular song that stood out to me as one of the finest examples of the Godfather of Soul’s talent and precision was “Give it Up or Turn it Loose” – a perfect song to sum up the same precision that is Pliny the Elder.

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