I’m tired of writing about the Russians and their leader’s genocidal schemes. I needed to take a day off. I thought I might have myself a beer. Up here in the north counties of the Bay Area at this time of the year, needing a beer means only one thing — Russian River Brewing’s annual release of Pliny the Younger.
I just can’t seem to escape the Russians. Damn.
To explain a bit: Russian River Brewing is the 25 year old king mac daddy of craft breweries in California. They are most famous for Pliny the Elder, a double IPA that for many years was considered the best beer not only in California or the US but the entire world and it has the medals to prove it. As the popularity of Elder grew, brewery owner and master brewer Vinnie Cilurzo sought to create another beer that would be more for the locals (and those willing to make the trek) who came to their Santa Rosa brewpub. He made it particularly potent (10.25 ABV as opposed to the 3.5 to 3.8 ABV of most commercial American beers), extra hoppy (it’s a triple IPA) and then decided to only make a small amount of it. In contrast to his most famous beer, he called it Pliny the Younger. Traditionally it was released in late January and only available for two weeks or so. This year because of Omicron the release date was pushed back to late March so we have come to the end of the line for this year’s Younger.
And speaking of lines, that’s what one has to stand in in order to obtain this hoppity hoppy hops. 6 hours or more. People begin lining up at 5AM (the brewpub opens it’s doors at 11AM). By the way, get caught jumping the line you are banned from the brewpub till after the Younger is gone. That is enforced by a security team that rivals the Santa Rosa PD for size. The limited production leads to limited consumption per guest and a limited time frame in which to consume. You are handed a wristband with three tabs for your three allowed pours at the bar and two tabs for your two bottle purchases. Now more power to you if you can drink three 10.25 ABV beers and still have the wherewithal to sign a credit card screen for the two bottles in your allotted time of two and a half hours. The bottled version is a holdover from last year’s pandemic induced necessity of bottling the Younger and selling it via the web.
Now I have to say I love all of Russian River Brewing’s beer. They make 16 on a regular basis and a bunch more on a special case basis and I’ve never had one I didn’t like. So that begs the question I hear you asking, how does the Younger compare to all those other ones? The answer is I wouldn’t know. I don’t have 6 hours to spend waiting on line for a beer (though I may have waited longer at the concession stand at a Rolling Stone’s concert some years ago). Consequently I have never tried the Younger. I’m told it is very good by those who are in the know, but personally I don’t know.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I like that Russian River only releases the beer for a couple of weeks a year. I like that it is something special for those who live in the area, those willing to fly in from all over the world (and yes they do) and those who are willing to become part of the community that builds around the brewery. It doesn’t matter if you are male, female, straight, gay, liberal, conservative, black, white, polka dot, whatever, you are a part of the family that are the Russian River Brewing beer lovers of the world.
Is it silly to wait on line for 6 hours to drink beer? Well, is it silly to wait two hours in a line to ride a two minute attraction at Disneyland? Is it silly to camp out overnight to nab tickets to a singer’s show? Is it silly to bribe college officials to get your underachieving teen into a good college? The answer is yes (except the last one) to all of the above if it means that much to you. I’d rather see someone standing on line for six hours for something unique that they are truly excited about than to waste an evening mindlessly surfing through their Netflix account.
One last thing about Russian River. It’s a good chance you’ve never drunk any of their beers. Their distribution is limited. Even here where it’s made most stores will limit the number of bottles you can purchase at a time because they don’t get enough. To be a fan is to accept that their beer is a matter of quality over quantity. That is by choice. Vinnie and his wife Natalie long ago bought out their partners and investors. This is their place free and clear. Rumor has it they turned down the offer their little cousins down the road, Lagunitas Brewing, accepted from Heineken a few years ago. That offer was the craft brewers’ wet dream: one billion dollars for a brewery they started in their garage. Instead Vinnie and Natalie decided to go on alone, making beer they like to drink for people who have an appreciation for the art of brewing.
You know what? In this day and age that should be celebrated. It should not always be about the dollars and cents. We need more people in the world who do whatever they do for the art and the love that is created by what they do. Talk about what will make the world a better place.
I’ll raise a glass to that.
Let’s let the Lizard King and his mates sing us out, roadhouse style