Pliny the Younger. Has the Hysteria Subsided?

For the uninformed, Pliny the Younger is a much-ballyhooed beer from California. By the way, pronounced “PLINE-ee.” It is an Imperial IPA and many people believe it to be one the single greatest beers on the planet and are willing to go to great length to prove their devotion. No doubt it is a very good beer, but before we all march onto a bus bound for Jonestown here are a few thoughts (from me and from North Seattle Sarah) about Pliny the Younger.

On Valentine’s Day Kim and I went to dinner at Circa Neighborhood Grill and Alehouse, which is not far from our home. It is a very popular place and seeing a few people lined up outside the door prior to the 5:00 opening is not unusual because they don’t take reservations. This year on Valentine’s Day the line was a bit longer than normal, partly because it was a special “date night” and partly because Circa very quietly announced earlier in the day via social media that Pliny the Younger was going on tap. Still, only 12 or 15 people in line when the doors opened at 5:00.

It was no big deal. It was just another busy night at Circa. Sure, the place was crowded–completely packed by 5:20–but it would have been packed even without the presence of Pliny. (They were serving Younger and Elder side-by-side, if you wanted.) Honestly, half of the people in line at 4:55 had no idea what all this Plinytalk was about.

A small keg, approximately 5 gallons, of Pliny the Younger lasted about a day and a half at Circa. It was surprisingly… I don’t know… It was surprisingly normal. The whole thing was rather unplinylike. You did not need to buy tickets in advance. There was no secret handshake required. There was no drag race to see how fast the keg could empty. It was not a circus. Without the madness, Pliny the Younger tasted like a normal beer. A very good beer, but not the immortality-granting liquid ambrosia described in fables and myths. It is just really, really good beer.

Don’t get on my case and call me a Plinyhater. I adore just about everything that Russian River Brewing creates. (That’s who brews Pliny, FYI.) It’s the hysteria that drives me crazy, not the beer. Hate me for saying it, but the irrational adoration of Pliny the Anything is a bit amateurish. Cue the lightning. I’m prepared to suffer your slings and arrows for speaking ill of The Great One. Just remember that I did proclaim it to be a very, very good beer.

This year it kind of seems like Pliny the Younger is everywhere. I have seen lots of it on tap around town. Maybe people are just making more noise about it. Also new this year, less histrionics and hullabaloo. “We have it, come get it. And please be civil.” More than one bar owner has told me that they want to keep it as quiet as reasonably possible to avoid the madness. That seems to be the new attitude.

What do you think? Has the Pliny madness run its course? I think it is great beer, but I also think many people are getting a bit tired of the hoopla.

Here’s what North Seattle Sarah discovered on the Pliny beat this year.

Chasing Pliny – Without the Chase

by North Seattle Sarah – North Seattle Bureau Chief

All month long, I’ve heard “Pliny” this and “Pliny” that. For those that weren’t watching Twitter and Facebook waiting for their chance to race to the nearest bar pouring, it was a case of “Do you have your ticket yet?” And the madness isn’t over yet. There are still locations that have yet to put Pliny the Younger on tap. And since the only thing I’ll wait in line for is a chance to shake Adam Levine’s hand while he has no shirt on, I hadn’t ever tasted Pliny before this go-round.

So how did this girl, who won’t wait in a line and detests crowds, get her hands on some coveted Pliny the Younger? It was no difficult task. I just went to Bottleworks in Wallingford and ordered it. You see, Bottleworks decided to do things a little differently this year. They put Younger on tap on February 21st without announcing it. Then, they asked patrons to please not spread the word that it was available –they wanted to make it “special” for the regular visitors that came in. By the evening of February 22nd when I stopped made it by, Younger was still available. So available, in fact, I had a second glass. I asked them to let me know when it was finally gone, and learned that the last glass was poured on Friday the 24th at 12pm.

The plan was simple and laid out for everyone that came in. You can tell your personal friends via phone or text. You can take photos. But you’re asked not to post the photos or announce where you are on social media. No Twitter, no Facebook. Those were the rules, and amazingly everyone followed them. As you can imagine, this was a difficult task for a blogger and Twitter addict like me, but I managed to wait it out.

This year at Naked City in Greenwood, Pliny the Younger was drained in just under 30 minutes. At the Publican in Tangletown, less than 15. Ticket sales at several establishments sold out days before the pouring but guaranteed holders a glass. But at Bottleworks, Younger lasted a little over three days. The moral of the story? Even as the latest trends come through town and cause a sensation, it’s good to remember those you know.

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  1. When PtY is at the top of its game, it’s worth the hype.
    But that wasn’t this year. I don’t know the specifics. One story is there was a shortage of Amarillo hops and they tweaked the recipe with substitutes.
    It was definitely off from previous years though so maybe next year the hype will once again be more deserved.
    My opinion and I’m sticking to it 🙂

  2. Imperials have exploded in the last 3 years. PTY is not what it used to be because there are equals and superiors today. There are alot of IPA’s coming on-line now that are marginal at best — 4-5 yrs ago they would have stood out, but today is crowded and PTY has been surpassed. Double Jack – Mongo – Green Flash Imperial – etc are not rare finds yet are equal if not superior to PTY.

  3. Dray did a similar thing. I walked in, place is about 3/4 full, normal weeknight. But Pliny’s on… “Is this some kind of trick?” “Nope.” “Ok, well I’ll definitely have that then. Last year I had to beat up an old lady to get one.” I think there was more of it this year. I know the Noble Fir got three sixtels, vs one last year that blew instantly.

    Russian River is the Apple of beer.

  4. I found PtY at at least four different establishments, all kept it low key and they had it around for a few days. PtY is a very, very good beer, but I don’t think any beer deserves that kind of hype. I’ve found that when Black Raven does their Wisdom Seeker it’s as good if not better than PtY. Although it’s hard to get too.

  5. Good beer yes, worth the hassle? no. I’ll skip the hype and hysteria and just grab a pint of Boundary Bay IPA instead. Glad to hear I am not the only one that thinks all this attention is overkill.

  6. I went to Bambino’s on Saturday night for the Younger. As I was drinking it (and eating some especially delicious pizza), I thought, “This is a wonderful beer, but it sure isn’t worth all this madness.”

    Wisdom Seeker is better. Double Dry-Hopped Ruination is at least as good. There are so many delicious beers now — it doesn’t make sense to go to all the trouble for one beer.

    We were sitting back near the taps at Bambino’s, and one guy even asked if he could have the overflow from the drip trays which had the Younger and a few other beers (and god knows what else) all mixed together in a really unappetizing swill. The guy was completely serious. And that is just stupid.

  7. So I was lucky enough to do a head-to-head taste (accompanied by the WA Beer Blog Team!) of PtY and PtE. I’ve been a big Elder fan, and I have to say, it is still my favorite. PtY seems to sacrifice the wonderful hop and malt balance that Elder has mastered in the name of more alcohol. Even thought PtY is the “rarer” of the two beers, I think that Elder is a more crafted, more drinkable beer.

  8. Oh it’s all fun in games, until a beer geek gets their feelings hurt. I personally think it’s all part of the allure to brag to your buddies about enjoying a 10oz pour of liquid gold! Waiting in line, not for me. It was nice that the Last Drop Bottle Shop sold tickets in advance. Was a very civilized tasting on the pour day. People discussing tasting notes, tweeting and taking pics. Call it “Beer Porn” if you will. I was lucky to enjoy some Younger while in San Diego last week as well. No hype. Just an honest pint of a great triple IPA. And I agree with Tony on the Black Raven Wisdom Seeker…that’s a great one. But the same, very limited release. I’m looking forward to Coopers Alehouse 10th Annual IPA Fest. Pouring over 50 IPA’s over 3 weeks in April. Cheers!

  9. I don’t know – I saw a special on PBS on the history of Rome and they were referring to the historical figures as what they pronounced as “Plinny the Elder/Younger”. I like to be that annoying friend who corrects my friends every time the chance come up. They usually tell me to stop talking and drink the dang beer.

  10. Justin, to me “plinny” seems right. I thought I heard that somewhere in a non beer context, too. But when I pronounce it that way people correct me. You say Pliney, I say Plinny. Would not a Pliny by any other name taste as sweet? Or bitter?

  11. I bet if the Younger was produced by a WA brewery , there would be less hostility towards the “hype” in these parts. Just food for thought. (I’m a CA guy) How bout a little WA vs CA craft beer cage match?? 🙂

  12. Josh… Hostility? Who’s hostile? In fact we do have some local breweries that are very highly hyped. And I am not afraid to make fun of the people who irrationally idolize them.

    AND… We are working on organizing an event very much like the one you mention: pitting the beers of San Diego against the beers of Seattle in a head-to-head showdown. Blind tastings, of course. Keep your eyes on the blog as we bring the plans to life.

  13. Okay I digress…hostility was a bit dramatic. Oh, and I’m totally down for an SD v SEA beer showdown! Both have great offerings.

  14. And I didn’t mean you, beerblog were being hostile. Just some other Seattle beer aficionados/bloggers I have ran into over the last month, regarding The Younger.

  15. Pliny is a very good imperial but a bit overrated. Firestone’s double jack, Black Raven’s wisdom seeker and Deschutes’s Hop henge are just as great, if not better.

    Although it would be nice if WA breweries stepped up their game and released better tasting imperials.

  16. There are a dozen or so beers I have had in my life that I will always remember first having: Anchor Steam when I turned 21, Craftsman Triple White Sage in Pasadena’s Lucky Baldwin’s, Lost Abbey’s Cable Car at Toronado (SF), Cantillon Kriek at the source, and Pliny the Younger years ago at Hollingshead’s Deli in Orange, CA. All were revelatory experiences for me and I remember them fondly. We live in a time when great beer is easy to find and I continue to discover incredible new beers. But I will always try to drink Pliny the Younger if I can. To look at it, smell the aroma, quaff it at first pour and let it warm. For me, not only is it a great beer, but also a return to the time when I first discovered the world of “imperial” IPAs. If you got some this year, welcome to this ritual of February – how wonderful so many of us could share this experience in Seattle. If you didn’t get any, no problem: there are many other wonderful beers to find. Cheers to brewers like Vinnie and their pursuit of brewing beautiful beers. May they always leave us wanting more.

  17. Many years ago, I met Vinnie Cilurzo at the GABF in Denver and had some of his beers. I believe he had won a medal or two there for a brown ale or some such at the time. At any rate, he had a few pitchers of beer sitting on on the craft paper covering his table and one of them had “Pliny the Elder’ scrawled next to it. “What’s that one?’ I asked him. Vinnie told me it was a very strong, very hoppy IPA. I tried it, and was quite impressed: there wasn’t another beer at the entire festival quite like it. “This is amazing,” I said. “This beer is going to be a big hit.” And I was right.

  18. Just had PtE and PtY at the Roanoke yesterday. I think Black Raven’s Trickster IPA and Wisdom Seeker IPA are the equal here locally.

  19. Why do you guys purposefully mispronounce pliny? The Roman philosopher’s name rhymes with Minnie.

  20. We mispronounce his name out of pure spite and disrespect. Why else would we? That, and, I only know what I’ve been told. Now I’ve been told that it is properly pronounced both ways. But I’m guessing you’re correct, harvey. You sound very certain. Then again, so does everyone else. In the end, how you pronounce it does not change the beer.

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