It is arguably the most famous, sought after, talked about and otherwise storied brew of this proverbial craft beer renaissance. Spanning a full decade this beer has won two bronze and three gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup, as well as, being voted the number one commercial beer in the world by the homebrewing publication Zymurgy for six years straight. That’s right, I said six years straight. It is also credited with spawning the immense popularity of the double India pale ale—or imperial India pale ale—style.
If you haven’t figured it out already I am, of course, talking about Russian River’s Pliny the Elder.
All that said, how does one go about approaching such a beer without bias or restraint? Where lies the neutral ground in this world of hyperbolism?
It all started at the first ever double IPA festival at Bistro in Hayward, Calif. An annual beer festival that is now 15 years strong. Many have grumbled about the glaring starkness of the label and to them I would sympathize. However, it has become something of an icon. A paragon of simplistic marketing I suppose. A large circular red dot smack dab in the middle of a field of green makes it very easy to pick out in a sea of competitors on the shelf. Neatly placed around the perimeter is a dire warning to not age Pliny the Elder.1
Poured in an IPA specific glass by Spiegelau, because why the hell not, it manifests into an unclouded golden-amber with a head of pure white sticky foam. This is exactly what I expect a double India pale ale to look like. So far so good.
The hop bill includes Amarillo, centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe. A diving of the nose into the glass is damn near autonomous with massive hits of piney resin. Grapefruit comes through if focused intently and just the tiniest whiff of the eight percent ABV is detectable. They say sense of smell is closely linked with your memory and with this beer I am reminded of some of my hikes through the damp coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest.
The dryness of the beer is immediately apparent thanks to a low final gravity achieved through the use of some dextrose in the list of fermentables. Hop resins coat the palate thoroughly and quickly with only the faintest hint of bready malt. The bitterness is clean and does not wear out its welcome.