Russian River ‘Pliny the Elder’

Russian River 'Pliny the Elder'
Russian River 'Pliny the Elder'

‘Pliny’ is one of those stupidly-highly-regarded beers that make for a rather weird tasting experience. You always worry about the Emperor’s New Pale Ale effect, and when it’s brought over ‘unofficially’ (however carefully), there’s the vexed question of whether any Not Overwhelmed reaction is down to an over-hyped thing itself, or simply the result of difficult travel. This wasn’t a “grey market” import, this was a trade; brought over by some travelling Americans and exchanged with one of our regulars for some local Good Stuff. From its time in a chilly bin filled with ice and water, it had lost its label, but that was smoothly replaced by an awesome tea-towel from Steph’s house (to help keep it cold on its trip to the pub), which I couldn’t resist including in the photo.

I thought it was really tasty; properly big and fruity and resiny and just what you’d expect and want out of a West Coast Double IPA. But it didn’t completely melt my face and leave me overawed — I’d have put Hallertau’s bigger IPAs comfortably in its league, for example — though there’s just no way to tell whether that’s because something genuinely face-melting had an imperfect journey or if that’s just what it was. Two out of the four of us had had it before, and did attest to it being better last time they had it, but that just opens up the batch-to-batch variance and the subjectivity cans of worms.

Which is really the whole lesson, isn’t it? There is no objective “best” beer. You like what you like, and that’s just how it should be, especially if you can start to put your finger on just why you react like you do to something — and doubly-especially if you remember to keep in mind what the brewer was trying to do when you evaluate something. Personally, I thought this stuff was bloody good — but I don’t think you need to go so far afield to get something in its class.

Verbatim: Russian River ‘Pliny the Elder’ ÷ 4 w/ Steph, Johnnie + Llew. Sample traded for some local goodies by Steph. Apparently treated about as well as you’d hope, but S+L still say it’s not at its best. The pine needle side is lacking, going more to melony fruitiness. To me, it’s Maximusesque; all those Northwest hops. It’s always tricky to try something so ludicrously highly regarded — you always worry about the prospect of Emperor’s New Pale Ale. I really like this, but it hasn’t knocked me out of my shoes; maybe that’s a travel thing, or maybe the blessed subjectivity. The 3 are all agreed that I have to retry Moa Pale Ale, so here’s hoping that was a dud. Consensus here [about ‘Pliny’] is both tastiness + disappointment. Not up to legendary status.

Russian River 'Pliny the Elder', bottlecap
Russian River 'Pliny the Elder', bottlecap
Russian River 'Pliny the Elder'
Diary II entry #57, Russian River 'Pliny the Elder'

4 thoughts on “Russian River ‘Pliny the Elder’”

  1. That is so disappointing when you have that experience. My first experience with Pliny was exactly the opposite. Sitting in the Toronado in San Francisco my first ever Pliny, off tap, is still one of my favourite beer experiences. Pling the Younger at the Double IPA festival was pretty good too.

  2. I don’t mind these minor disappointments, really. As I say, and should maybe underscore further: I really liked this. I’m okay with there not being genuinely mind-blowing “bests” out there at all, or them being relative to different people / places / times / all three, at least. Given how much I enjoyed it after a long journey, I’d absolutely have another if it was me who had made the long trip towards its home, rather than the other way around.

    I guess I just always hope that the ‘legendary’ beers like this don’t stick in people’s minds to the extent that they don’t let their socks get properly knocked off by something just because it’s not as renowned as something like ‘Pliny’. (I can tell that you don’t have that problem, from your obvious enthusiasm upon meeting things like Yeastie Boys ‘PKB’ and 8 Wired ‘Tall Poppy’; beers that should be more famous, but aren’t yet. But you know what I mean.) When a few things get this uniformly-praised, I suppose I just worry that some people will start to feel there really are objective “bests” out there, and might feel weird that their personal experiences don’t match up.

  3. Phil,

    I would say that your taste buds are probably just very accurate -although this is one of my favorite beers, this particular bottle had been on a 1500 miles journey around and through your country (it was the last of 8 special beers we brought to share) and had, despite all of our efforts, seen some warmer than preferred temps along the way. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Come visit us in CA (bring Steph and Johnnie, too!) and we’ll take you to the source for a proper review.

    Many gracious thanks for your hospitality -our visit with you, Steph and Johnnie was the highlight of our beer-centric tour of your beautiful country. We’ll be back!


  4. Hey Joh,

    Very neat to see a comment on here by the person who actually brought this thing all the way over. Now I feel even more obliged to re-reiterate that the “disappointment” here is only relative to the legend; this stuff was very tasty, and it was freakin’ awesome to have a chance to try it. Many thanks again.

    I really must get myself on a geeky beerish U.S. West Coast roadtrip. I’ve met some awesomely Beer Nerdy people from over there, and keep hearing of both little places and big legends that me, my camera and my Diary really should drop in on.

Have at it: