Review: Russian River Pliny The Elder

In Beer Reviews by Ryan

Does Russian River’s Pliny The Elder hold up to the hype surrounding this much sought after double IPA?

Dogfish Head may call its 120 Minute IPA the “holy grail for hopheads,” but to those of us who are outside of Russian River’s limited distribution footprint Pliny The Elder is a holy grail. Perhaps THE holy grail of double IPA’s. A seemingly untouchable beer that you must travel to find or know a guy, who knows a guy that can get it — or be willing to pony up on craft beer’s black market.

The brewery goes through great pains to stress drinking this fresh. And for good reason; IPA’s and double IPA’s are at their peak when they’re fresh. Even two months on a shelf can have dramatic effects on the aromas and flavors of these hop-forward beers — one of which is the fastest growing segment in craft beer.

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So drink it fresh I did.

When I imagined drinking my first, and perhaps only, Pliny The Elder I envisioned a perfect tasting environment; sitting down on a quiet weeknight with a notebook, pen and snifter — able to take my time with meticulous notes. Instead, I found myself sitting on my family room floor — splitting the bottle with family — as my daughter and nieces and nephews bounded from room to room.

But that’s what big bottles — and whales, bro — are made for, right?

With the scene set let’s talk about the beer. It’s good. It’s really good. However it wasn’t the hop monstrosity I expected it to be, which made it really, really good.

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I’ve documented before that I am not a huge fan of overly hoppy beers. I like my hops, don’t get me wrong, but I need a bit more to my beer. And Pliny The Elder had more. There was fruit cocktail in the nose — pineapple chunks and peaches — mango and Juicy Fruit Gum. Take a sip and you’re greeted with a velvety smooth beer bursting with mouth-watering tropical fruit notes balanced out by some salted caramel candies. The finish is complex, yet endearing, fading from grassy to floral to medicinal hop notes before punctuating with a lengthy grapefruit tail.

So is Pliny The Elder deserving of its World Class honor on BeerAdvocate and the 100 rating on RateBeer? Yes. Undoubtedly, yes.

What makes Pliny The Elder so good is its drinkability. The ABV is 8% but there is barely a trace of alcohol on the nose or palate. It is 100 IBU’s (International Bitterness Units) but doesn’t carry the abrasive bitterness that is expected with a triple-digit IBU beer. And it is supremely balanced and exceptionally smooth. So, so smooth.

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About the Author



Equal parts beer nerd and policy geek, Ryan is now the curator of the Guys Drinking Beer cellar. The skills he once used to dig through the annals of state government as a political reporter are now put to use offering unique takes on barrel-aged stouts, years-old barleywines and 10 + year verticals.

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