My Love-Hate Relationship with Pliny the Elder

Two of my favorite aspects of craft beer are variety and fresh hoppy IPAs. Living in Southern California I get a lot of both. I’m able to go to my almost any grocery store and be able to pick up a reasonably priced six pack of local craft beer. I’ve gotten spoiled and won’t buy any IPAs that are over 30 days old because I know that fresh beer is constantly being delivered to local bottle shops.

tulip glassPliny the Elder, one of my favorite double IPAs, is something that I’ve become very accustomed to finding fresh over the last few years. It’s not so common to find locally that I’m able to pick one up whenever I want, but I don’t usually go more than a couple weeks without being able to find one. I feel that lately Pliny the Elder and myself have a real love-hate relationship. This amazing beer covers my love for fresh hoppy IPAs, but when it comes to my beer budget ends up cutting into drinking a variety of beers.

A few years ago I would spend my lunch ours driving around to pick up Pliny the Elder at a few shops by my office. I knew who got deliveries from Russian River on what day so I knew when to stop by each place. There were 3 shops that were very dependable, and one that would hide the bottles for their favorite customers. I would follow the shops on Instagram and they would usually post as soon as they got Pliny in. This would give you a couple hour window to get there before they sold out. Most of the time there would be a one bottle limit, and I would purchase one and move on to the next spot, or be happy that I got one bottle. I never played games and went to a different cashier or came back later that day. My goal was to get a few bottles of Pliny to drink at home with my friends, not to hoard it and keep it away from other people. I don’t recall a time where I had more than 4 bottles in a week, I wasn’t trying to go overboard with it. Most beer trades that I’ve done(which aren’t a lot) have always consisted of me sending a bottle or two of Pliny the elder out)

As new double IPAs started coming out from local breweries I realized that they might not all be as good as Pliny, but some were pretty damn close, and a few are arguably better. Now when picking out which beers to buy for the weekend there were more factors to consider. Do I drive around trying to get some Pliny before it sells out? Do I just make one stop and pick up a some new Double IPAs that I’ve never had but might be as good and only make one stop?

Lately I’ve started to pick up more variety. I don’t plan my beer runs around Russian River’s delivery schedule anymore. I don’t only go buy beer when I see Pliny posted somewhere local. Breweries from San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles counties are putting out such stellar beer that over time Pliny doesn’t stand out as much as it had in the past. I feel that Russian River set the bar when they gave the craft beer community Pliny the Elder, but brewers have stepped up their game and put out products that compete, and sometimes beet Pliny. Some of the beers are harder to find, or only brewed once, but if I’m hunting beers I’d rather spend that time trying something new.

When it comes to picking a beer to be a replacement for Pliny the Elder its always going to come down to personal taste, and I’m not saying these beers have similar tastes, these are just some of the beers that I’m always happy to buy when I come across them. One of the easier ones to find is Stone’s Enjoy by IPA. This was a little harder to find when it was first released, but now can be found at grocery stores and Costco, which is a huge plus for the consumers. Now that Alpine Brewing Company owned by Green Flash, they are getting a much wider distribution than they had in the past. Nelson and Duet are two of my favorite IPAs from Alpine, and I would be just as happy with one of them as I would with a Pliny. Ironically these two beers used to be even harder to than Pliny the Elder. Noble Ale Works in Anaheim has their “Shower Series” . This is a series of citrasingle hop double IPAs, all of them are great beers, your personal opinion on specific hops may have you preferring certain releases over others.  I’m sure people are wondering why I wouldn’t mention Heady Topper as a go to instead of Pliny, well that might be a better beer, but for me its even harder to get ahold of(not that all the other beers I listed are that easy to find).

 

I said I have a love-hate relationship with Pliny the Elder and so far it sounds like the I only have love for it, which is true when it comes to the flavor and the beer itself. The hate I have is for the hype that is around it. This is a beer that usually sells out within hours of hitting the shelves at most the bottle shops I go to. There are other beers that this happens with, but most of those beers are limited release beers or beers that are seasonal or annual. Pliny is brewed and bottled year round by Russian River, and it still flies off the shelves. Beer Advocate has this listed as number 4 for its Beers of Fame. This means that it has been that highly rated for over 10 years. That says a lot about the beer, and that there is a reason for so much hype around it. The problem that I run into is every time anytime I see a bottle of Pliny the Elder on a shelf I have to buy it. I know that if I don’t buy it I may not see one for a couple of weeks, and I’d need to make sure I’m there fast enough to get it next time before it sells out. This ends up cutting into the variety of beers I end up buying. Craft beer is expensive, and I at least attempt to try to keep within a budget when it comes to buying it.

In the end Pliny the Elder is a great beer. It’s not the easiest beer to find, but it’s also not a rare whale. I should consider myself lucky to be able to get my hands on it as often as I’m able to and not complain that I feel forced into buying a week old bottle of Pliny the Elder just because it will sell out that same day. I should also consider myself lucky enough to live in an area with so much great craft beer, and lots of great IPAs.

What are your favorite alternatives for Pliny the Elder or Heady Topper?

A French Press And Some Craft Beer

If you’ve been to a brewery tasting room or a beer festival you have probably seen a Randall hooked up to a keg.  This is essentially a big plastic tube that is filled with something to add flavor.  Usually it’s filled with fresh hops or fruit to give some extra flavor to the beer, but you can fill it with anything, I’ve seen a few filled with candy at beer festivals.  The beer runs from the keg, through the Randall, and then to the tap.

I thought this would be something fun to try at home.  I don’t have a draft system at home, so I didn’t have a need for an actual Randall.  I looked online and Dogfish Head sells a Randall Jr.  It will run you about 20 bucks plush shipping.  Their product holds 16 ounces and has a filter on top so whatever you are using to flavor your beer won’t pour out with the liquid.  This didn’t seem too expensive, but I wanted to start with a cheaper alternative in case I didn’t use it as much as I thought I would.

I ended up getting a French press on a trip to Ikea for under $10.  I thought this would be a good start for experimenting with flavoring beer.  It holds 34 ounces so if you want to use a 220z bomber, or pour in a couple of 12oz bottles to share with others you have plenty of room for the beer and whatever you might be adding for flavor.

So far I’ve only tried the French press with IPAs.  The first time I tried it was with Pizza Port’s Ponto S.I.P.A.  I added grapefruit to this beer and gave it an extra kick of citrus.  For the most part I’ve only experimented with beers that I enjoy, that are easy to get, and that don’t have extreme flavors on their own.

I like to use a lot of citrus (grapefruit, tangelos, oranges), but I have also used watermelon and cantaloupe.   I think when I used the melons I didn’t add enough, or the ones I had may not have been juicy or flavorful enough to make a real impact.  I’m still trying to get the timing down of letting the beer sit to soak in the flavor, but not let it sit too long to cause it to go flat.

Using the French press is fun, but I don’t think it improves the beer.  Most of the beers I buy are from awesome breweries who know what they are doing and put out solid beers.  There are a few occasions where I’ve got stuck with beers that are a little past their prime, and a little maltier than I would like.  In those instances getting out the French press does make the beer more drinkable.

In the near future I plan to experiment with some stouts and will add coffee or spices, if those work out I’ll write a post with some suggestions for others to try.  If you have used a French press with craft beer and have some success stories please share, it would be nice to hear what others are doing that I may not have thought of.

Proper Glassware-The IPA Glass

The pint glass, the glass that most bars will serve you a beer in.  But it is for their benefit, not yours.  They usually are made of thick glass so that they don’t break  easily, and their shape makes them good for stacking.  But they don’t do much to keep your beer cold, or enhance the aroma when you drink. We all probably  have a couple novelty pint glasses that we’ve picked up over time, and it is better to drink your beer out of that as opposed to straight from the bottle.

tulip glassBefore I knew about the concept of proper glassware, the pint glass was my glassware of choice.  About 6 years ago I got a new tulip glass from The Bruery in Placentia, CA and since then, that has been my go to glass.  The shape of the glass helped with the aroma and the glass itself was much thinner.  I felt like a little bit of a beer snob when I’d make a point to drink out of this glass when I was at home, but I could tell that this  gave a much better beer drinking experience than a pint glass did.  For some beers, this is the best glass to use, but most of the beers that I drink are big hoppy IPAs, and out in the craft beer world there was a better choice of glaswware for me to be using.

It wasn’t until Valentine’s Day two years ago that I truly learned about the benefits of proper glassware when it comes to hop forward IPAs.  My wife got me a set of Spiegelau IPA glasses.  Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head teamed up to work on the perfect glass for an IPA and this was the result.  I chose a Lagunitas Sucks Double IPA to try out the glasses.  The aroma was much stronger due to the smaller opening of the glass.  This smaller opening is the perfect size to get a good sip and keep all of the aromatic characters in the glass ready for you to take in with each sip.  The glass is really thin, and this would usually make me fear breaking it, but the Bruery glass that I usually use is also pretty thin so I am used to washing it carefully.ipa Glass

The shape of the glass not only helps with the aroma, but the ridges on the bottom and the way the glass narrows towards the middle helps to aerate the beer and keep it carbonated when you are drinking.  You will notice this when you are halfway though the beer and there is a good amount of head on the beer after each sip.  There is also a tiny etching in the bottom of the glass that helps produce bubbles as the beer hits the surface.

I did do a side by side test with the IPA glass and the Tulip glass.  I used 12oz cans of Golden Road Brewing’s Point the Way IPA.  I did notice that the aroma was stronger with the IPA glass, and it did stay carbonated longer.  I didn’t notice much difference in the temperature of the beer over time, but as I stated earlier, both of these glasses have thin walls so that is probably the reason.  I didn’t even compare the IPA glass against a pint glass because I already have come to the conclusion that the tulip glass is a superior glass, so that is why I thought the tulip glass was a better benchmark to test against.

You can get a Sierra Nevada or Dogfish Head logoed glass from each brewery, or you can order a set of 6 plain ones through Amazon for just under $60.   I have two at home, and that is enough for myself, but the bigger set would be nice to have when friends are over enjoying IPAs.   I believe that if you enjoy IPAs you will notice a difference in your beer if you use these glasses.