Russian River Brewing just announced that its now annual tradition of releasing its obsessed-over triple IPA Pliny the Younger won't be happening in February like it usually does — with all the incumbent release parties and lines of beer geeks. But, for the first time ever, the IPA-obsessed from all across the land (at least in California) will be able to order some of their own online.
Modern beer geekery is a world unto itself of connoisseurship, niche blogs, and obsession over hop varieties. So you're forgiven if you didn't know that Sonoma County-based Russian River Brewing has developed an international cult following that is focused largely on one beer that is made all the more coveted because it is produced in a limited quantity, never bottled, and is consistently raved about by Bay Area IPA fans and the beer tourists who travel here in February to try it.
Russian River has been making a double IPA called Pliny the Elder since 1999, and it was one of the first double IPAs brewed in the country. In 2005, owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo decided to make a batch of Pliny that pushed malts to the limit, and the resulting beer — which was never bottled before 2019 — quickly became the cult hit that it remains.
Having covered SF Beer Week for the past decade, and having tasted Pliny the Younger every year, I can tell you that it is a good beer, pleasantly and heavily hoppy and probably complex as these things go, but it has long outlived the hype that still surrounds it. Dudes stand in line for an hour or more to have their sips, and meanwhile the world of craft beer has become incredibly varied and interesting in its offerings, double- and triple-IPAs notwithstanding, and there's lots more to be excited about. (Another IPA on the opposite coast, Heady Topper from Vermont's The Alchemist, has a similar cult aura and a perfect score on Beer Advocate, and inspires some similar hype though it is a bit more widely available, and year-round.)
Still, I can't deny folks the pleasure of trying something if they've always wanted to, and the pandemic seems to be providing that opportunity — albeit one that will likely involve websites crashing and selling out in minutes.
Russian River Brewing posted to Instagram and to their blog on Sunday to announce that the February 2021 release won't be happening as it usually does with lines out the door at their Santa Rosa and Windsor brewpubs — and it won't be delayed until later in the year like various music festivals. However, the brewery says, "we simply cannot go a whole year without making at least some Pliny the Younger!"
So, starting sometime in late January, they will be offering mixed cases of six 510ml bottles — each with four bottles of Pliny the Younger and two other Russian River beers — for purchase online for shipping within California. The bottles will be marked "Not for Resale," and they're hoping there won't be bootlegging going on — the limited bottles they sold from the brewpubs last year were the first of their kind, and were not available online for this reason.
The beer will also be on tap at some usual-suspect locations come early February, with a few kegs getting delivered to Russian River Brewing accounts around the Bay, but its availability will be contingent on those bars being open for outdoor service — and the brewery is telling these businesses not to host release parties like they usually do.
Perhaps, if COVID conditions improve in Sonoma County, the brewery's two brewpubs will have at least some chance to welcome guests outside on nicer days by February, but it sounds like they won't be making Pliny the Younger the usual draw that it is for beer tourists, regardless.
"Like all things in 2020, this situation is fluid and subject to change at a moment’s notice!" the brewery says.
Over the years, as the Chronicle reports, it's become increasingly easier to get some Pliny the Younger. With the completion of the second brewpub in Windsor, the company now produces more of the stuff every year, up to 500 barrels back in January versus 150 in 2018. Earlier this year, the brewery released a double dry-hopped version of Pliny the Elder in election-themed cans named Pliny for President.
An on-sale date for the Pliny the Younger cases on the website has not yet been announced.