Beer geeks the nation over have gotten it into their heads that Russian River Brewing's annually released, extra-piney triple IPA called Pliny the Younger is something extraordinary that is worth standing in a long line for. And once again, that is what some local beer geeks are doing up in Sonoma County.
The pandemic upended the Pliny release process once in 2021, and again this year, with the Omicron wave prompting the brewery to postpone what would have been a late-January release of the brew. Now, the stuff is on tap only at Russian River's Santa Rosa and Windsor brewpubs today through April 7, and doors open daily at 11 a.m.
Don't get me wrong: This beer is delicious. I've had it in multiple years, and it is consistently hoppy, piney, citrusy, and balanced — everything that an IPA fan enjoys. But the world of craft beer has exploded wildly in the last decade, and there are many breweries making all kinds of fantastic IPAs, which makes this one stand out less and less — in my humble opinion — with every passing year. (Granted, Russian River does make tweaks to the recipe each year so it's never exactly the same year to year, and it probably is better this year than it was five or six years back.)
At the very least, it seems insane to wait in a six-hour line to have the pleasure of drinking it, and a person has to question whether anything on earth tastes good and special enough to justify that kind of wait, or whether one has simply joined a cult and drank the hop-Kool-Aid.
Anyway, the beer dudes are gonna clamor for this shit whether I critique the nonsense or not, so here's how this works if you go:
- Once you gain entry to the brewpub, you will have a limit of three pours of Pliny the Younger, and you'll have to drink them within two and a half hours.
- Take the brewery's advice and go late on a weeknight to the Windsor pub if you want to avoid a crazy wait. They're open until 10 p.m., and the Windsor location is a bit further afield and lesser known than the Santa Rosa one.
- You also, for the first time, get to take home two bottles of the stuff, after the pandemic drove the brewery to bottling Pliny for the first time last year.
- There are RULES and PROCEDURES for all this: "Each guest will be given a custom, uniquely colored and dated wristband upon entering the pub. These wristbands have 4 pull-tabs to be redeemed for the ability to purchase 3 – 10 oz. pours and 2 bottles of Pliny the Younger. There is a limit of 3 draft Youngers PER GUEST, and these are non-transferable! However, if you do not want to buy your 2 bottles, you can transfer your allocation to friends in your party."
- Also, you better not cut the line, and there are no saves-ies! Staff at the brewpubs are all too familiar with your shenanigans, and your entire party has to be there in line together — stragglers have to go to the back of the line. They will keep track of this through periodic hand-stamping, so don't get shamed.
- Particularly on weekends, they say, the line generally starts forming outside around 5 or 6 a.m.
- There will be no more keg distributions to other bars and pubs around the Bay — that all happened in February, and if you missed it, the beer was drunk.
KRON4 was up early Friday morning to talk to the maniacs who were already in line in Santa Rosa to be the first to try the 2022 edition of Pliny the Younger.
And, they talked with Russian River owner Vinnie Cilurzo, who called this annual craziness "humbling."
"In 2010, I showed up to tap Pliny the Younger that year, and I walk outside and there's a line of people outside Russian River Brewery, and that was the most humbling thing," Cilurzo says. "And it's continued, now, since 2010. But this is the 18th year that we've made this beer, and for the first few years we made it, no one really cared about this beer. But beer enthusiasts really took to it, and every year we just try to make it better and better."
Russian River Brewing is located in Santa Rosa at 725 4th Street, and in Windsor at 700 Mitchell Lane. Both locations will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. until April 7, and the kitchen closes at both locations around 8:30 or 9 p.m.