Among the beer intelligentsia, Russian River Brewing Co.’s Pliny the Elder has achieved legendary status. Certainly much of this is because it’s a damned fine beer, but its scarcity also has much to do with it. It’s an IPA that is on any true hophead’s bucket list — and we can’t get it in NC.
So when I recently traveled to California for the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Forum in Sonoma (it was a work trip and that’s the story I’m sticking to!), I made a special point of seeking it out and even promised to sneak a few bottles back in my luggage for friends who’d never had it before. I was staying the first few nights with an old friend, Ernest, and made my intentions clear. He told me he’d be happy to help “but,” he added, “I’ve got to say, I’m more of a Racer 5 guy myself.”
Hold up, so you live in the actual town where Pliny is made, can get as much of it as you want, as often as you want to, but would just as soon as drink Bear Republic Racer 5?
Hey, you know what they say, to each his own. That evening, before I’d manage to track down any Pliny, he poured me a Racer 5, and I do have to say it was really tasty. Mind you, I wasn’t in the mood to contemplate a beer at that point, I’d been traveling all day and was simply thirsty. But it was really, really tasty.
The next day, after hitting a few wineries, we decided to make the pilgrimage to Russian River Brewery, where we were greeted by a line down the block, on a Saturday afternoon. Russian River is also known for making some amazing sour ales, and I brought some of them home as well, but I was there for Pliny. The freshest Pliny you’re gonna get. And it was every bit as delicious as I could have hoped for. I bought my mixed six pack of their various sours and the three Plinys I was bringing back for my peeps on this coast and that was that. At least for a day or so.
The very next evening, while at one of the venues for the Pinot Forum, I noticed a stack of cases of Pliny. In a near Pavlovian way, I remarked to the host, “Ooh, Pliny!”
“Yeah that’s to drink during Tuesday morning’s seminar, but you know if it were up to me, we’d be drinking Racer 5. I love IPAs and that one is certainly my favorite.”
There it was again! And this guy was a winemaker, a hophead. Dude knew his way around a drink.
So, just out of curiosity, I started asking the rest of the locals, including the other winemakers at the event. One even said, “Yeah, we got you guys Pliny, because we know a bunch of you have heard of it and wanted to check it out. But out here, we all drink Racer 5.” It was true. Not a single Sonoma local I asked said they preferred Pliny to Racer 5.
Now, what I never got a chance to do was sit down and taste the two blind, side-by-side, but that’s something I very much intend to do on, of all days, Thursday, August 4, on National IPA day. I’ve got a bottle of Pliny and a bottle of Racer 5, and I’m going to taste them blind with a couple friends. I’m curious to see what we all think.
But here’s the deal, even if I end up liking Pliny better, I can’t get it out here. Racer 5, on the other hand, is totally available and, having at least tasted it and liked it, plus the overwhelming experience I had asking about it, I just have to bring it in.
Come try it for yourself.