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Russian River Brewing Company's Pliny the Younger is released each February in the Santa Rosa brewpub, and kept on tap there for just two weeks. A few precious kegs of the cult-favorite triple IPA make their way to the Bay Area to be tapped during February while the hop flavors are fresh. People like to say that San Franciscans just like waiting in line (see: Bi-Rite ice cream, Tartine Bakery, Flour & Water), so it's not a huge surprise that a line would form when Pliny the Younger is in town.
A few San Francisco bars kept their score secret, tapping the kegs without fanfare and selling pints to those in the know. But Monk's Kettle in the Mission spread the good fortune around, announcing they'd be tapping their one keg today, and giving 100% of the proceeds to La Cocina.
Hopheads started lining up more than an hour before the doors opened; when I rolled up around 11 a.m., the line had wrapped around the corner. Mind you: it wasn't much of a hardship to wait; once the fog burned off it was a beautiful day, and the crowd was friendly, chatting about their Beer Week adventures and getting pumped up about the IBUs to come.
As noon neared, the line was up to more than a hundred people. Tickets were sold on line to streamline the beer-serving process, and we made it in with the first wave.
The beer is remarkably balanced: for its 100+ IBUs and 10.5% alcohol, The Younger is pretty darn drinkable, rich and fruity but not sticky sweet like some Triple IPAs are. The alcohol is warming, but it doesn't stick out harshly, and the hops meld pleasantly into an orange-peel-canned-peach-mandarin flavor that finishes dry.
We ordered a glass of Pliny the Elder for comparison: in contrast, that brew is drier and more herbal, and it comes across as much more bitter (and more crisp) because it lacks the sweetness of its special-release sibling.
We put both beers to the burger test, because Monk's happens to have one of our favorite burgers in the neighborhood (and because these are pretty intense beers to drink on an empty stomach in the middle of the day.) The sweetness of the ketchup and bacon on the burger made Pliny the Younger a more successful pairing. Its rich body and delicate sweetness stood up to those toppings, and the beer offered enough bitterness to clear the palate, while Pliny the Elder felt a bit aggressive and spare by contrast.
Was it worth the wait? That depends on your philosophy on these things. Was it The Best Beer We've Ever Tried, Ever? Did it make us cry? No, not really. Is it well made, and a great example of the style? Yes, definitely. Was it fun to drink a beer in a crowd full of people who're excited about that beer, and enjoying it together? Sure thing.
Have you tried Pliny the Younger? Do you think it's worth waiting in line for?