A great many things come across the transom at a newspaper, and this week, we received a letter from loyal reader and confirmed beer fan Kim Brooks in praise of Russian River’s Pliny the Younger, which is set for its annual release tomorrow morning. Kim’s essay didn’t make it into the Press Democrat’s rotation of Close to Home op-eds, but it seems like a perfect opportunity to turn the blog floor over to Kim, a technical writer and homebrewer from Santa Rosa.
“My wife [Lisa] and I developed an appreciation of beer simultaneously about 15 years ago,” he explains. “Not coincidentally the same time as the resurgence of the craft beer industry. Russian River Brewing Company has been a favorite haunt for several years although our visits to it have tapered off recently just because the place is popular and crowded so much of the time. Nevertheless, PTY is a world class a ale evidenced not only by its cross generational popularity but by the praise of beer judges and brewing organizations throughout the world. It has a complex, robust taste that leaves me content.”
Here’s Kims’s essay on the joys of The Younger.
It’s not about the buzz. It’s a bonus, but not everything. It’s the color and the cold. It’s the sting and the way it warms the neck, stomach, thighs, toes.
I was barbound a while ago. Happy Hour at the Russian River Brewing Company – the RRBC. Softening the edges of a couple of the more wearisome parts of life. Gnashing the crap with a pleasant fellow from the City of Brotherly Love. He told me he had come for the place and the beer. Yes. He had flown from Philly with his East Coast sensibilities to sit on a stool at the RRBC to see what all the fuss was about. From his smart phone he showed me pictures of his garage-based brewing operation. We shared our brewing experiences. I bottled, he kegged. We clanked our pints, and gulped the bittersweet liquid. Ahh.
For the tenth time RRBC’s annual release of Pliny the Younger, the hoppier nephew of their flagship India Pale Ale, Pliny the Elder, has arrived. The news is bubbling up. It’s become a social and cultural event. RRBC becomes a national destination this time of the year for those who appreciate world class beer. February 7th ale lovers and others just curious will line up hours before the doors open simply to taste 10 ounces of craft beer brewing genius. And for the following two weeks when this triple IPA flows, Santa Rosa will become a beer Eden.
This is it. Pliny the Younger is to beer what Neil Armstrong was to pilots. It’s the mouth of Ingrid Bergman, the prose of Cheever, the voice of Sinatra. It’s Moby Dick in a fishbowl, Olivier mining Shakespeare, the tick of hard-soled shoes on a dark city street. Drink it while reading the lyrics to Sgt. Pepper’s and you’ll savor every word. Spit-take while drinking it and you’ll suck the slobber from your shirt.
It comes around once a year like Christmas, or the Super Bowl. And like these events, Pliny the Younger is difficult pull off. Year to year it’s never quite the same, but it’s close thanks to the gifted brewing of Brew Master Vinnie Cilurzo and crew. The robust hop schedule is complicated. The temperatures of air and water need to be perfect. The ratio of the Big Three ingredients in collusion with the proper yeast converting all those sugars leaves little room for error. Brewing is one big chemistry experiment: sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a little messy.
Pliny the Younger works hard to heft its north of 10 percent alcohol, enough to buckle the knees of a horse. The color is as close to blonde as amber, and so non-threatening to look at you would be forgiven for not believing it’s so badass.
You inhale it and the fragrance is a steaming jungle of cut grass, lemon, burnt oak, and burned toast, with just enough gutter water and cigarette butt to bite. It splashes around the interior of the mouth morphing from tart to astringent to citrusy to Sugar Baby butterscotch before it cascades down the throat and into memory like a tropical waterfall.
Good wine, even lousy wine, is described using adjectives like oaky, rosy, barrel-aged, apples, melons, along with throwaway niceties like beguiling, breathless, alluring, coy, lilting, full-bodied. Wine is woman in a figure-clinging liquid dress.
Beer is in a separate but equal category. Pliny the Younger, an ale, comes from the same planet, the same dirt, but a different mindset. It’s bold, ornery, meaty, ballsy, pissed off. But it is also warm and welcoming. Like the average guy who gets the girl just because he’s so damned charming. Male but . . . sensitive. It’s a great swill and great of anything is in short supply these days. Thanks, RRBC.
So, allow one of the friendly, hard-working pros behind the bar at the RRBC to pour you a glass of Pliny the Younger. Appreciate the golden dazzle. Inhale the drunken molecules. Pour it in, slosh it around. Let it penetrate those red blood cells just enough to make you witty and attractive. And remember, no cuts, tip generously, drink responsibly.
Thanks, Kim. Enjoy your PTY.
– Sean Scully