After a drive up north from San Jose, a 20 minute wait in line, and about another 15 waiting for a table, Andy and I ordered a couple glasses of fresh Pliny the Younger off the taps at Russian River Brewing Company.
As we drank our juicy hop bombs while dousing hot Pliny bread bites with heaps of pesto and marinara sauces in February 2011, we didn’t really revel in the fact that we were enjoying ‘the best beer in the world’ — at least no more so than we simply enjoyed the pleasant combination of good food and beer.
The act of getting a glass of Younger has changed a lot since then. OZY reported last year on beer heads waiting overnight and in the rain to get a glass of the triple IPA. Is it really bizarre that so many are willing to go to such lengths for a beer that only comes out for a couple weeks each year in only a handful of spots?
Personally, I don’t subject myself to long lines unless the reason involves something extraordinarily unique, or prevents causing some sort of mental or physical harm to myself or loved ones. And to me, Pliny the Younger doesn’t fit either.
This is not a statement about the quality, flavor or solidity of Younger. It’s a great beer, especially to those who love fresh imperial IPAs.
An even-hoppier version of Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, Younger’s flavor profile combines large mouthfuls of hop juiciness and texture with a sweet malt backbone, making the 10.25 percent alcohol beer pleasantly fruity, and balancing the pungency with crispiness.
According to an interview in Zymurgy with Russian River’s Owner and Brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo, Younger is additionally hopped with Amarillo, which combined with the Simcoe-heavy nature of the Elder, helps create the fragrance and fruitiness Younger is known to conceal its high ABV with.
This is not an enigma in the craft beer world. Many hopped up imperial IPAs are available that feature a slew of similar hop combinations that make just as interesting beers and flavors. Knee Deep’s Simtra Triple IPA is an example that is regularly available nationally. At 11.25 percent alcohol it boasts a fresh hop assault of Simcoe and Citra while providing a foundation of butterscotchy malt flavoring. Avery’s Maharaja is another exceptional example of a high ABV (10.5) imperial IPA that features a sweet flavor component with tangy and pungeant hop juiciness. And there is a never-ending assortment of just as mouth-watering imperial IPAs being released in the taprooms of small community breweries.
Regardless if you think Younger is worth it, the aura of desire surrounding it perpetually self-creates a larger-than-life image and following when each February rolls around. And to the many who patiently waited in one line or more to enjoy Younger that feel it was worth it, their experience is completely legitimate.
Again, Pliny the Younger is a great beer, and if allowed the opportunity to drink it, you probably should. But in order for me to advise you to stand in line for a potentially long period of time, I’d have to believe it was special enough to warrant the effort. I don’t believe Younger is special or unique enough — aside from the long lines you get to stand in waiting for it — that you can’t just as easily go to a local brewery and have something just as solid and special, with only a two minute wait.