When I used to work at a beer store, the most common question I was asked by local customers and tourists alike was “Do you have Pliny?”
Pliny the Elder is so popular that it would run out in a matter of hours (sometimes, in one hour!). I can still hear the echoes of that inquiry in my head. #fetalposition
Pliny the Elder is a double IPA that has the flavor, aroma, and complexity from the abundance of hops used that stands out amongst other IPAs. We are fortunate here in the Bay Area to have access to this beer at specific local stores and not just at the brewery. However, a rival to Pliny has been on the radars of beer geeks…
Heady Topper is another double IPA brewed by The Alchemist that has also been dubbed a world-class beer. With Heady Topper only available in Vermont, East Coasters no longer have to give an arm and a leg when doing beer trades with their West Coast comrades (although getting a hold of Heady Topper is even difficult for Vermont residents).
Two of the most highly sought after IPAs in the world, now compared with each other, raises the question: “Which beer is better?” Is Heady the Pliny of the East Coast or is Pliny the Heady of the West Coast? My answer to this will be withheld until the very end of this article. But first, let me drink these beers for you:
Pliny the Elder
Russian River Brewing
8 percent alcohol
Aroma — sweet marmalade, citrus rind, melon, pine needles
Flavor — citrus fruits, mango, slightly grassy/herbal
Texture — creamy head, medium carbonation, medium malty body with dry, bitter finish
Final thoughts — Russian River has executed brewing a beer with abundance of flavor while keeping everything balanced; not one tasting note stands out. It’s not overly bitter, it’s not overly sweet. A balanced IPA is, in fact, possible!
8 percent alcohol
Aroma — tropical fruit, resin-y (hop oils), tree sap
Flavor — super fruity up front, pine resin, semi-earthy, malty aftertaste
Texture — piney bitterness, medium carbonation, has that unfiltered beer mouthfeel
Final thoughts — More in line with what’s popular with current IPAs with the initial tropical fruit notes, yet still piney, but not danky. It’s a solid, tasty IPA but since it’s unfiltered it doesn’t have a “clean” mouth feel so you get more of the raw ingredients. I personally enjoy unfiltered IPAs so this was a treat for me.
So what is my subjective opinion on which beer is better? Which beer “won”?
I think a better question I would ask you is, “Do you like good beer?” If you answered “yes”, you should get a hold of these beers and enjoy them.
Are both beers truly world-class? Yes, they’re both excellently brewed and live up to the hype. Very, very good beers.
Are they both the best of all IPAs? No. I’ve had a good handful of IPAs that are just as good. And depending on my mood, I’ve enjoyed other IPAs more than either Pliny or Heady. So if a store doesn’t have Pliny, go try another one. I encourage everybody to develop your own tastes and opinions on which beers you like.
By the way, I tried drinking Heady Topper from the can as instructed on the can. Guess what? Still tastes the same. Guess why? Because it’s just beer!