I paid a visit to the legendary Russian River Brewing Company about three weeks ago (I know it's been a long time, but the new website was under construction!) with five of my bravest beer loving friends. We were on a quest to get even a drop (drop meaning half pint) of the elusive Pliny the Younger upon our tongues.
For those of you that don't know, the beer is brewed once a year in February and is released in very limited quantities. People will travel from all over and wait for hours just to try it.
Our group got in line around 9:30 am and the line had already wrapped around a couple street corners. Waiting until 11 am, when the brewpub opened, was easy, and the line seemed to be moving quickly due to the initial batch of pilgrims that got let in. We were feeling hopeful and thought that we would be able to enter those sacred doors in about six hours. Surely that would be the longest the wait could be.
But alas, we hit the six hour mark and were still quite a ways from the brewery. Up until that point, we had eaten a lunch of lies at the bait and switch Chinese restaurant offering special deals for Pliny the Younger seekers. They had advertised the specials as "walk in," but apparently "walk in" actually means "take out." I don't want to think about that lunch anymore. We also played a quick game of Space Team, albeit quietly, and watched in jealousy as veterans who knew to bring tables and chairs played board games.
A couple hours go by, in which we watch a friend get a hair cut. At this point, I also wanted to punch a some of my friends, just naturally out of pure irritation on all sides. Fast forward a couple more hours and we are finally near the door. If you know how to do basic addition and know that "couple" means two in common English, you would know that at this point, we've been in line for ten whole hours.
The sun is now nowhere to be seen and the time is about 7:45 pm. We are so close to sweet, hoppy victory. But even now inside the brewpub, there's still a sea of people and another queue to grab a table. We fight through the crowds at the bar to get our tiny half pints of this so called nectar of the beer gods. How true is this? We will find out in just a few moments.
The moment we get our beers, all tension and cares from the day immediately dissipate and we are the best of friends. We struggled through a full day's journey and have reached the mountain peak (well, sort of, we were without seats at this point, but who cares?). We eat, we drink, and we are merry.
So how was the beer you ask? Damn good. 10 hours of waiting good? I'll get to that at the end. But as for the Younger, it's among the best IPAs I've ever had. I'm judging the beer from the lens that it has an 11% ABV and is a triple IPA. Now, given those parameters, you would expect a brew that's nearly unpalatable, but it's mind numbingly smooth. It's a mystery how it goes down like water, but retains all the super hoppiness, distinct IPA characteristics, and subtle notes of peaches, all the while having a high alcohol content. Just be careful, this stuff will get you if you don't pace yourself, it's that deceivingly smooth.
But let's not focus solely on Pliny the Younger. It's damn good, but Russian River's beer board runs deep and I've never had anything from them that was anywhere near bad.
Once we had our fill of the once a year brew, we had to order a full flight of the 19 beers they had on tap. The stand out brews for me were Salvation, Rejection, and the sours, the Sanctification in particular.
Also, a huge shoutout to the best bartender in the world, Mitch. He convinced us to get a brownie a la mode. Was it the best decision we made all night? Quite possibly. I mean come on, it was a hot brownie with ice cream. There's no going wrong there.
The question I've getting asked all the time is, "Was it worth the ten hour wait?" For the beer itself, I'd honestly have to say no. But the time we got to spend together, meeting new people, and just having a ball with Mitch was totally worth it. Don't get me wrong, the beer was top notch, but next year, I'll probably be going to a local pub that has it on tap and avoid the full day wait for a couple half pints. That said, it was an awesome experience and I loved most moments of it. Hahaha.
Of course we had to take home growlers as our spoils of war. We brought back some Pliny the Elder (still one of my favorite IPAs), Rejection, Damnation, and Salvation.
And here's a bonus picture to end the post. I ended up at the Lagunitas brewery in that same weekend. They had an awesome sour version of their Wilco Tango Foxtrot with Bretts, the same Brettanomyces used in my favorite sour at Russian River, Sanctification.