Earlier in the day I brewed with the guys from Verboten Brewing, read about it here! Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
If someone had told me at the start of this holiday that I'd get the chance to drink not only fresh Pliny the Elder but also it's bigger brother Pliny the Younger I'd have laughed in their faces.
Finally drinking Pliny the Elder was a wonderful experience and thinking back now to that moment I can say with confidence that it's probably my favourite beer being produced in the USA right now. So what about Pliny the Younger? It's a triple IPA that Russian River Brewing Company only produce once a year, it's released on the first Friday in February and generally is around for a mere two weeks. The lengths people go to in order to taste some of this hallowed brew resemble the lengths cultists go to worship their dark gods. Human beings willingly queue for hours just to get a taste of this revered elixir and it sells out in minutes when it becomes available. So if it's this popular why not brew it year round? Well it uses a metric fuck-ton of seasonally available ingredients for starters and then there is the fact that it costs a fortune to brew. Plus the brewing industry needs beers like Pliny the Younger to keep it exciting, interesting and so geeks like me have always got something even more exciting and interesting to seek out and tick.
Russian River Pliny the Younger, Olympian in stature.
So imagine my delight when Michelle from the Mayor of Old Town told me that she had a keg in her cellar that they were going to tap early so that I could try it before I jetted back off to the UK. I spent the whole time I was in Portland knowing that this keg was sitting there, waiting so finally getting to try Pliny the Elder beforehand was even more significant than I had previously let on as I'd actually be able to compare them! Oh the excitement, oh how jealous my friends would be, I spent the next few days FEVERED with hysteria... actually no, that was the flu, but never mind.
So after a long hard day brewing a beer with the guys from Verboten Brewing my Dad and I headed back to the Mayor of Old Town and sat at the bar, as had become our custom. The Mayor weren't officially tapping this keg until next week but as I would no longer be in town they temporarily put it on early for me and for this I am eternally thankful to this wonderful bar. I stare at the 100 taps behind the bar, each resplendent with it's branded tap handle, all except for one which sat there without a handle and a small sign next to it that said DO NOT POUR FROM HERE. I was expecting Michelle to bring out a few small tasters but she goes right ahead and fills a huge snifter for both me and my Dad.
This years Pliny the Younger weighs in at a mere 10.25% ABV and I can smell it from several feet away. In fact it's the aroma and not the flavour, for me at least, that makes this beer so special. I've never smelt a beer quite like this, you don't so much as take in the aroma as IMMERSE yourself in a thick atmosphere with scents of mango, pine, grapefruit, lychee, passion fruit, lemon and lime whizzing around like dreams and you're the BFG, desperately rushing around trying to catch as much as you can. And what of the taste? Well imagine a fruit platter of grapefruit, mango, lychee and lime being served up with rich slab of malt loaf and a jar of Manuka honey poured over everything, sticking it all together. Then there's the pine, a rich, resinous burst of sap that smothers the palate causing the bitterness to linger almost infinitely.
It's not as good as Pliny the Elder though. This beer is massive, as a control my Dad and I had a glass of Odell Myrcenary which is a double IPA we are both very familiar with and a glass of the well respected Russian River Blind Pig IPA. Strangely, I've not a big fan of the Blind Pig, I find it a little boring, especially considering how good Pliny is and after a few sips of Pliny the Younger it might as well have been PBR in that glass because I couldn't taste anything, my palate had literally been smashed into total oblivion. The Myrcenary didn't fare much better, I still got a little lingering bitterness but this is a beer that in my own words in one of my first ever beer reviews I described as "epic and supremely bitter" and although that bitterness was still there all of the juicy mango and grapefruit flavours were not, the Pliny had obliterated them.
That's why I think the Elder is the boss of the Younger, sure this beer is as revelatory as it is awesome, the brewer behind it is surely a genius, a master of the hop and of the grain but as wonderful as this beer is I don't want to have the ashes of my palate scattered into the ether. Pliny the Elder sings with a supreme chorus of hops and the more you drink the more you want to drink but Pliny the Younger produces a guttural howl from the top of the bell tower, it's impressive, special but something you'd only want one glass of. The aroma though, is still its most impressive aspect and is surely a masterful example of dry hopping.
So how did I follow a beer as big as this you may ask? With New Belgium's superb 2013 batch of La Folie, their sour brown ale. I've had La Folie almost every time I've visited Fort Collins over the last three years and the 2013 batch is in my opinion the best yet by some distance. Perhaps its because I've really come to appreciate sour beers in the last few months but not only did it scour my palate but it lifted it back up, dusted it down and told it to man up and get on with some more drinking. That we did and once again my Dad and I drank the night away and had another brilliant evening at the Mayor but let's be honest, it's pretty impossible not to have a brilliant evening in this bar.