Pliny the Elder. Ring any bells? Water any mouths? The elusive beer is now in San Luis Obispo along with a long list of other Russian River Brewing Company’s beers. Yes, the time has finally come, beer lovers.
Before December, Russian River beers were only available in their homeland of Santa Rosa, California, the surrounding area, parts of southern California and select spots in three other states. While all Russian River beers were hard to come by due to the small area of distribution, Pliny the Elder was the hardest Russian River beer to find due to the reputation it holds.
Pliny was a “whale beer,” according to Sean Zurbriggen, general manager at Libertine Brewing Co. in San Luis Obispo. He said it was a beer everyone knew about, but just could not get their hands on due to the high demand and small distribution.
“You’re always looking for it,” Zurbriggen said.
“The chase was more exciting to me — just trying to find it somewhere,” Scott Silvey, former Mustang News reporter and craft beer critic said. “It was always a very special beer in my mind because of how hard it was to track down and how good it actually was when I had it.”
Silvey shared his first time trying Pliny the Elder in a story he wrote almost nine years ago for Mustang News. After his “only brush with greatness,” he asked readers to join him in his letter-writing campaign to “pester the owners of the brewery until they start delivering the beers here.”
He joked that his futile efforts were part of the reason Russian River beers are now on the central coast.
Today, there are eight spots in San Luis Obispo that sell Russian River beer, including Pliny the Elder, and 30 more locations in the rest of the Central Coast. Specific locations can be found on the company’s website.
“Until now, we have not had any extra beer to take on any new [regions], ” owner and brewer at Russian River Brewing Company Vinnie Cilurzo said. “The Central Coast has been top of our list for some time. We also appreciate the beer-drinkers’ palate in the Central Coast area. A tip of the hat has to go to Firestone Walker for leading the way with great beer in the Central Coast area.”
With the extended distribution to the Central Coast, beer-lovers were eager to taste the famous Russian River beer Pliny the Elder.
Libertine goes through kegs left and right at both the San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay locations, according to Zurbriggen.
“[Pliny the Elder] is one of the beers everyone’s crazy about,” Zurbriggen said. “If they’re negative, it’s just because they don’t like IPAs.”
For those who are not too familiar with beer, IPA stands for India Pale Ale, which is a beer made with more hops than a pale ale and typically has a more bitter taste, according to Bon Appetit.
A double IPA means there is even more hops and has a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) due to more malt to balance out the hops. Cilurzo is known as a pioneer in brewing double IPAs.
“Back in 1994 at my first brewery, Blind Pig in Temecula, [California], I made what is probably the first double IPA in America,” Cilurzo wrote in an email to Mustang News. “For Pliny, though, I wanted to focus more on hop flavor as opposed to bitterness.”
Pliny the Elder, first brewed in 1999, is one of the very first double IPAs, The 8 percent ABV beer has a “firm bitterness, but also has a big hop aroma and flavor throughout,” Cilurzo said. While the beer is brewed with a variety of hops, Cilurzo said he wanted to focus on the hop simcoe, the ingredient behind the grapefruit, pine and pungent quality of the beer.
“One thing we are very proud of is the fact that Pliny the Elder helped popularize simcoe among other craft brewers,” Cilurzo said. “This, in turn, has helped our family friends in Yakima, [Washington] who own and grow simcoe.”
Silvey described the beer as well-balanced and smooth for a hoppy and high-ABV beer. “It’s a beer that’ll knock you on your butt if you let it, but it’s very smooth, very drinkable, very balanced,” Silvey said.
Considering the beer’s recognition and awards, many around the country seem to share the same high opinions as Silvey.
Pliny the Elder was named the Best Beer in America for eight straight years by Zymurgy Magazine, the official magazine for the American Homebrewers Association. The members of the association, otherwise known as beer experts, vote for what they believe is the best beer in America. Pliny the Elder took the top spot from 2009 to 2016 until it was dethroned by the consistent runner up, Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, in 2017. Pliny has remained in second since, but that has not diminished the beer’s popularity, and the brewery continues to create highly praised beer.
But Pliny is certainly not Russian River’s only popular beer.
Feb. 1 marked the annual release of the brewery’s triple IPA, Pliny the Younger. The beer is highly anticipated by fans and is only available for 14 days, according to Cilurzo. Due to the short span of availability and high demand, the brewery’s website informs customers they may have to wait in line on the weekend for the beer anywhere from one to six hours. They ask customers not to camp outside and leave their tents at home to avoid disturbing neighboring businesses.
Russian River Brewing Company has been able to grow as a business due to the success of Pliny the Elder and was able to open an additional location.
“Not only do beer drinkers identify Pliny with Russian River, it has afforded us the opportunity to build our dream brewery, which we just opened in Windsor, California,” Cilurzo said. “We did not expect Pliny to become so popular. There [was] no way for us to know that it would become a part of the fabric of the American craft beer story.”