Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pliny the Younger, Pliny the Elder, and Pliny the Middle-Aged: A Trek to Russian River Brewing Company

Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, CA, is renowned for making some of the most highly regarded beers in America, such as their sour ales Temptation, Supplication, and Consecration, as well as their double IPA, Pliny the Elder (which bucks the "-ation" trend in nomenclature).

A large part of the mystique surrounding the brewery is due to their annual release of a triple IPA, Pliny the Younger. This beer, at one point the #3 ranked beer at (currently #7), used to be released for one day only before the brewpub in Santa Rosa prepared for two weeks of Pliny bliss. Pliny the Younger is only available at the brewpub itself, aside from select special events at esteemed bars and pubs in the region.

My fiancee and I went last year, when the line took about 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon. It was our first experience at the brewpub, and we had such a wonderful time we marked our calendars for our second year and talked our friend Nathan into coming along too. Here's how it panned out:

We left San Jose around 8:45 and made it across the Golden Gate Bridge with few complications.

At 10:40am, twenty minutes before opening, we arrived in Santa Rosa and got into line.

We knew the line was long (it was wrapped around a corner), but I decided to investigate prior to the 11am opening.

This was the Energizer Bunny of lines: it keeps going...

...and going...

...and going...

Well, you get the idea. There were over 300 people in line ahead of us, trying to work their way into the brewpub's limited confines. Some had driven or flown in from other parts of the country: one guy in front of us came from Phoenix just for this.

This was Day #2 of the "14 Days of Younger".

Fortunately for all involved, there was a Barnes & Noble across the street, complete with restroom. I can't stress how vital this became.

Progress was slow, and less than steady. Nathan came prepared with magazines (and I highly recommend bringing something yourself).

Suzanne reads the fine print.

The fine print.

After 3 hours and 50 minutes of waiting in line, we finally got a buzzer to let us know when our table was ready. We still had to wait to get into the brewery "gate," where we could order beer while we waited to be officially seated.

Another 40 minutes later, we were seated on the exterior benches. That's right = a total of 4 and a half hours of waiting in line. Quite the jump from last year... but notice that we're all smiles.

Needless to say, the first thing we ordered off of their impressive beer list was the Younger.

Pliny the Younger is 10.5% alcohol, and it's very tasty. Nowhere near four-and-a-half-hours-worth-of-waiting tasty, but still worthy of superlatives.

Fortunately for yours truly, the brewpub's busiest time of the year coincides with their most plentiful menu. Think of it as Beer Disneyland: not even the long lines can deter you from enjoying the Hoppiest Place on Earth (see what I did there?).

Starting today (just for me!), the brewpub began serving their Belgian quadruple, Mortification. If you're going just for the Younger, venture outside of your IPA comfort zone and order a glass. I'd be surprised if you're disappointed.

I love Salvation, which, like its name, is in opposition to Damnation (a permanent offering by the brewery).

I hate to ruin a great gag, but Procrastination is the brewery's perennial joke offering. It's fooled at least one of my friends. ;-)

Finally, we managed to be seated inside.

Now we were able to get food along with our delicious beers.

Our server, Tommy (?), was extremely nice and knowledgeable. PS - that's Younger on the left and Mortification on the right.

A toast to Russian River - cheers!

Dustin w/ Mortification = one happy dude.

Be sure to order a pizza, such as the "Mikey" (I think you'll like it... hohoho).

What do you get when you (blasphemously) combine the ultra strong Pliny the Younger with the more carbonated Pliny the Elder, as Nathan did on my advice? Pliny the Middle-Aged! Highly recommended, although the brewpub won't mix it for you (we asked, and were politely declined, simply because of the price difference in the beers, although possibly because they thought we had lost our taste buds and / or minds).

Nathan, Suzanne and I each preferred our Pliny the Middle-Aged over the Elder and the Younger independently. Just sayin': either we're all loco, or we're on to something.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was RRBC's Simcoe single hop IPA, "Row 2 / Hill 56." This is the first year they've released this, and WOW does it taste amazing (and it's surprisingly strong tasting for such a relatively low ABV). So amazing in fact, that Suzanne bought a growler, seen here in Tommy's hands. (P.S. you can't get growlers of the Younger, so don't bother asking)

We were proud to adopt our little boy, and we planned to provide him with a good home: our bellies.

We weren't quite ready to drive home yet, so we went out for oysters, and walked around the plaza, which contained local cartoonist Charles Schultz's famous Peanuts characters in statue form.

Let it be known that Woodstock slipped her some tongue (insert Snoopy-sounding annoyance...).

If you live within a reasonable drive of Santa Rosa, I highly recommend experiencing Russian River Brewing Company during this time of year. Be sure to try more than just the Younger, however, and if you can hack it, try and get to the brewery more than 90 minutes before opening.

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