Why Is Pliny The Elder So Popular?

Today, I’m going to take a closer look at a pretty well-known beer in the beer world: Pliny the Elder.

Even the more casual beer nerds know what Pliny is, and we’re all lucky enough to have it distributed beyond Russian River and California. Those of us that are extra lucky get to drink Pliny the Younger, which is a similar yet completely different beer.

The reason Pliny the Elder is so popular is a combination of its history and its hype. And both are perfectly good reasons for its popularity, in my humble amateur opinion.

What is Pliny the Elder?

Pliny is a DIPA that’s 8% ABV, making it a bit stronger than what most people drink at a brewery. The cool part about Pliny the Elder is that it’s incredibly well balanced, and you would hardly notice the high ABV if I didn’t point it out or you didn’t check the bottle.

In terms of nose and taste, the brew uses Amarillo, Centennial, Simcoe, and CTZ hops, so there really isn’t any shortage of hops. What makes it more unique is that Pliny the Elder balances these super well with each other and the malt, which is super impressive considering that Pliny is one of the earliest examples of a DIPA done well.

The history behind the beer is what makes it most interesting — basically, Russian River brewers needed to brew a beer for a DIPA festival. And that’s it! They were asked to paint a portrait and created the Mona Lisa.

Why is it Named Pliny the Elder?

I love history, so I couldn’t cover this beer without talking about the Pliny the Elder. Pliny the Elder, as with most people who lived in the first century AD, did pretty much everything from writing to naturalism to commanding a navy. 

While I’m not an avid reader of primary course Latin texts from 2000 years ago, Pliny apparently mentioned hops (or something similar to hops) in his work Naturalis Historia. Specifically, he mentioned lupus salictarius, or “wolf of the willows,” which could very well be today’s Humuls lupulus, or hops.

Pliny the Elder died during the Mount Vesuvius eruption. No beer facts there, just sort of interesting.

Pliny the Elder vs Pliny the Younger

Pliny the Younger was Pliny the Elder’s nephew and, eventually, adopted son. The younger Pliny was the heir to the elder Pliny’s rank and place, himself becoming an important member of the Roman elite and member of Emperor Trajan’s council.

Oh, you mean the Pliny the Younger beer.

Pliny the Younger is a TIPA (triple IPA), which you would think the “Elder” beer would be stronger seeing as alcohol tends to get stronger the longer it ferments. This TIPA is over 10% ABV and…well, it tastes strong but is still much better than pretty much any other TIPA out there.

What makes Pliny the Younger so popular is its exclusivity. You can only find this beer at Russian River tap rooms during the specific release window. Guests get a wristband and can only order 3 10oz pours of Pliny the Younger. They’re also allowed to purchase 2 510ml bottles. Lastly, you can only hang out for 2.5 hours before your group has to go to make room for more beer nerds like me.

Speaking of which — if you do happen to have a bottle of Pliny the Younger sitting around and you don’t really know what to do with it, let me know. I can help.

Thomas Short
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