Sometimes you journey for the experience.
And so I headed out to Santa Rosa, California to experience Pliny the Younger at Russian River Brewing.
For the weeks preceding, I had been asking around about good times to line up to get in “the first wave” – the first group to be let into the brewpub on that day. Most responses were, “Early,” while others said 9 or 10 AM would be sufficient. Staff at the brewpub the night before even could not give a good time. Given the explosion of craft beer recently, I decided on early.
I awoke at 6:25 AM, got my things together and headed off to Russian River. Upon arriving and parking in the recommended lot, I walked over to the brewpub. I checked my watch – 7:30 AM.
I saw people lined up in front of the brewpub and through the gap in the buildings, so I turned right and started walking down the line. “Shouldn’t be too bad,” I thought. “7:30 should be early enough for a beer that’s available everyday for 2 weeks.”
And I kept walking. And walking. To the end of the block, then turning the corner. About a quarter of the way down I got my spot in line. A friend from Chicago who just happened to be in town that day would show up next, right behind me in line (we did not plan this). As we were chatting about beer, sports and life, he said something that is representative of the recent explosion in craft beer:
“This is my third time here. This is the earliest I’ve gotten in line, and the farthest back I’ve been.”
This was not your typical beer release line – those involve bottle sharing with fellow craft beer enthusiasts. Santa Rosa law prohibits open containers on the street, and most of the people in line (at least where I was) weren’t craft beer fans – they just came because they heard how good it was.
How did they hear about this then? There was the next unusual aspect of the line. Multiple people were being interviewed by newspapers and television crews. (I would find out later on from the guy at the front working the line that they had given out 10 media passes this year, as opposed to 4 last year). I’ve seen local newspapers interview people or have people taking pictures, but this seemed a bit much.
Thankfully, Russian River realized the length of the line and opened well ahead of their stated 11 AM. The line surged forward, but was further fragmented by the rain (people standing under awnings to avoid getting wet). Russian River was also kind enough to put out tents near the front (where there was a lack of awnings) to keep people dry.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, I had made it to the front. The doorman (mentioned above) checked my ID and gave me my wristband. I waited for a few more minutes and chatted with him, with topics of how crazy the line was (line started at last call the previous night) to the rain. I was then let in.
This is where Russian River is to be commended. The brewpub was packed, but not to the point where you couldn’t move. They had at least four bartenders, as well as an army of wait staff working the tables. Getting Pliny the Younger once inside was a breeze.
As recommended by my buddy in line, I ordered Beatification (was not on tap the night previous) and a Pliny the Younger. The triple IPA would destroy my palate, so he recommended starting with the Beatification then going full Younger. It was a prescient move, as the Beatification tasted divine.
I need a place to rest at least one glass, so I simply turned around and placed my beer on the table behind me. There was a group of four people there and we got to talking about beer and where everyone was from (Arizona and Texas). Heck, the people from Arizona had brought their son, who was at another table behind them. After the couple from Texas left, I took one of the open seats and started to savor the Younger.
Pliny the Younger is basically a bigger, better Pliny the Elder (probably my favorite DIPA). More hops, a more piney, citrus nose and taste, more bitterness on the tongue and then it dissipates, leaving you wanting more. An overall outstanding beer.
The older couple was on their way out as well (which the wait staff was pointing out to me at least 3-4 times) so I had to move. Their son was staying and they had an open seat, so I sidled up. This was probably the highlight of my day at Russian River. I was finally able to talk beer with fellow enthusiasts, and we had a blast.
One was from Arizona on vacation. One was from northern California and a big fan of Sante Adairius Rustic Ales (readers will see why tomorrow and Friday). The third was an expecting father, so he purchased the Pliny the Younger onesie (yes they had them). But I had finally found what I was looking for – sipping Pliny the Younger with like minded individuals, joking, and more importantly, sitting. After having my fourth pour of Younger (there was a rumor that there was a limit of 3 per person, but that was really never enforced), I bid adieu to my new friends and my buddy from Chicago and headed out to my next destination – Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Capitola, California.
Next : Sante Adairius Rustic Ales