The annual arrival of what many hopheads consider to be the pinnacle of IPA perfection has become more than a mere release, it’s an event. Running dry within the first day of tapping the kegs last year taught the good folks at Russian River a few things. This year they switched things up, releasing a limited amount of kegs per day, and not filling growlers for anyone. As they announced on their website: The only way to get it to go is in your tummy! Works for me.
In the dead middle of the week, an hour-and-a-half before quitting time, the brewery was full but not insane. The uninitiate who might have wandered in off the street still might wonder what was going on. Is there a major sporting event I forgot about? The most cursory look around the brewery would shut that line of thinking down pretty quickly though; the only televisions—of which there are two, each no bigger than a desktop monitor—are hung high and out of the way. This is no sports bar; this is a temple of beer.
The young, hipster staff seemed to get a perverse kick out of asking the humble supplicant, once seated, what he wanted to drink. It couldn’t be that easy, could it? All I have to say is, “Pliny the Younger,” and they’ll bring it in a perfectly chilled 10 oz glass? Visions of the Seinfeld Soup Nazi flashed through my parched, hop-starved brain. “No Younger for you!” the server shouted in my imagination. “One year!” Luckily, it was only my paranoia working overtime, and soon the beer was down the pike.
The big board behind the bar lists the Younger at a healthy 10.25% ABV and under Bittering Units it only reads, “Gobs.” The brew doesn’t disappoint. It pours light orange with just a scrim of head and no lacing. The nose this little bomb throws, however, is heavenly: orange peel, the requisite pine forest, and a more than a hint of killer green bud.
The truly amazing thing about this Triple IPA, is how balanced it is. To me, Pliny the Elder, Russian River’s Double IPA, is more aggressively hop forward—not to say the Younger isn’t crazy hoppy (as the website reads: Younger is hopped three times more than our standard IPA, and is dry hopped four different times), its just that its sweet malt backbone carries a lot of weight.
As the sun falls behind the storefronts on 4th St. and working folks are released on their own recognizance for another day, a line begins to form outside on the sidewalk. Soon a bouncer takes position at the back door so that no one bum rushes the bar, and after a few of the most perfectly balanced beers I’ve ever had, it’s time for me to head on and give someone else a chance.