It’s Pliny Time! 10 Things You Need to Know About Russian River’s Most Famous Brew

Pliny the Younger at Russian River Brewing Company. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

It’s either the best of times or the worst of times, but either way, it is time. Pliny the Younger, Russian River Brewing Co.’s super-hoppy triple India pale ale, is almost here. Its 14th-annual release is expected to bring thousands of self-proclaimed beer geeks — and their money — to downtown Santa Rosa beginning Friday, Feb. 2. To get you primed for Pliny time, we’ve answered some of the most common questions about the coveted brew. Here's everything you need to know about what Beer Advocate has anointed the world’s top-rated IPA.

Victor Arrazabal, foreground, shoots a selfie with Sergio Guadron, left, Hernan Tobar, and Victor Arana, at the Russian River Brewing Company in 2017.  The friends travelled from Los Angeles for the annual release of Pliny.
Victor Arrazabal, foreground, shoots a selfie with Sergio Guadron, left, Hernan Tobar, and Victor Arana, at the Russian River Brewing Company in 2017. The friends travelled from Los Angeles for the annual release of Pliny. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

What’s the big deal? Russian River brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo first brewed “Younger” in 2005 and, at the time, it was the only beer of it’s kind: the first triple IPA. Traditionally released the first Friday in February, it is only available for two weeks at Russian River’s Santa Rosa taproom, plus a limited number of other locations, mostly in California. Pliny is only available on draft (no bottles, no growlers) and is only served in 10-ounce glasses. Most Pliny pilgrims, especially the first weekend, can expect up to 12-hour waits to get into the taproom. Once inside, guests are allotted three hours at the pub and three "Youngers."

Lindsay Waddell compares the taste of Pliny the Younger, left, with Pliny the Elder.
Lindsay Waddell compares the taste of Pliny the Younger, left, with Pliny the Elder. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

OK, when can I get my hands on some Pliny? It’s all happening starting at 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 2, and during Russian River’s business hours every day after that for two weeks, ending Feb. 15.

Waitress Alison Bellman painted her nails for the release of Pliny the Younger last year.
Waitress Alison Bellman painted her nails for the release of Pliny the Younger last year. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

If Pliny is so popular, why not just make more of it? According to Russian River Brewing, Pliny the Younger is a very time consuming and expensive beer to brew: it requires an exceptionally large amount of raw materials – malt and hops in particular – and takes up significant tank space at the brewery. In other words, it's just not worth the money and effort to make more Pliny - especially when the limited supply seems to be working out, just fine.

Beer lovers from around the world stood in line for their chance to taste Pliny the Younger at Russian River Brewing Company in 2017.
Beer lovers from around the world stood in line for their chance to taste Pliny the Younger at Russian River Brewing Company in 2017. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Is there any way to escape the line? This year, for the first time in Pliny history, a lucky few will cut the line. Following October's wildfires, Russian River Brewing launched Sonoma Pride, which raises funds for fire relief efforts, in part, through $25 donations for a chance to win Pliny line-cutting privileges (raffle tickets are now sold out). 14 happy hop lovers will be allowed to cut the line every day; for the rest of us, there are no cuts. For the best shot at a short wait, the time to come is midweek during the evening. But, believe it or not, a lot of people actually want to experience the line - come rain or shine - because "that's where the event is," says Natalie Cilurzo, who owns the brewpub with her brewmaster husband Vinnie. Standing in lines has rules, though...

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How do I master the line (and not get kicked out)? No matter how pumped you are about Pliny, waiting in line for hours can be boring, and bored people do silly things. Therefore, there are rules: no smoking, no drinking, no bottle sharing (in line or inside the brewpub), no camping in front of businesses (leave your pop-up tents and easy-ups at home), and come with your entire party - don't cut in front of people who have been waiting for hours because "your friends saved your spot" - that's not cool.

Russian River Brewing Company owner Natalie Cilurzo offers a test of Pliny the Younger.
Russian River Brewing Company owner Natalie Cilurzo offers a test of Pliny the Younger. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

What happens once I get inside? For customers who wish to brave the notoriously long lines and typically crummy winter weather, Russian River has imposed a limit of three Youngers and three hours inside the pub, per person. They keep track of this with three-tabbed wristbands — not, disappointingly, with chalk marks like meter maids. (Tabs are removed as Youngers are poured.) The limits, set in place in 2015, meant that the brewpub only ran out of the daily Pliny allocation once in that year — a significant improvement over years past. Inside the taproom, Plinys can be paired with pub fare. Naturally, “Pliny” bites are the most popular pick, but “Drew” bites are also worth a try.

Beer lovers taste their Pliny the Younger during the 2017 release.
Beer lovers taste their Pliny the Younger during the 2017 release. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

What does Pliny taste like? Pliny the Younger is a rendition of other Russian River favorite Pliny the Elder, except with more hops, malt, and higher alcohol (the beer finishes around 10.25 percent AVB). The hops used in the recipe are Simcoe, Warrior, Chinook, Centennial, Amarillo, CTZ, Comet and Azacca. According to those in the know (and Russian River's website), it is loaded with hop flavors and is surprisingly smooth and dry for the amount of alcohol and malt.

Who is this Pliny character anyway? And how do I pronounce Pliny? Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, a.k.a Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of ancient Rome. Pliny’s uncle, Pliny the Elder (also a Russian River beer), helped raise and educate him, and later adopted him. Pliny Jr and Pliny Sr witnessed the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, which took Pliny the Elder’s life. While most people pronounce the popular beer “ply-knee,” the “correct” Latin pronunciation is actually “plih-nee” – rhyming with “mini.”  Pliny people are apparently not as particular about proper pronunciation as they are about their pints.

I’m from out of town, where is a good place to stay? And how do I get around after I've had my share of Plinys? Russian River Brewing Company has partnered with a number of local hotels that are extending "Special Younger Rates" during the two-week release: Flamingo HotelSandman HotelCourtyard by Marriott and The Astro Motel in Santa Rosa, Oxford Suites Sonoma County in Rohnert Park, Calderwood Inn and Grape Leaf Inn in Healdsburg, and Hampton Inn and Suites in Windsor. Want to explore Sonoma County post Pliny? Uber and Lyft are available in Santa Rosa.

A bottle of Pliny the Elder
A bottle of Pliny the Elder (Courtesy of Sonoma Magazine)

What if I am pining for Pliny, but am not willing to wait in line for hours? No worries. Pliny the Younger’s close relation, Pliny the Elder, is available year-round — bottled or on tap. If you want to sample more Sonoma County brews, we've got a craft beer weekend itinerary just for you.

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This article originally appeared on Sonoma Magazine's website.

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