The pursuit for great beer has taken me many places. Most recently I took a trip to Philadelphia to meet up with an old college friend in the pursuit of the “Pliny’s”. Russian River Brewing, located in Santa Rosa California, is renowned for its beers. Many of them are considered “World Class” on various beer ranking websites and finding Russian River on the east coast is challenge itself. East of the Mississippi, you can only get Russian River in Pennsylvania. Lucky for me, that is only a 2.5 hour drive.
Two of the finest beers Russian River brews are Pliny the Younger and Pliny the Elder. Currently, these two beers are listed by beeradvocate.com as the second, and third best beers in the world, trailing only Heady Topper by the Alchemist (future post!). Pliny the Younger is only available for a short, few week period every year starting in February which adds a touch of rarity to this Triple IPA.
So, I meet my old college friend, Droo Erickson, a fellow beer enthusiast to partake in this epic quest. After stopping for a quick pint, and promptly missing the only train into Philly for an hour, we decide to drive into town.
Both Pliny’s were available on tap at Monk’s Café, one of the finest beer bars in North America, if not the world as part of a fundraiser for Alex’s Lemonade Stand. After finding a place to park we enthusiastically walk to Monk’s where we are greeted by a line of over 200 people. No seriously, over 200 people were in line to get their hands on Pliny the Younger. Some got in line at 6:00am that day even though pouring didn’t start until 11:30. Not deterred we get in the back of the long line that stretched around the block. After learning there is only one keg of Pliny the Younger we decide our time is better spent getting lunch somewhere and having a few pints, instead of sitting in line for at least an hour. This strategy could have cost us the chance to taste the Younger, but destination adventures surrounding beer should be fun. So, we decide the best option under the circumstances is to cut our losses and head to Nodding Head Brewery, just a few blocks away.
Nodding Head Brewery and Restaurant is a small brewery located in the heart of Center City Philadelphia on the second floor of a high-rise building. Droo and I each had a few pints. We had the Grog, an English Brown Ale which was on cask, Nilbog IPA, and a Biere de Garde, their saison. We both agreed the Grog was by far the best of the three. After a very delicious lunch we decided to walk back to Monk’s to see what the situation was like.
When we arrived back at Monk’s the line was a short 5 people out the door! Promptly inside we happily pay our $15 for an 8 oz glass. Yes, 15$/8oz. Very steep, but given the scarcity we, and over 200 others, were happy to pay. This Triple IPA is unlike any IPA that I have had. This beer was much more sweet than I expected and most likely due to the 11% ABV that accompanies it. It was exceptionally well balanced with a good hop profile. This is a must drink for any beer fan. A few short minutes after getting our Younger’s, the keg kicked. We were exceptionally lucky to have tried it.
After having the Younger, we moved onto the Elder. The Elder is an exceptional Double IPA. It is nowhere near as sweet, as the Younger at only 8% ABV. The hop character of the Elder is much stronger and, to my palate, preferred. This might sound blasphemous but I truly preferred the Elder. Economically the Elder it much more reasonable at $7/pint, but the hop profile was much more aggressive. I wonder if the sweetness of the Younger masked some of its hop aggressiveness.
Turns out there were another handful of exceptional Russian River beers on tap that day at Monk’s. Unfortunately, these will have to wait for another day. Who’s up for a road trip?
Contributed by Wes Knapp