Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Russian River - Pliny the Elder Review

Brewery: Russian River (CA)
Style: Imperial IPA
ABV: 8%
Grade: A

It always bothers me when brewers describe their IPAs as balanced, because that's usually code for "we don't actually like hops, so this IPA is way too malty and sweet." But with Pliny, I can't really think of a better word to describe it — so crisp, so clean, with hop and malt flavors that dance across your tongue as sensual as a ballerina, as graceful as a gazelle, as savory as an angel's French kiss. This beer is balanced, in the sense that it seems to disolve in your mouth as pure flavor — not slamming into your tastebuds the way many, more extreme IPAs might, but actually lingering for a long time after it's gone down and seeming to deliver most of its flavor in the aftertaste.

There are all sorts of things Pliny the Elder has to achieve in order to do this: an extremely light, crisp mouthfeel; a level of depth and complexity that can be difficult when working with so many ingredients; and the patience and subdued nature not to bum-rush your tongue. The best way I can think to describe this is that it tastes as if pure hops themselves were fermented — hopwine or something. It can be difficult to pick out any individual hop flavors — other than your expected West-coast hop profile, with lots of floral and citrus notes, though not nearly as grapefruity as some — which is not a bad thing in this case. The hops work in unison maybe better than any other IPA I've had, with nary a single moment of harshness. Not that there's anything wrong with harsh, biting IPAs, but Pliny the Elder isn't that, at all. In order to properly describe this beer, I was forced to coin the word "blendyness." You'll understand once you try it.

Now, I never want to oversell a beer. Pliny the Elder isn't that much better than the second-best IPA you've ever had. So when I say it's probably the best IPA I've ever had, take that with a grain of salt. (Not literally. Then you'd be drinking a gose.) Pliny still tastes like an IPA, and fairly similar to some other good west-coast IPAs. It just happens to be a perfectly executed IPA.

Availability: I'm way out of this beer's distribution range, but from what I understand, it's a semi-regular release that's semi-difficult but not impossible to acquire in California. The price is very reasonable, which helps. I was able to acquire some bottles for a tasting-with-friends courtesy of the inestimable Mr. Travis Thomas, whose generosity and love of beer exceeds that of Jesus Christ Himself.

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