Every year, beer drinkers get in line outside Russian River Brewing Company for Pliny the Younger. The lines continue for 2 weeks and are a constant topic of conversation for locals. The question that always follows is “Is it worth it?” This is a difficult question to answer unless, of course, you’ve actually experienced a Pliny the Younger release day. Here’s a look at the release day and also on the two week stretch during which Pliny the Younger is available to patrons of the Downtown Santa Rosa pub.
Pliny the Younger is released on the first Friday of February every year, but the event has now officially started on Thursday Night. In years past the first person in line had stories of waking up in the wee hours of the morning, a long car ride would follow, capped by a pre-dawn arrival at the brewery. This year, such lackadaisical planning would get you into the pub during the first wave of entries, but the front of line required some thing more. This year’s lucky beer drinkers arrived at the pub Thursday Night and, while the pub was still open for the evening, set down their chairs and began waiting. It took the insistence of pub staff for them to at least come inside and enjoy themselves before a long night on 4th Street.
Come dawn, the line for Pliny the Younger stretched to the corner. Individuals who had arrived any later than 5 am would not be getting into the pub until after noon at the earliest. Still, the line grew. At the time of the doors opening inside the pub, the line had stretched down 4th Street, around the corner onto D Street and again around the corner onto 5th Street.
Inside, the atmosphere is one of excitement and a touch of chaos. Surprisingly, talking to staff, the Pliny the Younger crowds, while constant and frenzied, can be a bit easier to handle than some weekends at the popular brewery. Staff anticipates the crowds and with a better handle on crowd control, not to mention a slightly limited menu for the kitchen, the regular presence of a full house becomes more manageable.
I am sure many are wondering about Pliny the Younger the beer. Pliny the Younger pours as you would expect a hoppy IPA to pour, golden amber with a thin white head. The aroma of hops jumps from the beer and hits the palate head on. Where Pliny the Younger climbs to the top of many beer drinker’s “best of” lists is in the impression. As alcohol and hop additions increase, beer can become more aggressive, but Pliny the Younger maintains a very easy-to-drink profile, sometimes tasting and drinking more like a pale ale than a Triple IPA. Tropical fruit flavors come out of the hops and just a touch of resinous pine sap bitterness provide a sharp finish.
Again, the question is asked, is the beer worth the wait? I think this question misses the point in many ways. We’ve seen American consumers wait for a variety of items, many of which have longer lifespans than 2-weeks. Concert tickets, cell phones, holidays shopping deals have all inspired lines of dedicated consumers. Still, the culmination of the wait is a glass of beer you will not be able to take home, but the event itself is one that will stay with you forever.
Inside the pub, everyone is excited about Pliny the Younger. Everyone is excited about beer. At the crowded bar, strangers become instant friends over a shared experience. Even if entering the pub by yourself, striking up a conversation, joining in at pub games, the common interests make for a welcoming experience. This is where the value can come from for those who wait in line, not to mention the actual wait, spending time with friends and passing the time while the anticipation builds.
Over the following 13 days, the line at the pub never fully went away. The first Saturday saw the longest line with the end of the line coming back around the block to 4th Street. Girl Scout troops set up across the street at Barnes an Noble and worked the line selling cookies on weekends. Rumor has it that by the final Thursday, lines did begin to disappear with some reporting a 10 minute wait to enter the pub in the early afternoon.
Still, Pliny the Younger is more than just a boon to the downtown area. Occidental’s Barley and Hops as well as Santa Rosa’s Willie Bird’s tapped their own kegs of Pliny the Younger to staggering crowds that thirstily drank all the coveted beer in record times.
And so another year of Pliny the Younger comes to an end. Did you get a chance to taste it? Did you visit the pub or other establishments or festivals around the Bay Area?
See more photos from Pliny the Younger Release on Brewed For Thought’s Facebook page. Visit the page, like Brewed For Thought and share the photos with your friends.