In Search of Pliny the Elder

While in Sonoma for a holiday visit, my mother said, “I was just telling Leslie about Pliny the Elder. She didn’t know about it.”

Pliny the Elder, the guy

Pliny the Elder, the guy

According to Wikipedia, Pliny the Elder was a Roman author, naturalist and philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire and close personal friend to emperor Vespasian. Why my mother was telling my wife about Pliny the Elder was lost on me. Until she said, “It won best beer in the world!” And I realized she was talking about beer.

Pliny the Elder, the beer, is brewed by the Russian River Brewing Company, which is part of Korbel sparkling wines — which is located just about a long javelin’s throw from my mom’s house. I’d been there years before, but I guess I didn’t know about “it” either.

Pliny the Elder, the beer

Pliny the Elder, the beer

“What do you mean, it won best beer in the world!?” I said skeptically. “Did the whole world vote on it?”

“I don’t know who decided it,” my mom scoffed at me. “Probably some beer people. I’m going to have some. Would you like some?” Never one to turn down the best anything in the world, I nodded. She poured it into small, elegant beer glasses and handed me one. From the first taste, I realized that this may in fact have been the best beer in the world. It had a sunlight golden color, the lightness and smoothness of a Belgian Trappist ale with the hoppy complexity of the best craft-brewed pale ales. I was smitten.

She had a few more bottles in the fridge, which I considered stealing. But then I thought, “Nah, I’ll find some before we go home.” Thus began my Ulyssean search for Pliny the Elder.

The first stop was my favorite market in Sonoma County, Andy’s, where they had a large and impressive display of our family wine, Wine Guerrilla, but no Pliny. I emailed my mom to find out where to get it, and she said it was only sold at the brewery. Not trusting her (she is my mother, after all), I checked the Russian River Brewing Company’s website on my phone, and found a list of places where their beers could be purchased, both in Northern and Southern California.

Since we would be in San Francisco first, I decided to try there. It might be nice to have a couple bottles in the hotel room, I thought. “Come on kids,” I said, “Let’s go for a walk!” Thinking perhaps we were going to the skating rink or to see some more holiday displays, they were disappointed to find out our destination was an upscale liquor store.

“Where’s the beer?” I said to the helpful young gentleman inside the store called Cask. “Well,” he replied, leading me toward the rear of the store, “We only carry one brand — Russian River Brewing Company.” Bingo! I thought. But then he continued: “Some guy came in and bought all the Pliny the Elder. But we’ve got a couple others.”

Later that afternoon, while the baby was napping, I asked my wife, “Hey babe, do you mind if I go out for 15 or 20 minutes to check something out?” She was already hip to my fledgling obsession. “Pliny?” she sighed, and I nodded. I visited four or five more boutiquey, well-stocked wine and beer shops near Union Square, and found nothing. I was beginning to get nervous. “Surely,” I thought to myself, “I’ll be able to find some somewhere in Southern California.

Fast forward to Christmas eve: Driving to my wife’s sister’s house for a holiday celebration with her family in the suburb of Thousand Oaks, I was excited to learn we were running early. Armed with my iPhone list of places that carried Russian River, I gingerly posed my idea to use up a few minutes. There was a store nearby that might have Pliny. “Sure,” my wife said as we headed toward Total Wine.

I brought Flynn into the store with me. Inside was a wonderland of microbrew and craft beers. This was it, I thought! Surely somewhere amongst these aisles and aisles of beer was the prize. “What’re we looking for again, Dad?” Flynn said. “Pliny the Elder,” I replied. “Do you think we should ask someone?” A great idea. I saw a sales associate and approached him to ask. But before I could, a grungy looking kid got there first. “Do you guys carry any of the Russian River beers?” the kid said. “Yeah,” the sales associate replied. “The Pliny is sold out. But we’ve got a couple others.”

My heart sank. My search was beginning to appear fruitless. My last hope would be some of L.A.’s best stocked markets and wine shops.

“Dad,” Flynn said as he ventured out running errands with me. “How many liquor stores are we going to today?” Like everyone else in the family, he was growing weary of my preoccupation. “Well,” I replied, “hopefully we’ll have luck at the first one. But if not, maybe two or three.” We wound up going to six different stores, and left the last empty handed. “I’m sorry you didn’t find Pliny,” Flynn said in a comforting voice, rubbing my shoulder.

I had utterly and totally given up. I loaded up on Anchor Steam, Belgian Brewing Company’s seasonal “Snow Day” beer and my previous true love, Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale. I don’t care about you, Pliny, I said to myself. I don’t need you.

Perhaps my mother will read this, take mercy on me and send me some. I guess the moral of the story is, you should always trust your mother.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joe A.
    Jan 08, 2013 @ 00:54:43

    Sometimes, Haven has Pliny on tap. http://www.havengastropub.com/ There’s a Pasadena location open now. If you like to travel, Stone sometimes has it in their tasting room in San Diego. If all else fails, I’ve found Bootlegger’s (http://www.bootleggersbrewery.com) Knuckle Sandwich to be a close substitution. Beer!!

    Reply

  2. Kathy Rautureau
    Jan 08, 2013 @ 01:16:53

    Yes, you should always trust your mother! Lesson well learned!

    Reply

  3. Mom
    Jan 08, 2013 @ 04:39:05

    Okay, here’s Mom. I found 3 on the door of the fridge when I was on a cleaning binge today. I would have happily sent you off with a couple of them but you still seem to be in a rebellious stage where you think you know more than I do. Nobody made a fuss when I insisted you try it here. We have had people in N. Carolina beg us to send them some but I got the ‘sure, sure’ look from you when I
    tried to make a case for it. There was a page in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat about them today. They no longer ship to Washington due to lack of inventory.
    Thanks Kathy for the vote of confidence. We go to Seattle. Next time we will go to your and Thierry’ s [sp?]restaurant

    Reply

  4. Anna Z
    Jan 08, 2013 @ 07:17:55

    Flynn is so sweet! (reminds me of his attempt to comfort me after my chicken debacle..). Next time go into town! Been to the pub in Santa Rosa. You can even buy a t-shirt. Justy’s a fan of Pliny, too….I’ll ask him of a local source.

    Reply

  5. The Kat and The Falling Leaves
    Jan 08, 2013 @ 18:37:05

    What a great story 🙂

    Reply

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