Plinyland®

While in Sonoma County recently visiting my mother for the holidays, my surrogate dad, adventure pal and winemaker extraordinaire Bruce Patch invited me to go pick up some samples at the local wine storage facility in Windsor.

“It’s right across the street from the new Russian River Brewing Company brewery!” he announced excitedly.

Beer aficionados and IPA nuts will recognize Russian River as the brewer of the difficult-to-source double-IPA-of-legend, Pliny the Elder, of which I have done several posts in my own Quixotic pursuit of.

The wine storage facility was impressive enough — a vast warehouse of towering columns of wine cases between which nimble forklifts navigated down shadowed alleys (a decidedly Manhattan-like scene). But it was nothing compared to the brewery across the street.

Bruce in the warehouse

“I’ve never seen it so crowded,” Bruce announced as we loaded the wine samples in the trunk and crossed the road to the brewery. The lot was massive — I looked about for letters on elevated posts to orient where we were parking (“We’re in the ‘E’ section!”), and wondered if we would be able to catch a complimentary shuttle to the tasting room.

The building itself stretched the equivalent of a city block, if this was a city rather than a semi-rural area just north of the Santa Rosa airport. Inside, the tasting room/restaurant was bustling, people milling about waiting for their table.

Bruce entering Plinyland®

Bruce and I lucked into a couple seats at the bar, our preferred parking place anyway. A couple woodsy-looking northerners enjoying their pints were seated to our left, and gazed at us curiously.

“Your first time here?” the one closest me said. “Yep, I haven’t been to Russian River since it was located at Korbel,” referencing the brewery’s first location at the Korbel sparkling wine facility on the actual river for which the brewery was named.

Selfie with new friends at the bar

“Oh, that was a long time ago!”

I ordered a Pliny. Accustomed as I am to having to hunt for Pliny, which is strictly allocated resulting in many southern California stores selling out quickly and only allowing one bottle per customer, it felt thrilling to simply be able to order one on tap. And another, if I so chose.

My Pliny

My lunch decision proved more difficult — my blood pressure rising as the bartender kept passing by, glancing at my menu and me each time. I eventually settled for the pork schnitzel sandwich (over the burger, open-faced pastrami or fish & chips), which seemed like a solid contender to stand up to the forceful hoppiness of the Pliny.

I attempted to engage Bruce in conversation, but my new friends to the left were feeling chatty and had a variety of questions — where did I come from, what was I doing in Windsor, what sort of beer did I like best, etc. When they finally got up to leave, one of them said, “Well, great to see you again!” which left me wondering if perhaps they had enjoyed one pour too many.

Pork schnitzel sandwich

Our meal and beers finished, we headed for the gift shop. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at resisting the irresistible urge to purchase souvenirs when I am in distant places that offer up a buffet of souvenirs. I held up a “Pliny the Elder” shirt, it looked like it might be a nice fit, I felt like I just had to have it. And then projected forward to seeing it on a hanger in the closet next to the t-shirt from Venice with the lion on it, and thinking, “Why did I buy that??” I opted instead for a memento I knew I would use — a case of Pliny.

I was reminded of an interaction I had with a merchant at The Wine House in West L.A. when I was purchasing some Pliny from them several years ago:

“It’s amazing what they’ve done with this beer,” he said, “It’s not like wine where you get a certain harvest, you produce what you can, and when it’s gone it’s gone. They can make as much Pliny as they want, but they don’t.”

“You mean,” I said, grasping the implication for the first time, “They’ve created a false scarcity?”

His face lit up. “You said it perfectly! They’ve created a false scarcity!”

There was no scarcity at the Russian River Brewing Company — Pliny was pouring unlimited from the taps in the tasting room, and there were cases galore of Pliny to purchase in the gift shop. And somehow, I needed it just a little bit less than I had in the past.

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There Are Hipsters in the San Gabriel Valley

I don’t want anyone to be alarmed, but there are hipsters in the San Gabriel Valley.

They’re hard to escape these days — bearded, tattooed young guys wearing Vans and cool t-shirts emblazoned with logos for Nashville honkytonks, their hair either coiled up in a man bun or shaved off entirely, accompanied by beautiful tattooed braless young women of often indeterminate Hispaneuroasian ethnicity.

Jaydyn, Willa and their dim sum

San Gabriel Valley is as unhip as it gets. Why, then, are the hipsters there? I partially blame it on Jonathan Gold, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning Angeleno food critic. Jonathan Gold was unhip, too — a portly, balding guy with suspenders and a squeaky voice. But he wrote with the music and flourish of a poet as he gleefully took the road less travelled to L.A.’s grittier corners in pursuit of a great meal. He was, as it turns out, was a muse for L.A.’s hip and intelligentsia, who could boast amongst one another of the most recent Jonathan Gold treasure they’d frequented. More

Messengers of the Mezcal Gospel

While I am a connoisseur of a variety of fine spirits, it is the artisanal Mexican elixir, mezcal, that I drink the most. While this is in part due to my close association with Del Maguey, the global leader in the category, it is also just because I like mezcal better than, say, tequila or rum. And because I have visited Oaxaca, traveled rutted dirt mountain roads to the poor Zapotec villages where the spirit is made, and have watched them roasting and mashing the agave hearts, mixing them with mountain stream water, and nurturing them into the intoxicating distillate, while chickens and goats forage nearby.

Espadin fields near San Luis del Rio in rural Oaxaca

While Del Maguey is 90% of the mezcal I drink (close associations have their benefits), I enjoy trying different brands when the opportunity presents itself. And I like a good David and Goliath story. So when I received an email from venerated West Los Angeles wine institution The Wine House singing the praises of a new mezcal called Paquera, I was intrigued. More

A Chili Cook Off of One

Every early November somethingth, our cozy little canyon community has a chili cook off and swap meet. I have participated in the cook off the past four or five years. It’s always the same group of us — Tom, who brings his homemade wine and last year forgot to put his truck in park and we all watched as it rolled off the cliff; my pal Dan, who won last year but drank too much during the morning and was passed out in his van when his name was announced; the young duo of Julian and Trevor, who object whenever I don’t win. Nobody cares much who wins or loses, it’s a lot of fun.

Winner!

I’ve never won. I came in second a couple years back. “Dude, you got robbed!” said Julian and Trevor, who won that year. More

The Evacu-cation

The first sign that anything might be wrong came on a Thursday afternoon, driving my son Flynn to his baseball practice in Agoura Hills.

As we wound through Malibu Canyon, we spotted a large plume of smoke rising over approximately exactly where the baseball field was. “Uh, Dad…” said Flynn, pointing. We arrived to discover the fire was a ridge away, so practice proceeded as planned.

The next day we could see the smoke from our home, rising like a mushroom cloud over our drought-dry mountains. I was at an afternoon birthday party for a 7-year-old drinking wine when my wife pulled up unexpectedly. “Mandatory evacuation,” she said. She was on her way to our friends Bob and Shoba’s house in the San Fernando Valley. I went back home, gathered a few more photo albums and the important artworks, and descended on the valley to join her. More

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