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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Oktoberfest Eve (Sort of…)

My pal, Steve, was in Luxembourg — close to the German border — a couple weeks ago, and sent me a photo of the very large beer he was drinking.

“I’m celebrating Oktoberfest!” he said.

“It’s only mid-September!” I pointed out.

Don Schneider and his boar beard

Don Schneider and his boar beard

“I guess they start early.”

So it seemed reasonable when our pals, the Schneiders, invited us for an Oktoberfest dinner on September 28. More

It Was a Good Day

The day started off well enough, an early lunch with my brothers — a couple tall Molsons on tap and a minuscule serving of seared ahi at Outback Steakhouse.

And from there, the sky was the limit.

Mike admires his Chichicapa cerveza

Mike admires his Chichicapa cerveza

Waiting around in the parking lot of my kids’ school for the bell to ring, I got a call. It was my pal Michael:

“Dude, what’re you doing?” More

Matsutake Memories

Fungi is a fickle kingdom. Predicting where and when a particular mushroom will grow is like betting on the stock market.

Willa with amanita coccora — the only edible mushroom in a family of deadly beauties

Willa with amanita coccora — the only edible mushroom in a family of deadly beauties

Some mushrooms appear only in years with late soaking rain, others only when there is an early rain followed by a dry spell followed by another rain. Some mushrooms only grow where there is something dead under the dirt, while others cannibalize nearby poisonous mushrooms, transforming them into prized edibles. More

A Fine Day for Chili

Out on my morning run, I saw a couple deer mating. And I knew it was going to be a good day.

For it was the Saturday of the Topanga Chili Cook-Off and Swap Meet, which my friend Nonie — who is on the board of the Community Club — had coerced me into entering.

Tom and his chili paddle

Tom and his chili paddle

Last year, I was a judge alongside my pal Ernie. There were two chilis entered, neither of which were very good. “I think the best chili was the one they were selling at the concession,” I said to the gal running the event.

“But that came from a can!” she protested. More

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