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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The New Other Best Beer

I like to do beer reviews from time to time, especially when I discover a new beer that sets my heart a flutter.

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Such was the case recently when I was out to lunch at a beer chain place called Yard House with my father and brothers. I was looking over the comprehensive list of beers on tap, including plenty of favorites and plenty I’d never heard of, when I spotted a chalk board with some special selections. I picked one whose name I liked, and which was local — Ballast Point Sculpin IPA from San Diego. And imagine my surprise when here, in my glass, was one of the best beers I’d ever tasted! More

Pliny, Deconstructed

The third in the author’s three part series about his all-consuming obsession with locating and purchasing at any cost Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Elder beer.

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Driving home with my big game prize — six bottles of Pliny the Elder — I began contemplating the grand ordeal that had been my barely one-month relationship with the beer.

A few days before, I’d called my favorite wine store, which was listed on the Russian River Brewing Company’s distribution list, but where I’d never actually seen Pliny before. I asked the gentleman if they carried Pliny.

Pliny, crowding out the other beers in my fridge

Pliny, crowding out the other beers in my fridge

“We get it sometimes, usually on Tuesdays.” This was a Monday. “The delivery usually comes around 1 p.m. Why don’t you call sometime after that and see if we got any. It sells out fast.” More

Pliny Found

After my woeful post about my growing preoccupation with Pliny the Elder beer and my utter inability to get ahold of any, I was overwhelmed by an outpouring of support and allegiance from family, friends and assorted wellwishers.

“Sometimes Haven has Pliny on tap,” commented friend Joe.

“Have you checked the Green Jug?” friend Tina emailed. “I called and they said they get it usually once a week. But it goes fast.”

“I’m on a mission to find some Pliny for you,” emailed another friend, Nadine, who is president of a company and likes to make things happen.

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My mom, in characteristic told-you-so fashion, offered up these words of encouragement:

“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.” More

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. More