Sometimes, you just need to celebrate. Sometimes, you just need to celebrate with a special beer. This week was just such a time. Our church was celebrating its first anniversary in Davis, and for me, that was more than a reason to find something special to commemorate the occasion. Surviving the first year as a new church deserves something special, and in a season of immense gratitude, an ordinary beer just wouldn’t do. I needed something unique. Something special. Something epic. As I perused the shelves at my local Nugget, I was looking for inspiration on what I’d put in my fridge for a Sunday evening post-service-at-home celebration. On the top shelf, in that place of beer prominence, sat the classic green and red label of Pliny the Elder. Inspiration had been struck. I hadn’t had Pliny in months, and haven’t seen it on any shelf in quite some time. This was just the sort of epic beer that was required.
I grabbed the lonely bottle that resided up there and paused for a moment, trying to decide if I should grab something else as well. A member of the always-helpful beer/wine staff at the Nugget noticed the bottle of Pliny in my hand, and struck up a conversation about said beer. Apparently when I passed some secret test of being conversant enough about beer he said rather furtively, “I’ve got one bottle left in the back and we have a two bottle limit on Pliny. I’d rather see it go to someone who will appreciate it. Would you like it?” He knew the answer before he asked it, and I’m pretty sure he was already walking to The Back when he did. Fine with me. If one bottle of this epic beer would help me celebrate a momentous occasion, two bottles certainly would.
The Nugget has a strict two bottle policy and you’ll usually only find one or two on the shelves at a time, if any at all. I usually keep my eyes open just for fun to see whose carrying it, and I haven’t seen it grace the shelves of my local Nugget for weeks. The Grad is the only place in Davis to carry Pliny on tap (a true coup, considering how sought after this beer is), but even the Grad is known to run out – as they did when I inquired last week. In other words, when most people who are familiar with Pliny the Elder see it on a shelf somewhere, they buy it. When they see it on tap, they order it. It’s just got that kind of a reputation.
Pliny the Elder is a bit like an Apple product of the beer world. It has a cult following that is surpassed by few, if any, other beers. People are looking for this beer all over the place, and if its found, it is often considered a sort of privilege. It is considered by many to be the Holy Grail of IPA’s – a true hopheads delight. Some cynically observe (PC users, I don’t doubt) that Pliny is the product of great marketing – like Apple at the release of a new product, creating a buzz by refusing to amp up production. The cynics will tell you that the main appeal of Pliny in the beer world is the difficulty in finding it. The problem with that perspective, however, is that it doesn’t take into account the genius of the beer itself.
Like, I’d argue, the Apple products I own, Pliny the Elder lives up to its hype. Be prepared for a floral explosion when you first put your nose in for a sniff. (Note: because of the Double IPA style, Pliny the Elder is best served in a tulip or snifter glass or even an oversized wine glass. That open bowl will really release the nose of a beer as aromatic as Pliny.) This beer is on every IPA fan’s list of beers to try for good reason – it’s simply chalk full of hops yet remarkably smooth, a delicate balance of malts that stay in the background for support, yet give way to the uproar of floral hoppiness. It is smooth, almost oily, and though a high alcohol content, it remains drinkable throughout. Meant to be consumed fresh, it has a bottled date right on the label and I was drinking this beer less than 2 weeks after it was bottled. This beer is quite simply one of the best double IPA’s you’ll ever drink. Are there others just as good out there? Absolutely, and most of them are much easier to find. But don’t let the cynics drag you down – this beer is truly phenomenal and worthy of its reputation. It is also worthy of being a beer you go out and find when you need to celebrate.