Monday, November 14, 2011

A Tale of Two Elders.

So, I had the chance recently to revisit a beer I hadn't had in a while. A beer that I personally did not think lived up to any of the hype that surrounded it. The beer I am referring to is Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing. Pliny is a Double IPA that clocks in right at 8% ABV, and has a HUGE hop character to support that level of alcohol. The first time I came across this beer, I had it at a friend's house. It was bitter and not your average bitter.  I mean it was super bitter and astringent.  I could taste nothing else.  Needless to say I was for from impressed. Now to be fair, I never looked at the date on the bottle or even bothered to ask how long he had it in his fridge. This will be a huge factor for this beer, as I found out.

My fortune to try Pliny a second time came about because a good friend and co-worker brought back a bottle from Portland to give me for my birthday. It's what we call a White Whale beer here in Boise as we cannot get Pliny in this market.  So it is a treat when we get to have something like this.  As my luck would have Rick Boyd, the owner of Brewforia, just so happened to also have a bottle of Pliny that a generous guest of ours had brought in recently.

So, here I am with 2 Plinys and I start reading the label.  "Respect your elder.  Keep Cold.  Drink Fresh.  Pliny the Elder is a historical figure, don’t make the beer inside this bottle one!  Not a barley wine, do not age!  Age your cheese, not your Pliny!  Respect hops, consume fresh.  If you must, sit on eggs, not on Pliny!  Do not save for a rainy day!  Pliny is for savoring, not for saving!  Consume Pliny fresh or not at all!  Does not improve with age!  Hoppy beers are not meant to be aged!  Keep away from heat!"  Wow!  They are adamant about drinking the Elder while young.  It just so happened that the bottles I had were bottled about 2 months apart, with the newest only having been in the bottle for 12 days.  So we did a side by side, and these are my notes as follows.

Bottled 8/18/11 - Thin head, dissipates quickly.  Golden straw colour.  Nose is sweet malt with floral hops, bread-y undertones.  Taste is malty sweet upfront with a harsh hop astringency that takes over midway through.  Hops dominating now leaning towards too bitter and astringent.  Slight buttery slickness coats the mouth.

Bottled 10/14/11 - Thin head, dissipates quickly.  Golden straw colour.  Nose is slightly sweet with a strong pine-like hop aroma, very bright.  Taste is malty upfront, not sweet though with some bread-y notes.  Hops ease in midway through, with a very nice lingering pine note.  Malt is also lingering leaving the beer much more balanced than previous tastings.  No buttery slickness this time.

So, as you can see there are a lot of similarities.  But, it also shows just how much even just 2 months can change this beer and not for the better either.  Unfortunately the lasting impact from a bad first impression is hard to overcome.  I personally would have not given this beer a second chance if it had not been a gift.  But, I am glad I did as it changed my mind about Pliny.  This is also a lesson to anyone holding on to beer, make sure it's supposed to be aged and then make sure it is properly stored.  Basically, respect your beer and it will respect you.

Would I drink this again, most definitely.  Now does it live up to the near mystical hype that surrounds it?  Well, that's a whole 'nother discussion for a future post.  Until then, keep evolving.

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