Two of my favorite aspects of craft beer are variety and fresh hoppy IPAs. Living in Southern California I get a lot of both. I’m able to go to my almost any grocery store and be able to pick up a reasonably priced six pack of local craft beer. I’ve gotten spoiled and won’t buy any IPAs that are over 30 days old because I know that fresh beer is constantly being delivered to local bottle shops.
Pliny the Elder, one of my favorite double IPAs, is something that I’ve become very accustomed to finding fresh over the last few years. It’s not so common to find locally that I’m able to pick one up whenever I want, but I don’t usually go more than a couple weeks without being able to find one. I feel that lately Pliny the Elder and myself have a real love-hate relationship. This amazing beer covers my love for fresh hoppy IPAs, but when it comes to my beer budget ends up cutting into drinking a variety of beers.
A few years ago I would spend my lunch ours driving around to pick up Pliny the Elder at a few shops by my office. I knew who got deliveries from Russian River on what day so I knew when to stop by each place. There were 3 shops that were very dependable, and one that would hide the bottles for their favorite customers. I would follow the shops on Instagram and they would usually post as soon as they got Pliny in. This would give you a couple hour window to get there before they sold out. Most of the time there would be a one bottle limit, and I would purchase one and move on to the next spot, or be happy that I got one bottle. I never played games and went to a different cashier or came back later that day. My goal was to get a few bottles of Pliny to drink at home with my friends, not to hoard it and keep it away from other people. I don’t recall a time where I had more than 4 bottles in a week, I wasn’t trying to go overboard with it. Most beer trades that I’ve done(which aren’t a lot) have always consisted of me sending a bottle or two of Pliny the elder out)
As new double IPAs started coming out from local breweries I realized that they might not all be as good as Pliny, but some were pretty damn close, and a few are arguably better. Now when picking out which beers to buy for the weekend there were more factors to consider. Do I drive around trying to get some Pliny before it sells out? Do I just make one stop and pick up a some new Double IPAs that I’ve never had but might be as good and only make one stop?
Lately I’ve started to pick up more variety. I don’t plan my beer runs around Russian River’s delivery schedule anymore. I don’t only go buy beer when I see Pliny posted somewhere local. Breweries from San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles counties are putting out such stellar beer that over time Pliny doesn’t stand out as much as it had in the past. I feel that Russian River set the bar when they gave the craft beer community Pliny the Elder, but brewers have stepped up their game and put out products that compete, and sometimes beet Pliny. Some of the beers are harder to find, or only brewed once, but if I’m hunting beers I’d rather spend that time trying something new.
When it comes to picking a beer to be a replacement for Pliny the Elder its always going to come down to personal taste, and I’m not saying these beers have similar tastes, these are just some of the beers that I’m always happy to buy when I come across them. One of the easier ones to find is Stone’s Enjoy by IPA. This was a little harder to find when it was first released, but now can be found at grocery stores and Costco, which is a huge plus for the consumers. Now that Alpine Brewing Company owned by Green Flash, they are getting a much wider distribution than they had in the past. Nelson and Duet are two of my favorite IPAs from Alpine, and I would be just as happy with one of them as I would with a Pliny. Ironically these two beers used to be even harder to than Pliny the Elder. Noble Ale Works in Anaheim has their “Shower Series” . This is a series of single hop double IPAs, all of them are great beers, your personal opinion on specific hops may have you preferring certain releases over others. I’m sure people are wondering why I wouldn’t mention Heady Topper as a go to instead of Pliny, well that might be a better beer, but for me its even harder to get ahold of(not that all the other beers I listed are that easy to find).
I said I have a love-hate relationship with Pliny the Elder and so far it sounds like the I only have love for it, which is true when it comes to the flavor and the beer itself. The hate I have is for the hype that is around it. This is a beer that usually sells out within hours of hitting the shelves at most the bottle shops I go to. There are other beers that this happens with, but most of those beers are limited release beers or beers that are seasonal or annual. Pliny is brewed and bottled year round by Russian River, and it still flies off the shelves. Beer Advocate has this listed as number 4 for its Beers of Fame. This means that it has been that highly rated for over 10 years. That says a lot about the beer, and that there is a reason for so much hype around it. The problem that I run into is every time anytime I see a bottle of Pliny the Elder on a shelf I have to buy it. I know that if I don’t buy it I may not see one for a couple of weeks, and I’d need to make sure I’m there fast enough to get it next time before it sells out. This ends up cutting into the variety of beers I end up buying. Craft beer is expensive, and I at least attempt to try to keep within a budget when it comes to buying it.
In the end Pliny the Elder is a great beer. It’s not the easiest beer to find, but it’s also not a rare whale. I should consider myself lucky to be able to get my hands on it as often as I’m able to and not complain that I feel forced into buying a week old bottle of Pliny the Elder just because it will sell out that same day. I should also consider myself lucky enough to live in an area with so much great craft beer, and lots of great IPAs.
What are your favorite alternatives for Pliny the Elder or Heady Topper?