Did that bullshit, click-bait title annoy you into reading this far?
Here, have a couple more:
Why Pliny the Elder is Super Duper Overrated
Is Pliny the Elder the Best Double IPA Ever Made?
Russian River Brewing has very limited distribution for such a popular brewery. This is a problem for people outside of Santa Rosa, California that want their beers. Their Double IPA, Pliny the Elder, in particular has reached a near mythical status, with people all over the country clamoring to get their hands on a bottle of what can seem rarer than unicorn pee.
It can also be a problem for bartenders and bottle shop employees in areas that don’t receive Russian River distribution.
Inevitably this leads to some backlash and calls of “overrated.” The whole thing is rather silly and very subjective, but let’s play along: Are there better Double/Imperial/Extra IPAs that are more readily available?
Let’s start by taking a look at the beer rating sites. Beer Graphs has Pliny the Elder at the top of their Imperial/Double IPA list. The next two on the list are the even scarcer Pliny the Younger, and Bell’s Hopslam, which I certainly can’t get in my area. RateBeer has Younger on top, then Elder, then Alchemist’s Heady Topper, another beer that isn’t distributed to the West. Beer Advocate has Heady Topper on top followed by Younger, then Elder. Untappd has Heady Topper in the lead, with a couple beers I’ve never even seen in person, Lawson’s Double Sunshine and Maine’s Dinner, then Pliny the Elder. Clearly these beers’ ratings benefit from their scarcity. You can really see the hype in action on these rating sites. I’m not sure I could get a top 10 Double IPA from any of those lists at my local bars or bottle shops. So far, the answer to our question is “No, Pliny is the best and you should sell your house and go on a quest to obtain it at all costs.”
I had my doubts about that answer, so I turned to social media. I posed the question on Twitter and got a couple responses:
I can totally get Ballast Point’s Sculpin in my area, and it is delicious, so I think we have our first contender! Ballast Point is the 31st largest craft brewery, so their distribution is much larger than Russian River’s.
Pliny the Elder comes up regularly on my Facebook feed and in the Chico Beer Geeks Facebook group. This usually comes with the usual responses of “overrated” and a few suggestions of alternative Double IPAs. Here are some that have come up just this week:
- Knee Deep’s Hoptologist
- Fall River’s Hexagenia
- The Dudes’ Double Trunk
- Black Diamond’s Rampage
- Knee Deep’s Hop-D-Ranged
- Stone’s Enjoy By
- Fall River’s Widowmaker
- Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid
- Napa Smith’s Hopageddon
- Knee Deep’s Hoparillo
- Ballast Point’s Dorado
- Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum
Some of those are small breweries who probably don’t distribute any more widely than Russian River, so that might not be too helpful to you, but there are a few contenders. Hop Stoopid, Dorado, Enjoy By, and Hoptimum are all tasty, and widely distributed.
Finally, I’ll venture my own opinion. First off, this whole article is probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever written since this is all so subjective. Distribution issues aside, is Pliny the Elder the best Double IPA? The huge variety of IPAs, and the variation in people’s tastes, make this a rather stupid question. I don’t think there is any doubt that Pliny the Elder is a very good beer, but trying to rank it is foolish. That said, here is the IPA ranking I did a couple years ago:
- Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
- Uinta Dubhe Imperial Black IPA
- Lost Coast Indica IPA
- Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale
- Russian River Pliny the Elder
- Bell’s Two Hearted Ale
- Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA
- Rubicon IPA
- Bear Republic Racer 5
- Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
And a few other’s that could make that list but haven’t been mentioned yet:
- Firestone Walker’s Double Jack
- Green Flash’s Palate Wrecker
- Sierra Nevada’s Northern Hemisphere Harvest
- Sierra Nevada’s Southern Hemisphere Harvest
- Sierra Neva’s Hop Hunter
- Moylan’s Hopsickle
For me, Pliny the Elder is an excellent Double IPA. Few IPAs compare for pure tongue tingling hop bitterness. I enjoy Pliny’s hop flavors much more than any of the catty Citra bombs that crowd the tap handles these days. I consider it a top 10 IPA. The scarcity is annoying, but I don’t really sweat it when most of the rest of my top 10, and many other great IPAs, are readily available. I enjoy a trip to Russian River in Santa Rosa, so it’s not like it’s impossible to get a taste of Pliny the Elder. It’s a beautiful area, and the brewery is a fun place aside from being overcrowded. On the other hand, folks in Chico are left to speculate about why we’re left out of the distribution from a brewery that is not really that far away, and I can understand the frustration.
No beer can live up to the hype that Pliny the Elder is afforded, but implications that it isn’t one of the best IPAs ever made are silly and fueled by jealousy. It helped start the Double IPA craze, and it holds up well in a now crowded style. I totally get why beer servers get frustrated by the constant demand for Pliny. They would serve it if they could, but they also have other, arguably better, IPAs available. Pliny the Elder is far from the only excellent Double IPA, so if you can’t get your hands on one calm down and try one of the beers in the lists above.