Is Pliny the Younger Worth the Wait?

Waiting for Pliny the Younger at Haven Gastropub in Pasadena
Waiting for Pliny the Younger at Haven Gastropub in Pasadena Photo: Tatiana Arbogast

Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Younger, a pricey-to-produce triple IPA that sees a limited once-a-year release before being quickly quaffed by beer nuts, splashed into SoCal this week. Curious about the annual hype and the endless raves that have vaulted this labor-intensive brew to the number one spot on Beer Advocate, driving more and more fans to endure long waits and lottery systems, we headed to Haven Gastropub + Brewery in Pasadena to take in the scene last night as Pliny the Younger was tapped and served for the first-time.

To get a better sense of what the beer had to say and whether the final product lives up to all the hype, we spoke with six strangers at the bar to uncover what their expectations had been and what they thought once they’d finally put The Younger to their lips. What did Grub Street’s new drinking buddies have to say about the coveted brew?

Ann and Wayne, Manhattan Beach (First customers in line):
Ann: “It’s really nice. I’m not normally an IPA person, but it’s the most amazing IPA I’ve ever had. We also had it on Saturday night at The Anthill Pub at UC Irvine. It’s not super, super hoppy and I think that’s usually why I’m not a big IPA person. It’s that bitter thing that really kind of kicks you in the teeth in the end. [Younger] is just really smooth, there’s a little bit of sweetness and it’s just really nice. “

Wayne: “I’ve been trying to get her to drink IPAs for a while…and she will not. So I said she’s got to try this IPA, it’s a little different, a little more balanced. It’s not overly hoppy; it’s just balanced with nice flavors. It’s always been popular. When they release it in Santa Rosa, it’s easily a three hour wait. This year, when it became number one on Beer Advocate, it became a five-hour wait. So we figured we’d have better luck trying it out here.”

Jake, Glendale:
“A friend who tried it the other week said it was not as balanced as expected and kind of dogged the beer a little bit. I trust his opinion…but coming out here myself and trying it for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised. The thing that strikes me immediately is the balance. I’m used to more of a dry, piny hop; that’s my favorite.This has a nice head to it, it’s a little sweet. It’s sweeter than I expected, but the balance is amazing for a triple IPA. When you go into a beer knowing that it’s technically rated the best in the world, there’s going to be some hype to it. I mean, waiting in line to try an 8-ounce beer, that definitely adds to it. I only waited a half-an-hour, but really I waited a year.”

Pliny the Younger (foreground), with family
Pliny the Younger (foreground), with family Photo: Tatiana Arbogast

Mark, Northridge
“I’m a beer connoisseur and this is my first time trying The Younger. I’ve had a lot of good stuff and enjoy hoppy stuff, but I don’t know…it just didn’t live up to the hype. For hops, [Firestone’s] Double Jack and Pliny the Elder are very good, and they say how The Younger is so much better. It’s a solid brew, don’t get me wrong, I would definitely buy it again if I had the opportunity to buy it and I would [wait in line again] to try it again as I like to try different stuff. It’s good. It’s definitely top quality, but as far as saying it’s so much better than all the other stuff, I just don’t know…To me, there’s too much hype behind it.”

Dominick, Pasadena:
“It’s a great beer. I wouldn’t say it’s the best beer ever. It really tastes a lot like Pliny the Elder, with a bit of a smoother finish and a little less bite. You can just taste the higher quality and tell the difference in how they brew it. There’s plenty of great beers out there now that the craft beer industry has really taken off, so it’s not like you can’t find a beer that’s comparable. But since you know how much work and passion Russian River puts into their beers, it’s worth waiting 45 minutes to go and taste. If they really wanted to charge you what it cost to brew it, it’d be a lot more expensive, so it’s really a labor of love type thing. But when you can find it somewhere local and you don’t have to wait too long, it’s definitely worth the wait. Now I’m at the point where I wouldn’t travel farther than if it’s not on my way home. The craft beer industry has blown up to the point where the lines of people are getting kind of ridiculous.”

Kyle, La Habra
“I saw it on Beer Advocate and came out here. I didn’t really feel too much hype. I just read it online and came out. I knew it was a triple IPA, so I was expecting intense hops, and that’s pretty much it. I’d never tried The Elder, so I didn’t know what to compare it to. It is good, it tasted similar to The Edler, but just more intense I guess. It’s good.”

We also chatted with Haven co-owner Will Dee about the challenges in procuring a stash of Pliny and what it means for the bar owner.

Wil Dee, Co-Owner:
“There was a two-year waiting list [for The Younger] when we opened in Orange and we kind of got it in a six-month time frame, versus having to wait out that two years, through partnerships that we built, communicating with Russian River, shooting some emails, meeting them personally at the 28th Anniversary of the Homebrew Festival. We built up that rapport and through them, have been able to get some of their core beers.

Showing that we serve the beer correctly, that our staff is knowledgeable and knows about the beer, and that our system’s good. That’s what they look for, they want to know that their beer is represented correctly…You can ask [for it] all you want, but it’s going to basically fall on deaf ears somewhat. Now that we have it, it’s kind of an allocation; we’ll get it next year. Once you get it, you’re jumped into the gang, so it works out.”

Is Pliny the Younger Worth the Wait?