GREETINGS, BEER AFICIONADOS. The holidays are over, and I’ve been on two vacations since the beginning of 2018. Now it’s time to bring you some beer wisdom. Please read responsibly!
I haven’t brewed since October (Lights Out, black IPA). I was too busy with our outdoor fireplace project and then the holidays. In mid-January, we went to Italy and Spain for a couple of weeks, then the first week of February I went to Santa Rosa to score some Pliny the Younger. I’m hoping to brew in the next couple of weeks. I really need to get going because I’m running out of beer at Mac’s (only 4 beers on tap right now, with two taps empty and a third nearly empty).
Ok, so what about Italy and Spain? Sheila and I were on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, with stops in Italian and Spanish ports of call. We were travelling with Rose, Don and Donna Evans.
Well, the beer scene there leaves much to be desired. There is a well known craft brewery in Northern Italy (Baladin), but we never made it to the north, and I was unable to find Baladin anywhere in Tuscany, Rome, or Southern Italy, including Sicily. The beer was pretty much limited to Peroni and Birra Moretti (both are so-so, uninspiring lagers available stateside; don’t waste your time – I didn’t). Heineken was also widely available. Now if you’re looking for wine, that’s a different story – it’s everywhere, and it’s very good. I much prefer red wine, with it’s more complex and robust flavor, to white, and I certainly had my fill of it in Italy.
On board the ship, they had a great black lager (Köstritzer, 4.8% ABV), a porter (Carnegie Porter by Carlsberg, 5.5% ABV) and a Belgian double amber (Grimbergen Dubbel Ambree, 6.5% ABV), so I was able to have some good beer for part of the trip. My go to beer on board was Köstritzer, but I also drank the Carnegie Porter on occasion. Don (my brother-in-law) and Sheila drank the Grimbergen almost exclusively (it was good, but not my style). Donna stuck with a light colored draft Pilsner (I believe it was Carlsberg). Note: Donna – we gotta coach you up and expand your horizons; there’s a lot of good beer out there waiting for you to sample.
In Spain the beer situation is a little better, but still underwhelming. San Miguel brews some decent beer, but doesn’t offer much variety. In Madrid I drank some Cruzcampo Gran Reserva. It was a good (not great) amber lager that had a little more flavor than a typical pilsner. I had never heard of Cruzcampo, but have since learned it is Spain’s largest beer producer. This Gran Reserva was the best beer I found in Spain, but I don’t plan on looking for it at home.
Now let’s talk about some real beer. On February 5, 2018, I left home on a pilgrimage to Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, California, in order to secure some Pliny the Younger – a triple IPA. This beer is consistently rated among the top five beers in the world. It is brewed once a year and is served on tap only, beginning the first Friday of February and for two weeks thereafter. There are a VERY few locations in Orange County where this wonderful beer is also available during this time, but the waiting lines are prohibitively long, so I have never tried.
If you want to get some PTY at Russian River, plan on going to the brewery during those two weeks in February, and waiting in line for a couple of hours (or up to 6 – 8 hours on the weekend). I went with my father, Bob Waddell, and met my uncle, Kevin McCaffrey (from Seattle, WA), and cousin, Jordan Schiller, at Russian River Brewing.
Going to Santa Rosa and drinking PTY was a bucket list thing for me, and is something Uncle Kevin and I have been talking about doing for 3 – 4 years now. After driving over 500 miles and waiting in line for more than two hours, I must say the reward (three ½ pints of PTY) was worth all the effort, and I will definitely do it again in the future. Pliny the Younger is marvelous!
If you’re an IPA lover and have ever had Pliny the Elder, you know how good it is and how loaded it is with juicy citrus flavors. We shared a pint of Pliny the Elder to taste alongside our Pliny the Younger. Although PTE itself is a hard and hoppy punch in the mouth, it tasted washed out compared to PTY. I say that to say this: If you like Pliny the Elder, you’re gonna love Pliny the Younger. You just gotta have some. It’s hoppy and bitter, but has a huge malt foundation that sweetens the bitterness and creates a very complex IPA. The hoppiness is bigger than PTE, but I would also say it’s more balanced due to the increased maltiness. The body is also heavier, thicker and smoother, lending additional complexity to the brew. The ABV is 10.25%, compared to PTE, which is 8.0%. The higher alcohol is not prevelant in the flavor, but is definitely warming in the throat and thus is more noticeable. If you’re and IPA lover, this beer is a dream come true.
After heaping all this praise on Pliny the Younger, in all fairness, I must ask myself, “Do I rate it so highly due to the ‘mystique’ surrounding the beer?”
- Is it really that good, or am I responding to all the hype, the difficulty obtaining it, and the time and effort involved?
- Would I rate it so highly if it was easy to obtain (like, for example, Lagunitas IPA)?
- If I didn’t know that it is annually rated among the greatest beers in the world, would I still gush over it?
Of course my answer is only speculation, but I believe I’m being objective when I heap all the afore mentioned praise on Pliny the Younger, and when I say it is definitely as good as advertised, possibly even better. I have an idea . . . why don’t you go to Russian River Brewing next February, have some PTY and decide for yourself. Then you can be the judge.
Well, I need to close out this newsletter before it gets so long that you lose interest. I need to come up with a recipe for my next brew (an IPA), and spend some time posting more beer reviews. Sooooooooo, that’s it for now, but check back soon for more of Mac’s beer wisdom. Better yet, subscribe to Macsbrew.com now and you’ll be notified whenever a new post is added.