Russian River Brewing Supplication

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“Ale aged in pinot noir barrels with cherries added.” I’ve been wondering about this one ever since Shannon brought it back from a west coast business trip and presented it to me. “It was my favorite,” she offered. Oh, the pressure.

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As most of you know, Russian River Brewing Company is revered in craft beer circles. Vinnie “invented” the imperial IPA category with Pliny the Elder and has continued to push the envelope when it comes to craft beer. Their location in Northern California gives them access to the freshest hops and a multitude of other raw ingredients (including wine barrels) to make interesting beer. This is definitely interesting. I liken it to the bourbon barrel aged stout from Founders and others, in that it’s a combination of flavors and characteristics that challenge your thought of what beer is and/or is supposed to be.

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It pours with a beautiful, billowing head that quickly dissipates to a thin film and eventually to nothing. No lacing remains. It’s smells both funky and fresh at the same time, if that’s possible. The funk is likely from the wine barrels and freshness from the cherries. The first taste is tart. The second taste is tart. This is a tart beer. It doesn’t quite make my lips pucker, but it’s close. The balance is incredible. The alcohol is so hidden it may as well be 3%, not the 7% it says on the label. This may not be my favorite winter beer (it’s currently 30F outside), but it could easily be one of my favorite warm weather options.

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Vital Stats: Served at 45F in my trusty tulip. 7% ABV.

Taste: A. Perfect for the style.

Drinkability: A. I wish I had another one in the fridge.

Packaging: A+. Chock full of info. In fact, the info on the back of the bottle let me know this was originally a brown ale when it went into the wine barrels. It sure doesn’t taste like a brown now. That’s was a little Brett and sour cherries will do for a beer.

Value: B. Well, for folks on the East Coast like me, this is a tough one. If you know someone, it’s not too expensive to get, but it’s still hard. If I was in CA this would be a staple in my fridge.

Three Fine 2xIPAs

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I had the occasion to try three fine 2xIPAs tonight. The first, Haand Bryggeriet Dobbel Dram, Alchemist Heady Topper and Russian River Pliny the Elder. All of the beers I tried tonight were bottled/canned in December, based on labels or time of purchase. 

The Dobbel Dram was given to me by my CBS cohort Derek after I mentioned I’d had a bottle that didn’t seem too fresh. Since he’s a big fan of this beer I owed it a second chance. The Heady Topper came to me by way of my sister, who lives just a couple miles from the Alchemist Cannery. She brought it down around the Christmas holiday. Finally, the Pliny came from my friend Bill, who lives in Sonoma and has become my most recent beer friend (fiend?). 

I poured a sip of each to taste and then poured a larger quantity of each for the photos below. I wanted to try each before I’d too much of one to be able to taste the others (always a risk in this category). 

I tried the Dobbel Dram first and it didn’t disappoint. It poured a light amber with very fine bubbles on the head. The smell was elusive, not giving too much away. The taste was heavy on dried fruit (apricot and mango come to mind), with very subdued hops. I liked this beer, but it wasn’t distinctive. 

Next up was Pliny the Elder. The elder statesman of 2xIPA and arguably the creator of the style, this beer is solid. Crystal clear and nice hope aroma on the nose. The balance is great in this beer, but its age was starting to show. The hop bomb had begun to disappear and it had become just a great IPA. 

Finally, I got to the Heady Topper. For those of you that know me, you know this is a favorite. Well, time may have caught up with this one. Gone was the stinky green bud aroma, and the taste was solid, but not mind blowing. It was a lot hazier than the others as well. Again, it was a solid IPA, but not what I’ve come to expect from the Alchemist. This may have more to do with handling than anything else, so heed their warning and keep it cold. 

The lesson here is to: 

1. Get your 2xIPAs as fresh as you can. 

2. Keep them cold.  

3. Drink them soon. 

Happy drinking!!

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Imperial IPA Tasting – 2/15/11

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We were able to get nearly all the Craft Beer Social contributors together in one place for an epic tasting. We tried six different imperial IPAs, including the very-hard-to-find-on-the-east-coast Pliny the Elder. It was a great night of hops, hops and more hops and we thank Matt for opening his Black Lab Bar for the evening. 

We chose what are arguably the best imperial IPAs we could get our hands on and added in a local favorite for good measure. We worked our way through the entire library with 2oz pours of each and then went back for more if necessary to round out our ratings. Each person was asked to rate each beer 1-6 and then we added the ratings of the eight people in attendance to come up with our collective ratings (lower score = better) for the six beers. All participants took notes and may share those in future posts. 

We all took notes on appearance, smell and taste. While there were some clear favorites, we had some interesting findings. On to the final results! 

1. Russian River Pliny the Elder – 15 total points (four 1st place votes)… No surprise here, although it’s interesting to note that it received 3rd and 4th place votes. Some folks clearly weren’t impressed. It poured a beautiful orange/gold, smelled fresh and flowery and tasted, well, great. Overheard during the tasting, “It appears to be delicious.”

2. Founders Double Trouble – 20 total points (one 1st place vote)… With three 2nd place and three 3rd place votes, this one was unanimously well liked. It pours slightly hazy and bit lighter than Pliny, smell floral with a hint of “bubble gum.” Overheard during the tasting “it smells like a hockey locker room.” 

3. Wachusett Larry – 22 total points (one 1st place vote)… Another solid, well-liked entrant. It poured a very similar color as the Pliny. The smell had hints of apple and orange and the taste was a bit lighter than the previous two, a fresh and delicious example of imperial IPA. Overheard during the tasting “I’d wear this as a perfume.” 

4. Great Divide Hercules – 33 total points (two 1st place votes)… With two last place votes, this was a polarizing beer. There was also a big drop off between the Larry and this one; it might have been personal preference. Unlike the first three, Hercules pours more of an amber and smells of malt and caramel. It’s actually a bit sweet with hints of mollases. The hops comes through with a pine taste, which is in direct contrast to the first three that were fruity and flowery. 

5. Dogfish Head 90 Minute – 38 total points (zero 1st place votes)… Poured a cloudy gold color, smelled of alcohol and chemicals and had hints of grass in the taste. Perhaps a bad bottle or two? We’ll need to give this another try. 

6. Avery Maharaja – 41 total points (zero 1st place votes)… This one poured a cloudy orange and smelled musty. The taste profile included malt and mollases. One person suggested it tasted “syrupy.” There was also a very distinct alcohol finish. We’ll need to give this one another try. 

It was a great evening. I wish we had Bell’s Hopslam and Heady Topper from The Alchemist to try alongside this group. Thanks to the gang for taking time out to get together for this and especially to Shannon who not only procured the Pliny, but also pulled together most of the other beers for this tasting. 

What do you think of our ratings? Would you put them in the same order or did we #%@$ something up? Let us know. We’re social! 

Double IPA Tasting – So Much Hops, So Little Time

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I was very lucky to be a part of our CBS crew who tasted six of the world’s best Double IPAs (or Imperial IPAs) on Tuesday night. The line-up: 

  1. Pliny the ElderRussian River
  2. Hercules Double IPAGreat Divide
  3. 90 Minute IPADogfish Head
  4. LarryWachusett Brewing Co.
  5. MaharajaAvery Brewing
  6. Double TroubleFounders Brewing

For the sake of science we each took pretty detailed notes, and I wanted to share mine here. I’ll confess up front that DIPAs might be my favorite type of beer. I love the big, hoppy taste you get, and love the bright bitterness many of them seem to have and Tuesday night’s tasting selections did not disappoint.

Without further ado, my ratings:

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Unsurprisingly, Pliny came out on top, for me. This wasn’t the case all around, and it ranked pretty low for some of our other tasters. Overall, I wasn’t really surprised. I like bright, cleaner tasting DIPAs, and Pliny and Wachusett’s great Larry both really delivered on the pine and citrus fronts. Both the Great Divide and Avery entries were a little too sweet for me. The biggest surprise to me was that Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute didn’t wow me. It’s a go-to for me in local bars, and I’m a big fan. This bottle was just underwhelming. I do pledge to keep drinking it, and report back!

I’d love to hear feedback from out DIPA-lovers. How do my ratings stack up against your expeirences? Anything out there that I have to try?

The Impossible Tasting: Russian River Pliny the Elder & The Alchemist Heady Topper

When I first tasted Heady Topper from The Alchemist, I knew it was special. It was among a bunch of other great beers over the holidays, but it made me stop and say “WOW!” I was taken aback. I’d tasted something like it before, but nothing ever from the east coast. The only other beer like it is Pliny the Elder, arguably the best beer on the planet. 

I knew of one other bottle of Heady Topper left “in the wild” and soon parted with a cherished (and rare at this time of year) bottle of STBC Pumking for it. I’d hoped to drink it soon after the new year with friends and fellow craft beer enthusiasts Mike and Shannon, but life got in the way and we were delayed. 

Well, delays turned into opportunity. Shannon was able to successfully hand carry six bottles of Pliny the Elder back from a trip to California, so we were able to pull off the impossible: taste these two monster together… in one sitting. 

As you can see from the pictures we drank them from a set of mongrel glassware, but that didn’t get in the way of our enthusiasm. We decided to start by trying to “Stump the Monkey”, pouring a bit of each into identical glasses and have Mike try to determine which was which. 

A little backstory… Mike is in LOVE with Pliny the Elder. I mean, he doesn’t just like this brew. He’s head over heels for it… with good reason. It’s a phenomenal beer! So he wasn’t taking this challenge lightly. 

After a sniff of each beer he was perplexed. A second sniff he was pretty sure which one was the Pliny. After an early taste he declared the one on the left the Pliny, but admitted the one on the right was an amazing beer too. We gave him one more taste, but he didn’t waver… agreeing that they were both great beers, but the Pliny had shone through. Only he’d picked the Topper. It was all in fun and Mike enjoyed the challenge just as much as we did, but it was time for us all to taste. 

We agreed the Heady Topper had a more pronounced smell, producing more citrus and pine than the Pliny. Let me be clear, they’re both insanely good smelling, but the HT just has a bit more going on. As the HT warmed I started to smell a freshness I could only describe as “celery”, but neither Mike nor Shannon could find that in there. 

The first taste of both is bold and finishes clean. Both have great balance and finish with a nice round of hops. The HT seems to have more depth in the mid-palate… it just seems to have more body and flavor as it’s going down. It also packed more of a wallop of hops at the finish, which is usually Pliny’s trademark. 

Both are extremely enjoyable to drink (surprise, surprise). Therein lies the conundrum… Pliny the Elder is brewed on the west coast and isn’t distributed in New England. Heady Topper is brewed in Vermont, but is only available on draft at the pub in Waterbury (this bottle was part of a special 600 bottle run, the only one in 7 years of brewing). So getting these is tough… getting them together for a tasting is near impossible. It took some careful packaging in checked luggage (Pliny the Elder) and divine intervention (Heady Topper) for us to have this tasting. 

There is hope though. There’s a rumor (thanks for the heads up Matt) that Heady Topper will come in 16oz cans soon. The next step is to get Russian River to start distributing in New England. What do you think? 

Thanks to Mike for being a good sport with “Stump the Monkey.” I wouldn’t have stood a chance in that challenge. Thanks also to Shannon for accepting the challenge to bring back Pliny on a recent trip to San Francisco. Your motto should be “Whatever it takes!” 

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