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Pliny the Elder

August 15th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | Filed under Brewer: Russian River, Country: America, Grade: A regular, Style: IPA.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY TOP TEN MOST WANTED LIST

8% ABV bottled

I am now a felon.

At least I think I am.

Eh, maybe it’s just a misdemeanor. But I doubt it. I fucking disobeyed the fucking United States Constitution. Article 2 of the 21st Amendment to be more exact:

“The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.”

After my Cuvee de Castleton story, a barrage of beer fans across the globe e-mailed me, offering anything and everything to get an extra bottle from me. One person stood out, a San Franciscoan named Marie, offering me a shit-ton of Russian River stuff.

Beer swapping is a big hobby nowadays, but this would be my first time to ever get involved, and I was a little nervous. A little nervous about everything.

Firstly, how to know if you’re getting a good deal? There sure isn’t a Beckett Price Guide for rare beer bottles. And, though I may talk the talk on this site, this Marie person was absolutely awing me with his/her knowledge of beer.

I say his/her because, though Marie is typically a woman’s name, I was so impressed with the abundance of knowledge Marie was displaying that my chauvinistic, misogynistic, and all sort of other -istic sides came out and I figured I was just dealing with a man with some weird name. No doubt a European. Like, Jose Marie Olazabal or something. Yeah, that made sense. Europeans know tons about beer.

However, later, when Marie started talking about all the homebrewing he/she does, I was even more blown away. I had to ask this person–positive it was a man–what sex they are.

I’m sure you know the answer, Marie was very much a woman. Obviously the coolest woman in the world. One that knows tons more about beer than me AND FURTHERMORE brews her own beer! Wow. I knew absolutely no other facts about her, not her age, not what she looked like, nothing, but I was still absolutely smitten. I had to ask her to marry me. (And my ex-girlfriend says I have commitment issues, ha!)

She obviously declined. She’s read my blog. It’s better that way. I consider having to cross Park Avenue a long-distance relationship. Much less crossing the country. Ah well. Maybe she’ll send me some of her homebrews one day.

Eventually, I had to capitulate to my own fears and face a single fact about a potential beer trade with Marie: I was overwelmingly ecstatic with the beers Marie would be sending me and I wasn’t too unhappy with sending away a Cuvee de Castleton bottle. So if we’re both happy, then no one’s getting ripped off, and the deal is more kosher than Hebrew National.

I accepted the trade, getting three beers from my most wanted list–Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, Blind Pig IPA, and Supplication–two of which are in Beer Advocate’s top 20 beers in the whole world while the third makes the top 40. Incredibly rare, this is in fact the first batch of bottled beers from Russian River, a brewery that still limits its distribution to only San Francisco and Sonoma County.

Now, the hard part came — packaging the brews. As mentioned before, sending beers interstate is absolutely a crime. Go to the US Postal Service and try to do and I’m sure the Postal Police will immediately throw you in the clink. So you have to use a private carrier. Still not technically legal, but the potential rammifications are much smaller. Thus, you have to pack these motherfuckers well. Not only so they arrive in perfect shape for your trading buddy, but also so beer doesn’t begin leaking out of your package mid-route and start raising red flags.

I was freaked out about packing up the bottles so I probably overdid it. Of course, I ain’t gonna pay for packaging so I went over to FedEx and grabbed about 15 bubble wrap bags, a small box, and one large box. Then, I grabbed about fifty Metros from a newspaper box. I first wrapped the bottle nicely in several swathed newspapers, paying specific attention to the delicate neck. I taped that tight. I put all that in one bubble wrapped envelope and sealed it tight. Then another. Then I put that thing in a small box, filling the empty space with even more crumpled newspapers and plastic grocery bags. Then, I put the small box into the bigger box, again filling all the open space with countless wadded up newspapers and plastic bags. Finally, I covered the entire box with several brown paper bags and then I used about fifteen rolls of packing tape to seal the whole thing up. It was going to be like opening a Russian matryoshka doll to get to my beer.

I was impressed with my wrap job. It was secure, no rattling whatsoever. I mimicked an oafish FedEx worker manhandling my box. I carelessly tossed it a few times on my bed to make sure it could take a hit. It could take one like Walter Payton turning the corner.

Onto FedEx where I expected to have to pay $30plus for ground shipping. But, first, I had to answer the proverbial question, “So what’s in the box?”

Here’s a hint, you don’t answer “illegal beer I am illegally shipping out of state.”

But you don’t want to lie, so you stretch the truth.

“Uh…it’s a gift for my friend.”

“And what IS the gift.”

“Fragrances, cooking supplies. They’re in glass bottles so handle with care please.”

Yes, pricey beers are fragrant and, of course, they can be used for cooking supplies. Even better, the whole shipment only cost me $7. Amazing!

Five days later, the FBI arrived at my door. Duh duh duh…

No, that’s not true, but that would have made the story really freaking awesome.

Instead, Marie’s glorious package arrived. I thought I had packed well but she had packed the box like it was going to be tossed thousands of feet from a helicopter onto a beer-starved country in nouthern Africa. An absolutely enormous box filled with these remarkable air cushion type things which I had never seen before. The entire box was like a Moonwalk. It was a remarkable packing job, twenty times better than mine.

Now I was scared shitless my bottle would arrived shattered. The next day, however, Marie got her end of the bargain and it too was flawless. Bottles are actually quite hard to break it seems.

Brief interlude to rip on the government like some kind of militia-man anarchist:

How stupid is it that a legal product–beer–cannot be mailed to a buddy? The goddamn goverment is so intent on preventing us from pleasure. The government hates it that people are enjoying themselves. They are so intent on taxing every thing in this world. If they can’t get a piece of the pie than no one can. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Among everything else, that was the best thing about this little experiment, being a scofflaw. Being a scofflaw is awesome. Just cause the United States has retarded laws doesn’t mean you have to follow them. No one gets harmed if beer is shipped, so be a scofflaw. Mail off beers, smoke some weed, spit on street corners, jaywalk, buy sex toys, get a bookie, and don’t report your gambling earnings to the IRS.

First, I had to try the Pliny the Elder*, one of the most sought after beers in the world, new to being bottled after years of it only being on tap in the San Francisco area. Bottled on July 10 of this year, the label is full of whimsical warnings such as “Respect your elder…drink fresh” and “Pliny the Elder is a historical figure, don’t make the beer inside this bottle one!” Yeah, they want you to have as hoppy of beer as possible.

The smell isn’t that potent, just a nicely balanced DIPA. And the taste is similar. Hops, pines, floral. Flawlessly balanced. But that disappointed me a little. I expected mindboggling and I simply got very great. It’s as good as, say, a Ruination, a Maharaja, or a Captain Lawrence’s DIPA, but I’m not actually sure I can say its better. Not what expected.

With all the hype, with all the anticipation I’ve had for years dreaming of trying this one, I end up with the least pleasing “A” beer of my life. Still, it’s no doubt one of the better DIPAs in the world. I just think its mad scarcity leads to it being slightly overrated. I wonder how its ranking will change as it become more ubiquitous?

Marie claims it’s better on draft. I believe her, she knows everything. I think I’m going to enjoy my second bottle of it a lot more now that my expectations are more muted.

A

*The real Pliny the Elder was an awesome dude who named the hops plant and who died during the famous 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius. I want to die by volcano, what a badass way to go.

10 Responses to “Pliny the Elder”

  1. Dave | 08/18/08

    Jealously sets in, I’m very jealous. I have someone in Cali right now, I hope he comes through end gets me some Russian River and Lost Abbey.

  2. Aaron Goldfarb | 08/18/08

    Your jealousy will only get bigger in the next couple of days with a few reviews I unleash. My jealousy will be returned however if you score some Lost Abbey stuff!

  3. Dave | 08/18/08

    Hah just spill the beans on what its going to be. I did Supplication in the back there?

  4. Aaron Goldfarb | 08/18/08

    You got a great eye.

    Yes, Supplication and Blind Pig.

    BTW, I may have another bottle of Pliny coming my way. If you were able to get some extra Lost Abbey I’d love to swap. What Lost Abbey’s are you trying to get?

  5. Dave | 08/18/08

    I gave my buddy a list. I honestly forget what I put on it. I haven’t heard back from him yet. If I get doubles I’ll hook you up. I told him to get me Pliny, Pig, and Supplication also. We’ll see.

  6. Aaron Goldfarb | 08/18/08

    Angel’s Share is my most sought after but I think it’s exceedingly rare.

  7. Dave | 08/18/08

    This is the list I gave him. I don/t expect any of them because I think he might of forgotten. I hope I get my 200 dollars back

    Russian Brewing

    Pliny the Elder
    Blind Pig IPA
    Temptation
    Supplication
    Beatification
    Damnation
    Salvation
    Sanctification
    Deification
    Benediction
    Rejection
    Little White Lie

    The Lost Abbey

    The Angel’s Share
    Judgement Day
    Older Viscocity
    Cable Car
    Cuvee De Tomme
    Isabelle Proximus

  8. Aaron Goldfarb | 08/18/08

    Good lord! If you get even 50% of that haul you will be a lucky man. I may be wrong but from what I understand the only Russian Rivers currently being bottled are Pliny and Blind Pig. Supplication, Temptation, etc are specially bottled but I think those are rare yearly releases that once sold out are no longer available on shelves.

  9. Dave | 08/18/08

    Yeah I wasn’t sure so I went for it all. I mean you never know what you’ll see. Sometimes stuff just sits on a shelf forever.

  10. David Karlson | 11/18/12

    Wow, I have been taking a lot for granted. Just enjoyed a Pliny today, available most anytime from a local liq store in Livermore, Ca. (Alameda Co.) Lost Abbey is also available around here but have not done one for a while. Was initially taken with BROTHER THELONIUS because of the excellent art work. I rate it a notch or so below Pliny. Recently tried a BLACK FLAG, imperial stout by Beer Valley Brewing Co. Ontario. Oregon. New stuff is popping up ALL the time. As you are aware, the recent BEER gathering in Denver, Co. displayed over 4,400 brews. As an old guy of 71, I have seen an EXPLOSION of quality in both beer and wine over the years and JUST do not have the time. The chemistry involved is so much more refined and advanced. Enjoy your quest.

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