In Search of America's Most Coveted Beer

Pliny the Younger

I first heard of Pliny the Younger from a fellow beer fanatic, who spoke in a hushed, reverential tone as he told me about the exorbitant lengths people go to for a glass. This year, I decided I needed to try it. But with the Super Bowl 50 fiasco forcing Beer Week to reschedule two weeks before Pliny's release, the only surefire way to get some was a trek to Santa Rosa.

My first attempt was on the opening Saturday of this year's release. I'd read of the eight-hour lines, the camping in the rain, and the hotel specials to accommodate beer pilgrims from far-flung places. Foolishly, I thought it would probably be fine.

After hyping up the mystical brew, and gently cautioning three friends that there might be a wait, I persuaded them to make the journey. Halfway there, one decided to call Russian River Brewing, “just in case.” She asked if there might be a line.

“Yeah,” the brewery rep said. “Best-case scenario, it's about a four-hour wait.”

“That's not bad!” I said, trying to remain upbeat. I was immediately outvoted, three to one.

The following two weeks flew by. Just like that, the 2016 release came to its official close; Pliny was gone. “I guess there's next year,” I thought, abandoning all dreams of fermented nirvana.

But Fortune smiled upon me. Late that Friday night, a text came rocketing through the Heavens and lit up my phone with seven exclamation points: “I'm here at Russian River and they still have younger!!!!!!!”

I squealed in delight — until I learned the brewery wouldn't sell my friend a growler of Pliny, even though there was evidently leftover beer.

There was but one course of action left. It took a good deal of begging the next day, but I eventually talked my favorite drinking companion into a second trip. We arrived in Santa Rosa shortly after dark, taking our place in the line snaking out from the front. Our companions were mostly middle-aged men with bulging guts and receding hairlines, and all of us shifted nervously from foot to foot as we waited. Whispers of Pliny floated through the crowd. Someone had heard it was supposed to tap out that night. The only thing to distract us from the wait was the cold — I cursed my stupidity for wearing sandals as we braved the sub-60 temps of winter in Santa Rosa. The line crawled toward the door.

After an agonizing 40 minutes, the bouncer issued entry wristbands and a warning that there were still no guarantees. We plunged into the pub full of expectation. I elbowed my way to the bar, and ordered up a pair of Plinys.

And then, there it was: America's most coveted beer, though you'd never know it from those plain half-pint glasses. We raised them in salute and took our first sips. My companion's reaction said all that need be said.

“Oh, wow.”

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