Everything you need to know about the most iconic beers in history from grocery staples to cult favorites. This time: Pliny the Elder, a double IPA that's as legendary as its namesake.
In pop culture, Pliny the Elder doesn't have the same name recognition as his ancient Roman peers like Julius Caesar or Nero. In the beer world, Pliny the Elder is the end all be all of double IPAs. So how did a fairly obscure character in ancient Roman history become such a cult favorite icon in a totally different way? This is the legend of Pliny the Elder (not the person).
What is Pliny the Elder?
Pliny the Elder is a double IPA brewed with amarillo, centennial, CTZ and simcoe hops. The beer clocks in at 8 percent ABV, consistent with the beer style, and it's credited with popularizing the double IPA. Considered a hop bomb (there are four variations of hops in there after all), Pliny the Elder pairs bitterness with fruity hop aromas and flavors. Where some double IPAs go super bitter and little anything else, Pliny the Elder won't assault your taste buds with a hammer, instead creating a harmony of flavors that counteract the initial bitterness.
Who makes Pliny the Elder?
Pliny the Elder helped to put its brewery, Russian River Brewing Company, on the map. The California-based brewery was founded in 1997 by Korbel Champagne Cellars. The winery hired Vinnie Cilurzo as the brewery's brewmaster, who was also its only employee. Cilurzo was inspired by hoppy beers, particularly of those from Belgium, and he's credited with having invented the double IPA. Cilurzo had come from Blind Pig Brewing Co., where he made a double IPA in 1994, and he wanted to make one at Russian River, too. In 1999, Cilurzo brewed Pliny the Elder for the first time, and he got the name through some extensive beer research – according to his references, Pliny the Elder, as well as his peers, either coined the name for hops, or at least made mention of it.
After Korbel decided to leave the beer game in 2003, it passed over the company name, beer names and beer recipes over to Cilurzo and his wife, who have officially owned Russian River Brewing Company since 2004.
Besides Pliny the Elder, Russian River also brews Pliny the Younger, a triple IPA. (In history, Pliny the Younger was Pliny the Elder's nephew, who immortalized his uncle in history by writing about his sacrifice to save others amid the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.)
Where can you buy Pliny the Elder?
Part of the appeal of Pliny the Elder is its scarcity. It's one of those beers, like The Alchemist's Heady Topper, that has beer lovers from far and wide lining up for just a taste of some highly exclusive juice. Russian River distributes Pliny the Elder in bottles and on tap within California, with some beer going to Oregon, Colorado and Pennsylvania. For a complete list of where you can find Pliny the Elder, check out its website.
Why is Pliny the Elder so popular?
Pliny the Elder gets major cred for popularizing the double IPA. But it's all about what's in the bottle that makes the beer such a cult favorite. The beer has a remarkable perfect score on Beer Advocate, with the review site considering it "World-Class." As one reviewer writes, "Good? Yes. Hype-machine? Yes. Deserved hype? Not a believer in hype machines. But it does tick all the boxes it is supposed to." Pliny the Elder gets a lot of love, but Russian River is an all-around amazing brewery, too. Almost every beer it brews — from its STS Pils to the Blind Pig IPA — gets praise, and while they don't get as much hype, they're still worth seeking out.