On Tuesday, the Surly Goat opened its doors at the usual time: 6 p.m. But a few zealous souls began arriving at 3:45. And by 5:30, nearly a hundred hankering hop heads had congregated outside, forming a swollen queue that lurched ominously toward Fairfax. It was “Russian River Night” at the Surly Goat, and the tap list, which included thirteen of Russian River Brewing Company’s most celebrated beers, read like an assemblage of abstract nouns culled from some medieval monastic manuscript — heady brews bearing titles like Supplication, Mortification and Perdition. Throngs of devotees had come to worship the lord in liquid form: Pliny the Younger, one of the most sought-after beers in California.
Youngerfever But with only one 5.2 gallon keg of Pliny the Younger, a 10.75% ABV triple IPA released in a single batch each February, Surly Goat owners Ryan Sweeney and Brandon Bradford quickly realized that most of the cult-like fans waiting outside would not get to satiate their Younger hunger. Sweeney and Bradford only had enough tasters for the first fifty people. Within thirty minutes of opening, the Surly Goat’s tiny keg of Pliny the Younger had run dry.
That’s when things turned ugly, as some angry would-be patrons threw insults at the Surly Goat’s staff before stomping off in a rage, refusing to partake in the bounty of other rare Russian River brews available for unlimited enjoyment that night. Many would later log on to Beer Advocate to further eviscerate the Surly Goat’s management and staff, accusing Sweeney and Bradford of poor planning, and blaming them for the dearth of supply. (Only a handful of bars in the L.A.-area have been allocated a portion of Pliny the Younger, with most only receiving a measly 5.2 gallons of the golden brew.)
Local beer geek, business owner, and part-time Surly Goat employee, Skipp Shelly, said forty to fifty people walked out of line in a huff when a staffer announced Pliny the Younger was no longer available. “With so many great Russian River beers on tap, I don’t get it,” he said. “Why would they leave? It doesn’t make sense.”
The Beer Chicks’ Christina Perozzi said that one of her friends took part in the angry exodus, sending Perozzi a bitter text message when she learned Perozzi had been one of the lucky few to receive a taster. “You should title this article ‘Russian River Night Ruins Friendships’,” Perozzi later told me, only half joking.
The hysteria surrounding the event took Drink Eat Travel’s Cambria Griffith aback. “It’s a good beer,” she said. “But the hype is out of control.”
Beer Geek LA’s David Stickel was impressed by the brew’s seemingly inexplicable cult status. “Vinnie’s a genius at creating demand for his beers,” Stickel said, referring to Russian River’s owner and brewmaster, Vinnie Cilurzo.
38° Ale House & Grill’s Clay Harding was equally enthralled: “Pliny the Younger is a gem. I wouldn’t say it’s the best beer in the world, but it definitely deserves to be the most sought after.”
The Beer Chicks’ other half, Hallie Beaune, posited that, if nothing else, the excitement surrounding the annual release of Pliny the Younger makes for a great event.
“It beats Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day, that’s for sure,” Harding said.
Perrozi waxed more philosophical, offering that Younger Fever, as Sweeney calls it, illustrates what she calls “the paradox of craft beer.”
“You want it to be available to everyone. But the limited quantity and rising demand means it’s not. In some ways, that makes it exciting. But in other ways, it puts a damper on everything,” she said.
Library Alehouse employee and Bike Bus Beer blogger, Alex P. Davis, agreed. “There’s a lot of ridiculousness involved with [the release of Pliny the Younger],” he said. “But it’s cool to see this much enthusiasm for beer.”
But why that enthusiasm would be directed at one beer, when there are so many great brews worthy of adoration, remains a mystery. Among the imbibers I polled that night that tried all or most of the Russian River brews on tap, Supplication, a 7% ABV Brown Ale aged in French oak Pinot Noir barrels with Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and sour cherries, was the runaway favorite.
Still, Pliny the Younger remains, in Sweeney’s words, “the most sought after beer in California”.
So for those willing to sustain the lines, Naja’s Place in Redondo Beach will be hosting their own Russian River Night next Thursday, February 24, starting at 8 p.m. A total of nine Russian River brews will be on tap, including a 15.5 gallon keg of Pliny the Younger.