Pliny the Younger Review & Guide

Every year, Russian River Brewing Company brews Pliny the Younger just once. They make enough beer to give away tasters for two weeks.

That means you can only taste Pliny the Younger for two weeks a year, typically in late January or early February.

You roll up to one of two Russian River Brewing Company locations. There will be a line. You wait for there to be space inside. You receive a wristband with three “Pliny the Younger” tags attached to it. Someone writes the current time on your wristband. You’re allowed to stay in the brewery for a maximum of three hours and drink a maximum of three Pliny the Youngers.

Pliny the Younger is a triple IPA with an ABV of 10.25%. It’s the best triple IPA I’ve had, although I’m an idiot who drinks anything.

I recommend trying Pliny the Younger yourself. Here’s what to expect from Pliny the Younger for 2020, including a walkthrough of my Pliny the Younger 2019 experience.

Update: What to Expect for Pliny the Younger 2020

Pliny the Younger will make its 16th annual return to Russian River Brewing Company from February 7 – February 20, 2020.

Just like in 2019, you’ll be able to sample Pliny the Younger 2020 at two locations: Russian River Brewing Company in Windsor or Santa Rosa, California.

Here’s the big change: Russian River is bottling Pliny the Younger for the first time ever.

Other quick notes on Pliny the Younger 2020:

  • The same 3 hour, 3 Pliny the Younger maximum limit applies
  • Pliny the Younger is a triple IPA that should have an ABV of around 10.25%
  • Each serving of Pliny 2020 comes in a 10oz glass for around $5 apiece
  • You can purchase a maximum of 2 x 510mL bottles of Pliny the Younger per day
  • Bottles of Pliny 2020 are only available at either brewpub and must be purchased tableside from the person serving you
  • You’ll still be able to taste the 20+ other RRBC beers on tap
  • You’ll also still be able to buy Pliny the Elder, other RRBC beers, and Pliny the Younger gear in the store without waiting in line

Enjoy Pliny the Younger 2020! Keep reading to see how much fun I had last year.

Pliny the Younger 2019 Review

I happened to be visiting the North Bay area during 2019’s Pliny the Younger release event. I had heard of Pliny the Younger before, but I had no idea it was quite this big.

I turned on the news Friday morning of the first release day. A reporter was interviewing people who had started lining up at 4am for a brewery that opened at 11am. That’s when I realized how crazy Pliny the Younger was.

People travel from all over the world for Pliny the Younger. I was 45 minutes away. I had to go.

How Does Pliny the Younger Work? What Do I Do?

Pliny the Younger is a triple IPA made every year by Russian River Brewing Company, a longstanding brewery based in Santa Rosa, California. First brewed in 2004, Pliny the Younger has achieved a mythical status over the years due to its exclusivity (and clever marketing).

Russian River Brewing Company only brews Pliny the Younger once per year. The beer is released over a two week period in late January or early February.

You can taste the legendary triple IPA by visiting the brewery at one of two locations: the original brewpub location in downtown Santa Rosa, California; or the expanded tasting room 15 minutes up the road in Windsor, California.

Both taprooms serve food. The Santa Rosa location is smaller and may have longer wait times.

After waiting in line for anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours (yes, really), you’ll be seated.

A server will give you a bracelet with three tabs on it. You can drink 3 x 10oz glasses of Pliny the Younger. You have three hours.

You can drink other RRBC beers after you’re done, but you need to leave after three hours regardless. The server will write the time on your bracelet.

Attempt #1) Turned Away By an 8 Hour Lineup in the Rain

I’m not waiting in line for 8 hours in the rain for anything.

We rolled up to the large Russian River Brewing Company location in Windsor, California, just 10 minutes up the 101 highway from the original location in Santa Rosa.

As we turned into the building, it was obvious we were facing a lengthy wait. The line stretched around most of this building (line not shown):

It was also pouring rain for most of the day. People were huddling under ponchos and umbrellas, their gaunt, pale faces turned towards our passing car like it was a bread line in the Soviet Union.

Although there were small canvas tents protecting the first 100 people in line, everyone else was getting wet.

Again, I’m not waiting in line 8 hours in the rain for anything. We hit up two other local breweries, including Barrel Brothers Brewing Company and St. Florian’s Brewery. Then, we went home.

Attempt #2) The Monday Morning Solo Traveler Advantage

What kind of degenerates drink beer before noon on a Monday?

Apparently, hundreds of them.

I arrived at Russian River Brewing Company in Windsor, CA at 11:15am, just after the brewery opened. There were about 50 to 75 people in line ahead of me.

I was told the line would move quickly – and it did.

I waited in line for 5 minutes before the hostess walked down the line asking if there were any singles. I was immediately led to the front of the line like a VIP.

Drinking beer on a Monday morning is pretty sad, and it’s even sadder to drink beer on a Monday morning by yourself. But this Monday morning, being a solo wandering boozebag paid off.

I sat at the bar beside other friendly solo boozebags, and then my tasting began.

How Did Pliny the Younger 2019 Taste? Was It Worth the Wait?

I have yet to drink a beer worth waiting in line for more than an hour to drink. After tasting Pliny the Younger 2019, I stand by that assertion: I can’t think of anything I could eat or drink worth waiting that long for.

But the beer was very good – as you might expect. It’s a triple IPA with an ABV of 10.25%. It tastes incredibly smooth. The multiple varieties of hops give Pliny a unique spiciness and flavor that tickles your tongue.

Let’s be honest: when you’re waiting this long for beer, you expect it to be really good. Pliny the Younger met my expectations. If it was anything less than excellent beer, I would have been pissed.

If you’ve had Pliny the Elder, then Pliny the Younger tastes like a better, stronger, more full-flavored version of that.

It also tastes similar to other triple IPAs. In fact, a number of other local breweries have started making their own triple IPAs – likely to capitalize on the Pliny the Younger craze. They’re all really good beers.

Overall, Pliny the Younger was definitely one of the best beers I’ve ever had. It lived up to the hype. But at the end of the day, it’s still just a really good triple IPA.

Pliny the Younger Tips

Pliny the Younger is a fun experience for any craft beer lover. If you time it right, you won’t be waiting too long. There’s also plenty of other things to do in the area. You can easily make it a fun weekend trip or day trip.

Go During the Week (Seriously): Weekend waits for the 2019 Pliny the Younger event were anywhere from 1 to 7 hours – and 2019 was the rainiest Pliny event ever. If you can take a sick day off work, you can maximize your time at the brewery by visiting on a weekday. Pliny-mania is insane, and I can’t see it slowing down next year for Pliny the Younger 2020.

Make a Weekend Out Of It: The area around Santa Rosa and Windsor is beautiful. You’re 45 minutes from the beautiful coastline of Bodega Bay. Fantastic wineries are nearby in Sonoma and Napa. You can even booze all day just by jumping between different breweries.

There Are Two Pliny the Younger Tasting Locations (Santa Rosa and Windsor): Russian River Brewing Company is based in downtown Santa Rosa, California. In 2019, however, they opened up a second, much-larger location in Windsor, just 10 minutes up highway 101 from Santa Rosa. The first location is a more “authentic” experience, but it also has longer wait times. The second location (where I went) has a larger restaurant and dining area. The line moves more quickly.  

It’s Cheaper than You Think: How much does Pliny the Younger cost? Walking into the bar, I was expecting the brewery to charge $10 or $15 a glass. With a 6 hour line, they probably could charge that. However, Pliny the Younger costs the same as other premium beers, so you’ll pay about $5 for a 10oz glass.

Drink Other Russian River Beers: Russian River Brewing Company has a sampler tray where you can try every beer on the menu. Pliny the Younger is great – but there are plenty of other fantastic beers across the spectrum.  

Both Locations Serve Good Food: I had a big breakfast before I left home (veteran move when you’re drinking 10.25% beer at 11:30am), so I only had the fries at the brewery. However, all other food on the menu looked really good. The boozebag next to me said his fish and chips were excellent. They have a legit menu – not just greasy cheap bar food.

Take Advantage of the Free Windsor Shuttle: This year, the town of Windsor launched a shuttle that travels between all of the breweries. It’s free. It gets you to your destination safely. It comes every 1.5 hours or so. Use it.

Uber and Lyft Are Around: Windsor and Santa Rosa are big enough towns to support Lyft and Uber. There are also private cabs that offer similar rates.

Check Out Other Local Breweries: Russian River Brewing Company is great, but there are like 20 other breweries within an hour of either Russian River location. Plan a route and hop between all of them. After seeing a 7 hour wait at Russian River Brewing Company during the first Pliny the Younger weekend, we thought every other nearby brewery would be packed. They weren’t.

Stay the Night: Pliny the Younger injects $7 to $9 million into the local economy according to some guy I talked to at the brewery. Lots of people spend a night or two in town. Check the Russian River website for special hotel codes.  

You Can’t Drink in Line: The Russian River Brewing Company website warns against drinking or smoking weed in line. I didn’t see anyone ‘partying’ in line at all. Everyone seemed to be patiently waiting. So be prepared to wait in line sober (or pre-drink and show up blackout with a case of beer and a six paper joint, I really don’t care).  

You Can Find Pliny the Younger at Other Bars and Breweries in California: You don’t have to travel all the way to Santa Rosa or Windsor to try Pliny the Younger. Russian River shipped Pliny to more California bars and breweries in 2019 than they ever had before. Dozens of bars in the Bay Area get shipments of Pliny. Even southern California joins in. A bar we went to in Ventura, Barrelhouse 101, got a keg. As did one of the breweries in Palm Springs, La Quinta Brewing. Typically, these breweries make an event after receiving Pliny the Younger. If you want to try Pliny, you may not have to travel all the way up here.

There’s Nothing Else Like Pliny the Younger

So that’s my Pliny the Younger story. While others waited in line for 6 to 8 hours in the rain and darkness, I was able to wait a grand total of 5 minutes before sampling the delicious beer.

I stand by it: no beer in the world is worth waiting 8 hours in the rain. The exclusivity, of course, is part of the experience. It’s also a clever marketing ploy.

There’s no other craft beer-drinking experience like Pliny the Younger in Sonoma County, California. I’m happy I was able to attend the 2019 event – but I’m even happier I didn’t wait 6 or 8 hours in line. You people are insane.

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