Friday, February 4 marked the 2011 release of Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Younger, which is, for many, one of the top beers in the world. Santa Rosa is only about an hour away from San Francisco so my wife and I jumped in the car on Friday to try Pliny the Younger for the first time.
I was informed earlier in the week, from Mario Rubio of Brewed for Thought, that I should expect much shorter lines than last year. With that in mind, and given that Friday was still a work day for me, I planned to show up for an early lunch. Friday morning I got up early, worked early, worked in the car (as a passenger of course), and arrived at 11am. And then we waited in line, for 3 hours. Had we arrived early in the morning, we would have waited for much less time. Fred Abercrombie of Ünnecessary Ümlaut told me that he arrived at 10:15am and the line was only about 30-45 minutes long at that point. I overheard from other folks that they were in line at 8:00am, started in front of the Super Cuts (the 3 hour mark later in the day), and got in immediately after Russian River opened their doors.
The line stretched down the sidewalk outside of Russian River Brewing Company primarily because they were limiting the number of people in the brewpub. Although the line was long we could not have asked for better weather. It was a beautiful 70ºF, or warmer, sunny, February, California day.
Despite the wait, once inside, there were no problems with service and it was easy to get a couple glasses of Pliny the Younger. The general mood of the brewpub was jovial and friendly. From what I’ve heard, from folks on Twitter and in the blogosphere, last year it was packed, frenzied, chaotic, and the beer ran out fast. Since Russian River changed a few policies with regard to the release, e.g. not allowing growler fills of Pliny the Younger and limiting the number people in the pub, it created an enjoyable experience once you made it through the doors.
Russian River Brewing Company lists the following on their website with regard to the Pliny the Younger release:
We are releasing Pliny the Younger on February 4, 2011! Due to the overwhelming turnout last year, we have made a few changes to enable more beer enthusiasts, like yourself, as well as our regular customers to enjoy some Younger! It will be available on draft in 10oz. pours at our pub from February 4th-17th. We will allocate a certain number of kegs each day in order to last the full 2 weeks. Our employees will not know how many kegs they are getting each day. And they won’t know when we might run out. In addition, there will be NO GROWLERS. The only way to get it to go is in your tummy!
Was it worth the wait? Yes and no. The beer was fantastic, delicious, and an incredible deal, only $4.50 for a 10 oz. serving. It was fun to experience the devotion and enthusiasm that people have for this beer and Russian River Brewing Company. We had a great time talking to folks in the bar, who flew in from all over the country. It was a great opportunity to try one of the most critically acclaimed beers in the world but I wouldn’t wait 3 hours in line again.
Why wouldn’t I wait 3 hours again? A few reasons are personal and circumstantial. we only had a short period of time to enjoy one beer each before we had to jump back in the car so I could get back to work again and get on a work call. I would have liked to stay longer, enjoy the experience, and not have had work so late on a Friday night.
The next reason why I wouldn’t wait 3 hours again is because we really didn’t have to wait three hours to try this beer. We could have shown up just a little bit earlier and waited a quarter of the amount of time. When we left, the line was probably about 1.5 hours long so we could have arrived between lunch and happy hour. I also read on Twitter that the line was a little shorter on Day 2. Finally, Russian River’s policy to rationing the kegs also meant we could have waited a few days, after the initial excitement, and probably would not have to wait as long if at all. Although this last assertion is a guess, I bet I’ll be able to confirm this with locals over the course of the next week. I’ll also make a guess that the lines for Pliny the Younger will grow during SF Beer Week.
If you’re interested in how I thought Pliny the Younger tasted, I’ll post a review later in the week. I think some of my initial thoughts on Twitter didn’t accurately represent how I actually feel about this wonderful beer and my upcoming review will correct that.
Update, Feb. 7, 2011 at 1:57pm: It looks like my guess was correct about little to no line as the release of Pliny the Younger progresses. Twitter user @robsee reported no line on Day 4 (Feb. 7, 2011) at 11am and 1:30pm. It was also reported that there was no line until lunch time.