Where has all the Pliny gone?

Local beer drinkers thirsty for Russian River brews as Chico’s taps run dry

Pliny the Elder, Sanctification, Damnation, Blind Pig: These are the familiar names of some of Russian River Brewing Co.’s most loved beers. The Santa Rosa brewery is well-known among beer aficionados for its sour ales, made with specialty types of yeast, and its barrel-aged collection. Russian River is also reputed for its IPAs, which have been hailed by loyal fanatics as the best in the world. For years, several hundred bottles of these acclaimed beers, plus a few kegs, arrived in Chico every month, where customers at the town’s better beer shops and bars guzzled up the supply within days of each shipment.

But no longer, for Chico has been cut off. Russian River’s owner, Vinnie Cilurzo, says it’s a simple case of not enough beer to meet the demand.

“Of course, we would love to be selling our beer in Chico, but we can’t sell what we don’t have,” he told the CN&R.

In January, Russian River halted all distribution to Washington state for the same reason. Chico came shortly thereafter. Cilurzo says this was necessary in order to meet the on-site demand at the Russian River brewpub, where beer fans from around the world convene to taste the beer fresh from the taps, and where a shortage of the highly esteemed, almost legendary triple IPA Pliny the Younger might easily spark a riot. That particular beer is brewed in limited quantity every February, and hundreds of people line up early in the morning of the release day, all jockeying to have a glass of the coveted beer.

Though Pliny the Younger was not distributed regularly to Chico (or anywhere else, for that matter), its slightly downsized counterpart, a double IPA almost equally acclaimed named Pliny the Elder, was. Now, Chico must do without.

But life will go on, bitterly. In the realm of barley, hops and American craft brewers, there are literally thousands of IPAs to choose from. Many are available in local stores, and many, says Kevin Jaradah, owner of Spike’s Bottle Shop, are just as good as Pliny the Elder. Jaradah says he used to receive a five-case shipment of Pliny the Elder every three months. The bottles would sell out in two days or less.

“But there are lots of good, 100-point double IPAs out there,” Jaradah said. “They aren’t the same as Pliny, which has that fruit-forward, really juicy flavor, but they’re just as good. We have 1,200 beers, so there are plenty more options.”

Jaradah recommends Hoptologist, a strong double IPA from Knee Deep Brewing Co. in Auburn, The Maharaja IPA from Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder, Colo., and Racer X and Apex, both IPAs from Russian River’s neighbor brewery Bear Republic. Another top-notch IPA, Jaradah says, is Stone Brewing Co.’s Enjoy By, a beer brewed monthly and sent into the market with the intention that it be consumed within 35 days. (Hop flavors can fade quickly in a beer, and for many IPAs, fresher is better.)

Ryan Post, a Chico resident and a fan of Russian River beers, has twice made the February pilgrimage to Santa Rosa to drink Pliny the Younger. Unlike thousands of others, Post says he prefers Elder to the Younger. He says the double IPA possesses a rare crispness that some high-alcohol, heavily hopped beers do not. Yet, he says that there are other readily available IPAs that he enjoys as much as Pliny, including Hoptimum from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Hop Stoopid from Lagunitas Brewing Co., in Petaluma.

There seems to be no getting around the fact that there isn’t enough Pliny the Elder for everyone in the state to have a taste. Still, some locals feel Chico has been selectively shortchanged by Russian River’s pullout. At The Handle Bar, owner Brian Kanabrocki says he thinks Russian River should have first withdrawn its beer from regions farther away than Northern California.

“We’re confused why Russian River will send beer to Denver, Portland and Philadelphia but not here,” he said. “Those people are not likely to ever go to the brewpub, whereas people here are. Yet they pulled out of Chico. It doesn’t make sense. If they don’t supply the people here, they’ll eventually lose that customer base.”