The annual release of the world-renowned brew Pliny the Younger got underway Friday as devotees waited in line through the night, braving the rain and cold in anticipation of drinking a super-charged India pale ale that’s available for only two weeks every February.
Nestled at a table near the bar was Robert “Boots” Byrd III, wife Sara and 18-month-old Robert “Baby Boots” IV, who were among the earliest arrivals at the downtown Santa Rosa pub. The family had come from Ventura, joining the lines stretching down Fourth Street and around the block every year that have become the stuff of craft beer legend.
“Vinnie (Cilurzo) is a great brewmaster and he makes some of the best beer in the world,” said Robert III. “From the atmosphere, to all the people you meet in line who are new to the experience or have experienced it before, it’s just an overall experience, in general. It’s great. We look forward to it one year in advance every year.”
The family left Southern California Thursday night and got in line at 11:30 p.m.
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“This year, you definitely brave the rain. We had a lot of Patagonia gear, one umbrella to share that we squeezed under. It’s always fun. You deal with the freezing cold and the wet shoes and socks,” Byrd said.
This is the 13th year that Russian River, best known for its year-round Pliny the Elder double IPA, has released Pliny the Younger to increasingly pent-up demand. The latter is considered a so-called triple IPA, with alcohol content topping 10 percent and an abundance of hops that meld under Cilurzo’s masterful watch to create a beer known as much for its smooth drinkability as it is for the mighty wallop of hop flavor and bitterness.
By 2010, word had spread in craft beer circles about Plinty the Younger, prompting hordes of people from throughout California and beyond to wait eight hours or more for a chance to drink the brew. Many consider it among the greatest beers in the world, even as new breweries and talented brewmasters have exploded onto the scene with coveted beers of their own.
Spotted at the end of the line around 10:30 a.m. – the pub opens at 11 a.m. – were Kelly Hall and Steve Summers from Rocklin. This will be their first time having Pliny the Younger.
“We are 329,” said Summers, when asked about the length of the line. He estimated the wait would be four hours.
“We were going to be happy if we got in at eight,” said Hall, standing under a large golf umbrella she shared with Summers.
Behind them at the very back of the line, for the moment, was Steve Berry of nearby Windsor, who was on his fifth year attending a Pliny the Younger release.
“The beer only comes out once a year. It’s the best beer I’ve ever had,” he said. “Two years ago, I waited eight hours.”
At 11:40 a.m., Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo hushed the crowd for a moment to make a speech and offer a toast. It is well known by now that Cilurzo tweaks the recipe for the beer every year. He said he’s used eight different hop varieties this year, including two new ones, to create a beer many consider magic in a glass. Outside, the rain picked up, and Hall and Summers were still three hours from their first beer.
“Natalie and I would like to thank you all. Cheers!” said the famed brewmaster next to his wife at the front of the pub.
Scores of customers shouted “Thank you!” in return. Then they raised their glasses and took another sip that, by all accounts, was worth the wait.