With the recent announcement that Russian River Brewing Company is pulling out of the Washington market, beer drinkers across Seattle are bemoaning the loss of their outstanding IPAs, Belgian-style ales and barrel-aged beers from retailers’ shelves. But, no beer will be missed by more consumers than Pliny the Elder.
This uber-popular 8% ABV Double IPA has become the stuff of legends in Seattle. Regarded by some as hands-down the best beer made in America, it is a familiar name on any “best of” ranking list. As word of the greatness of Pliny spread to IPA drinkers around Puget Sound, the demand for Pliny became insatiable over the past few years. Many retailers imposed single bottle limits to try and spread the wealth, while others jacked up the price. Regardless of what they did to try and control the flow, it was the norm for retailers to sell out of their allocated shipments the very same day they were received and put on the shelves.
So, what is all the hype about? Pliny is indeed an outstanding IPA. Anyone who tells you differently is full of shit. Pliny features a robust hop profile full of pine and fruit flavors, all the while putting a solid malt backbone to work to keep the bitterness in check. It is insanely drinkable and balanced for such a hop bomb of a beer, and that to me is what sets it apart from other imperial IPAs. I absolutely agree that when fresh it is one of the best IPAs made.
But, is it worth all the hype and hassle to obtain a bottle of this precious liquid? Not really. If you happened to walk into a bottle shop as they are putting them out on the shelf, it was absolutely worth picking one up. It’s always been hard for me to pass up a pint of it whenever I see it listed on the draft list at my favorite beer bars. But, the “Pliny chasers” that run around town constantly trying to get as much of it as they can have always amazed me. With so much other great beer available around Seattle, from local breweries and out-of-state breweries alike, there is plenty else to choose from.
Some make the assertion that Pliny isn’t that great of a beer and then tell you what is better. I’m not going to do that. The beers below are five locally-available IPAs that might help you forget about Pliny. I think they are absolutely worthy of being in the discussion for beers that are as enjoyable as Pliny, and I hope you’ll think so too.
Boneyard RPM IPA – 7.5% ABV – This IPA from the Bend, OR brewery took Seattle by storm in 2012. This fruity hop explosion is only available on draft, but better beer bars across the city have been pouring a lot of it in the past year. It’s become my go-to IPA when I see it. Bottle shops that do growler sales sometimes have this available for fills as well.
Black Raven Wisdom Seeker Double IPA – 9.0% ABV – This outstanding double IPA already has as lofty of a reputation as Pliny with many local beer drinkers. The sad news? They are currently only able to brew this quarterly, and demand is already very high. In 2012, they did release a small allotment of 22oz bottles, but most of it is poured on draft. More of my thoughts on this beer here.
Fremont The Sister Imperial IPA – 8.5% ABV – I had this at the brewery in Fremont for the first time last month, and I was pretty blown away by how fantastic it was. Full of fresh fruit hop flavor. Only available on draft, but I think they do growler fills of this occasionally as well. It is currently pouring at their taproom, but it is not always available. Get it while you can.
Firestone Walker Double Jack – 9.5% ABV – This double IPA from California’s Firestone Walker has huge fruity hop flavor, but it also has a more significant malt presence than most the other beers on this list. Available on draft and in 22oz bottles.
Boneyard Hop Venom Double IPA – 10% ABV – I can’t help but put a second beer from Boneyard on the list. Hop Venom is their Double IPA, and we also see it fairly frequently on draft around town. At 10% ABV, it’s a hefty beer that you might not want more than one of, but you’ll be tempted.
For the record, I think that Russian River is 100% doing the right thing in looking out for their home market first. One of my favorite things about Seattle is that our local breweries don’t spread themselves thin and tend to concentrate on local demand, rather than expansion into other markets. It does bother me that Washington was chosen as the single market that they will discontinue, but they have their reasons. I’ll look forward to enjoying some of their fantastic beers on my next visit to Portland.