Five IPAs That Will Help You Forget About Pliny the Elder

January 2nd, 2013 · 73 Comments · California Beer

Thanks to +Russ on Flickr for the tasty image.

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.


73 Comments so far ↓

  • ditka3000

    kudos for writing this. Pliny is a very very nice beer, but I pass on it often at bars in favor of something more sessionable. and the RPM is definitely that. people chasing that beer around amaze me, too, because of the others you listed. fremont really is bringing it, and i don’t even love their interurban.

  • KK

    “So, what is all the hype about? Pliny is indeed an outstanding IPA. Anyone who tells you differently is full of shit. ”

    Its not that great. Sorry. I’d take a GF West Coast over a Pliny.

  • Buzz

    Great list thanks. I would add another local favorite of mine; Whoop Pass Double IPA from Silverdale Brewery. 8.6% ABV and 86 IBUs with perfect malt to hop balance.

    And my all time favorite which is hard to find on tap is Stone Brewery (San Diego) Ruination IPA.

  • Kaiser

    KK – Green Flash West Coast is indeed an outstanding IPA as well and could have easily been on this list.
    I still think that anyone who likes those types of IPAs, but says that Pliny is “not that great”, is too turned off by the hype, and not by the actual taste of the beer itself.
    All personal opinion, but this is when blind tasting comes in handy…

  • mr. howard

    don’t forget port mongo ipa! my current fave..

  • Devlin

    Nice piece there, Mr. Kaiser.

    Have to disagree with ditka3000 about Boneyard RPM being more sessionable than Pliny. Not much difference between 7.5% and 8%.

    The beers you listed are all great, and I’ve put down my fair share of RPM, but I wish we had more go-to IPA options in the 6% range. Maybe one day, someone will brew WA’s equivalent of Blind Pig? I’ve had some locally brewed one-offs or seasonals that’ve been pretty amazing, but nothing available year round in WA that can touch it as far as an everyday IPA goes.

  • B.I. Brewing

    Speaking of looking out for home markets, only two of those five listed were WA beers. There are a ton of other great IIPAs being brewed around the area, maybe do a rundown of those as a full future post? Just looking at the West Sound we’ve got 7’s Seas’ Ballz Deep, Sound’s Humulo Nimbus, Silver City Whoop Pass and our own Bainbridge Brewing Puget Sound Giant Hoptopus.

  • beerhorde

    We could also convince Stone to brew “Enjoy By IPA” for the WA market. I have had this side by side with Pliny in CA and they are truly in the same category of greatness.

  • DBrewer

    Skagit River’s The Gospel is a bit more hop forward than Pliny but another good local choice.
    Schooner Exact’s 3Grid is another one to check out; it’s not as bold as PtE but is quite tasty (and check out their new pub in Sodo, I had a great lunch there on NYE).
    Not local, but Alesmith’s IPA is very close to PtE.

  • Jake

    A+++ list of “alternatives.” I use alternatives in quotes because each of the beers you’ve listed is, in my opinion, better than Pliny. Pliny really kicked off the WCIPA style a few years ago, but it has been surpassed.

  • SteveE

    Humulo Nimbus is an amazing brew. This may be my substitute, but I will have to try and find all of the above

  • weiss

    Hair of the Dog’s Blue Dot is my current NW favorite. I think Fremont’s Interurban IPA is pretty great for being around 6.0%.

  • beerhorde

    Boundary Bay IPA
    Reuben’s IIPA
    Black Raven Trickster
    Big Time Icculus and Scarlet Fire
    Pike Place Double Trouble
    Diamond Knot Industrial
    Elysian Prometheus
    Sound Brewing Humulo Nimbus
    Goodlife Descender
    10 Barrel Apocalypes
    Laurelwood Workhorse

    Are all great IPAs that are readily available in WA, so we have some choices that will get us through the rough times between scoring a black market Pliny.

  • Jim

    The biggest loss is not getting Russian River’s excellent sour beers. I’ve always thought that Pliney is waaaaay over-hyped and just so-so. Everyone of the IPAs on this list, and those by the outstanding American Brewing (the second best brewery on the West Coast after Black Raven, in my opinion) are far better than Pliney. I’ve never even bothered with Pliney the Younger and waiting in line for it.

  • Kaiser

    Jim – completely agree that I personally feel that losing their barrel-aged sour/wild ales is a bigger blow. There are tons of IPAs around to soften the blow of no Pliny, but not exactly a staggering selection of sours/wild ales from domestic craft breweries that are consistently available.

  • weiss

    At least we still have Cascade and The Bruery to feed the sour fix.

  • Greg c

    Great list, agree totally, but would add a 1a. Port brewing Hop 15

  • Aaron

    Oh well, Ruination by Stone Brewing is much better than Pliny anyway. It was to hard to get and I won’t miss it one bit.

  • Joe Fan

    Triplehorn brewery in Woodinville also has an excellent IPA.

  • Lee K.

    I would add Walking Man’s Homo Erectus, Hale’s Mongoose/Supergoose, and Snoqualmie Falls’ Wildcat, besides those listed so far. Besides those local selections, Avery’s Maharaja and DuganA are both excellent.

    Malt & Vine in Redmond ( ) is having a “Pliny Replacement Tasting” on Friday 1/4 from 5:30-7:30. All is not lost.

  • sour scott

    I’ll add my voice to the comments regarding the sour ales. I barely knew that RR made Pliny because I was too busy downing Supplication. I’d love to see a list of alternate sours.

  • Eric B.

    It is a good thing that Zymergy had a clone recipe in their magazine a couple years ago. I will now have to make my own.
    I have to agree with the sour beer comments. That is the biggest loss.

  • Ryandpmp

    As much as i love Pliny, glad to read a positive redirection towards some other epic IPAs. If youre looking for an amazing beer that’s hard to find, head to Leavenworth for Icicle Brewing’s BootjackIPA. It’s the real deal.

  • Iron Chef Leftovers

    I agree with Kaiser – as over-hyped as Pliny is, it is a great beer. I have done two blind tastings involving it and it was ranked #1 out of 9 in the first one and #2 out of nine in the second one. In neither case did the participants know that Pliny was even in the lineup.

  • Ken H.

    Don’t forget Big E Ale’s 2 Pint IPA 9.5% ABV 100 IBUs It has a robust, malty and hop profile that is perfectly balanced. Lynnwood’s only Micro Brewery. Family friendly with great food, great Beer and a great staff. Always worth the drive.

  • Kendall Jones

    I wonder what beer will take its place? How will wannabes sound smart and sophisticated if they cannot drop the P bomb?

  • Guy Browne

    My new favorite is Fat Tug IPA by Driftwood brewery in Victoria, B.C. Genuinely the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. I’ve seen it on the shelves at the Whole Foods on Westlake…. but it’s pretty expensive (around $9.00 for the 22oz bottle).

  • Steve M.

    I live in Sacramento, a couple hours from Santa Rosa, and we haven’t fared any better with Pliney. When we can find it there is a 1 to 3 beer limit. If you can find it, an awesome substitute is Hoptologist from Knee Deep Brewing Co.

  • H.Romero

    all of the beer mentioned here are fine beers but Pliny is really at the top of the heap, Blind Pig slightly below it (by the height of a beer coaster). this is the reason the beer world is even talking about this. some people feel a little wounded so they apply the “i don’t think it’s that great a beer anyway” salve, but do we really believe them? of course not. vinnie has really done amazing things with his brewery and when you sit in front of one of his beers, any one of his beers, you feel the presence of greatness, of quality and attention to detail. every RR beer you buy in a store is fresh because they don’t stay on the shelves long enough to get stale and it’s been kept cold (distributors sign a contract stating they will keep it cold at all times) from the time it leaves santa rosa. making excellent beer is not cheap or easy, never will be, but it will always be in high demand and there will never be enough of it.

  • Pliny Patrick

    Since I live in Sonoma County and have been to RRBC twice already this year and have two growlers in the fridge for some good football this weekend, I feel for ya. But if you think the Elder is all hyped-up, come on down in early February for the Younger. Seriously tho, my last Trip to your beautiful state we made it to Westport Brewing out in Westport to gobble up there Navigator IPA. Best beer made in WA by far. Go west younglings.

  • T-Town Beer Barron

    I have to say that PtE is over hyped. I’ve had it on several occasions, on draft and bottled and I just don’t see what everyone else sees. The real loss here is that we won’t be getting any more of RR’s delicious sours.

    As far as suitable alternatives:
    Old Schoolhouse Imperial IPA (my favorite out of WA)
    HUB Ace of Spades (my favorite out of OR)
    Ruination IPA is tasty and VERY easy to find.

  • Caroline

    Kulshan in Bellingham Bastard Kat IPA

  • Josh

    Pliny was bomb, but regular Stone, Stone Ruination, Hop crisis (21st amendment), Ranger and Odells Ipa from CO will all do the trick.

  • Charles

    Lagunitas Sucks IPA is about as good as it gets. Too bad it’s a seasonal.

  • fellraps

    Not one mention of Ballast Point Sculpin IPA (San Diego).. crazy. Very good, and even available out here in Annapolis… Also, Pliny is better than every IPA mentioned on this page, even Pliny.

  • roccocool

    My wife really thinks Lagunitas Maxximus is the Bomb! Drink it out, oops check it out!

  • Chad D

    I disagree with H.Romero regarding RR beer being always kept cold (by contract.) Right now, there are a dozen bottles of dusty and warm Damnation on the end aisle at Kirkland Fred Meyer. For some reason, this is where the expensive beer lives: DuganA, Vertical Epic, Maharaja, etc.

    Pliny was always delicious, but was extra special because it was rare. I wonder if I would find my personal favorite (Wisdom Seeker) any less magical if it was perpetually on tap in my garage (hint hint Beaux)

  • Paulindurham

    Pliney is great as I’m sure are all the others me mentioned. One not mentioned and one you don’t see outside Chico is Sierra Nevadas “Wet hop” Harvest produced in the fall. My favorite and a real hop monster since they green hop.

  • Hipster Domination

    If you need another beer to hipster hype about, look no further than Surly Brewing. That’s all I need to say.

  • Hopster Jeff G.

    We stumbled across Pliny The Elder, in Russian River’s wonderfully ragged, hole in the wall sampling pub in Santa Rosa in ’05 or ’06. We didn’t know the hype, we just happened to be in the area. So after we gave Charlie Brown’s statue a visit, we saw the RR sampling room and wandered in. When we asked for their IPA, everybody in the tiny room chuckled like we just asked BB King if he knew any blues. As we drank Pliny The Elder, not only did we help the locals pronounce Pliny and understand who the Roman philosopher and his nephew (The Younger) were (some just said who the f*** cares, it’s just a great f***ing IPA), we were simply overwhelmed by every aspect of this double. There may be equal double IPAs, to Pliny The Elder, but none are better.

  • Alex W

    shoutout for Boneyard RPM

  • Dave Duncan

    The only rival to Pliny is in Mount Vernon, Washington at Skagit Rver Brewing Company in the form of “Sculler’s IPA”. This is at least 10.5%, if not more (depending on the batch), but the flavor is so consistent, and there is always something a little extra that makes it nothing short of a religious experience. Two pints and one of their generous Ruebens w/ black and tan onion rings, and my 180 lb frame still has to take a walk around downtown for awhile to lessen the enchantment. The reason RRBC decided to pull out of Washington is simply this: Skagit River Brewing Company’s Scullers’ IPA. My thought: Keep Pliny in California, and let the posers migrate to it, while true IPA aficionados casually saunter to the Mecca of Mount Vernon. By the way, I am not a share holder, or have I received any compensation for this extollation of virtue, except for having received the same phenomenal service the staff gives to EVERYONE!

  • Reilly Bennett

    As the manager of a brewpub in Northern California that has Pliny on draft “semi-consistently” (about a week a month and including right now) I find myself somewhere in the middle of the two growing camps of opinion. Is Pliny the Elder fantastic? Yes. Is standing in line for 90 minutes for a/an 3/5/8 oz. pour of the Younger douchy and beertentious? Yes. Is it worth it? Completely subjective. Did it live up to every preconceived notion of it’s awesomeness? Yes, it actually did. But if we’re talking about the great (and readily available, if you’re lucky enough to live in the SF bay area) Pliny the Elder, I posit a real list of IIPA/2XIPA’s that actually rival, if not surpass Pliny. And I mean no disrespect to the original author, but I do have a completely different list that I think, for my palette, is a better representation of the style.

    1. Stone Ruination IPA

    A semi-seasonal, decently available IIPA that Stone seems to think is special enough to limit quantities, but still not make a complete “white whale”; Ruination is a beautifully balanced IIPA. And circulation is broad enough that I’ve seen it marketed in Safeway’s/Whole Foods in SF/Napa/Davis (my home turfs.) Beer bars and grocery stores seem to have it in excess, at least in my jurisdiction.

    2. Ninkasi Tricerahops IIPA

    Another artisan-inspired IIPA, which rates head-and-shoulders above Ninkasi’s other IPA/IIPA offerings such as Total Domination and Babylon, it’s refineness and overall balance ranks it in the upper echelon of inspired craft beers.

    3. Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA-

    The only single IPA that makes this list, Sculpin suffers the fate of being the most sought-after, delicious beer beer nerds ruminate about directly preceding Pliny. It’s the cute strawberry blonde with big tits and amazing sex drive that the peroxided yellow-haired cheerleader is best friends with: Initially not as inspiring, but way more interesting after even a preliminary round of questioning. This is where I intitiate my blasphemy: Sculpin is better than Pliny. Not hands on ecstatic, change-your-name-from-Cat Stevens-to-Yussef-Islam-better, but I’m pretty conficent in a blind taste test I would choose it over Pliny.

    4. Berryessa Brewing Co.’s Double Tap IPA

    They’re 10 miles away from my house. I know the brewer’s names. My servers ride their bikes to the collective and drink and be merry and act stupid and fuck up my partiality in an otherwise Newberry award-deserved open mic piece. But lawsuits and domain name are the least of my worries. Because Berryessa Double Tap IIPA is that good. Like, THAT GOOD. Like, if Gilgamesh joined the A-Team with Odysseus, and he happened to be friends with good young Voldemort and good young Anakin Skywalker and good more nerdy nerd references (good Goonies characters, good Ducky from 16 Candles) then it would’ve been super awesome fun time good. But it’s not…. so #5 is….

    Stone “Enjoy By” Series

    Single batch, small-distribution IIPA’s.. And they’re the best. Touche, Stone. Touche.

  • Frankly Wright

    Laurelwood Megafauna IIPA…no more need be said.

  • Christian

    Come to Connecticut and try Gandhi-Bot Double IPA from New England Brewing….will blow you away

  • Nick

    I was over at Hop Union in October and they had Pliny and Hop Venom both on tap. After not having Pliny since they stopped distributing up here and then having it next to Hop Venom, I personally like Hop Venom much more than Pliny.

  • Leo

    I live in Sacramento the Meca for Ipas and Ive had my share of pliney the elder and I could say that its one of the best.But theres other beer just as good like auburn ale house beers,sculpin,double jack,knee deep beers,tap it,and many more.Just dont feel discouraged if you cant get pliney:just get any other ipa and enjoy!!!!!!!!!

  • Jeramie

    How funny, I love Boneyard’s RPM and was shocked when I tasted Pliny the Elder because they taste similarly delicious! I am so happy they can both be found in my lovely Home, Portland! CHEERS!

  • Laurence

    Surprised nobody has mentioned the super-hyped cousin of PTE from the East, Heady Topper from the Alchemist in Vermont. Although I live in Sonoma county I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a few of these recently. I believe the hype on this one.


    We here in NY are always trying to chase the white whale that is Russian River, since it is to no avail east of the Rocky Mountains with the exception of Philadelphia. Whilst visiting San Diego last summer the locals response to Pliny the Elder was that it’s so dime a dozen now and while it is still yes an outstanding beer, it’s ship has sailed and the next ‘big thing’ is eagerly awaited. I agree the loss of the sours like Supplication and Reverbation is the bigger loss since nothing can compare to them. While as far as PtE goes…..well
    I have a can of Alchemist Heady Topper chilling a few feet away that was picked up from the brewery last week. That opens up a whole new debate of its own =)

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