Monday, 22 February 2016

Respect your Elders...

A big beer on a big barrel. And and they 
don't come much bigger than Russian
River Brewing's (Santa Rosa, California)
Pliny The Elder Imperial IPA. So how
did I get my grubby little hands on one?
I have seen the Holy Trinity. I know the Holy Trinity. I have beheld the Holy Trinity.

No, not that Father, Son and Holy Spirit jazz that all good Catholics talk about. I'm more heathenly than heavenly.

That said, I do know the Bible pretty well. Like the part where Jesus turned water into wine and Judas scolded him, saying, "You can't just insert free products into a stable economy! You'll crash it!" And Jesus said, "Hush, my child." And Judas stormed off, yelling, "This is total bullshit!" And Jesus whispered to Peter, "Meh, what's the worst he can do?" And noticing the Roman guards approaching, Peter quickly asked Jesus, "Have we met?"

See? Who has two thumbs and knows his Bible? This guy! (Gesturing towards myself with both thumbs - you have to kinda picture it.) But my favourite part of the Bible was that day that God and Jesus were talking and some guy who wasn't there was writing about it.

No, my personal Holy Trinity was three top-flight Imperial IPAs from around the world - Auckland, New Zealand's Epic Brewing's Hop Zombie, Santa Rosa, California's Russian River Brewing's Pliny The Elder and Waterbury, Vermont's The Alchemist Heady Topper. When I started researching IPAs, these three became my Holy Grail, if I'm allowed to say that anything remotely religious here anymore.
Pliny The Elder died in 79 AD because Mount
Vesuvius erupted and he thought, "Hey, this
explosion of molten lava deserves to be seen up
close and personal." Roman scholar, my ass...

From everything I had read, those were the three IIPAs that I had to try, even if it meant killing a man. But like a bad man - like Hitler-level. (Someone once asked me if I could go back in time, would I kill baby Hitler? Well, I'm not quite sure. The problem is when you came back to this time and told people what you had done, they'd just say, "Who's Hitler?" And you've killed a baby.)

So for a couple of years now, these three beers became my Holy Trinity, my Troika of Terrific, my Trifecta of Tasty, my Holy Grail of Greatness. And in the last seven months, I have had the good fortune of getting my hands on all three. First up last May, Stevil St Evil flew in from Wellington, NZ, with a Hop Zombie and four other Kiwi hop bombs. One down. A few months later, when I got my hands on another selection of NZ's best, Rib Eye Jack's Ale House's GM Steve popped over to Donny's Bar and Grill for an afternoon of drunken debauchery sophisticated beer sampling. With him came the Heady Topper. Two down. And finally, just this month, Rib Eye Steve returned from Santa Rosa with several Pliny the Elders stashed in his luggage, one with my name on it.
In this John Burgess photo taken for the Santa Rosa
newspaper, the Press Democrat, Russian River co-owner
and head brewer Vinnie Cilurzo, left, talks to eager
patrons who lined up for blocks to sample the annual
release of triple-IPA Pliny The Younger. This is why
Rib Eye Steve made the pilgrimage to Santa Rosa...

I nearly shared it with Rib Eye Jack's Cask Night regular, Steve D. He asked me that night if I had received any gifts from Santa Rosa. I told him about the Pliny and he suggested, "If I don't get one, can we split yours?" Absolutely as great beer is better shared and as it was bloody cold out, I knew the Pliny would have the perfect chill on it. Just if I was readying to ask our lovely Beer Technician Kylie for two sample glasses and a side-order of no questions asked please, Rib Eye Steve wandered up to Steve D with a bag, containing his Pliny. We all had one. Well, all the cool kids did, anyway. And me.

But the Pliny the Elder was not the reason Rib Eye Steve made the pilgrimage to Santa Rosa. No, he actually went for other reasons. For one, Santa Rosa is surrounded by some of the best wine country in the USA and he is a sommelier. And two, like he did in 2015, Steve was down there for the annual release of Russian River's Pliny The Younger, a triple-IPA, only available on tap at the brewery's restaurant. This is an event that attracts hundreds of IPA lovers from across the continent and beyond at the beginning of February every year. And Rib Eye Steve is always pretty pumped to fly down and be part of that annual throng of craft beer enthusiasts.

In yet another John Burgess photo (this guy is one helluva
photographer), Russian River co-owner Natalie Cilurzo
takes a picture of the line-up in front of the brewery on
February 5. Let's just say Natalie would have to walk many
 blocks to get everyone waiting in line for the 11 am open.
And while he flew down solo, much like me, he doesn't care. "When I'm in the line-up, I become instant 'best friends' with everyone around me. The line-up itself is all about comradery, the joint adventure, exchanging beer stories. Obviously, it's a group of people who love really good beer so you have a lot in common right from the start."

But like last year, the Russian River Brewing rules were simple. You get three samples of Pliny The Younger and can only spend a max of three hours in the brewery, drinking it and others. Last year, Steve somehow managed to get (I think) five samples and reviewed each one on Untappd with each review getting progressively rosier. Funny how a 10.5-11% beer (it varies from year to year) can alter your thinking the more you have. By the end, he was probably ready to chain himself to the bar.

Okay, before I go any further, perhaps I should explain who Pliny (ply-knee) The Elder is. He was a Roman scholar, historian and writer back in 60 AD, who created the name "lupus Salictarius" (a wolf among scrubs) for hops, which grew wild among willows. Now hops are called humulus Lupulus though only by Latin-speaking botanists. So both of them.
Is it wrong that I am looking at this picture and ogling
that Pliny The Elder a bit more than this pretty lady?
What is wrong with me? Maybe it's this. I got my hands
on a Pliny The Elder. Her? Yeah, not gonna happen...
Pliny bought the farm when he decided to watch the eruption of Mount Vesuvius a little too closely with his last known journal entry likely being "Lava hurts." So his nephew, Pliny The Younger carried on his work from a safer distance. Not entirely sure what the family's fascination with volcanoes was but we all need insanely-stupid hobbies.

Okay, the minute I got my Pliny, I posted the top picture on Facebook, tagging Stevil St Evil, Beer Bro Glenn and acclaimed New Zealand beer writer and brother from another mother Neil with one of those bragging "Look what I gots" posts. Stevil has never had it but desperately would love to. Neil had it early in his beer writing career and called it the best beer he had ever had. (He likely has had a few that surpassed it by now.) Only Glenn preached cautious optimism as he has a Hop-Head friend who tried it and wasn't as impressed as she thought she would be.

Sorry to hear about her experience because I thought this was one of the best beers I've ever had and proved more than worthy of being in my Holy Trinity. In the commercial description, the brewery notes that it "is brewed with 40% more malt and over twice the amount of hops as compared to our already-hoppy IPA."
In another Burgess photo, Anthony Graves of Gary,
Indiana, checks out his Pliny The Younger t-shirt.
Graves had been in the line-up since 2:30 am, hoping
to be among the first to sample the sought-after beer.
Oh yeah, this is a little melon and pine on the nose but all bitter pine on the tongue. The extra malts balance out the hops perfectly as it playfully tingles your tongue long after you swallow - even longer than the Heady Topper did. This, like the other two, is a picture (pitcher?) perfect IIPA. Steve D's review was an even-more-succinct: "It was epic!"

He marvelled that I had waited five days to drink it as he knocked his down that night but I did have a reason - a dumb one, perhaps but a reason. I put it in my fridge's top shelf front and centre so whenever I went in there for cream in the morning or beer at night, I could see it, there it was. A Pliny The Elder in my fridge. The last beer of the Holy Trinity. End of an era. As for Steve D, he's off to Vermont in a week with one goal - to secure a Heady Topper. While I applaud his goal, I am faced with a new problem. Creating a new Holy Trinity.

When the American Home-Brewers Association asked Zymurgy magazine to have their readers send in their Top-20, using the choices to compile their own Top-50 List of Best Beers for 2015, it turned out that I've had many of them, including Pliny The Elder (1st), Bell's Two-Hearted Ale (2nd), Stone Enjoy By IPA (4th), Founders Breakfast Stout (5th) and Heady Topper (6th) - so five of the top-six.
When she arrived at my Singleton Birthday
Bash at Rib Eye Jack's, my sweet daughter
Katie brought a cake that she enlisted her aunt
to bake. It's a beer mug but delicious. Like cake.
There were another 12 more on that Top-50 that I've enjoyed so there's an untried 33 beers to help create the new Holy Trinity and frankly, I'm already putting Epic Brewing's Armageddon IIPA on the list. If you brew it, I will come. And drink it. And probably belch. Scratch my ass a little. Gross Donny stuff.

And speaking of respecting your elders, turns out I had birthday a couple of Sundays back. To that end, some eight of us descended on Rib Eye Jack's for a quiet drink, which would be followed by many, many noisy ones. Being as it was Valentine's Day, we simply declared it the Singleton Birthday Bash and partied the night away. And since Stevil St Evil's birthday is February 15th and he is 16 hours ahead, just as we were in the thick of mine, he was beginning his celebrations. We virtually turned the Earth into a Beer Sandwich. Included were my life-long friend Dave, former Beer Store coworker, Amy, Draft Services goddess Sandi, former co-worker Gordo who brought along Monique from his store, co-worker Jay-Dawg and of course, my Beer Store daughter Katie. I decided eight was the optimal number as it takes seven people to carry me out of a bar without banging my skull on door-frames. But the bar was ready for us, enlisting their A-Team of Terrific Tiffers as our bartender and Wee Dynamo Cara as our server. Rib Eye Steve was their back-up muscle.
Monique, right, totally photo-blocks server Cara but
I'm certain that was done at Cara's request. Tough
luck, Cara, because you're still in this blog. You can
hide but there is no escaping being part of this one...

Starting out slowly, I began with a couple of Nickel Brook Naughty Neighbour Pale Ales (4.9%). But Cara was having none of that as she cheekily ordered me to "Step it up!" From there, it went to Muskosa Mad Tom IPA (6.4%) and then Amsterdam Boneshaker IPA (7.1%). Steve gifted me with Rainhard's Refuge Double IPA (8%) and after that, I just said, screw it and switched to Nickel Brook's delicious Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout at 9.5%. Since we've known each other all our lives, it turns out a lot of my and Dave's stories end with "... and then we got the hell out of there!" Oddly enough, so do my and Amy's stories. Who knew? Another revelation was that Sandi, a dedicated wine drinker, sampled a number of my beers, turning thumbs down on all until she got to the Bolshevik Bastard. "Now that is a beer I could drink!" (So if you're trying to entice a wine drinker to the Beer Dark Side, use imperial stouts.) I'm not entirely sure when we cleared out that night but I suspect it was roughly at the same time when I co-opted Canadian singer The Weeknd's song and started singing to my Bolshevik Bastard, "I can't feel my face when I drink you... but I love it." But the Rib Eye ladies took awesome care of us so thank you to both!
Posting any mention of Barnstormers Brewing
(Barrie) Flight Delay IPA on Twitter actually
sees you get numerous Tweets from various
people, asking if you've sought compensation
for your "delayed flight." Spam at its finest...

Also, a couple of Facebook birthday posts that day were worthy of mention here. High school pal Andrew Carey posted a huge picture of Mad Tom and declared, "I am renaming my Mad Tom today as Mad Don in honour of your birthday!" I can think of no higher accolade. Then public school chum Donny Stewart piped in, "Happy Birthday to the undisputed Prince of Pints, the Baron of Beers, the Lord of Libations and the Sultan of Suds!" To which, Neil Miller noted, "The bar has been raised. I'm just the Minister of Hops." Well, yeah, but mine are just honourary titles whereas his comes with a sweet New Zealand government pension, being a Minister and all.

One final note about Twitter. I recently praised Barnstormer Brewing's Flight Delay IPA on the social media and near instantly, got a message from a stranger asking if I'd sought compensation for my delayed flight. Say what? We were talking about a beer. Then I got three more from different strangers, asking the same question. Ahhh, Twitter spam attached to the words "flight delay." (Barnstormer is chasing it down with Twitter.) No biggie but imagine mentioning a Bolshevik Bastard on Twitter and receiving Spam tweets asking if you thought Comrade Josef Stalin was a fair and just leader. Or mentioning Great Lakes' Harry Porter on Twitter and then having a huge owl crash through your back window with a cease-and-desist order from Warner Brothers. Social media has its pitfalls. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...