Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Backgrounder on Pliny the Elder

By William Brand
Thursday, January 31st, 2008 at 9:06 am in Uncategorized.

This is a column I wrote about Pliny the Elder that was published in the
Oakland Tribune/Contra Costa Times/MediaNews Group newspapers on April 25, 2007. Photo note: The glass of beer’s an illustration, not a glass of Pliny, although Pliny is a similar color.


Walk a mile for a pint of uberbeer the Elder

glass-with-beer-and-foam-co.jpgOUR BEER OF THE WEEK is a real champ. It’s Russian River Brewing’s , one of the beers that gave birth to the first all-American beer style in maybe 100 years. No lie.

I’m talking about double India pale ales or DIPAs – super strong, uber-hoppy and quite delicious: Pliny’s 8 percent alcohol by volume, 100 International Bitterness Units. For comparison, consider bland old Bud: 13 IBU.

Pliny’s a beer worth walking a mile to sample. And if you’re like me and most of us, you will indeed have to walk a mile or miles to find it. Pliny isn’t bottled. It’s strictly a pub beer, and all over the Bay Area, and for that matter at good pubs in far away places like Philadelphia, the arrival of a barrel of Pliny’s an event to celebrate.

Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa is tiny by brewery standards, and the co-owner, head brewer Vinnie Cilurzo, the creative genius behind Pliny, turns out a lot of beer. But Pliny has to wait its turn.

And when it arrives, it goes fast. No wonder. It’s a pleasant sipping beer. Wild, hoppy nose. But the initial taste is fruit-filled and mildly sweet, round and full with an explosive hoppy dryness balancing the rich, almost silky malt taste in a harmonious balance that fades into a long follow.

Vinnie explains that the malts are two-row ple barley, Carapils and Crystal, two treated malts that add a richness, color and full-mouth feel. Hops include mild Warrior, spicy Tomahawks, Centennial andSimcoe. There’s a second dry-hopping after fermentation with a piney, spicy, marmalade package of Centennial and Simcoe.

This beer is so drinkable that one has to remember it’s an 8 percenter, strong enough to be head-knocking after a pint or so. But what a pleasant pint. If your favorite pub doesn’t stock it, demand it or switch pubs. It’s that good.

Since Cilurzo first created it in 2004, it’s won gold medals at the professionally judged Great American Beer Festival in Denver, at the pioneering Double IPA Festival at our own Bistro in Hayward and everywhere else.

About the name: It’s named for Pliny the Elder, born Gaius Plinius Secundus, a Roman scholar and historian who wrote Natural History, credited as the first encyclopedia. It included a book on wine and beer and famous drinkers.

About Russian River and Vinnie Cilurzo: He grew up in Temecula in Southern California in a winemaking family, but he loved beer. His wife-to-be, Natalie, recalls on their first date, on his 20th birthday in 1990, he gave her $100 and told her to buy him beer. She was just 21.

Then, she said, he gave her this weird list of beers with names like Pete’s Wicked Ale. She bought the beer and later she married him.

They started a brewery, Blind Pig, in Temecula and sold it to start a brewery at Korbel on the Russian River. They opened their own brewpub in 2004. Natalie handles the business, Vinnie brews.

But wait. There’s more. There’s Pliny the Younger (****), named after a Roman relative of Pliny the Elder. It’s also helping create a new style: Triple IPA. More on Junior at a later date. If you can’t find a pub with Pliny the Elder, e-mail me at

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]