50 States of Beer: California
Pliny the Elder Double IPA & Great Beer/Great Wine Blonde Ale, Russian River Brewing Company
Due to my inability to secure any beer from Arizona or Arkansas, here we come -- to the holy grail of craft beer, that sweet Western land of promise and golden haired babes... CALIFORNIA.
Of course, when put in the position of choosing a single beer to represent an entire, hop crazy, stoned blind landmass, why not go with the best? So, Pliny it is. And Pliny it will be.
It's really not much to look at -- a storefront on a suburban street in Santa Rosa that empties out into a dusty parking lot filled with rough looking local boys in checkered Vans and snapbacks with worn, flipped up brims. I spent a few years between high school and college living in and around these Northern California towns and I didn't even notice RR until I moved back for grad school some years later. I think its humble brick and mortar presence is a big part of its charm.
A pizza-heavy brewpub with as much seating as they can fit, the customers range from craft beer pilgrims to construction workers fresh off a shift to families munching on warm, saucy pizza bites. During my most recent visit, I was able to secure a spot at the bar and immediately ordered a pint of Pliny followed guiltily by a California sampler flight. My girlfriend and I were vacationing nearby and she kindly offered to drive my drunk ass up to the hotel afterward, hence the pint and flight combo. Otherwise, I would have probably fallen asleep on the bar. These beers don't fuck around.
Pliny the Elder is one of my favorite beverages of all time. I'm not going to waste your time with my own description, other than to say that it undoubtedly lives up to its juicy, citrusy, and hop-heavy reputation. And then some. Fresh from the tap, it pours a warm caramel with a slight, bright white head that dissipates quickly. The smell will knock you off your bar stool and the refreshing aroma is balanced by a syrupy mouth feel and crisp, grapefruit on the palate. It scored a well deserved 100 on RateBeer and its 8% ABV is conservative considering its impressive abundance of flavor. It's simply everything I ever wanted in an IPA, so sue me.
The second beer I tasted is Great Beer/Great Wine. It's a Session ale only released at the Brewpub during the great grape harvest, usually around mid-September. According to RR's description, this smooth Blonde is brewed to give the sweaty winemakers something cool to drink after coming in from the endless vine rows.
Wine country's blatant beauty is overwhelming yet RR's Great Beer/Great Wine is anything but, in a good way. It's crisp and malty, with a quiet sweetness and a creamy mouth feel. Not too tart and not too bisquity, it scored a 91 on RateBeer. I enjoyed the tropical fruit aroma and the pleasant, honeyed sour quality reminded me of switchel, an age-old concoction consumed by farmers at the end of a work day. I worked on a Vermont dairy farm throughout high school, so I'm a little nostalgic when it comes to antiquated country beverages. Ok, maybe a lot nostalgic.
So, there you have it: California. I've spent several years living in the Golden State and I can't say that I miss it. Compared to their perfect beach sunsets, the smell of ocean air, the SF Giants in all their glory and the aggravatingly cheerful disposition of flower children, I much prefer my gloomy NYC neurotics and threadbare Queens baseball. But I do miss one thing, and that's Russian River Brewing Company. Oh, and Mission style burritos.