Thursday, October 31, 2013

How I discovered Microbrews

Growing up in Utah, my exposure to good beer was very limited. Usually we drove the 19 miles across the border to the Idaho State Liquor Store in Preston to get brands unavailable in Utah. Sometimes we homebrewed.

About 20 years ago I moved to Santa Rosa in Sonoma County and a friend took me to a coffee shop that had North Coast Brewery's Old Rasputin emperial Russian stout on tap. I had never seen a coffee shop with beer on tap, and the taphandle picture of Rasputin's hypnotic eyes made me want to give it a try. It was delicious from the first sip, and it changed my life. The coffee shop offered a drink called Anastasia's Revenge, a pint of Old Rasputin with a shot of espresso in it. I would have a Revenge before my typing class, and it always perked me up into just the right mood.

Since then, I learned about other Sonoma County-brewed treasures, like Racer 5 from Bear Republic in Healdsburg and Brown Shugga from Lagunitas in Petaluma.
Charlie Papazian autographs The Joy of Homebrewing at Russian River
Of course, things changed for me when Russian River Brewing Company opened across the street from the public library in Santa Rosa. Little did I know that I was visiting a legend in the making, it was simply conveniently located a short walk from my house, and their beers were tasty.

When RRBC first opened, they had both Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger on tap. It was no big deal at the time; it was just something we locals took for granted. While The Elder was a year-round release, The Younger was a seasonal release that came out each February. For long-time regulars, it simply came down to a decision between an 8% Elder in a 20-ounce glass or an 11% Younger in a 10-ounce glass. Sometimes you felt like the bigger glass, and sometimes the smaller.

February 2013 release of Pliny the Younger in Santa Rosa, California
Everything changed in 2008, when the annual Younger release occurred during SF Beer Week. That was the first year of lines waiting for the now-world-famous triple-IPA. Sadly, a few greedy people ruined things for everybody by buying the maximum of four growlers of Younger, emptying the 500-gallon serving tank by 8 p.m. the first day. Adding insult to injury, they were offering the growlers for $150 on Craiglist.

Since then, nobody is allowed to buy growlers of Pliny the Younger anymore, but hundreds of people still come from all over the world to stand in line over eight hours for the change to get a 10-ounce glass of golden ambrosia. The Sonoma County Economic Development Board says those beer tourists brought in $2.3 million during the two-week event.

More details about the 2013 Pliny the Younger release at Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California.

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