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Pliny time again: Beer fans to line up for Santa Rosa brewery's once-a-year ale

  • Russian River Brewing Co. brewer Al Gorton fills kegs with Pliny the Younger at their Santa Rosa bottling facility on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012. (Christopher Chung)

The kid is back in town.

That means long lines outside Russian River Brewing Co.'s downtown Santa Rosa brew pub on Friday and lots of voice mail messages on brewer Al Gorton's phone.

“I get a lot of friends this time of year,” Gorton said Thursday at the company's south Santa Rosa production facility.

Gorton was in the process of filling kegs with Pliny the Younger, a Triple IPA (India Pale Ale) that is so popular with beer aficionados that people come from all over just to sample it.

Last year, that included beer enthusiasts from Japan and Denmark, said Natalie Cilurzo, the company's co-owner.

Pliny the Younger, which routinely earns raves from critics, packs a wallop despite its relatively low alcohol content compared to, say, vodka.

Credit the hops, which Cilurzo said share genetic properties with the main chemical found in marijuana and magnify the beer's 10.7 percent alcohol content.

“It's Pliny the Elder on steroids,” Cilurzo said, referring to another Russian River India Pale Ale that is available year-round.

The Plinys were uncle-nephew Roman naturalists and historians of the first century A.D. The elder was credited with the first botanical classification of hops.

Russian River introduced Pliny the Younger eight years ago. But it wasn't until BeerAdvocate rated it the top beer in the world in 2009 that things got loopy.

To avoid selling out of Pliny the Younger, the company no longer sells the prized concoction to the general public in kegs or growlers. Instead, customers have to belly up to the Fourth Street bar or at a select few other establishments where the brew is sold, mostly in the Western United States.

Sales start today and in two weeks, the kegs will be dry.

Russian River made about 30 percent more Pliny the Younger this year using the production facility off Corgan Avenue, Cilurzo said.

On Thursday, Gorton was in the process of filling 307 kegs. “The younger makes me older very quick,” the brewer quipped.

The beer's popularity mirrors the explosive growth in the craft brew industry nationwide. Cilurzo said preliminary figures reveal that sales were up 14 percent in 2011.

She said Pliny the Younger is not a huge source of revenue for the company because it is expensive to make and results in lost production time for the company's other offerings.

But people are expected to line up long before the Fourth Street pub opens at 11 a.m. today, and at $4.50 for a 10-ounce glass, celebrate the kid's brief return.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com.

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