Long, soggy line for Pliny the Younger release in Santa Rosa(w/video)

Nelson Rivera doesn’t really mind if you think it’s not worth waiting 17 hours in the rain for a beer. After doing it once, Rivera said he would do it again in a heartbeat.

The 23-year-old Los Angeles resident and his friends were the first customers through the doors of Russian River Brewing Co. on Friday morning to taste Pliny the Younger, arguably the most coveted beer in America.

For their reward of being the first in line - getting their place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday - Nelson and his friends got the first sips of Pliny the Younger, an extra-hoppy triple India pale ale that packs a punch with an alcohol content of 10.25 percent.

The beer is sold for only two weeks at the downtown Santa Rosa brewpub and in select places, mostly in California, in very limited amounts. It’s served only on draft in 10-ounce glasses for $4.75 and is limited to three per customer.

In past years, customers have waited in line almost 12 hours to get inside, a reflection of the intense interest in a beer that has attracted taste-seekers from around the globe to Santa Rosa for the Pliny release. On Friday morning, the crowd was a little lighter than expected with an estimated wait of five hours for those who showed up near the pub’s 10:30 a.m. opening. Some may have been scared off by the rain, but not Rivera.

“Yes, I would do it again,” Rivera said. “It was cold; luckily it didn’t rain too hard up until this morning.”

While some people were shaking their heads as they walked along Fourth Street and asking out loud why on earth anyone would wait in line for beer, Rivera said his friends back in Los Angeles were actually jealous. He was accompanied on his trek with his girlfriend, Janet Nunez, and buddy, Brandon Ley.

“They want to be here,” he said. “They have already seen it online and called us.”

Pliny the Younger (not to be confused with Pliny the Elder, a less-potent double IPA that is sold year-round) is released the first Friday in February. Beer Advocate readers currently rate Pliny the Younger as the sixth-best beer in the world, narrowly beating out Pliny the Elder, which came in seventh.

Pliny the Younger is made in limited amounts each year because each batch is very time consuming and costly to produce. Russian River co-owner Vinnie Cilurzo said he makes minor tweaks to his recipe every year. This year’s version used seven different types of hops.

“The hop flavor is a lot more bright this year. The finish is a little crisper. It’s still a dry beer. And at the end of the day the main thing we are trying to focus on is the big hop flavors,” Cilurzo said.

This year Russian River implemented a three-hour maximum limit for pub service to keep the lines moving and ensure that no one imbibes too much. Customers were given wristbands with tabs that are removed each time they order a Pliny the Younger, preventing them from buying more than three.

Co-owner Natalie Cilurzo said those wanting a shorter wait should visit during the middle of the week, when lines were down to as little as an hour and half last year. “It’s kind of a crapshoot, weather permitting,” Natalie Cilurzo said.

The pub limits the amount of Pliny the Younger that is served on a daily basis so it does not run out of this year’s batch, which totaled 200 barrels, or about 6,200 gallons. Employees try to notify those who arrive late in the afternoon on their chances of snagging a Pliny the Younger, letting them make the decision on whether or not to take a chance. Last year, the brewpub hit its cap as early as 6 p.m. and as late as 10 p.m., Natalie Cilurzo said.

Many of those in line Friday had their umbrellas, and if not, Russian River was selling Pliny the Elder ponchos. One couple had an inflatable mattress to sit on and make the wait a little more comfortable. Both Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee & Tea were doing heavy business, which isn’t surprising given a 2013 survey by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board that found the two-week event brought $2.4 million in economic activity to the county.

Ryan and Kelly Jung came from Indianapolis to experience their first Pliny the Younger event. The two are craft beer fans who especially enjoy Three Floyds Brewing out of Munster, Ind., another highly regarded brewer.

“It’s pretty laid back,” Ryan Jung said of the line. “It would be a lot better if it wasn’t raining.”

He said he would go into the pub with an open mind on Pliny the Younger, “but I’m sure it will be amazing.” He joked that it will be like “liquid sunshine on your tongue.”

Kelly Jung said she was impressed that Vinnie Cilurzo came out and greeted customers in line before the doors opened, especially as they secured their spot at 4:30 a.m.

“Not a lot of business owners do that. It’s pretty cool,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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