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Berger: Pliny the Younger and our craft beer heritage

  • The release of Pliny the Younger at Russian River Brewing Company in downtown Santa Rosa, Friday Feb. 7, 2014. (PD FILE, 2014)

A decade ago, a consumer survey said beer had been surpassed as Americans' beverage of choice by wine.

The wine industry was buoyed by the news, and it seemed to be based on the fact that there was a proliferation of wine brands; a fast-growing diversity (new grape varietals and adventuresome styles); and a dramatic increase in wine bars in restaurants.

From the looks of what's happing on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa, beer is fighting back. Lines stretch out the door of Russian River Brewing Co., down the block and up a side street with people all aiming to get a sip of a special beer.

Its name is now widely known by beer lovers. Pliny the Younger is the creation of one of the country's finest brewmasters, Vinnie Cilurzo, and it's so popular here (and at select other locations around the Bay Area) because it's a time-limited brew.

Less than a month after Vinnie begins to make it each February, he halts production. And it's easy to see why the Younger (as beer aficionados call it) is not a year-around brew.

For one thing, it's hard to make since it's a triple-hopped India Pale Ale (IPA) that calls for very exacting brewhouse work to perfect. Also, it's expensive: the hops Vinnie uses are among the most expensive in the world. And it is fragile.

“All IPAs should be consumed as quickly as possible,” said Cilurzo. “They don't age and they begin to lose their aroma almost as soon as you finish making them.”

So it's available only on tap.

Vinnie may be the most famed of the current set of micro-brew producers, but nationally the craft brew movement has exploded in the last few years. It may be strongest in northern California, where it all began some 40 years ago.

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