Russian River Pliny The Younger (Triple IPA)
"What a great tasting beer, I've been drinking this for the past week or so and I'm having one now and it's is great to smell and taste. I brought a Growler of it to our brew club and it was a big hit. If your thinking about brewing this, do it, You won't regret it." - Castermmt
"This beer is just as I remember Pliny the Younger back a few months ago, Incredible! Followed the recipe to a 'T'. Every recipe that I have brewed based on Kal's recipes have turned out excellent!!" - v-twin
"I just tapped this guy last night. Having never had the real thing I really can't do a comparison. However, I can say this is one of the best beers I've brewed to date. Like Kal, I was thinking what a PITA this beer is to make. Once you taste it you forget how much work went into it, and how much mess it made." - disirk
"This was one of three beers we served at a local festival yesterday. Didn't quite kick the keg but it was well received amongst the IPA lovers." - Roadie
"I finally got around to brewing this beast. By far it was the most hoppy and most difficult beer I've made. At the end of the day, it's delicious! I always ask myself the same question when I buy or brew a beer that's new to me: Will I buy or brew this beer again? In this case, yes, although not for the event I had in mind. I love my hoppy beers and this one is great. The only issue is that at nearly 11%, it is best sipped at home and not guzzled at a sporting event! Thanks for the recipe and insight Kal!" - huhwha
Russian River Brewing Company's Pliny the Younger is a Triple IPA that has garnered a massive cult-like following over the years, partially due to the limited availability.
Pliny the Younger is not sold in bottles. It is only available for approximately two weeks every February directly from the kegs at the Russian River brew pub in Santa Rosa California, or in VERY limited distribution through local pubs in the region, some of which have had to resort to a lottery system or issuing tickets to keep things fair.
The ale, a successor to the popular double-hopped Pliny The Elder, was just a local story until 2009-2010 when word got out about Younger.
Several factors account for the growth: Russian River's stellar reputation, beer drinkers' affinity for extreme hops, and the demand for a rare, excellent beer in short supply. When Beer Advocate in 2009 christened Younger the best beer in the world (supplanting the legendary Belgian Westvleteren 12), the frenzy grew.
This only helped to push a hard to get beer into the status of nearly impossible to get, with some patrons driving across the country and lining up for hours to enjoy a single pint during the two week window.
Demand is so huge for this beer that they've even stopped filling growlers at the Russian River brew pub because in 2010 some patrons were buying four growlers each (the allowed limit) and then selling them in the parking lot, on Craigslist, or on eBay for $150 each (a six fold profit).
So who was 'Pliny the Younger' anyway? To quote the brewery's web page:
"Pliny the Younger was the nephew and adopted son of Pliny the Elder. He was a lawyer and an author in Ancient Rome and witnessed the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, which took the life of his uncle. Pliny the Younger lived from 61 AD to 112 AD. He wrote many letters which survive today and have great historical value. We thought it appropriate to also pay tribute to Pliny the Elder's nephew by naming this special beer after him!"
For more information on the history of Pliny the Younger and what people will go through to get some, watch these videos:
History and cult-like craziness aside, how does it actually taste? It's a robust, hoppy beer, with piney, fruity and big floral aromas that masks the high 10 percent alcohol. In a way it's impossibly, clean, crisp and smooth for a beer that's that high in alcohol. After taking a sip it feels like the beer is still sitting on your tongue, even a minute after your last sip (what wine connoisseurs call excellent 'length').
Younger is not overly bitter like some Double (Imperial) IPAs. It's balanced, very floral, and complex. It has a smoother finish and less bite than Pliny The Elder which we've brewed a few times now. Because of this smoother finish, it doesn't taste like a 10%+ ABV beer so be warned - it can sneak up on you!
While Pliny the Younger packs a serious punch, it lacks the overwhelmingly sweet flavour that normally dominates Imperial or Double IPAs. This is one of the keys to brewing Younger correctly: It needs to finish very dry, in the 1.006 to 1.008 range. Not an easy thing to do given that the starting gravity is 1.088. That's 91-93% attenuation! You need to do whatever you can to make sure it finishes as dry as possible. This means a very long mash at low temperature (or even better, a step mash that starts very low and hits a few temperatures as described in our recipe below to make the wort extremely fermentable), proper aeration, and proper fermentation with the right amount of clean yeast.
The hop oil level is so high that Russian River uses hop extract for the bittering hops instead of traditional pellet or whole hops. The hop extract isn't isomerised, so it still contains all the oils and volatiles of normal hops (alpha-acids, beta-acids and essential oils). All the resins are extracted from the hop leaving behind the vegetal matter, which means that when hop extract is used, less precious wort is soaked up in the kettle and the possibly of giving the beer a grassy taste is minimized.
A syringe of CO2 extracted hop extract
For homebrew use, hop extract is available as HopShots in disposable syringes. Generally speaking, 5ml of hop extract replaces 1 oz of a 10% AA hop, or another way to say it is that 1ml of hop extract adds 2AAU of bitterness.
Hop extract in syringes is used at 90 and 45 minutes, pellet hops for all other additions
Even with the bittering additions done with hop extract, there was still a staggering amount of hop sludge at the bottom of the boil kettle due to the nearly full pound of late hops added (for this 10 gallon batch).
Cleaning was a chore due to the oily residue left behind in the boil kettle from the hop extract. It is incredibly sticky and hard to clean. Normally pellet or whole hops take a few minutes to clean out of the boil kettle. This sticky/oily substance took over an hour, and we must have used two thirds of a bottle of Oxiclean spray.
Lesson learned for next time: We recommend using a plastic putty knife or similar straight edge tool to first remove as much of the tar as you can, limiting the amount of Oxiclean spray and elbow grease required to break down the remaining oily tar-like substance. Scrubbing, spraying, and swearing the whole time we were thinking to ourselves "No way are we going to brew this again".
Fast forward to today however, where we've been enjoying Pliny the Younger on tap for almost a month and we've changed our tune somewhat. All we can think is "Wow - This is the Imperial IPA we need to keep on tap at all times". It is truly that good. We're considering buying hop extract in bulk (hard to find) and our own 5ml Luer-Lok disposable syringes to make our own hop extract syringes.
Brew up a batch and let us know how you like it!
Credit for the original recipe go to Scott at Bertus Brewery who's fantastic articles on this beer (here and here) are a must-read. He's one of the few brewers that goes into detail explaining the why's and how's of what he does and the ingredients he chooses. Excellent work Scott!
Russian River Pliny the Younger (Triple IPA)
Size: 12.0 gal (post-boil @ 68F)
Mash Efficiency: 91.3% (lower due to the high gravity)
Calories: 287 kcal per 12.0 fl oz
Original Gravity: 1.088 (style range: 1.075 - 1.090)
Terminal Gravity: 1.008 (style range: 1.010 - 1.020)
Colour: 6.5 SRM (style range: 8 - 15)
Alcohol: 10.5% ABV (style range: 7.5% - 10%)
Bitterness: Who knows (style range: 60 - 120)
28 lb Domestic 2-Row Malt (84.8%)
1.3 lb Carapils or Carafoam (3.9%)
0.7 lb Crystal Malt 40L (2.1%)
14 HopShots (14 x 5ml hop extract) - added during boil, boiled 90 min [??? IBU]
2 HopShots (2 x 5ml hop extract) - added during boil, boiled 45 min [??? IBU]
0.7 oz Columbus Hops (14%) - added during boil, boiled 45 min [12.6 IBU]
3 oz Simcoe Hops (11.7%) - added during boil, boiled 30 min [37.9 IBU]
1 Whirlfloc Tablet (Irish moss) - added during boil, boiled 15 min
3 lb Corn sugar (dextrose) (9.1%) - added during boil*, boiled 10 min (sprinkle in slowly)
5 oz Simcoe Hops (11.7%) - added immediately after boil
3 oz Centennial Hops (10.9%) - added immediately after boil
2 oz Amarillo Hops (9.4%) - added immediately after boil
1 oz Chinook Hops (10%) - added immediately after boil
52g Fermentis Safale US-05 dry yeast** (or an appropriate starter)
1 oz Simcoe Hops (11.7%) - dry hop #1 (added to primary fermenter near end of fermentation, steeped 3 days)
1 oz Amarillo Hops (9.4%) - dry hop #1 (added to primary fermenter near end of fermentation, steeped 3 days)
1 oz Warrior Hops (15.4%) - dry hop #1 (added to primary fermenter near end of fermentation, steeped 3 days)
2 oz Columbus Hops (14%) - dry hop #2 (added to brite tank, steeped 9 days)
2 oz Centennial Hops (10.9%) - dry hop #2 (added to brite tank, steeped 9 days)
1 oz Simcoe Hops (11.7%) - dry hop #3 (added to brite tank, steeped 6 days)
1 oz Chinook Hops (10%) - dry hop #3 (added to brite tank, steeped 6 days)
1 oz Warrior Hops (15.4%) - dry hop #3 (added to brite tank, steeped 6 days)
2 oz Simcoe Hops (11.7%) - dry hop #4 (added to brite tank, steeped 3 days)
1 oz Amarillo Hops (9.4%) - dry hop #4 (added to brite tank, steeped 3 days)
1 oz Columbus Hops (14%) - dry hop #4 (added to brite tank, steeped 3 days)
*It's been said that moving the addition of simple sugars like corn sugar to the end of fermentation can help if you have attenuation problems. (We've never had issues so we always add to the boil per our recipe). If you prefer to add at the end of fermentation, heat up some distilled water to near boiling (above 180F) and stir in about 1lb of corn sugar. Let it cool and add directly to the fermenter. Keep doing this every 2-3 days until all of the corn sugar is used up. Why is this said to help with attenuation? Yeast likes to eat simple sugars (like corn sugar) first before it attacks the more complex ones produced by the grain. By giving the yeast only the 'less tasty' stuff (complex sugars) first they're more likely to finish it all before moving on the 'tasty stuff' (simple sugars). Giving them both at the same time is like giving your kids dinner and desert at the same time. They'll eat desert first and then be too full to eat their dinner. Given them dinner first, and there's always room for desert. 😉
**If you prefer to use liquid yeast, Wyeast 1056 American Ale or White Labs WLP001 California Ale are excellent choices as they are the same clean fermenting Chico strain as US-05. You'll need to use 9 packs/vials or make an appropriate starter.
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Notes / Process:
- Add 500mg potassium metabisulphite to 20 gallons water to remove chlorine / chloramine (if required).
- Water treated with brewing salts to our Hoppy flavour profile: Ca=110, Mg=18, Na=16, Cl=50, SO4=275 (Basically Randy Mosher's ideal Pale Ale numbers with slightly less Sulphate). For complete details on how to adjust your water, refer to our step by step Water Adjustment guide.
- 1.5 qt/lb mash thickness.
- Mash at 145F for 120 mins, then raise to 155F and hold for an additional 30 mins. (These times may seem like overkill, but we need this beer to be as attenuated as possible).
- Raise to 168F mashout temperature and hold for 10 mins.
- ~90 min fly sparge with ~5.6-5.8 pH water (measured at mash temperature). Collect 14.9 gallons.
- Whirlfloc and hops per schedule. Lid on at flameout, start chilling immediately. Boil for 90 minutes, adding
- Cool the wort quickly to 66F (we use a one-pass convoluted counterflow chiller to quickly lock in hop flavour and aroma) and transfer to fermenter.
- Aerate well. Pure oxygen from a tank may be used at a rate of 1 litre per minute for 120 seconds per 5 gallons. (Given the extremely high attenuation we're trying to achieve, a second dose of 1 litre per minute for 60 seconds approximately 12-18 hours after the yeast is pitched may be helpful).
- Pitch yeast and ferment at 66-68F (wort temperature). We use modified stainless fermenting buckets in wine fridges.
- Due to the high hopping rates and quadruple dry hopping the beer is very susceptible to oxidation. You have to be very careful to minimize all exposure to oxygen in order to preserve the hop flavours and aromas. Even hops themselves can have oxygen caught in their anatomy. Some hints:
- If a vessel needs to be opened, purge the headspace with CO2 before closing.
- Before adding hops to beer, place them in a in a tall container and flush with CO2.
- Flush target vessels with CO2 before transferring beer. If hops are to be added at the same time (i.e. dry hop #2), add them to the vessel first.
- Don't be stingy with CO2! CO2 is cheap. To flush vessels, growlers, kegs we have a separate bare gas line off one of our manifolds with its own shutoff.
- Add dry hops #1 once fermentation is nearing completion (i.e. 5 points from terminal gravity) and raise the temperature to 70-72F. We simply turn off the fermenting fridges and allow the beer to naturally rise to room temperature. Steep dry hops #1 for 3 days while fermentation finishes.
- Add dry hops #2 to brite tank (we use 5 gallon glass carboys), purge with CO2 to avoid oxygen pickup, then carefully rack in the beer on top of the hops. Allow to steep for 3 days at 70-72F room temperature, gently swirling a few times a day. We do not recommend using hop sacks or other containers as you'll get the best flavour extraction from the hops if you let them roam free. For beers such as this that require multiple dry hop additions, some will dry hop in kegs using stainless steel dry hoppers, tying a piece of unflavoured / unwaxed dental floss to the lid to make it easy to remove (the floss is thin and doesn't impede the seal between the keg and keg lid). We don't recommend this approach as we find that the hops tend to clump together which in turn reduces oil extraction, requiring far too many hops to be used (and more beer lost to absorption).
- After 3 days in the brite tank add dry hops #3. Leave previous hops in. Swirl gently a few times a day.
- After 6 days in the brite tank add dry hops #4. Leave previous hops in. Swirl gently a few times a day.
- After 9 days in the brite tank package as you would normally. We rack to kegs that have first been purged with CO2, and then carbonate on the low side (around 2 volumes of CO2) to minimize carbonic bite and let the hop and malt flavours shine through. We chill the kegs to near freezing while carbonating at the same time in a 6-keg conditioning fridge. After ~1-2 weeks at serving pressure the kegs will be carbonated and ready to serve. Like all hop forward beers this Triple IPA is best consumed fresh so feel free to raise the CO2 pressure temporarily to 30-40 PSI to carbonate fast over a 24 period, and then turn back down to serving pressure. Some hop bits will have invariably made their way into the keg during transfer so we use a Hop Stopper Keg Edition filter to ensure that hops do not clog the dip tube and/or end up in the glass. Force carbonating at high pressure and using a Hop Stopper filter allows us to serve this beer 24 hours after kegging. There's no need to wait a few days for any hop bits that made their way into the keg to first settle out.
- We do not recommend using finings such as unflavoured gelatin as it may "round off" hop flavours / aromas.
For detailed brewing instructions, see our Brew Day Step by Step guide.
Questions? Visit our Russian River Pliny the Younger Triple IPA forum thread.
Interested in seeing what we're brewing right now? Follow us on Instagram for pictures and videos of our brewing activities as they happen.
Pictures / Videos
Russian River Brewing Company owners Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo raise glasses of Pliny the Younger with their staff before opening their doors to customers in Santa Rosa, in February 2017. Image (c) sonomamag.com
Vinnie Cilurzo talks hops with customers on the first day of release of Pliny in 2016. Image (c) pressdemocrat.com
Patrons enjoying Pliny the Younger in 2017. Image (c) kqed.org
Serving a tray of Russian River Brewing Company Pliny the Younger in 2019. Image (c) sfgate.com
Pliny the Younger 2018. Image (c) berkeleyside.com
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Day 9 #plinytheyounger2018 has the biggest turnout so far! The wait today might be up to 8 hours by the looks of this line. At least the weather is gorgeous! Thank you to everyone for visiting our pub for this year’s Pliny the Younger release! #plinytheyounger #plinytheelder #sfbeerweek #sfbeerweek2018 #craftbeer
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It’s #plinytheyounger time again at #RRBC! Pliny the Younger saw his shadow today for the first time in years. No rain in the forecast for a change! So far today we have met people from as far away as El Salvador, Finland, and the Philippines. And the beer tastes great! #plinytheyounger2018 #craftbeer #plinythelder