“What the hell is wrong with you?”
That’s the reaction you’ll get every time you tell someone you waited in line four hours for a beer. And, to be fair, it’s warranted. The idea is ludicrous. Seriously, is any beer, no matter how glorious, worth that amount of your time? Is the “best” beer in the world worth standing outside in the cold for?
Pliny the Younger isn’t the best beer in the world, at least not according to most reputable beer sites, it usually comes in 2nd or 3rd, but the idea of one beer being the best is kind of ridiculous to begin with anyway. Without getting into that whole conversation, let’s just say that Pliny the Younger is a very sought-after, highly respected brew. It’s not bottled or canned and is distributed in minuscule amounts to only a handful of places in February. Often tappings are in the middle of the work day and the line for the Triple IPA will still be hours long. Those who travel to Russian River to have the beer straight from the source, are often met by a crowd that camped out for the stronger nephew of Pliny the Elder.
We arrived a little after six in the morning at a bar that was set to tap Pliny the Younger at 10am. The drive over is the worst part. Your head tells you the line will be fine, but your nerves tell you you’re shit out of luck and should have gotten there far earlier. We imagine you’d have this feeling even if you left a week in advance. Luckily for us, our heads were right, and the line was just getting started when we arrived. We set up shop near the front and downed our coffees and gas station breakfasts that included Pringles, Lunchables, and breakfast sandwiches that reminded us why we don’t buy gas station breakfast sandwiches. Once you’re there, once you’re in the line, once you know you will be able to get your drink, you relax. People become jovial and the mood is actually quite festive. There is a bonding over beer happening. (Note: This could also be from the beers everyone slyly drinks while waiting.)
By 8am, the line is easily close to 100 deep. It wraps around the side of the building and reaches a level where passersby look on in utter confusion. You pass the time playing cards, making new friends, and drinking beers out of coffee cups. Cars start arriving in a steady stream. Over the next hour the line is no longer a stagnant thing but an always growing beast that snakes around cars, trash cans, and other obstacles. About 30 minutes before the doors open, the staff makes their way through the line and sells tickets so everyone can take a pre-poured glass when they walk in. The other option would lead to an enormous pack of beer-thirsty wolves descending on helpless bartender prey.
Pliny the Younger isn’t as drinkable as Pliny the Elder, but it’s still way too easy to drink for an 11% ABV beer. It’s a little scary how easily it goes down. The aroma is loaded with fruity citrus notes, more malt than you might expect, and that classic West Coast pine, yet is somehow subdued and gentle. The brilliance of the beer is how amazingly balanced it is. The alcohol is so well hidden, it’s not overly bitter, and it has a great resinous character. Tasting it and smelling it is like walking through Carcosa, with hidden things around every turn. It’s great. It’s a showcase of the brewer’s talents. Is it the best beer we’ve ever had? Hard to say, but it’s definitely up there.
So is it worth it? Is waiting hours for a small snifter of beer the way to spend a day? Actually, yes, yes it is. But it’s oddly not because of the beer. The reason you should do this, at least once in your life, is the experience. There’s a communal bonding in doing something so absurd. Yes, the beer will probably be good, maybe even fantastic, and you might enjoy it more because of the hunt, but the real enjoyment comes before you even get your hands on it. These are the things you tell stories about. There will come a day when you and your friends will share another beer and reminisce over the time you woke before dawn and cracked jokes and bottles in line outside a bar with gross sandwiches and hours to kill. And that’s why waiting four hours in line for one beer is totally worth it.