space needle

Seattle rules.  For an NYC boy like me to get to see more than a sliver of the sky at a time, it’s a pleasure, but to see the entire sky at once was beyond therapeutic.  And the sheer amount of art?  Whoa.  I thought the East Village was artsy, but its got nothing on Seattle, where every direction you look, art awaits.  A bus stop?  No, to Seattle, it’s a place to put poetry and paintings on four walls where a bus just happens to pick people up.  The neighborhoods are dripping with character, and the people are friendly and generous, with a pre-requisite to live there being at least one appendage entirely covered in tattoos.  An arm?  Nope, a canvas for a slew of tats.

Though Washington puts out some incredible wines, this trip was all about beer. A recent inductee to the dark arts of homebrewing, my brother Joe and I will riff for hours on what our favorite microbreweries are doing (I guess this is what growing up in Fort Collins, Colorado does to you; they should just give you an Odell’s pint glass when you’re born at Poudre Valley Hospital because you will no doubt be spoiled by loads of amazing beer by the time you reach high school graduation. The drinking age in Colorado is 16, right?)

Based on my recent posting of the Zymurgy Top 50 Beers chosen by homebrewers, we were on a mission to taste the beers not available to us in our fair Gotham (seriously Odells and New Belgium, get your asses out here!). First on our list was the chart-topper, Pliny the Elder, which was so damn tasty, we were reduced to babies screaming for their bottles, chanting: “Pliny! Pliny! Pliny!” And in a city where a beautiful thing exists called the Schooner (6 oz glass), we sampled a plethora of beers and felt like kids in a candy shop.  Well, intoxicated kids in a candy shop.

Here’s a quick round up of a few of the brews we tasted:

Imperial IPA, Hop Czar, Bridgeport Big Brews, Portland, Oregon, 8.5% abv


A caramel brown appearance with nice head retention. It started off promising, with an aroma of apricots rolled in hop resin with a whiff of bright citrus, but boy we were in store for a demon. Now I like my hops, but my note on this one was: “layers of aggressive hops that whipped the fuck out of my mouth, leaving it abused and covered in a filmy, resinous afterglow.” Far from balanced, but impressive due to its sheer ridiculousness, it had a pine needle finish. If it stopped ¾ of the way through the journey through my mouth, it’d be perfect, but instead it was an onslaught and I would be hard-pressed to finish twelve ounces of it.

Double IPA, Pliny the Elder, Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, California, 8% abv


Copper caramel color, with notes of blood oranges drizzled with pine resin on the nose. An intoxicating aroma that is both bright and fresh. Full-flavored hops unfold at once, leaving your tongue stimulated from front to back. Supported by malts that taste as if they were dipped in caramel, and with a hint of lime juice. The flavors stay lifted and forward in the mouth. Though super hoppy, it finishes clean and leaves you longing for another sip. I was reduced to a baby wanting another sip from the bottle. Delicious, complex and very drinkable.

Imperial Porter, Black Butte XXI, Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Oregon, 11% abv


Brewed as a limited release, the Black Butte XXI is a much sought-after release, and we were stoked to find it. It’s a porter brewed with local chocolate and coffee, with 20% of it aged in bourbon barrels. Dark chocolate and near black in appearance, it had a milk chocolate colored head that had minimal foam retention. An aroma of espresso grinds, dark chocolate and a hint of smoked chipotle pepper. Complex flavors that hit you en masse, but then quickly sort themselves out elegantly. Each flavor is clear and distinctive and balances beautifully, finishing clean. Afterwards, we noted the bottle said: “Best after October 2010”, so we rushed back to grab another bottle, which we’ll sit on, till next year. A powerhouse.

IPA, Red Chair, Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Oregon, 6.4% abv


With a creative label portraying an abandoned ski resort chair-lift that had been fashioned into a porch chair for a cabin, I was instantly intrigued. Copper caramel in color, the Red Chair exhibits a citrusy hop freshness. With flavors that fill the mid-palate, the hop character is firmly rooted and balanced over a nice malty platform. Notes of caramel dipped tangerines and graham crackers lead to a nice long finish. Refreshing and super drinkable.

What a great trip it was. Now if I can just figure out what tattoos to cover my right arm with, I’ll be all set…


7 Responses to “On the Hunt for Pliny in the Emerald City”

  1. Katherine says:

    First of all, I’m jonesin’ for some more Pliny. Its balance is amazing, making it totally drinkable. Unlike the Hop Czar which made me feel like I just made out with a hop sock. Question for you Dave: Why is it so hard to get a really hoppy homebrew? Joe was saying how he dry-hopped for, was it, two weeks? But the hop is hard to capture. Why? And do you have any tips for us homebrewers?

  2. Tori says:

    I live in a tiny town in Washington and we’re heading to Seattle this weekend to visit friends. I was just curious where you found the Black Butte XXI?! I’ve looked all around the area where I’m located and can’t find it (yet I managed to find a couple bottles of Black Butte XX at a local pub). I’m hoping to taste some XXI this weekend, be it bottled or on tap.


  3. Hi Katherine, thanks for writing in with your brew question. Why you chose to write me here, I have no idea. You know we live together, right? I’m the guy who wears a ring on his finger with your name on it, and that means we can discuss everything–I’ve vowed it, for God’s sake. In front of our friends and family.

    I have noticed an increase of twitching and nervous tics while you sleep, and the occasionally whispering of “Pliny” “Pliny” “Pliny”–glad to have identified it now as Pliny-itis. Help! We need NYC distribution, stat! You have infected my wife with your sweet, sweet poison, and now her sanity is at stake.

    But, you do bring up an interesting homebrew dilemma…so lets dive in. How do you capture the hops in your own brews?

    I wish I could say I have even an iota of the brewing understanding that fair Vinnie Cilurzo (creator and brewer of Pliny the Elder) does, so I will turn to his recent comments in Zymurgy on this topic. Here’s just a couple of tips he advises when making a double IPA:

    –A double IPA should not have a lot of crystal malt, which will get in the way of clean hop character. It doesn’t need to be anything more than two-row malt, Carapils (dextrin) malt, crystal malt and some acidulated malt.

    –He highly suggests adding some dextrose (corn sugar) to the boil to help bump up the gravity

    –He prefers to mash at a lower temperature, like 151F, which will give less body to the beer and allow the hops to shine through. The higher the temp (normal brewing is around 155F), the more body you’ll get.

    –Pliny is fermented at a lower temp as well. Keep it at 66 to 68F to avoid diacetyl flavors

    –Definitely dry hop it. Remove the beer from its trub (yeast and malt remains that settle at the bottom of the fermenter) and transfer to a secondary fermenter. Add a new batch of hops to this (Pliny is dry-hopped for 12 to 14 days). This may even be repeated AGAIN.

    Well, thats enough geeking out for one day. For those of you who’s eyes just glazed over, my apologies. My head is spinning myself. For those others, happy brewing and all the best trying to capture the hop magic.

    And Vinnie, please consider sending me a case of Pliny the Elder. My wife’s well-being is at stake. You have created a monster.

  4. Joe F. says:

    Tori, they have Black Butte XXI at the Greenlake PCC Natural Market (7504 Aurora Ave. N., on the corner of Aurora Ave. N. and Winona Ave. N.) in Seattle. I got 2 bottles, one to drink now and one to age for a year or two. Delicious!

    We had quite the beer tour while you were here Dave! Georgetown 9lb Porter, Maritime Imperial Pale Ale, Stone Arrogant Bastard, Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, North Coast Brewery Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Port Townsend Hop Diggidy, Alaska Amber, Mac and Jacks African Amber…..just to name a few! Now I’m getting thirsty…

  5. That is a staggeringly awesome list. Thanks for posting that. Mama’s Little Yella Pils was a super tasty Pilsner (and quite possibly the most clever name in the bunch)

    This just goes to show that when one has a dream and a goal in mind, there is nothing that can stop you. Take this to heart, kids. And when you’re old enough (16), support Colorado beers…

  6. Thanks for the great info, I will definitely be back!

  7. Wow, I didn’t know that anyone out of the Bay Area knew of the mighty Pliny! We live about 20 miles from Russian River, which if you are anywhere nearby, is a must-do pilgramage. And in the city they always have Pliny on tap at another beer shrine, the Toronado! Definitely a top choice. Cheers!

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