Before I begin, I do not specifically mean to write an entire blog about Russian River’s Pliny the Younger. The title, should sensibility and social standards about title lengths be thrown out the window, would more appropriately be named “I Don’t Care about Pliny the Younger, Surly Darkness, Three Floyd’s Dark Lord, or Any Other Beer That is Hyped Up, On the Top 50 List, Requires a Release Party, and is Mostly Available on eBay”. That’s just too long a title; but with the impending annual single-batch release of Pliny the Younger just ‘round the corner, this shorter, more concise title more appropriately encompassed what I mean to say.
As somebody whose entire beer geekdom is inspired by trying anything un-tried before, or something new, or something outrageous, it takes a lot for me to resign my desire for a majority of the RateBeer Top 50. I love getting my hands on a bottle of beer I have never had before, especially famous ones. In fact, since becoming a Denver resident 7 months back, beer I haven’t had yet is the only beer I’ve been buying and, for the foreseeable future, is all I’m going to buy for at least another year. Because there is much. But am I going to go out of my way to get a few beers that aren’t available in my area just because the RateBeer folk say that it’s amazing? Afraid not.
Admittedly, I was not terribly pleased with my experiences with my previous Russian River brews, or the Rochefort Trappistes 10. So I know, cognitively, that just because it has a good RateBeer score does not mean I will enjoy it. It works the other way too, and I think anybody who has rated 10 beers will know this to be true. I knew this, cognitively, before I laid down $12 for that Rochefort 10, before I sank $12 into an Avery Brabant, and before I dropped $15 on a Stone Old Guardian Barleywine. It obviously didn’t stop me, because well, I hadn’t had them before. There was a 50% chance I would love those beers, and I took that chance because (1) I am blessed enough to have a small chunk of disposable income and (2) I had not had them before. It’s a negative side of my beer geekdom, the desire to try the new, sometimes at cost. Occasionally it’s a win. Sometimes those expensive, rare beers are ‘okay’ at best and drain pours at worst.
But through adolescence comes wisdom. My college microeconomics professor once taught me an economic truth, that a wise consumer will only spend $1 on 1 utility (happiness). For example, if you get 5 utility (happiness) from a dozen doughnuts, you will spend $5 on that dozen, and not a penny more. If it costs less than $5, well that’s even better (this is the same principle that makes Dollar Menus genius). Transfer this logic to beer. A single bottle of common craft beer is about $1.60, but brings me approximately 1.5 to 2 happiness, depending on the beer. Occasionally I take a gamble and break that rule on something I never had. A typical Ommegang 750mL bottle here costs between $13-$17, but even though I have never had it, I seriously doubt it will yield 17 happiness. And for some reason I buy it anyway. I could go on, but you get the picture.
So back to the title, the first paragraph, and my long awaited explanation. Pliny the Younger, and the super special, potentially overhyped beers available only at limited quantities on special days and that go for more than $50 on eBay, have a very high chance of not yielding the utility their price tag promises. There are some who are, have been, and will be willing to stand in an hour-long line outside the Russian River taproom just to get a 10oz glass of their famed elixir. They will probably pay more than what is necessary, and will probably rate it higher than they objectively should, based on excitement, brewer reputation, and preconceived ideas based on the beer’s appearance on the RateBeer Top 50. It happens to most beers as it is, and I believe “special release party” beers are more susceptible to this.
Now, it’s more than somewhat obvious this rant is driven by the fact that I have not had any of these beers. I can admit to my bias, and/or being a bitter cheapskate. There’s a lot to like about beer, but I am doubtful that Pliny the Younger is worth the price of admission plus road trip expenses. It just might be one of the best beers I will ever try in my life, and if someone shared one with me or gave me one I’d definitely take it, grateful for the chance. But I will never know. I do not mean to belittle the hard work, sweat, and guts it takes the brewers to make this stuff, and I am already sure (and afraid) this opinion will offend one in every ten people. I just think the hype and local-only distribution strategy is a buzzkill. Rarity, fan loyalty, high cost, and high ABV are not prerequisites to being a good beer.
Point is, you don’t need a road trip and/or $50 to get great beer. I am very blessed enough to live in a city where great beer is plentiful and affordable. I don’t care about Pliny, Dark Lord, Surly Darkness, or any other beer that I cannot easily get my hands on because there is so, so, so much that I can get my hands on. I’ll break good economic sense on occasion. But I’m not a big enough geek to spend a car payment rounding out my “Must Have” beer list.
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