With limited-release beers attracting rock concert–style lines at shops carrying them, wildly expensive resale markets, and near hysteria, it's easy to get swept up in the hype for every new quadruple-hopped pale ale and ridiculously strong stout. More hops, or a few months in bourbon barrels, generally makes an awesome beer, but not every iteration is worth your precious time and cash. Here are 11 of the best rare beers in America that are worth tracking down.
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Pliny the Younger
Brewer: Russian River Brewing
Style: Imperial IPA
When Russian River's brewmaster, Vinnie Cilurzo, created the brewery's first double (or Imperial) IPA for a beer festival in 2000, he named it Pliny the Elder. The name pays tribute to the ancient Roman naturalist, who is thought to have created the botanical name Lupus salictarius, which later became Humulus lupulus or the climbing vine we now know as hops.
Cilurzo followed up Pliny the Elder with an even more outrageously hoppy creation he named after Pliny's son, Pliny the Younger. Pliny the Younger triples the amount of hops that most American IPAs have, adding to the cost and consequently the rarity of the beer. In the brewing process, hops provide flavor, aroma, and bitterness. Hops also act like a sponge — the more the brewery uses, the more beer they lose to this absorption. This means Cilurzo has to use more malt and sugar to keep the beer's profile in balance with its high hopping rate. More malt and sugar means higher alcohol, and Pliny clocks in at a heady 10.5 percent.
Since the beer is such a drain on the brewery's resources, it is brewed just once a year and released in the first week of February. The release is limited to the brewery's taproom and a handful of accounts across the country. Demand is heavy and long lines form at all locations. On the East Coast, the best bet is Monk's Cafe in Philadelphia.