Craft beer drinkers don’t need to look at a calendar or step outside to know what time of year it is. All they need to do is go to their favorite haunt to see what new beers are appearing on tap and they’ll be able to tell you the weather. Roasty, chocolatey stouts and porters signal winter, pumpkin beers herald fall, maibocks announce spring, and refreshing, crisp beers help beat the heat of summer.
Throughout the year, too, come special-release beers, those beers that are at the top of every craft beer lover's must-try list, the ones that are endlessly debated, that have songs and poems written in their honor (that last might be a stretch, but who hasn’t wanted to sing about their favorite beer from time to time?).
Russian River Frenzy
Arguably, the most famous of these is California-based Russian River’s Pliny the Younger. An almost hysterical frenzy takes hold of cities lucky enough to be on the limited distribution list; the Bay Area gets it, as do Portland, Seattle, and Denver. Philadelphia is the only city east of Chicago to be granted this honor. Until those rare sixtels are all tapped and accounted for, Pliny fans talk, tweet, and fall over one another guessing as to when and where the next one will appear.
The near-mythical reputation of The Younger is unequaled. Bars hold special events to celebrate the tapping of this beer beauty, from ticketed events to contests to determine who will be a lucky recipient. People stand in line — sometimes for hours — for the chance to get their own 10-ounce pour. One question that’s often asked by the uninitiated is, "Is it really that good?" The answer for most is a resounding "yes!" Fans of hoppy beers love this triple IPA as much as non-IPA drinkers do.
Alternative Seasonal Favorites
Despite all this, Pliny does have its haters, those people who aren’t afraid to voice their opinion as to which beer reigns more supreme than what has been called by some "the best beer in the world." Sticking with the hops category, the two most often cited are Michigan-based Bell’s Hopslam and Pennsylvania-based Troegs Nugget Nectar. These are both limited releases that come out around the same time as The Younger, making what is usually a very dreary time of year (late February/ early March) very exciting for hop heads who can get their hands on all three.
I was one of the lucky ones this year and, within a three week period, had the holy trinity of hops — actually having the Hopslam and Nugget Nectar in the same night.