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Northern California’s most famous cult beer is out, and you only have two weeks to get some

A Russian River Brewing Company bartender pours a glass of the newly released Pliny the Younger triple IPA. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Pliny the Younger, Russian River Brewing Company’s perennial favorite triple IPA, will be released on tap and in bottles at the brewery’s Santa Rosa and Windsor pubs on Friday, March 24. Like Cadbury Creme Eggs, it’s a seasonal treat, available for only two weeks, until April 6.

In most years, Pliny the Younger’s release coincides with San Francisco Beer Week, which is held in February. But delays forced the brewery to push 2022’s release back a month, and the team seems to prefer it that way.

“In 2022, we were forced to postpone the normal February release due to a lack of staffing, thanks to Covid. It ended up being a happy accident!” the brewery’s site states. “Not only were we more prepared, but the weather was better and the days longer. In addition, brewing the beer over the course of a couple of months was extremely helpful to our overall production schedule.”

For the next two weeks, both of Russian River Brewing’s pubs will be open from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m., but hopheads and other superfans routinely start queueing as early as 5 or 6 a.m., in a jovial atmosphere akin to people waiting for hard-to-get concert tickets. The brewery limits all guests to three Pliny drafts per person—both because it’s a limited release and because it contains much more alcohol than most IPAs do. Pliny the Younger hovers around the 10% mark.

While IPAs have dominated the craft brewing world for well over a decade—arguably beyond the point of parody—Pliny the Younger commands an unparalleled fan base, as the brewery makes annual tweaks to the strains of hops that go into its citrusy, piney formulation, first brewed in 2005. As cult beers go, not even San Francisco’s ever-evolving Anchor Christmas Ale can compete with Pliny’s appeal as a yearly tradition.

The 2023 Pliny the Younger contains Amarillo, Azacca, Centennial, Chinook, Crystal, Idaho 7, Simcoe, Tomahawk and Warrior hops. Although considered a Triple IPA, that term is somewhat hazily defined. “Triple” merely implies a greater alcohol content than a Double IPA, a category the Brewers Association specifies as containing between 7.6% and 10.6% alcohol by volume. Pliny the Younger is also not to be confused with Pliny the Elder, Russian River’s Imperial IPA, which is available all year.

If you can’t carve out time to queue up before dawn in Sonoma County on a weekday morning for some beer, bars with Russian River accounts across California and elsewhere will soon receive kegs of Pliny the Younger, the famously gruff Lower Haight beer bar Toronado usually among them.