I think of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom whenever I think of the good ol’ Imperial IPA from Russian River Brewing Co., Pliny the Elder. The scene wherein Jones is running for his life from a massive boulder only to narrowly escape, but Pliny the Elder is Jones and the boulder is the beer treasure hunters of Ventura County.
Acquiring Pliny the Elder in Ventura is near impossible because Russian River doesn’t distribute here. Ask the beer buyer at Whole Foods for a Pliny and she’ll direct you about 500 miles north. So it was north I went.
Russian River is that brewery you’ve heard about on the news. Once a year, beer geeks come from around the globe to wait in eight-hour lines at the brewery or, if they’re lucky, to wait in two- to three-hour lines at their local pubs for a taste of Pliny the Younger — the Elder’s rarer cousin, an Imperial IPA.
We arrived in Santa Rosa four days after the supply of the Younger ran dry and somehow we were thankful. The wait was already over an hour. With 17 beers on tap, however, a flight was ordered and the white whales were set before us.
There seems to be a debate over which is better, Pliny the Elder or Blind Pig, the brewery’s standard American IPA. At the risk of receiving hate email, I preferred Blind Pig for its dry, fresh and crispy bite.
We left with three bottles of Pliny and three of Blind Pig.
Lagunitas Brewery is about 20 minutes south in Petaluma and it was there that we found beer nirvana. A chill band, a 420 vibe and a bunch of happy dogs sat under the shade in a large lot reminiscent of a backyard barbecue.
We were sent upstairs to the VIP section, which was actually the old taproom. Drinking in the VIP room was like being a guest in a beer lover’s museum, but with a shuffleboard and a famous couch.
Nothing unusual was on tap, and in Ventura, Lagunitas isn’t uncommon, but the atmosphere was well worth the visit.
Ventura sometimes gets the short end of the stick, distribution wise. Maybe someday that will change. Until then, it’s a scenic drive up north and well worth the wait — when Younger isn’t in season.