The passers-by on 16th Street had a number of good questions, namely “What’s everybody waiting for?”
The short answer was beer. “What do they give you, a case?” inquired another. He too was ambling past the line that stretched over half a block outside of Monk’s at 11:15 last Monday morning.
We were all waiting for an eight-ounce pour of Pliny the Younger, a triple IPA made by California’s cult Russian River Brewery. Other Russian River beers, like Pliny the Elder double IPA, can be found at more conventional hours in the many bars that help bolster Philly’s claim to being the “best beer town in the U.S.”
But Pliny the Younger, which weighs in at 11 percent alcohol by volume, only appears in the late winter, and then, only for a flash. And if you happened to live in Boston, Atlanta or even New York, you’d be shit out of luck. The only barrels shipped east of the Mississippi go to us discerning Philadelphians.
The line started moving before the clouds overhead turned into rain. And at 11:30, I was standing in the doorway, handing a $20 bill to the bearded and ponytailed Fergie, Monk’s co-owner and eminence grise of Philadelphia’s beer scene.
Pliny the Younger was being sold for $15 a pour, but Fergie didn’t hand back change. “Exact change,” he grumbled. “Everything extra goes to charity.” That charity: Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a foundation looking to seek a cure for childhood cancer. I grabbed my wine glass of Pliny the Younger, and headed for the bar rail to start on the golden elixir.
Since the outing was ostensibly about the beer, I should deliver my impressions. On the nose, orchard fruits. On the palate: hops, hops, hops. Brewer Vinnie Cilurzo evidently dumps three times as much hops into Pliny the Younger than what goes into Russian River’s standard IPA Blind Pig; the bitterness they impart almost completely conceals the sweetness I detected.
I looked around the bar, packed with morning drinkers. Entirely white; 90 percent male. In other words, they looked like me. The sixtel of Pliny was gone; I’d arrived just in time.
By 11:45, some of my fellow drinkers were leaving. Others were ordering a second round; the seven other taps each held another Russian River beer, some nearly as prized by the cognoscenti.
Meanwhile, I finished my own serving. The Who’s “I Can’t Explain,” started out over the stereo. Pete Townsend’s sentiments seemed appropriate. How did the hype suck me in? Puzzled, I put down my glass and stepped out into the street.
Calendar: Sept. 30-Oct. 7