Pliny vs. Pliny

I recently brewed a Pliny clone, which turned out pretty well. By fortunate coincidence, a local store (the amazing Liquorama) regularly has Russian River products, including Pliny. As an aside, if you are in the general Claremont/Upland/Rancho area, and if you are a beer (or liquor) geek, I absolutely encourage you to check out Liquorama. They have an amazing local and regional craft beer selection, and they properly store their beer at cold temperatures. They very consistently have fresh Pliny (and other great RR beers like Blind Pig and STS Pils), which is an incredible treat. I always end up walking out with waaaay more than I intended to purchase.

In any case, I thought it would be fun to do a head-to-head comparison of my Pliny versus the actual Pliny. The real Pliny was bottled on February 4, which is three weeks before this tasting. My beer was kegged on 21 January, so mine is slightly older, but not by much.

So, let’s do a direct comparison!

Pliny vs. Pliny — my clone version is on the left
  • Appearance
    • My version is very slightly darker, and clearer. The Russian River (RR) version had a slight bit of hop debris (a common issue with their bottled beer if it has been agitated, as happened when I transported it home). My version had a slightly more persistent head.
    • Appearance Winner: The Clone
  • Aroma
    • The RR version is absolutely better, with a more “fresh” orange/citrus hop aroma at the forefront. I definitely pick up the Simcoe hops, which I don’t get from my version.
    • Aroma Winner: RR
  • Flavor
    • Both beers are equally smooth. Mine has a touch more malt character, but the RR version has a touch more citrus/Simcoe flavor.
    • Flavor Winner: RR (but it’s very close)
  • Mouthfeel
    • Both are pretty equivalent, in terms of body, carbonation, and mouthfeel.
    • Mouthfeel Winner: A draw
  • Overall
    • RR’s authentic Pliny has just a touch better hop aroma and flavor, so I give a slight edge to the “real deal.” It’s most apparent in the aroma (and slightly in the flavor), where the Simcoe is more prominent. If I were to do mine again, I would swap the quantities of CTZ and Simcoe. My version had 1 oz. Simcoe, 3 oz. CTZ and 1 oz. Centennial; for a future version, I would do 3 oz. Simcoe, 1 oz. CTZ, and 1 oz. Centennial, to (hopefully) better match the original.

There is a reason why Pliny the Elder is a classic, and it’s super apparent when I do this tasting. It is just a nice beer! My clone comes close, but doesn’t quite hit the mark. Time to rebrew, I suppose!

Pliny the Elder Clone: The MoreBeer Edition

I don’t often get beer kits, because I usually find it easier and cheaper to assemble a recipe on my own and also because kits tend to sit around on store shelves with pre-milled grains and old hops. However, I couldn’t resist getting the Pliny the Elder clone kit from MoreBeer, when it went on sale recently. I did a “homegrown” Pliny clone awhile back, and it was OK but not outstanding. So, I decided to give this recipe family another try.

I augmented the kit slightly, because the provided packages of Magnum were ridiculously low alpha–only 2.3% according to the package! I didn’t know that this variety even came so low, and I needed some “real” Magnum from my personal stash to augment things.

For this batch, I also decided to really pay attention to my handling of the beer. Every transfer was closed, and everything was kept either cool or cold, depending on the stage of the process. The end results were definitely worth it!

Pliny the Elder Clone: The MoreBeer Edition

  • 13 lb. 2-row malt (Briess)
  • 1 lb. Carapils malt (Briess)
  • 4 oz. Caramel 40L malt (Briess)
  • 2 oz. Cascade hop pellets (7.3% alpha), added to mash
  • 2 oz. Magnum hop pellets (2.3% alpha), 90 minute boil
  • 2 oz. Magnum hop pellets (10.1% alpha), 90 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Simcoe hop pellets (12.9% alpha), 45 minute boil
  • 1 oz. CTZ hop pellets (14.4% alpha), 30 minute boil
  • 1 lb. corn sugar, 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. yeast nutrient (WLN1000), 50 minute boil
  • 2 oz. Centennial hop pellets (9.9% alpha), 5 minute whirlpool
  • 1 oz. Simcoe hop pellets (12.9% alpha), 5 minute whirlpool
  • 2 pkg. American West Coast ale yeast BRY-97 (Lallemand)
  • 3 oz. CTZ hop pellets (14.4% alpha), dry hop in keg
  • 1 oz. Centennial hop pellets (9.9% alpha), dry hop in keg
  • 1 oz. Simcoe hop pellets (12.9% alpha), dry hop in keg

Target Parameters

  • 1.073 o.g., 1.011 f.g., 8.3% abv, 165 IBU
  • Claremont tap water, adjusted to achieve target water profile of 66 ppm Ca, 22 ppm Mg, 91 ppm Na, 204 ppm SO4, 85 ppm
  • Full volume mash, with 90 minutes at 151°.

Procedure

  • I mashed in with 7.1 gallons of water at 159°, to hit a mash temperature of 151°. I added 8 mL of 88% lactic acid, to adjust the pH. I held at 151° and recirculated for 90 minutes, before mashing out at 168° for 10 minutes. Then, I pulled the grain basket and sparged with 1 gallon of hot water.
  • In total, I collected 7 gallons of runnings at a gravity of 1.055, for 74% mash efficiency. For high gravity beers, a small sparge really makes a difference on the Anvil.
  • I added 5 g of gypsum and 5 g of epsom salts to the kettle, to hit my target water profile.
  • I boiled the runnings for 90 minutes, adding hops and finings and such per the recipe.
  • After 90 minutes, I turned off the heat and chilled to 65°, before transferring to the fermenter.
  • I pitched the yeast, and set the beer to ferment at 66°.
  • I brewed the beer on 27 December 2021. I pulled it to ambient (58 to 60°) on 8 January 2022.
  • On 15 January 2022, I did a closed transfer of the beer into a purged keg for dry hopping quickly popping the lid to throw in the loose hops. I used a hop screen on the floating dip tube.
  • On 21 January 2022, I transferred from the dry hopping keg into a purged serving keg, and then carbonated. I lost probably close to a gallon of hop sludge.
  • The beer started out fairly hazy, but was reasonably clear within a few weeks.
  • Starting gravity was 1.070, and final gravity was 1.013, for 7.7% abv.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • Pours with a creamy, off-white and persistent head with very nice lacing. The beer is gold, with a very slight haze.
  • Aroma
    • Citrus at the front, with a light herbal and grassy character behind that.
  • Flavor
    • Hops! Bitter! There is a real orange hop quality, with in-your-face bitterness. Hops are quite high (as expected), with not much for malt character against the hops. The yeast character is very clean; I’m happy with the fermentation on this one.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Medium body, off-dry extended finish with very slight astringency. Moderate carbonation.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Yes! I am really pleased with this…it’s a great double IPA. The hop character is excellent. I could do without the slight chill haze, but otherwise the beer is awesome, and not a bad approximation of Pliny. I could probably reduce the dry hop length to only two or three days (rather than six), to hopefully reduce the slight astringency.
  • Overall
    • 8/10

Ill-Tempered Gnome Clone

As I am pretty sure I’ve lamented previously, I sometimes get too far down the rabbit-hole of brewing to a particular style. IPA, stout, porter, pilsner…all are great, but that can be at expense of creativity. On the other hand, I grew wary of the big and bitter beers that I gravitated towards early in my craft beer days. And yet…I now find myself picking up a bottle of Arrogant Bastard every few weeks, and kind of enjoying it. The excesses of craft beer recipes are still excessive, but I’m finding that they can be enjoyable in moderation and on occasion.

dark brown beer with tan head, held in clear tulip glass against a white wall

To scratch this itch, I paged through the Craft Beer For the Homebrewer book, and my eyes settled upon a clone recipe for something called Ill-Tempered Gnome. Produced by Oakshire Brewing, this recipe looked big, dark, and bitter, and was billed as an American Brown Ale (on the website) or a winter warmer (in the beer book).

Quite intrigued, I pulled together the ingredients, making a minor substitution or two based on availability for some of the harder-to-find malts (e.g., I had to go with a different brand of coffee malt versus Franco-Belges Kiln Coffee Malt in the original recipe). That said, I did try to adhere as closely as possible to the book’s version, which I was told (by Denny Conn himself) came direct from the brewer.

Ill-Tempered Gnome Clone

  • 12 lb. California Select 2-row malt (Great Western)
  • 11 oz. crystal 15° (Great Western)
  • 5 oz. coffee malt (Simpsons)
  • 5 oz. honey malt (Gambrinus)
  • 5 oz. special B malt (Dingemans)
  • 4.5 oz. special roast malt (Briess)
  • 3.5 oz. chocolate malt (Briess)
  • 1 oz. Nugget hop pellets (12.9% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.5 oz. Centennial hop pellets (8.1% alpha), 20 minute boil
  • 0.5 oz. Crystal hop pellets (4.5% alpha), 20 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 1 oz Cascade whole hops (est. 5.5% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. Safale American ale yeast (US-05)

Target Parameters

  • 1.062 o.g., 1.015 f.g., 6.3% abv, 58 IBU, 19 SRM
  • Full volume mash at 154° for 60 minutes, with 10 minute mash-out at 168°
  • Claremont tap water, adjusted to reach estimated profile of 75 ppm Ca, 11 ppm Mg, 93 ppm Na, 149 ppm sulfate, 105 ppm Cl, 156 ppm bicarbonate; RA 68, 128 ppm alkalinity; 60 ppm effective hardness.

Procedure

  • I heated 7.5 gallons of water to 161°, adding a Campden tablet to remove chloramines. Then, I mashed in with the grains to hit a temperature of 154°. I added 7 mL (1.5 tsp.) of 88% lactic acid to adjust the pH of the mash, and recirculated at 154° for 60 minutes. Then, I raised the mash temperature to 168° and held it there for 10 minutes, before removing the grains.
  • In total, I collected 6.35 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.055, for 68% mash efficiency.
  • As I brought the runnings to a boil, I added 5 g of gypsum to adjust the water profile.
  • To bring the gravity up a bit, I boiled for an extra 10 minutes, before beginning to add the hops. I then boiled for an additional 60 minutes, adding hops and kettle finings per the recipe.
  • After the 60 minute boil, I chilled to ~75°, transferred to the fermenter, and chilled down to 65° in the fermentation chamber. Then, I pitched the two packages of yeast.
  • I brewed the beer on 9 October 2021, and fermented at 65°. Starting gravity was 1.061.
  • On 20 October 2021, I let the beer free rise to 70° (after removing it from the fermentation chamber).
  • I kegged the beer on 23 October 2021. At this point, its gravity was 1.017. This equates to 5.9% abv.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • The beer pours with a thick and frothy ivory head, and awesome lacing as the head subsides slowly. The beer is a brilliantly clear reddish amber in color in a tulip glass, and is a nice even brown in a tall glass.
  • Aroma
    • Resiny hops are at the front, with toffee and coffee malt aroma alongside some caramel. The malt/hop balance is spot-on.
  • Flavor
    • Moderately high bitterness, with a resin and pine quality to the hops, for an extended bitterness in the finish. This beer has a full malt character, with caramel at the front and a slight bit of chocolate at the back. Delicious!
  • Mouthfeel
    • Medium-full body, with moderate carbonation and an off-dry finish.
  • Would I Brew This Again?
    • YES! The resiny hops plus rich malt character are an awesome combo. The beer is straight out of 1997 in terms of its traditional hops and big flavors, but I love it for that. Who knows if my version is a true clone, but do I really care? I love this beer! In particular, it’s not really a winter warmer (in terms of the overspiced recipes so common out there), but definitely closer to an American brown ale. I’ll do this one again.
  • Overall
    • 10/10