I recently brewed a Pliny clone, which turned out pretty well. By fortunate coincidence, a local store (the amazingLiquorama) 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!
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
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
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)
Both are pretty equivalent, in terms of body, carbonation, and mouthfeel.
Mouthfeel Winner: A draw
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!
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
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°.
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.
Pours with a creamy, off-white and persistent head with very nice lacing. The beer is gold, with a very slight haze.
Citrus at the front, with a light herbal and grassy character behind that.
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.
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.
Pliny the Elder is probably one of the most highly regarded and sought-after beers in the US, but I think I’ve only had it once. I remember it being pretty good, but not mind-blowing…but then again, that was awhile ago. Even so, I thought it would be fun to make a clone to fill the “high ABV beers” space for a little while.
The clone recipe is from the Brew Your Own Big Book of Homebrewing, although various versions are fairly readily available elsewhere. I scaled it down to ~3 gallons, because I didn’t really want a massive quantity of something around 8 percent abv.
Pliny the Elder Clone
7.75 lb. 2-row Xtra pale malt (Viking)
4 oz. Carapils malt (Briess)
3 oz. caramel 40L malt (Briess)
9.6 oz. corn sugar (added to boil)
2.55 oz. Magnum hop pellets (10.1% alpha), 90 minute boil
0.3 oz. Chinook whole hops (13.1% alpha), 90 minute boil
0.65 oz. CTZ hop pellets (15.8% alpha), 45 minute boil
0.6 oz. Simcoe hop pellets (12.7% alpha), 30 minute boil
1.35 oz. Centennial hop pellets (8.1% alpha), 15 minute whirlpool
0.6 oz. Simcoe hop pellets (12.7% alpha), 15 minute whirlpool
1 pkg. Safale American ale yeast (US-05)
2 oz. Columbus (Tomahawk) hop pellets (14.2% alpha), dry hop in keg
1 oz. Centennial hop pellets (8.1% alpha), dry hop in keg
1 oz. Simcoe hop pellets (12.7% alpha), dry hop in keg
1.071 s.g., 1.010 f.g., 8.2% abv, 276 IBU (100+ IBU at best!), 5 SRM
Claremont tap water with Campden tablet to remove chloramine
Infusion mash at 150° for 60 minutes, with pour-over sparge
I mashed in with 3.75 gallons of water at 159° and 4 mL of 88% lactic acid, to hit a mash temperature of 150° for 60 minutes, with recirculation after 10 minutes. Then, I heated to 168° and held there for 10 minutes. Then, I removed the grain basket, and sparged slowly with 1.6 gallons of hot water.
After the mash, I collected 4.75 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.054, for 79% mash efficiency. Sparging seems to be the ticket for great efficiency in these high gravity small batch mashes.
I brought the runnings to a boil, adding hops and finings per the recipe.
After a total of 90 minutes on the boil, I chilled down to 70°, transferred to the fermenter, and pitched the yeast.
I brewed this beer on 10 April 2021. Starting gravity was 1.072, right about where I wanted it! I fermented at 66°.
I kegged the beer on 23 April 2021, and dry hopped with a sack of hops in the keg. There was quite a bit of trub on the bottom of the fermenter!
Final gravity was 1.015, for 7.6% abv.
The beer has a rich gold color, with a slight chill haze. It took about two weeks in the keg before it dropped fairly clear. There is a low ivory head that is fine and fairly persistent.
The aroma is hop forward, with an initial citrus and very slight tropical fruit character, and a light caramel malt quality. Fermentation profile is pretty clean.
The flavor is very hop forward, with a high level of bitterness (no surprises). The bitterness has a citrus pith character, with slight grapefruit, and fairly clean. The bitterness is not quite as complex as I might like. The malt character is fairly low, with a slight doughy character.
The beer has a medium body with moderate carbonation, and an extended bitter finish that isn’t overly dry. I feel that the body could be a bit lighter on this one.
Would I brew this again?
The beer is okay, but the hops feel a bit one-note. This is a surprise, given the quantity of hops involved as well as the dry hop in the keg. I might switch in some more aggressively tropical hops next time, to make this a bit more interesting. I would also mash this at a slightly lower temperature, to dry out the final product a bit. Finally, I would adjust my dry hop strategy–this quantity of hops really generates a lot of detritus, even after sitting for awhile, and I think it would be better served by dry hopping in the fermenter with a careful transfer under CO2.