So there it was.
Six ounces of pure beer-geek nirvana staring at me.
Pliny the Younger.
It was early Tuesday morning, around 12:30, when I arrived at Monk’s Café, near 16th and Spruce. I’d been monitoring the Twitter feed all night while at work, the minutes passing like hours, the goal of enjoying one of the world’s rarest beers so close to being within grasp, but just as easily gone in a fleeting second.
A pinned Tweet said Younger was still available. I figured if the Tweet was no longer pinned, the tap had run dry.
But after the usual folly – this one some 20 minutes – of trying to find a place to park in the city, I saw an open space on a side street. I marched quickly the two blocks toward beer’s ultimate reward. I walked into the dimly lit, comfortable-looking Monk’s, one of the top five places in the world to have a beer, according to All About Beer magazine, and there were only eight people in the place.
The bartender asked what I wanted.
I said, "Is it still on tap?" He said yes. I just pointed at him. And then it was in front of me.
Pliny the Younger.
On the bar.
At Monk’s Café.
Is this real?
I sipped it. Perfect. Beer heaven.
The 2017 hunt for Pliny the Younger was history on the first day it was tapped in the Philadelphia area.
So what makes PtY a craft beer enthusiast’s equivalent of March Madness?
PtY is brewed once a year by Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa, Calif. It is a triple IPA this year, featuring Simcoe, Warrior, Chinook, Centennial, Amarillo, CTZ, Comet, and Azacca hops. It clocks in around 10.25% ABV. Its rating on beeradvocate.com is a perfect 100. It is distributed to only a few markets around the country and Philadelphia is its only East Coast landing spot. So if you are standing in line at, or sitting inside, one of the better beer bars in the city and its Pennsylvania suburbs awaiting or enjoying PtY, there is a decent chance that the person next to you is from another state.
About 10 years ago, I began my quest to taste this most-sought-after-but-hard-to-find brew. It took four years. I wanted to hate it because of all the fruitless times of trying to be in the right place at the right time, but being wrong.
In 2011, it finally happened at Capone’s in Norristown. And I couldn’t hate it. It was that good. It lived up to the impossible hype.
I was content after that. I was too old to be standing in lines at bars at 9:30 in the morning to pay mucho bucks for Younger. But last year, a fairly unknown bar near me landed a sixtel of PtY. The itch came back as if it had never left. And it needed to be scratched.
So I found myself in line on a Thursday afternoon an hour before the place opened talking beer with people I’d never seen before. Wound up drinking PtY with them (and a few other top-shelf IPAs) too.
I’m not revealing the name of the bar, because that’s part of what I like to call The Younger Games. If I know of a spot where I think I can land a PtY, I’m keeping it to myself. Otherwise, you know, then you’d know. And there’s not enough Younger for everyone. Sorry. Total beer snobbery. Guilty.
Knowing when and where PtY will be tapped once was a job unto itself. Bars used to (some probably still do) use email, Facebook, or Twitter to announce The Eagle Has Landed or Breakfast Is Served. Code for Pliny the Younger has been tapped. Now, thanks to PhillyTapFinder.com, it’s easier. It keeps a list of confirmed dates for tappings.
The Younger Games have a finite run, only about a month to six weeks. The beer is shipped fresh and the brewery wants it tapped as quickly as possible to keep the freshness.
I left Monk’s, where I paid $15 cash — all money going to Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation — knowing that I had one of the world’s best beers at one of the world’s best beer bars.
For one night, all was right in the brewniverse.