Photo by Andrew Dyer
Triple IPA flight at Machete Beer House. Not only do they look mostly the same, they taste that way, too.
Every February since 2005 Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Younger has been poured at the brewery and a select few taprooms. Younger is a pioneer in big, boozy and over-hopped IPAs. Over the years, other breweries have produced their own “triple” IPAs—some more successfully than others. But as the industry has matured, so have the tastes of consumers. The hype, crowds and cloying flavors of Younger have grown stale.
This hasn’t slowed down they hype. Publicans still spend the month of February promoting their one-or-two kegs of the brew. Both Tiger! Tiger! and Blind Lady Ale House sold tickets for separate one-day, one-hour events at $40 a pop. That $40 was good for .4 liters—about 13.5 ounces—of both Pliny the Younger and its double IPA, more readily available cousin, Pliny the Elder. The events sold out, but both places did donate 100 percent of the proceeds from the events to the ACLU.
Fathom Bistro used its keg of Younger to fundraise for Planned Parenthood. This undeniably noble co-opting of the hype was a bit more palatable, but, at $80 for a 20-ounce pour and unlimited carnitas tacos, it was still difficult to justify in the value-per-ounce department.
In the hype and hustle of fanboys lined up outside beer bars they otherwise never patronize, how many actually like the beer? An endless stream of photos and threads proliferate across social media and its insufferable presence is impossible to escape.
The problem with Younger, and all triple IPAs, is that as the ABVs ratchet up some unwanted flavors begin to slip through. Beers in the style are cloying and sweet by nature, but some hide it better than others. All are unavoidably boozy and can be difficult to drink—they are better sipped.
Gone are the days that anyone wanting to try such a beer would have to wait in a ridiculous line, take a two-hour lunch break or purchase gratuitously overpriced tickets. Several local breweries also crank out unquaffable hop-bombs, and they can be found without hassle.
Monkey Paw Muriqui, at 10 percent ABV, is San Diego’s most likely Pliny-slayer. It’s among the sweeter of the triples I tried in my, uh, research, but it’s consistently great and relatively easy to find.
Thorn Street Brother Scotty’s Triple IPA, 10.5 percent ABV, is another local dive into the Pliny pool. It’s got a little bit more of a fruity flavor than Muriqui but most subtlety is lost flying this high.
Green Flash Palate Wrecker is an O.G. San Diego triple IPA. At 9.5 percent ABV, it’s a little on the weak side for the modern understanding of the style. Still, this is a classic triple with a hearty malt backbone supporting all those hops. Bitter till the end, it’s still one of my favorites.
Some triples can be found bottled (unlike Younger) and are better, more modern examples of the style. Beers like El Segundo Power Plant, Knee Deep Simtra and the aforementioned Palate Wrecker can be found at most bottle shops around town.
With so many better alternatives, it is difficult to rationalize or justify Younger hype. I can’t even stand waiting in line for tacos at Tacos El Gordo, and those are actually worth the hassle. The bad news about these alternative brews is there’s much less social media validation to be had.
There’s always next year, bro.