Somewhere along the line I discovered what kind of alcohol drinker I am: a hophead, or a consumer of highly-hopped beers, typified by double, triple, or imperial India Pale Ales (or "IPAs"), a type of beer originally designed to retain some hop flavor after a long sea voyage in a wooden cask. Indeed, there is a strong trend in cask-aged IPAs and other styles of strong beer. But that's not what I want to talk about; right now I want to mention some "other" fine beers that I enjoy just as much as Pliny the Elder, which is broadly considered to be the world's best IPA.
I live relatively near Pliny's home, and stop through the brewery fairly regularly for a pint and sometimes, pizza. As well, I regularly visit Bottle Barn on the same trips and load up a cooler with 22oz beers. Many of them cost less than the $5 you'll pay for a typical pint, and I can't remember the last time I spent more than $9 for even an exceptionally unusual beer. Pliny itself is sold in a pint bottle and I believe it costs right around $4, but it's difficult to remember because it's been so long since I bought one.
One thing I've noticed about these beers is that they varies a lot from bottle to bottle, which can be a result of differences in the brewing, hopping (Pliny the Elder is double dry-hopped) or the hops themselves, or in the storage and transportation of the beer both before and after purchase. It's therefore a mistake to stock up on your favorite brand, as you might well find that your favorite this week was not your favorite last week.
One beer that I really enjoy is Ballast Point's Big Eye IPA. They have another IPA called the Sculpin that's allegedly a bigger beer, but I prefer the Big Eye. It's crisp yet has a good hop character. In the same vein, a recent excellent discovery has been Palo Alto Brewing's Atlas IPA, which is both strong and full of character. And just as strong and lately surprisingly full of hop character (when the hops used to be strong but simple) is Lagunitas' Hop Stoopid Ale, which is remarkably complex for being made with hop extracts.
Even stronger flavors can be found in Moylan's Moylander Double IPA and Hopsickle Imperial IPA. These are both truly excellent IPAs with good floral character and complexity. And while I have found it to be somewhat unfortunately variable, when it is good, Black Diamond Brewing's Rampage Imperial IPA is easily the equal or even better of any batch of Pliny I've ever tasted. There were some insipid batches due to unavailability of some hops, but the problem seems to have ironed itself out.
I also have a love for red ales, and have come across two spectacularly successful fusions of the red ale with the IPA. The first is right around the corner from the Russian River Brewing Company at the Third Street Aleworks in the form of Bombay Rouge. This surprisingly complex beer is easily the most interesting thing to come out of Third Street in some time and is both refreshing and delicious. As well, the Green Flash Hop Head Red provides all the same features but with a significantly different experience. (And while it's not a red, the Green Flash Imperial IPA is also excellent.)
Finally though, we should come back to the Russian River Brewing Co. for Hopfather, which is only to be found on tap and mostly only at the brewery in Santa Rosa. Like Pliny the Younger, a limited number of kegs may be distributed to other geographically related taprooms for the once-a-year brewing which follows the availability of hops. Hopfather is "the new pliny", with an even more crisp and even more floral hop character. And of course, there's always Pliny the Younger, another annual brew which is dry hopped four times to the Elder's two, but for my money the Hopfather is the superior beer.
I would not be the least bit disappointed to have any of these beers substituted for a Pliny, and at least one of these beers ought to be available at an outlet near you... if you live in California. Perhaps someone out there in beer-land has a similar article that would apply to other geographical regions of the states? Or for that matter, the world? Please comment below.