After eight consecutive years atop the American Homebrewers Association’s list of the best beers in the country, my beloved Pliny the Elder has been overthrown in a bloodless coup known as the democratic process. (It’s okay to boo this. Booooooo!) In its throne now sits the little IPA that could, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, from all the way up there in Kalamazoo, Michigan. You know Bell’s. It’s the brewery whose selection you just sort of walk right past in the supermarket, with the muted label colors and VERY Michigan-y artwork, almost so subdued that it becomes borderline offensive. A judgmental fish. An older, surly man. Some trees. Yes, you are familiar with Bell’s. But don’t let the unglamorous appearance fool you! These beers are good, and Two Hearted is really delicious. But that’s not why we are here.
We are here to lay to rest Pliny the Elder. The torchbearer of approachable juicy IPAs, Pliny was the darling of beer nerds all over the country, if not the world. “A craft beer drinker’s craft beer” is a phrase that comes to mind. Whether or not that’s an actual term of endearment for it is beyond me, but I could see it being regarded as such, as it was always *that* beer that everyone talked about but was never really within reach for me personally until I lived in the Bay Area. Now, years later, Pliny’s fingerprints are all over the craft beer landscape, particularly the thoughtfully-brewed, clear, and crisp hop bombs that permeate the market today. However, its reach was always limited, oftentimes relegated to certain bar taps peppered throughout the country, and its bottles hardly found anywhere outside of California unless otherwise traded for. But Pliny helped pave the way for the robust beer selections you can find at groceries, bodegas, and corner delis, making brews like Bell’s Two Hearted more accessible to plebes like me who crave the sticky-icky bitterness of top-tier IPAs but lack the know-how/CHUTZPAH of acquiring smaller batch selections from around the nation. (Beer snobs must HATE them.)
So cheers to Bell’s Two Hearted Ale for changing the guard, and rest in peace Pliny the Elder; your watch has ended, but your legacy will live on, both in our bellies and in my house. (Pliny is the name of my dog and he is a very, very good boy.)