This beer is an interesting one. Why create a clone recipe for a beer that has possibly the most widely distributed clone recipe on the Internet? Well, from what I know, I don't believe that clone recipe is exact. It's really close, but we can make it perfect.
The first issue with that clone recipe is color. Every time I have Pliny, I'm always surprised by how light in color the beer actually is; it's blonde. The popular clone recipe uses 3.5-4% C40, and I feel that's too much, considering the color and flavor of Pliny. I'm thinking around 2%. Secondly, Vinnie has said over and over that Pliny uses hop extract for both the 90min and 45min additions. Thankfully, I've already done my homework on hop extract when I brewed the Younger, so that should be easy. The final change to the recipe is that Vinnie mentions that he is using a little Amarillo in the dry hop now.
So I used my typical method to piece together a 6 gallon batch: build the recipe at their size, then scale it down. Russian River's brewpub is a 10BBL brew house with 20BBL fermenters, but their production brewery is a 50BBL brew house with 100BBL fermenters. Brewers buy pellet hops in 11 or 44lb bags, and grain that isn't base malt comes in 50 or 55lb(25kg) sacks depending if it's domestic, or imported. So I built the recipe around numbers that would make sense for the professional brewer, in the same way that homebrewers like to work with pounds of grain and ounces of hops. I know Pliny was around 1lb/bbl of dry hops back in 2005-ish. I know that Vinnie is using a little more dry hops now, and they also top the recipe off with a little Amarillo. I could easily see it being close to 1.5lbs/bbl at this point.
What I ended up with is ridiculously close to the recipe that's floating around the interwebs. The differences being less C40, hop extract for bittering, and some Amarillo in the dry hop. I'm keeping the hops in grams because they work out to odd numbers in ounces.
My friend Kiernan is a huge PTE fan, and he's throwing a house-warming party in mid-December. It would only make sense to double the recipe, so that I could bring a keg of PTE to serve at the party. Keep in mind the recipe below is for a 12 gallon batch.
The nearly 28lbs of grain for this recipe was certainly the most I've ever crammed in my mash tun. The brew day was stress free though. 60min mash @ 150* followed by a slow sparge and a 90 minute boil. Just like brewing the Younger clone, the mass of hop extract tends to stick everything afterwards (kettle, stirring stick, thermometer, etc). We chilled to 65*, pitched 1.5 packs rehydrated of US05 per fermenter, and set the fermentation fridge at 16.7C.
IBU: don't care (actual is probably 90-95)
Mash @ 150
50ml Hop Extract @ 90
10ml Hop Extract @ 45
62g Simcoe @ 30
62g Centennial @ 0
154g Simcoe @ 0
Dry Hop 1
Dry Hop 2
18g each: CTZ, Simcoe, Centennial, Amarillo
California Ale Yeast - Plan for 500 billion cells
This fermented slow, as US05 tends to do when I ferment it cool in big beers. It took around 10-11 days to hit terminal gravity, but it attenuated perfectly. I cold crashed both fermenters, racked them to secondary, and began dry hopping after two weeks. Seven days later I added the second dose of dry hops, which sat for five more days before I kegged both fermenters. About 24 hours later, I fined them with gelatin, and let them slowly carbonate.
I want to write a few quick notes before I get to how it tastes. First, this beer puts a smile on my face =). Secondly, I can't explain why some of my beers drop dead clear in like 4-5 days, and others take 4-5 weeks. My recent Double Jack clone is finally becoming brilliantly clear after 4 weeks in the keg, where as this Pliny clone is brilliant after 4 days. Same process, same equipment, very similar recipes. Anyway....
Results: Almost Cloned (98% there)
Kristen's parents can hopefully bring a bottle of Pliny out from Cali when they drive here for Christmas, so I'll be able to do a side-by-side taste test then. Still, I can say this is just about as close as I can remember it.
I'll spare everyone the lengthy taste test, as many, many home brewers have tasted Pliny. Color and clarity are perfect, but I'll post an updated photo once I have the beers side-by-side. Aroma is that amazing mix of citrus and heavy pine that Pliny is known for. Mine is a little dank, but not quite as dank as Pliny typically is (thoughts on that below). The flavor is perfect, and my clone has that same punchy-bitterness as Pliny. The mouthfeel is dead on, dry, but oily and resinous.
I remember Pliny being ever-so-slightly more dank than my example. This could be my memory, but I'll know for sure in a couple weeks (and an update will follow.) I've got two theories on the dankness. Either RR used better quality CTZ than I did for dry hopping, or they dry hop with a higher percentage of CTZ. I'm leaning towards the former, as CTZ is such a commodity crop, and it's oil profile can really vary.
So the take away from this is three-fold. First, the popular Pliny recipe is nearly dead on. Change it by using hop extract, cut the C40 to 2%, and toss a tiny pinch of Amarillo in the dry hop. Secondly, make absolutely certain to dry hop with the best Columbus you can find. Simcoe is a very assertive hop, but CTZ is a fucking sledgehammer. It also varies in quality immensely, so make sure it passes the rub test before you dry hop with it. You're looking for a big resinous, slightly citrusy, and dank (read: pot-like) aroma. Thirdly, the only thing better than having Double Jack on tap is Double Jack and Pliny on tap at the same time (I know I'm boasting here.)
**UPDATE** After trying elder again fresh on tap, I'm updating this post to say that it's almost cloned. This recipe is like 98% there. The grain bill is perfect, but the dry hops need more CTZ and a little less Centennial. Look for a re-brew in mid-2013