All Hail Kegasus? Sure.

Kegasus may make Pimlico bearableFor those of you who don’t know I blog about horse racing, yes, I do that too – and for those of you who don’t know I blog about craft beer, see the previous answer. It’s about time a story brought the two together.

It would be hard to argue that Pimlico has much to recommend it beyond the Preakness; the physical plant is a mess, the food and drink options are terrible and much of the racing beyond the big day is uninspiring. The solution to getting people out to the track seems obvious: why not market a visit to Old Hilltop to people who are too drunk (or will be, soon after their arrival) to notice its failings? Enter Kegasus.

In all seriousness, seeing someone promote part of the Triple Crown with a view toward attracting a crowd that is neither elderly, tradition-bound nor independently wealthy is very refreshing indeed. Of course, for some, this is an annual tradition already; anyone suggesting that bacchanalia in the infield is novel has clearly never even watched the Preakness on television, much less witnessed the carnage in person. Let’s recall that Pimlico experimented with changing their alcohol policy in 2009 – and no one came. Giving Kegasus his head, as it were, allows for a good marketing push leading up to the big day (and ‘his’ social media efforts so far are quite encouraging). It’s true that many of the targeted audience aren’t there for the racing, but having a fun experience at the track makes them more likely to give it another try – they may even have a flutter on the Derby winner, just because it seems the thing to do. Diversity of audiences is a good thing, and it’s something racing desperately needs.

There is one issue still to be addressed, however – the appalling quality of the comestibles and the truly awful beer selection on offer at Pimlico. Granted, these choices are made long in advance and the options will be limited by the contracted caterers and beer distributors, but it would be nice to see the benighted track step up on its one big day a year. Why not get a special dispensation to offer some great local beers by Flying Dog, The Brewer’s Art or Heavy Seas? It’s true a keg of Raging Bitch might be a little too hard-core for some of the fratboy set more used to their Natty Bo, but there’s no reason not to offer some Old Scratch or Pale Ale. I’ve argued many times that racetracks need to step up across the board in this department – when you can get decent, even occasionally good, food and beer at most baseball, football and soccer stadiums, its absence from the track becomes ever more apparent (and distressing to those of us who might like to spend a day there without starving).

So I, for one, welcome our new centaur overlords – let’s hope they can work a little magic to get some real beer to the track in addition to the port-a-potty racers.

A Comparison: Pliny the Elder vs Pliny the Younger

Russian River Brewing CompanyBoth highly sought-after beers from California’s Russian River Brewing Company are a deep golden color, and are loaded with hops (and alcohol), to be sure – but the differences between the two are rather interesting. They do, however, both share one common characteristic: neither one really lets on quite how potent it is, especially when compared to other imperial IPAs.  But first, a little bit of background.  Pliny the Elder, clocking in at 8.0% ABV, is nearly always available, while Pliny the Younger (11.0 ABV) appears but once a year, in February (and in rather limited quantities – which, of course, makes it an Event Beer).

While many beer/history geeks are likely aware that Pliny the Elder (the human, not the beer) helped inspire the scientific name for hops (quite some time before expiring in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum and the often-overlooked Oplontis and Stabiae), it’s very pleasing that Russian River gave a little nod to him – such details are easy to forget, although there’s no chance of forgetting about the hops in either of these beers.  The non-potable Pliny the Younger, namesake and nephew of the Elder, is perhaps best-known for writing about his uncle’s death – but he was a busy man beyond that, palling around with the likes of Tacitus and Suetonius, and traveling extensively. We’ll overlook the fact that both men probably considered beer something for unlettered barbarians – so, back to the beers.

Although it’s less potent, Pliny the Elder comes across as sweeter than the Younger; it’s something it shares with some of the better ‘special’ IPAs out there (e.g. Tröegs Nugget Nectar, Bell’s Hopslam), although it can certainly be said to have set the standard for them.  It has a distinctive malt backbone, with a lot of biscuity flavor – yes, it’s hoppy, but it’s so well-paired with the malts that they just work together beautifully.  Pliny the Younger (a triple IPA) is actually a little more subtle; it’s a much dryer flavor, and it hides its strength well; it almost comes across as something more in the 7%-8% ABV range.  This is especially pleasing when comparing it to other beers of this alcohol content, which can sometimes be overly sweet (beyond intentional sweetness, that is) – the hops are still very much leading the way, but even they seem almost a little toned-down next to the hops in Pliny the ElderPliny the Younger is a deliciously deceptive beer – and ‘subtle’ is the adjective I keep returning to – it’s got every excuse to be over the top, but it keeps it all (almost) under wraps – it’s got plenty of fabulous hop flavor and a refreshing bitterness, but those aspects are not overpowering. It’s a surprisingly different beer from Pliny the Elder – I admit I expected essentially a hoppier/stronger version of that one – but it stands very much on its own.

Both are great, unique beers that live up to the hype in different ways – and both are worth seeking out.

Recent Beer Writing Elsewhere

Beer brewing, Uruk, c. 3100 BCE

While I’ve got a few new reviews coming soon (including a comparison of Russian River’s Plinys Elder and Younger), I’ve been busy elsewhere – here are a few recent projects for other sites:

Serious Eats Drinks:
Ghosts of Beers Past: Reviving Historical Brews
A (Very) Brief History of Women in Beer

Ladies of Craft Beer:
Wanted: A Samantha Brown of Craft Beer and
Craft Beer & Kids: It Can Be Done!

More beer history and craft beer culture posts for other sites are coming in the future, but reviews and other general musings will continue here – come back soon!