Normally around this time of year, the calls and questions start to come in to Falling Rock Tap House: Are you getting Pliny the Younger this year? When does it go on tap? How much of it is there?
And normally, Falling Rock owner Chris Black would post whatever information he had (not to mention a reminder to stop calling!) online along with a rough timeline for when Russian River Brewing’s famed triple IPA might be making the journey from Santa Rosa, California, over the Rocky Mountains and into his bar at 1919 Blake Street.
But Russian River isn't distributing kegs of Pliny the Younger this year, as it doesn't want to encourage people to gather together during the pandemic, so Falling Rock, along with two dozen or so other Front Range bars and restaurants, will be without yet another special event that typically brings in extra business.
"It hurts. Of course it hurts," says Chris Black who opened Falling Rock with his brothers in the mid-1990s. "Winters are always bad; so much of our business is the patio and people coming down to the baseball games and all the other activities downtown. For us, Pliny is always the first sign of spring. Then a few weeks after that, it's the St. Patrick's Day parade, and a few weeks after that it's Opening Day."
Black says he supports Russian River's decision 100 percent: "We are not out of the woods, so we would feel very uncomfortable having a packed house or a line out the door right now."
But it's still difficult — and part of why Falling Rock was forced to post a GoFundMe page in December to help raise enough money to stay in business over the winter, while restaurants weren't allowed to seat people. Black also sold off the majority of the rare and vintage beers in Falling Rock's vaunted cellar.
The good news, however, is that restaurants can now operate at 50 percent capacity (as of February 6), and the GoFundMe page has so far raised $18,000. Add to that the money from the cellar sale and a lenient landlord, and it should all get the beer bar through to the warmer months when the patio will be back in play — and more people will (safely, we hope) be out and about.
"My landlord has been exceptional and has been very willing to work with us," Black says. "I know that other people have not had that experience with their landlords or their banks, but we got some breathing room. Our staff has been amazing, too. We have a very family feel in there, and a lot of us have been here twenty years or more, so we have all grown up together. Even our new person is starting his third year."
Black also wants to come up with a way to raise money for Sense of Security, the Colorado nonprofit organization that usually benefits from sales of Pliny the Younger. (Russian River asks the bars that receive Younger each year to donate all of the proceeds to charities benefiting breast cancer patients, research and awareness.) "It typically brings in $11,000 or $12,000 each year," he points out.
And then there's the camaraderie that brings beer drinkers together in the first place, says Black, who looks to seeing not just the locals who turn out for the tappings, but people from out of state who make a yearly tradition of flying in for Pliny. "There is a couple that flies in every year from D.C. They have a place outside of Breckenridge, so they time a trip here to coincide with Pliny getting released."
There's also a group that road-trips from Omaha most years, and other groups that come up from New Mexico and Texas.
Hopefully they will all be back in 2022, Black says, when the Pliny will taste more delicious than ever.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.