Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Getting off the mat and into Bay to Breakers

Tortillas litter the ground on the
Bay to Breakers Starting Line
There's the old sports cliche', it's not about getting knocked down, it's how you get off the mat. I'd say I got off the mat rather slowly and deliberately after shredding my left hip in the Napa Valley Marathon last March. It took nearly four weeks after the marathon before I tried running again, and that just a slow hobble of a lap around a track for a grand total of 1/4 mile.  From there, I slowly, and at times painfully, built up from there to a half mile, then one mile, then two miles, and finally 3-4 miles started feeling pretty manageable. I'm not sure which were tougher: Those 20 miler training runs for the marathon, or those 3 mile runs on a day my left hip could only hold together for about a mile.

I was already signed for Bay to Breakers since last fall, so recovering enough to tackle the mid-May 12 kilometer race was the goal.  Day after day of careful runs and twisting myself into bunch of odd, awkward positions to stretch and strengthen the hip, I finally got to the point of completing 8 mile run with hip holding up pretty well. So was pretty confident I could handle whatever Bay to Breakers could throw at me.

And handle it I did. Bay to Breaker is one big San Francisco-themed mob scene of a race, a flow of humanity from the east side of the city to the western edge of Golden Gate Park. The idea was to just go with that flow. I had a modest goal of finishing under 7:30 per mile pace, a little less modest goal of finishing under 7:15 per mile pace, but basically, I just wanted to put in a strong effort for 7.45 miles. At the top of Hayes Hill, a check of my watch had me at just over 7:30 pace at three miles and I wasn't feeling so good. Not an encouraging sign, but I just kept working on getting my knees up, found a second wind, and started zipping through the latter downhill miles in sub-7:00 minute pace, finishing in 52:45 with little soreness in my hip the whole way. That's something like 7:04 per mile pace, faster than I figured to do. I'll take it.

Next race up, Santa Cruz's Wharf to Wharf on the fourth Sunday of July. I'll leave you with a few pictures from Bay to Breakers I snapped with my iPhone.

Tortillas fill the air at the starting line

Star Wars costumes were popular.  Just ahead of me
were a bunch of fast Princes Leia's

Folks are queued up for the beer lunge

A race well run calls for a beer.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Inspired Brews of Fieldwork....now in Edible East Bay

Barry Braden (l)  and Alex Tweet (r) of Fieldwork
One of the cool things that comes with writing about beer is that I get to meet the people behind my favorite breweries. Like Barry Braden and Alex Tweet, co-founders of Berkeley's Fieldwork, who generously gave their time one afternoon to discuss how their brewery came to be and how they concoct their brews. They do some pretty novel things with hops....and sea salt...and other things like coconut. I enjoyed telling their for a story in the current issue of Edible East Bay and hope you enjoy reading it. You can find it here:

The Inspired Brews at Fieldwork

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Rambling Reviews 5.17.2016 : Boulevard's Tell Tale Tart, Anderson Valley's Briney Melon Gose, and Coronado Brewing's Berry the Hatchet

It's the time again to ramble on about some new beers encountered on my travels, this time with a bit of fruit theme,

Let's start with Tell Tale Tart, from Boulevard Brewing. What a wonderfully balanced composition of simplicity this is. There's a little musty funk, a little sweetness, some fruity esters and some sourness that create an excellent warm afternoon sipping beer. I applaud Boulevard for resisting the temptation to dump boysenberries, tamarind or some other fruit or spice addition that just doesn't belong there. It's nearly perfect as it is.

And then there is Anderson Valley's Briney Melon Gose. As you might expect, there's noticeable melon flavors, barely detectable saltiness and almost no sour tang. Well, it's balanced. When the Gose style came on the scene a couple years ago as, a wonderful breath of fresh salty-sour air. Anderson Valley's Gose, and I mean just Gose without any fruit added, was one of the best. But it seems like the Gose has now become just a general purpose fruit beer. I was a bit on the fence about Anderson Valley's Blood Orange Gose and really under whelmed by Sierra Nevada's Otra Vez Gose.  Briney Melon Gose works as fruit beer and I enjoyed drinking it.  But I'm missing that yin-yang salty/sour balance that made the Gose style so enticing. Now, breweries are just dumping fruit and spices into their Gose and upsetting that balance. German brewers buried in Leipzig have every right to be spinning in their graves.

Finally, we come to Berry the Hatchet from Coronado Brewing, which sent me a sample of this beer to try. They take a light touch with the fruit and wisely brew this with little sweetness, lest this become syrupy tasting. There's a nice complexity to the berry flavors if you concentrate hard on them, and they end with a satisfying tartness. I suspect beer geeks will be a little underwhelmed, but the other 99% of the population will be just fine with this summer thirst quencher which at 4.6% abv, is rather sessionable.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Session #111: Surviving a Beer Midlife Crisis

For this month's Session, Oliver Gray asks us fellow beer hobbyists whether or not we're dealing with a beer mid life crisis. Certainly a navel gazing Session topic if there ever was one, but then, if we don't gaze at our navels once in awhile, what's the point of blogging?

I found Oliver's invitation for self-indulgence irresistible given that:

a) I actually went through a real mid-life crisis.
b) With my other hobby, running, I've gone through several different periods of varying enthusiasm over the 36 years I've been involved with the sport.

Let's talk about my mid-life crisis for a second. A little over ten years ago, I went through a divorce, started seeing a therapist, and nearly hit rock bottom. Unfortunately, my finances were got pretty messy so I couldn't afford the obligatory mid-life crisis sports car.
It wasn't until I could change certain perspectives and attitudes that I started turning things around. Sometimes, a change in enthusiasm is a good thing because it signals some sort of personal growth or evolution. But losing interest in something you once loved can also be a bad thing, indicating some sort of general discontentment or unresolved conflict. So it's wise to take notice of any change of enthusiasm over any subject or activity and ask yourself "Why?". OK, that's enough amateur psychology.

Now let's talk about running. When I was twelve, my dad and I trained for a local 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) race. From there, I kept running, dreaming about being an Olympic athlete in my teens. When it became clear by age 18 those Olympic dreams weren't going to work out, I still held out that some day with a lot of hard work, I could at least become one of the top 100 or so runners in the country. That didn't turn out either and by my early 30's, due to a whole bunch of things related to my mid-life crisis, I was barely running and sixty pounds heavier. One way out of those dark days was to get running again, albeit with a new outlook. Now, in my late 40's, I'll never be as fast or as strong as I ever was, but I still go out the door each morning and get a few miles in, and I still enjoy competing in a few races each year.

I must still love running, because there's no other explanation for continuing to do something that at my age, inevitability causes one or more parts of my body to become sore on a regular basis. When getting together with runners my age, the conversation invariably turns to all the nagging injuries we're dealing with. You may wonder what motivates me to continue to engage in this form of self abuse after all these years. Well, running keeps me fit, there's that nice buzz of endorphins that gets me through the day, and there's that sense of accomplishment thing. There other reasons that keep me running, but I'd like to keep those between me and my therapist.

But the important thing is, my approach to running has changed a lot over those 36 years since I've changed a lot myself. Running on the other hand, has remained static. Oh sure, there have been some incremental changes in nutrition, training techniques, running shoes, and you can buy a lot more fancy running gadgets today than you could 30 years ago. But the sport still retains it's simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other and repeating this over and over again to propel yourself as fast as you can over some distance.

While running hasn't changed much in the past 36 years, beer has changed plenty in just the last decade. There was a time when it seemed a reasonable goal to sample the  beers from all the different breweries throughout the country. Now, just attempting this in Northern California alone would involve basically quitting my job, leaving my family, and dying of alcohol poisoning three months later. A bar with 8-10 "craft" beers on tap was once considered a destination craft beer bar I would travel considerable distance to visit. Now this pretty much describes any bar in my neighborhood. I used to explain to my friends with an IPA or Saison was. Now, they're all coming up to me, recommending their favorites I ought to try.

I find these changes in the beery landscape liberating. No longer am I some evangelist, preaching my cause to the unresponsive masses. I no longer feel guilty missing a beer festival, since there's no way I could attend all of them, and there's plenty of new ways to discover new beers or reacquaint myself with the old favorites. With too many breweries to get to know all of them, I just pick and chose the ones I find the most interesting.

One thing I've discovered from this writing blog is how enjoyable it is simply talking with brewers about their beers and breweries. There's plenty more brewers to talk to now than there were 10 years ago, and thus, I'm having far more of these great conversations than I ever did. And yes, I do find the latest wave of corporate forays into craft beer fascinating. The story of craft beer used to be a tired cliche' of David vs. Goliath. Now, it's a nuanced story of complex characters with noble sounding motives but possibly hidden agendas, engaged in careful yet often dramatic maneuvers, creating both new apprehension and optimism. Good and evil is no longer clear cut. Some clearly find these new messier new realities troubling compared to a more simplified past. I can understand why many people find economically driven brewing business developments boring, or even threatening. As for myself, I can't get enough of it.

So these days, I'm no longer breathlessly posting about some new brewpub I've been to. That seems so 2012. There are far more stories about beer and breweries than there were just five years ago to discovering and writing about. This is one of most fascinating times in the history of beer, and if beer bloggers exist a hundred years from now, I expect they'll be writing about how our era dramatically transformed beer as we know it.

So I understand why lots of people, possibly including our host Oliver, might find themselves less committed to beer than they used too.  And that's OK.  But as for me, just like running, my relationship with beer is constantly changing, but has never been stronger.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Rambling Reviews 5.2.2106: Strike Brewing's Screaming Hand, Uinta Brewing's Farm Side Saison, and Dogfish Head's Beer To Drink Music To

It's been a full month since I rambled here about any beer. Time to fix that!

Let's start with Strike Brewing's Screaming Hand Imperial Amber coming totally out of left field on Strike's restrained, baseball themed line-up. I alway found Strike beers to be driven by Brewmaster Drew Ehrlich's solid brewing technique and sense of nuance, but this beer almost literally screams. Assertive, strong caramel malt blend well with tropical slightly resinous hops. At 7.5% abv, it tastes a bit "boozy" in a good way. Nice change of pace effort from Strike. Talk to the hand.

Next, we come to Uinta Brewing's Farm Side Saison. They make it with white grape must and gooseberries, which pretty much take over this brew. It's full of sharp, white wine flavors, a fruity tartness that I gather come from the gooseberries. There's just not much there from the neutral malt, and it lacks any real yeastiness. You might call it a white wined-up saison. For those who want some wine with their beer.

Last, we come to Beer to Drink Music to Tripel from Dogfish Head.  What can I say, this is just a wonderful sipping beer to drink music to, or anything else for that matter.  Lot's of aromatic spiciness of cinnamon and clove dominate with a little orange fruitiness, a light sweetness and a slight toffee note.  Just a smooth, effortless combination of strong flavors at 9% abv.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

One of the more interesting beer stories I've written....now in the Spring issue of Edible Silicon Valley

Damien Fagen and Jesse Friedman of Almanac Beer
(Almanac Beer photo)
One of the best things about writing about brewing is that most beers have a story behind them. Thankfully, I got to write about a beer with one of the more interesting back stories. A San Jose non-profit called Garden to Table goes around to picking fruit from private property owners that would otherwise go to waste. Almanac Beer uses some of this local fruit for their Valley of the Heart's Delight sour ale. It's shows how a local, untapped food resource can be taking by forward thinking individuals and transformed into something special and unique.

I want to thank Zach Lewis of Garden to Table and Jesse Friedman of Almanac Beer for their time and assistance with the story, and of course, thank my editor Kerri Stenson of Edible Silicon Valley for her enthusiasm. I think it's one of the best article I've published, and you can read it now in the Spring issue of Edible Silicon Valley right here:  The Valley of the Heart's Delight is Still Bearing Fruit

Monday, April 18, 2016

How Does Jake McCluskey Do It?

Jake McCluskey, in the  middle in the green shirt,
about to start his 100 mile run.
(picture from Jake McCluskey's Facebook page)
I've always wanted to write about Jake McCluskey, just never could figure out how. Both of us like to drink beer and we both run a lot. There, the similarities end.

Jake McCluskey, an assistant brewer at Santa Clara Valley Brewing, has become something of a local folk-hero. Not too long ago, he was seriously overweight, depressed at how life was going as he approached middle age. Then one day, he started running. Not very far at first, a block or two down the street was all he could muster. Jake found inspiration from, of all things, a tape of enigmatic football player Marshawn Lynch declaring "I'm just about that action, boss" which Jake played over and over before heading out the door.

McCluskey kept running and lost 180 pounds. Last year on his 42nd birthday, he completed a 50 mile run from San Francisco to San Jose. raising nearly $20,000 for the Silicon Valley Children's Fund,  a non-profit that supports foster children. If that wasn't audacious enough, he doubled that distance the next year, covering 100 miles from Petaluma's Lagunitas Brewery to Original Gravity in Downtown San Jose last April 9th, earning over $20,000 for the Silicon Valley Children's Fund. During this time, his story made  Runner's World and the cover of the San Jose Mercury News. Marshawn Lynch who rarely comments on anything, simply declared "That's gangsta" upon learning of Jake's story from a sports writer.

As someone who's been running for 36 years, toiling away in anonymity, I find myself surprisingly struggling to relate to Jake's story. Maybe it's because my running story is so typical. I started running at twelve, enjoyed it, had success at it, and basically never stopped doing it.  Oh, I'd make the school newspaper when I ran in high school and college, but that was about it. No one ever found my story particularly inspirational for a very good reason. It's pretty boring.

Along those 36 years, I've read countless stories from the pages of magazines about someone turning their life around through running. Running has helped a lot of people overcome things like drugs, alcohol, or obesity. While McCluskey's story and others like it are indeed inspiring, they have also become almost a running cliche'. As for running 50 or 100 miles, it's undeniably a great accomplishment, but people do it all the time in various ultra-marathons held all over the United States. From my jaded running view, the big question isn't "how" someone can run 50 or 100 miles, but "why?".  For most runners running a few miles is a joy, running 20 miles or longer is self-imposed torture. A lot of people don't "get" runners. Well, a lot of runners don't "get" ultra-marathoners. I have no idea why anyone would run 50 miles, even if they could.

Jake running, with friends
(Gilbert Romayor photo)
So what I find most extraordinary about Jake is not his couch potato to runner transition or the tremendous distances he covers. It's the way his story resonates far stronger than it seemingly should. Maybe it's due to Jake's genuine "Aw shucks" attitude in response to all the accolades heaped upon him. Don't forget, Jake started running for reasons as basic as fitting into an airplane seat or getting a woman to say "yes" if he asked her out on a date. At some point in that effort, people started dumping praise a bunch of praise on him, which often unintentionally creates high expectations. It isn't what Jake signed up for when he started this, but he's handled it better than a lot of other people do.

There are those who lose a lot of weight with such contempt for their prior selves they end up coming off more than a little irritating. Their "you can do it" attitude is really thinly disguised "Look what I did!" boasting. There is little empathy to their message. Not Jake. There's no apparent hatred of his former self, just a realization he needed to take things in a different direction. He hasn't forgotten where he once was, and almost seems to embrace his past as he takes a new path.

Just take a look at what he posted on Facebook shortly after the San Jose Mercury News article ran:

"So it's been a couple of days since the Merc article ran. I'm not trying to sound like a dbag but one thing has become apparent to me. This run has become way bigger than just me. That is something im not taking lightly at all. The messages I have received from friends,family and total strangers are humbling to say the least. I still see my story way more as a cautionary tale than as an inspirational one. Just as most people do I struggle with my insecurities everyday. I'm just slowly learning to not let them paralyze me like I used to allow them to do. Some days it's easier to do this than others. To the people that are rooting for me on this run I'm not going to let you or myself down...."

The other thing about Jake, he does Superman things, but he's a very mortal Superman. His supplies get stolen. He gets lost. Yet, he continues to chug along in workman-like fashion, often apologetic to his Facebook faithful. During his recent 100 mile trek after missing a turn in his route, he posted to Facebook:

 "Just a quick update. I'm way behind.....I ended up getting lost in the mountains last night and ended up tacking an extra 9 hard miles and they are taking their toll. ...I'm guessing I won't make it to OG until around 830. I'm really sorry to anybody that made special arrangements to be there earlier. ....Again I apologize."  

We think we need super heroes to inspire us, but we're wrong.  We need super heroes that are human. Jake's a regular guy, trying to do amazing things, and struggling mightily to do them like we all would if we tried to do them too. I don't know how Jake does it, but he does it. And in Jake's unique, unassuming way, he shows us we all can do great things, too.

Jake, cooling his heels at Original Gravity
after his 100+ mile run
(photo from Jake's Facebook page)