Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Still at it at the 2015 Wharf to Wharf

These socks gave me luck at Wharf to Wharf
I've run the Santa Cruz Wharf to Wharf race eights times since 2004. The first time, I jumped into it just because some people I ran with were running it. A year later, I started getting serious, and Wharf to Wharf became one of those big "circle the calendar" races. I trained hard for months, all that effort targeted towards earning one of those coveted top 100 Finisher jackets. The same thing for 2006 and 2007, before some pretty bad knee tendinitis and hip injuries left me hobbling through the course in 2008 and 2009. Deciding to de-emphasize running after a couple years of limping around, I didn't even run it for the next four years.  Working continually over years to alleviate a hip imbalance begin to alleviate those injury woes.

So last year, I cautiously returned and put up a respectable 37:03 for the six mile distance. Failing to hold back the competitive juices this year, I spent this summer aiming to beat that time for the 2015 edition of Wharf to Wharf.  I put in a few short track interval workouts at the Campbell Community Center Track and put in some extra tempo work in hoes of bettering last year's time.

Still, I arrived at the starting line in a pretty relaxed manner, wearing the beer socks that gave me good luck at last May's Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco. I've been running 35 years and now at age 48 with all the high points, the low points, and injuries along that way, I'm just thankful I can get to the line, have some fun and compete. Apparently most of the starters weren't in such a good mood. As the canon fired signaling the start of the race, there was an awful lot of pushing and shoving as we sprung forward.  One guy kept pushing me in the back, and after five annoying seconds of that, I reached back, grabbed his wrist and pushed it away.

Trying to keep things cool, I came through first mile in 6:02, slightly too fast for a sub-37 effort. I'll spare you most of the gory details but continuing a disciplined pace and powering through the rolling hills, where the extra track work certainly helped, I crossed the finish line in 36:46, my race goal met. I was tired, but no hurting body parts. Another year, another pleasant realization I'm not too old for this shit.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rambling Reviews: 7.15.2015: Fruit Beers from Anchor, Lagunitas and Altamont Beer Works

More rambling reviews for the second time this week. This time, the theme is beers with fruit in them.

First up, Anchor Brewing Zymaster Series No. 8. Luxardo Cherry Ale.  Anchor took a base amber ale and aged in a bed of Luxardo Marischino Cherries, which accorrding to Anchor, aren't those bright, artificially colored fruit-like things that top sundaes but are instead some sort of heirloom cherry.  Whatever these cherries are in real life, they make this beer really work.  The toasty and smokey flavors from the base amber blend really well with the cherries, all the flavors well balanced.    I'm not usually one to get into beer and food pairings but I could see this beer really working well with certain desserts, or the cherry flavors playing off various meats. One of those beers to carefully sip to fully appreciate.
A far less successful example of using a fruit additions is Lagunitas Citrusinensis Pale Ale. Lagunitas took their Dog Town Pale Ale, tweaked the recipe to add more wheat into the grain bill, then added blood orange juice into the mix. The blood orange addition is too heavy handed, dominating the brew rather than creating an interesting twist. The tangy blood orange flavors battles the bitter hoppiness of the underlying Pale Ale and things aren't pretty.  Flavors clash and muddle, and when the dust clears, there's this chalky flavor.  And what are these weird precipitates collecting at the bottom of the pint glass?  It's an interesting beer, but not in a good way. A big misfire.

Finally, I really dug Berry White, a cream ale with raspberry and cranberry additions from Altamont Beer Works which was pouring on Nitro at San Jose's Original Gravity. Great name, because it's almost as smooth and luscious as a Barry White ballad. The raspberry and cranberry work well together creating a nicely rounded berry flavor with a pleasant tartness.  Nice off-beat summer beer which I found to be a guilty pleasure. Can't get enough of your love, baby!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Rambling Reviews 7.13.2015: Three From 10 Barrel Brewing

10 Barrel Brewing has made lots of noise recently, winning awards and getting acquired by Anheuser-Busch last November.  Now, they have expanded their distribution to the Bay Area and were kind enough to send me three of their beers to try out. Let's find out about some of their beers that's attracted so much attention.

First up, Swill, a mixture of lemonade and a Berliner Weiss known as a radler. "Swill" is a daring name for a polarizing beer. Reviews of Swill on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate are pretty much of the "love it" or "hate it" variety. My wife and I, who have had our share of arguments, were similarly divided. She found it a little too sweet, while I thought the sweetness level was about right. Both of us liked the punchy lemony sour "tang" to it as we sipped this on our front porch during a hot afternoon. It's pretty light beverage with the underlying wheat beer and barely any detectable hop presence, leaning a little more towards the beer side than the lemonade side.  Of course, there will be beer geeks who will simply refuse to be caught dead drinking something like this.  I think a large fraction of the remaining 98% of the population will enjoy this just fine.

Next up, Apocalypse IPA. The largely neutral malt lets the hops shine through with plenty of bright flavors dominated by grapefruit, with some grassy and floral notes in there too. Nothing particularly earth-shattering here, just a well rounded, dry, and balanced IPA that's more about drink-ability than popping you in the mouth with a bunch of hops. Brewed in the stereotypical West-Coast IPA fashion, I found this compares well to the best examples of this style.  I'm talking about beers like Bear Republic Racer 5 or Lagunitas IPA in case you were wondering.

Finally, we end with Joe IPA, an intense grapefruity hop wallop with a little resin finish.  It's surprising dry and well balanced despite all the hop intensity. It's pretty impressive, since IPA's with this much hop flavor usually end up as big malty monstrosities, often sticky sweet and tasting like hop syrup. Somehow they cram in all that hop flavor into a balanced brew. Joe IPA won Gold in the American India Pale Ale category at the North American Beer Awards and fourth in the National Beer Championships this year. It's pretty obvious why.

Let's give 10 Barrel extra bonus points for not naming their IPA's using some tired hop pun. Looks like so far, Anheuser-Busch hasn't screwed up Goose Island. We can only hope they do the same with 10 Barrel Brewing.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Hopothetical Imperial Black IPA from Cliche' Brewing : You've read this review before

This is not your father's Imperial Black IPA.   Upon pouring, I detected aromas of freshly cut huckleberries, two-day old coffee, and alfalfa pollen.  It pours a jet black leaving moderately spaced lacing in the glass, reminiscent of a poorly knit sweater. I'm getting flavors of blueberry, blackberry, Sumatran espresso, guava, raspberry, barnyard hay, rose petals, pomegranate, sage, charcoal, tangerine, Chilean cocoa nibs, grapefruit rind, Italian black figs, mascarpone cheese and carob.

Cliche' Brewing brews Hopothetical Imperial Black IPA using gobs of Two-Row, Maris Otter, Munich, Caramel, Black Patent, and Chocolate malts.  They then add righteous amounts of Cascade, Magnum, Columbus, Simcoe, Centennial and Chinook hops.  It weighs in at an obscene, yet highly drinkable 11.6% abv with a whopping 117 ibu's.

Cliche' Brewing is the brainchild of Johnny Cliche', an avid home brewer who followed his passion turning his hobby into a business when he took the plunge and opened a brewery last year. Hopothetical Imperial Black IPA represents a milestone in another chapter of staying true to his roots.  The release party for Hopothetical Imperial Black IPA was recently held at Cliche' Brewing's tap room, a cozy place with a relaxed vibe and friendly atmosphere. Johnny Cliche was exuberant, cheerfully proclaiming "Brewing beer is awesome! We love being a part of the great craft beer community! If you like beer, you'll love Hopothetical Imperial Black IPA!" Asked what's next up his sleeve in his bag of tricks for Cliche' Brewing's next release, he answered "Brewing beer is awesome! We love being a part of the great craft beer community! If you like beer, you'll love our next release!" The release party was epic and a wonderful time was had by all.

Life's to short to drink crappy beer, so do yourself a favor and run, don't walk to Cliche' Brewing and pick up this bad boy of a special treat. You'll be glad you did because it's awesome!

(This post was partially inspired by a recent discussion of beer cliche's over at Boak and Bailey.  I must admit this post resembles some of my prior writing all too well.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Rambling Reviews 6.30.2015: Summer Beers from Anchor, Gordon Biersch and Santa Clara Valley

Summer is now officially upon us, so time to ramble about some of the lighter brews especially great for this time of year.  Good summer beers are underrated, possessing enough complexity and depth to draw you in if you care to, which can be easily ignored if all you want to do is cool off.

First up, Anchor Brewing Summer Wheat.  In the past, I was never a fan of this beer. That's changed now that Anchor's tweaked the recipe. The earlier version was a little bland for my taste, a pretty one-note wheat beer with nothing particularly to recommend about it. Anchor's now jazzed it up with some subtle hop additions, including dry-hopping it with Simcoe. The result is a crisp, dry beer with some tartness from the wheat and citrus, lemony character from the additional hops giving the beer some extra depth. Now I'm a fan.

Next up is Gordon Biersch Sommerbrau, a Kolsch.  Their are plenty of Kolch's out there, some rather light and ordinary.  As Gordon Biersch brewmaster says in a press release, "Kolsch is such a unique style and is so challenging to brew." No place to hide any off flavors in a Kolsch.  The surprisingly sturdy underlying malt with some wheat tanginess finishes a little earthy.  Lot's of subtle things going on here, and I like the little extra malt omph you don't always see in this style.

Finally, when Santa Clara Valley Brewing's tap room opened, I high-tailed it down there the first chance I got and tried, among other things, their Little Orchard Saison.  Lot's of spice gives it some zip with some yeasty undertones for balance.  Not a deep review, but I liked it so much, I was just enjoying it rather than scribbling down a bunch of tasting notes, OK?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

10 Barrel Brewing's SF Bay Area Roll-out and acquisition by Anheuser-Busch: A chat with brewery co-founder Chris Cox

10 Barrel co-founders Chris Cox, Garret Wales, and Jeremy Cox
(10 Barrel Brewing photo)
Their beer won awards and plenty of raves on websites like BeerAdvocate and RateBeer. But the biggest news 10 Barrel Brewing made was being acquired by Anheuser-Busch (A-B) last November.  Now this Bend, OR brewery is rolling out their beers into the San Francisco Bay Area. That's right, technically the same outfit that brought you Lime-a-Rita now brings a brewery known for eclectic experimental beers to the Bay Area.  Let that sink in for a moment.

So what sort of beers can we expect from 10 Barrel here in Northern California? And how has the A-B acquisition factored into all of this?  I spent a few minutes chatting with 10 Barrel co-founder Chris Cox about these and other questions and here's what he had to say.

Tell us about your Northern California Roll Out.  What beers will we see?
We’ve been planning to move into Northern California for two years.   We came down June 9th to San Francisco to introduce our beers to the area and are excited about the next time we can come down to the Bay Area and have some fun.  There will be four beers to start with in the Bay Area.  First, will be our flagship Apocalypse IPA   You can also find our Joe IPA and DUB, a Double IPA, and Cucumber Crush, part of our Crush series.  We’re coming down to the Bay Area with our best.

Cucumber Crush sounds interesting.  How did that happen?  What motivated you to think "cucumber" and "sour" together and say “Let’s go for it?”
The credit goes to our brewers.  Tonya Corbett runs our Sour program, and we have a “Crush” series where we continually add fruit additions to the barrel during the fermentation.  For this one, we started with a Berliner Wiesse and added cucumber to it. It has a really refreshingly light sourness, and definitely a good "after work out" beer.

How did the A-B acquisition affect your plans to distribute into the Bay Area?
It didn’t affect the roll-out.  Actually, the acquisition probably set it back a couple months since a lot of things were put on hold initially once the deal closed.  We really like the Bay Area and we’re looking forward to coming down often.  It gives us the chance to eat some really good food and drink some of the other great beers brewed in the Bay Area.

What does 10 Barrel have to offer to Northern California that already has plenty of good breweries?
We think we have great beer, too.  We’re just looking to come down, sell some beer and have some fun.  What’s fun for us is to get involved in communities where there’s a lot of good craft beer.  We just started distribution in Colorado for the same reason.  That’s fine with our parent A-B, as they haven’t given us any sales targets.

Really?  Corporations always have goals and sales targets.  A-B really doesn’t give you sales targets for these roll-outs?
A-B works with us as advisers and they help support us a lot with distribution.  As regards to goals and sales, we do the same things today we did last year.  We’re actually less aggressive at sales than we were a year ago and just as focused on the beer and really ingraining ourselves in each market.
All the decisions remain here in Bend and its business as usual.  They’ve gotten involved in a number of critical business matters than don’t have a lot to do with actually brewing the beer.  It’s given our team the opportunity to really focus on the beer and not on things like accounting or buying glass in volume quantities.  The A-B acquisition allows us to focus more on the things that got us started brewing beer in the first place.
Inside 10 Barrel's Bend Brewery
(10 Barrel Brewing photo)

Now that it’s been over six months since A-B acquired 10 Barrel, how else have things changed?  Any surprises?
Well, I do attend more meetings and participate in more conference calls than I used to. There's that.

One great thing is it allows us to source raw materials that we couldn’t get before.  We used to brew Joe IPA only in small quantities at our brewpub in Boise because we couldn’t get enough hops for larger production batches.  A-B helped us get the quantities of hops we needed so we could brew in larger volumes so more people can drink it.  Joe IPA has gone on to win Gold in the American India Pale Ale category at the North American Beer Awards and fourth in the National Beer Championships this year.

Any beers besides the four you mentioned we’ll see in Bay Area you can talk about?
There are three or four other beers we’re trying to get approved for sale down here.  One of them you’ll certainly see in the Bay Area is Pub Beer, an American Craft Lager.  It’s in a can, so it’s totally package.  You can see we give our beers really imaginative names.

Chris Cox is clearly enjoying this honeymoon period with A-B, sounding relaxed and very confident over the phone during the interview.  While "selling some beer and having fun" may be sufficient to A-B management for now, there will likely come a day when A-B's investors start asking tough questions about the 10 Barrel acquisition to A-B executives. Answers like "Well, they're selling some beer and having fun" probably aren't going to go over too well on Wall Street.  But it's important to realize the size of the 10 Barrel acquisition is basically a rounding error on A-B's spreadsheets, with A-B having far less to gain by squeezing a few extra dollars out of 10 Barrel through heavy handed management tactics then they would lose from the negative fall-out from very public acquisition failure. With that in mind, A-B's hands off approach makes a lot of sense.

There's so much historic fear and loathing directed toward A-B in the craft brewing community the automatic reaction to this and other similar A-B acquisitions was that A-B would simply gut the brewery and dumb down the beer.  Few considered the opposite outcome, where A-B would provide resources otherwise unavailable to the smaller brewery to allow it to really prosper.  Whether the former or the latter happens with 10 Barrel is still an open question.  The good news for the Bay Area beer community is that we get to try some new highly acclaimed beers and ultimately get to vote on the success or failure of A-B's acquisition of 10 Barrel with our pint glasses.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Santa Clara Valley Brewing Tap Room Opens

It's a development that's starting to get routine, yet hardly anyone is tired of.  Another South Bay brewery, Santa Clara Valley Brewing  has opened a tap room in the same South San Jose industrial region where Strike Brewing and Hermitage Brewing have theres, and Clandestine Brewing came and went.  (We all hope Clandestine re-opens in San Jose, but that is another story.)  Does this mean San Jose has reached "tap room critical mass" to become a beer destination?  Perhaps.  At any rate, there's another place to go in the city for good local beer in the South Bay, and that's good enough for me.