Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book Review: Brew Britannia! Presents a Fascinating British Counterpoint to America's Brewing Revolution

It may seem a little pointless to post my high recommendation of Brew Britannia!, the history of British beer's rebirth written by Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey.  After all, since people on both sides of the pond like Zak Avery, Alan McLeod, Stan Hieronymus and Pete Brown have already weighed in with their enthusiastic thumbs' up, what's really left really for me to say?

These beer writers are pretty knowledgeable about British brewing.  I, on the other hand, only had this foggy notion about some weird group of British beer enthusiasts called CAMRA, which sounded like something straight out of a Monty Python skit.  So I eagerly read Brew Britannia! hoping to learn beer's transformation in Britain given I was pretty well versed in America's brewing revolution.  Boak and Bailey's book presents a fascinating British contrast to what happened in America.

As many already pointed out, Boak and Bailey couple impressively thorough research with a conversation-like writing style, focusing on the personalities that drove the British beer revolution to create an engaging story. Beer histories tend to be fairly wonkish, delving deeply into brewing styles,  beer ingredients and brewery equipment.  Boak and Bailey thankfully go in the opposite direction, focusing on the personalities and motivations of the various individuals who made British beer what it is today while rarely discussing the beer itself all that deeply.  Given the book give a very linear history of British beer starting from 1960's, this was a wise choice, preventing it from turning into a tedious "bus schedule" of British beer minutia.  What I found especially fascinating about Brew Britannia! was comparing Britain's beer revolution to what occurred at approximately the same time in the United States.

American brewing pioneers such as Fritz Maytag, Ken Grossman, and Jim Koch were undeniably passionate about beer and took great personal risks to follow those passions to create Anchor Brewing, Sierra Nevada, and Boston Beer respectively.   However, it is equally undeniable they were all also shrewd and highly ambitious businessmen who worked long hours to build their eventual empires. The craft brewing revolution in the United States was in many ways, entrepreneurial capitalism at its finest, where a few smart and hard working individuals took calculated risks the market would pay extra for a different product and turned out to be right as individual consumers started buying it.

Boak and Bailey's history documents a similar revolution, but a demand driven one rather than the American revolution driven by new supply.  Various consumer groups emerged in the 1960's, most notably CAMRA, which not only were seeking better beer in opposing the Big Six British corporations, but were undeniably social and arguably political organizations.  Their fight was ultimately a lot more than simply demanding traditional live cask ales in favor of forced carbonated kegs of fizzy the Big Six brewers favored. It also centered on the traditional role of the British pub and a revolt against large corporations that were perceived as poor stewards of British tradition and identity.  While there was certainly dissatisfaction in the United States at the sorry state of beer in the 1960's and 1970's, there weren't any organized consumer groups in United States seeking change in our nation's beer.  That whole idea seems somehow un-American.

The early British craft brewers emerging in the 70's and 80's come across as reluctant businessment, simply trying to brew a few barrels of decent brew without the more ambitious goals of the America's initial craft brewers. And yes, Boak and Bailey portray CAMRA as both goofy and dogmatic, prone to infighting over virtual any trivial topic they could possibly fight over, confirming my suspicions about the organization all along.

Boak and Bailey's story of Britain's craft brewing revolution seems, well very British.   Which raises the question, does each nation's brewing transformation uniquely capture it's national identity?  Are Sweden's and Italy's craft brewing revolutions distinctly Swedish and Italian?  Are Beer Bolshevik's fermenting revolt among Russia's proletariat as China engages on a Long March against lager imperialists led by a beery Mao Zedong?  Upon finishing Brew Britianna, these questions no longer seem as absurd.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

12 Weeks to Monterey: The Journey Begins

Start of last year's Big Sur Half-Marathon in Monterey
(Photo from Big Sur Marathon Events
"The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare"

-Juma Ikangaa

This quote from Tanzanian distance running legend Juma Ikangaa seems the ideal way to start a new series on this blog. Twelve weeks from now I'll be running the Big Sur Half-Marathon in Monterey.  As any runner knows, it takes a lot to prepare for a half- marathon, whatever your ability.  For many of us runners, taking the journey to reach a mountain top of our own making is why we do what we do.

This fall, that journey is to finish the half-marathon in 1:22, a 6:15 per mile pace.    Last year, I ran the Big Sur Half-Marathon in just a tad under 1:26, about 6:32 per mile pace. No question running a 1:22 will be difficult, but after carefully considering some of the runs and races I've done this year, it's doable.  I'd still be pretty happy if I ran 1:23, about 6:25 per mile pace but 1:22 is the target.   Six weeks before the Monterey Half-Marathon, I'll run the Bridge to Bridge 12k in San Francisco both as a racing tune-up and reality check.

I'm going to start a weekly diary of sorts, posting each week on my running experiences and thoughts leading up the race.  Rather than a tedious tally of each day's run, I hope to both inject a sense of purpose into the quest, and share with you the people, the places, and the things encountered along the way.  Sometimes, I'll describe a certain aspect of the training. Other times I'll introduce you to other runners, either long time training partners or anonymous runners who've gained a certain familiarity as they go by in the opposite direction each morning on the trails.  There will be a few random observations about things as they enter my mind. And with some luck, I won't be writing about any injuries.

The goal is to share my little world within the strange tribe of runners to give other runners added direction, comradery and inspiration while showing non-runners the purpose for doing these crazy things.   Ought to be interesting, should be fun and as always, I never quite know where this will take me.  Hope you join me for the ride.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Beer of the Month: Maduro Brown from Cigar City Brewing

How many Brown Ales have you tried that gave you the "Wow" factor?  I can't think of too many myself.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of the style that's way under appreciated. But even I must admit a good Brown Ale is more like "background music" than a beer that commands your immediate attention.

Maduro Brown from Cigar City Brewing is that rare exception.  I picked this one up a local supermarket last month during the family vacation.  I know Cigar City makes a bunch of special releases that beer geeks gush over but really wasn't expecting that much from this Brown Ale in their regular line-up.   I just figured it would go well with the burgers we were having for dinner.  It caught my notice at first sip and would go well with just about anything.

It's rich, silky smooth, full of complex flavors of toffee and chocolate.   Cigar City adds flaked oats into the grain bill to give it that wonderful texture and tie all the great roasted flavors together. One of the best Brown Ales I've ever had and another good reason to go back to Florida.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Is "Build Your Running Body" the best running book ever? Quite possibly yes.

Build Your Running Body boldly proclaims itself as "the ultimate running guide".  At the top of the front cover is a quote from Runner's World founder Bob Anderson declaring "This is the best running book ever".  Pretty heavy stuff. Does it live up to the hype?

I've been running for over thirty years reading over twenty books on training over that time and have to say "yep, it's that good".   Certainly there are books that excel by going greater detail into certain areas, like The Cool Impossible, which I found to dramatically improve my running form, or Daniels Running Formula, still the Bible on improving running economy.  But neither of these books had much to say about running outside of their narrow focus.  The strength of Build Your Running Body is that it has no weaknesses. It covers everything, stretching, strengthening, pacing, racing, nutrition, recovery, you name in excellent detail with lots of good supporting illustrations and charts   Somehow, the authors found a way to comprehensively organize all that without being overwhelming, no easy task.  Plenty of running books that dictate a "do this, do that, but not that" dogmatic philosophy or provide so much generalized information that really can't be applied into the typical runner's training program. The nutrition advice avoids "food Nazi" territory, containing sensible diets an actual person could plausibly eat in real life.   Authors Pete Magill, Thomas Schwartz and Melissa Breyer always find the right note in explaining their training advice, making it both accessible and easily personalized.

It's one of those books you don't have to read from cover to cover, and the authors even encourage the reader to skim through it.  New runners especially may find all the material overwhelming at first, and may want to take in a few chapters at a time.

As for me, I expect to be using some of it to train for the Big Sur Half-Marathon this November.  I already have a pretty good half-marathon system in place that's worked well for the last couple years.   After running for over 30 years, I've pretty much figured out what works for me and what doesn't.   Still, I found a few things in Build Your Running Body that I've started using, mostly core and leg strengthening work outs. There's a number of good pacing charts in Chapter 7 on Building Your Running Cardiovascular System for track intervals and tempo runs that I've already started using as a guide to adjust my pacing a bit for a couple tempo runs.

Chapter 15, Build Your Training Schedule brings all the different workouts into a coherent whole, so make sure you read that chapter.  Find the training program that's best suited to you, whether it be the "12-Week Training Schedule for Beginning and Returning Runners-Non Competitive" or perhaps the "6-Week Training Schedule for 5k Race-Intermediate & Advanced" and read it carefully.  You may want to riff a little on the training plan, but these training schedules bring the various topics scattered throughout the books into focus.

I find good running books are like Alcoholics Anonymous:  Take what you need and leave the rest behind. There's a lot of good stuff in Build Your Running Body to take with you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Finally Making it the Strike Brewery and Tap Room

Chin Music is a tasty Pale Ale
It's been a busy summer for Strike Brewing.  They've completed their brewery and opened their tap room.  Well, the tap room is not quite open.   According to Strike's website,  it's "openish", from Wednesday-Friday from 3 pm - 7 pm.  That's good enough for most people.

It's taken a while to get there, but I finally got a chance to check the place out.  The old cavernous warehouse room I remember back last winter now houses gleaming brewing equipment, a large refrigeration room, and a few picnic tables complete with the Strike logo on them to create a tap room.  I got a chance to try a couple pints of Chin Music, a tasty Pale Ale only available in the tap room as well as few select locations on draft.  I'm sure we'll be seeing some more of Brewmaster Drew Erhlich's creations at Strike's tap room soon enough.

There was a little placard on the bar announcing a Grand Opening of the tap room October 4th.  I don't know about you, but I'll keeping that day open.  I'll leave you with a few pictures of the place to try to put this all into perspective.
Last winter, Strike Brewing was just a big empty room


Brand spanking new brewing equipment at Strike


You can have a beer at the tap room only a few feet from where it was brewed!

The Strike Brewing Tap Room, where you can talk with Brewmaster Drew Ehrlich about what you're drinking

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Nothing to say "Dammit" about


My performance at the Dammit Run called for a celebration beer
I'm standing there five minutes before the start of the Los Gatos Dammit Run and it feels like a high school race.  Maybe that's because this five mile race starts on a high school track.  Or perhaps it's because a few high school cross-country teams show up to test their fitness before the season starts.  I don't see a lot of old guys like myself, just a bunch of eager kids ready to have fun and test themselves over the varied and at times very hilly five mile course.

For me, the race a bit of a test of my summer time fitness to see where I stand going into the fall.  Of course, this race has long been one of my favorites.  I first ran it 13 years ago when I was 50 pounds heavier than I am now and have done it 5-6 times since then.  There's always a fun atmosphere and the crazy course, which runs over every possible running terrain know to man in the span of just 5 miles makes this race worth coming back for.  Who needs to run on a boring PR courses? 

The gun goes off and we're off and running a lap around the Los Gatos High School track.  Then we zig-zag our way around the high school grounds before meeting up with the Los Gatos Creek Trail, where the race takes on a cross-country nature as the field churns through the gravel trail.  At this point, I'm just trying to set a decent pace and get comfortable, knowing the challenging part of the race is yet to come.  I come through the first mile in just under 6:00 pace, a little too fast.

Easing off a little, I'm feeling pretty comfortable and just before the steep hill to conclude the second mile.  Turning to the high school kid running next to me, I say "Now the race really starts" as we take on a steep, 50 yard gravel incline.  I pass through mile 2 in 12:40.

Now the fun really begins.  The course runs cross-wise up the Lexington Dam, ascending maybe 150 yards and after a brief 150 yard respite on a paved road, their another 1/4 mile steep uphill before it's all downhill back to Los Gatos on a roller coaster ride of trails and the streets of Los Gatos.  On that last steep uphill, a whole bunch of high school kids start ganging up on me, either passing or surrounding me in a big pack.  I find a little opening in the pack and get a second wind and push my way past a few.  I complete the third mile in 8:40.

Getting over the last hill, I open the throttle on the rolling down hills, passing a few here and there, putting on the brakes slightly at times to keep my legs underneath me to prevent a full face plant.  I'm working hard and running well, hitting well under 6:00 per mile pace.   Getting to the Los Gatos High School Track and going once around it for the finish  pressing as hard as I can, this high school kid blows right by me.  I just couldn't find that extra gear to go with him.  Still, I look up and the clock heading to the finish and see 33:00, and get pretty excited.  My "A" goal was to finish in 33:20, my "B" goal in 33:40.  I cross the line in 33:15, a full minute faster than last year.  Mission accomplished!

Not much else to say.  I'm clearly in better shape than a year ago and now starting to focus on the Big Sur Half-Marathon on Monterey Bay.  That race isn't until November so I've got plenty of time to get better, but have to say I'm pretty happy with how I'm running now.
Everyone milling about before the start of the Dammit Run

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How California's Drought is Affecting the Region's Breweries in Adventure Sports Journal

The article I wrote for Adventure Sports Journal on how California's Drought is affecting the region's breweries is out.  You can read it online on the Adventure Sports Journal website.  It's been a busy month for "real" writing, as I've finished up an article on Gordon Biersch for Edible Silicon Valley for the upcoming fall issue.  Nice to know someone besides my mom actually reads the stuff I write.