Friday, July 18, 2014

Running the Trails of Almaden Quicksilver to Get Ready for a Couple Races

Trail running is great on multiple levels. Running over uneven ground builds a strength, resiliency and balance that can't be developed on the roads. Working up and down the hills really gets the heart rate up without the pounding and monotony of running laps around the track.  No wonder hill running has long been considered "speed work in disguise".  Of course, the views our awesome, especially at the top of the hills where they've been earned.

So I've been hitting the trails of my favorite place for trail running, Almaden Quicksilver Park to get ready for a couple of races coming up.  In a little over a week, I'll be part of the mob surging through the streets of Santa Cruz for Wharf to Wharf, a six miler over a few rolling hills that starts at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and finishes at the Capitola Wharf.  Then in early August is the Dammit Run in Los Gatos.  The Dammit starts on the Los Gatos High School track before hitting the gravel Los Gatos Creek trail. Than the race gets even more interesting as runs up Lexington Dam diagonally before encountering the real hill of the course on the Los Gatos trail system.  It's then a mostly down hill roller coaster of a trail run before a short stint on the Los Gatos streets and a finish back on the Los Gatos High School Track.

I've taken the family on a number of walks in Quicksilver through the years, but it's been six years since I've been running its trails on a regular basis.  It feels good to be back.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Beer of the Month: Devil's Thumb from Rock Bottom Brewery in Campbell

I've enjoyed many a brew at my local Rock Bottom Brewery in Campbell that it's high time to bestow Beer of the Month honors to one of their finer creations, Devil's Thumb Belgian Strong Pale Ale.

It's one of those beers that sort of sneaks up on you.  It looks fairly unimposing at first, siting there all golden yellow in a glass. The first thing I notice when sipping this one is a  light pineapple, tropical fruit vibe coupled with a piney, slightly resiny hop finish.  The malt is dry and crisp, and there's a slight alcohol burn which accentuates the flavors.  It one of those beers where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts as they all come together to create something unique and memorable.  At 8.3% abv, it packs a bit of a wallop so watch out, as it's quite drinkable.

Rock Bottom Brewery is one of two breweries in my home town of Campbell, and I take the wife and kids there often.   We all like the food, and my wife and I like the beers.  The standard Rock Bottom line-up is pretty solid, and Brewmaster Russell Clements usually has three or four of his special concoctions on tap.  The beers are pretty accessible, well crafted and flavorful.  It's one of the many good things about living in Campbell.

One of my favorite places to take the family out for dinner
(Photo from Rock Bottom Brewery)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dan Gordon Talks About Dunkles Unfiltered Dark Lager 25 Years Ago and Today

Dan Gordon next to a computer console that controls his brewery
When Gordon Biersch first released Dunkles 25 years ago, it was as unique as it is now, but for different reasons.  Back then, Dunkles was a rich, roasty unfiltered black lager amidst a sea of pale, watery yellow ones. Despite 25 years of extraordinary brewing progress in the United States, Dunkles remains unique both here and in its homeland Germany.  "None of the larger German breweries make anything like Dunkles today," stated Dan Gordon, the day I visited him at his brewery in San Jose's Japantown to talk about Gordon Biersch's latest limited release of Dunkles.  "The caramelized malts are too expensive.  A lot of breweries use food coloring."

Gordon Biersch uses this little gadget
to regulate the pressure during fermentation.
While it's not unusual to see dark lagers from America's craft breweries, they tend to source malts that aren't evenly roasted.  As Gordon explained, "Take a look at the caramelized malt you get in the US and the grains are different colors. Some are dark, others are light.  It doesn't average out to what a caramelized malt should be." Gordon gets his highly uniform roasted malt from Germany from a former classmate of his at the Technical University of Munich's brewing program. Gordon spent five years in the brewing program, becoming its first American graduate in 40 years before teaming with restaurateur Dean Biersch to form Gordon-Biersch in 1988.

Dunkles is brewed using a double decoction technique, a time intensive process few American breweries use. Decoction refers to a process where a portion of the grain mash is removed and placed into boiling water before being added back to the original mash to raise the overall temperature of the mash.  As one might expect, in a double decoction, this process is done twice in the mash phase.  It's a technique still practiced by many German breweries, but rarely done in the United States.  Deeper malt flavors are created during the boiling portions of the decoction since the malt is subjected to higher temperatures.

Gordon recalls the time back when Dunkles was the first beer brewed and served at the Palo Alto brewpub back in 1988.  Legendary beer writer Michael Jackson happened to be passing through and after hearing what Gordon was up too, decided to stop by the brewpub and see for himself.  Jackson asked for a sample. Gordon explained that it needed another couple weeks in the fermenting tank before it would be ready but let Jackson have a taste anyway.  Gordon remembers seeing Jackson's face when he took a little swig, smiled, turned to him and said, "If it's this good now imagine what it will be like in a few weeks".

When Dunkles was finally ready, it turned out to be a big hit, much to Gordon's pleasant surprise.  "We thought we were doing something that was going over the edge, but a lot of people liked it.  We blew through it."  Back in 1988, dark beer to most people was either a completely foreign concept or meant something like Michelob Dark.

I probably don't have the palate to fully appreciate Dunkles, but can notice the difference in the taste from both the ingredients and the careful brewing process.  The toasty, caramel flavors are cleaner with a lot of depth and complexity.  There are other dark lagers out there, but often one picks up slightly harsh or muddled flavors within. Dunkles is not only a part of our region's brewing history, it's a study of how extra care in both the ingredients and the way a beer is brewed can make subtle, but significant differences.

I wasn't around 25 years ago when Gordon Biersch started but can imagine that back then, beers brewed with traditional German methods were pretty novel and eclectic.  Today in this era of extreme IPA's, wine barrel aging  and countless beers brewed with ingredients like pluots and hibiscus, Gordon Biersch comes across as a bit stodgy.   But if you've been doing things right for decades, stodginess is a good thing.  Dunkles is the proof.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Session #89: Democratic Presidents Have Been Far Better for Beer than Republican Ones

For this month's Session on Beer in History, I've decided to go to a place rarely explored on this blog: straight into the political arena.  I normally avoid politics on my blog since as I see it, the roads are open to everyone to run on and all walks of life are welcome to join me for a pint. However, looking over the history of Presidential politics and beer over the past 100 years, Democratic Presidents have been far kinder to the beverage than their Republican counterparts.  In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to being one of those damn liberals. So yes, you might say I'm a little biased on the subject. But any objective look at the facts over the past 100 years shows that Democratic Presidents have been far more supportive of beer than Republicans.   Let's start by going back to the year 1919.

Woodrow Wilson tried, but couldn't
stop Prohibition
That was the year Republican Representative Andrew Volstead introduced legislation which become known  the Volstead Act banning the sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. The Republican held House and Senate passed this legislation.  Democratic President Woodrow Wilson tried to veto the measure, but Congress overrode his veto, and this Republican-led Federal regulation ushered in the Prohibition era.  As we all know, Prohibition was a complete disaster.  People continued to drink flouting the law with black market booze and organized crime flourishing during this period of general lawlessness. Curiously enough, when Republicans today talk about all the failures of government regulation, they never bring up Prohibition.

Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the
Cullen-Harrison Act and Beer Flowed Again
Through Our Great Land
The next three Presidents of the United States, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover were all Republicans.  None of them did a thing to overturn Prohibition.

Which left things to our next President, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, who ran for office in 1932 with a campaign promise to overturn Prohibition.  True to his word, after becoming President, he signed the Cullen-Harrison Act named after the two Democratic Congressmen who introduced the measure, authorizing the sale of beer with up to 3.2% alcohol by weight.

After Roosevelt died in office  in 1945, he was succeeded by Vice-President Harry Truman.  Truman wasn't know for drinking much, and was said to favor wine and bourbon.

The Republicans retook the White House in 1952 when Dwight Eisenhower was elected President.  He wasn't much of a drinker either, but he once said, "Some people wanted champagne and caviar when they should have had beer and hot dogs."  Eisenhower said that to illustrate how America was losing its identity to foreign aspirations.  But reading it today, it sounds like somebody who doesn't respect beer all that much.

The next two US Presidents were John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.  Both liked to drink and have a good time, but mostly favored cocktails.

In 1968. Republican Richard Nixon was elected President.  Nixon fancied himself as a wine connoisseur.  That probably explains a lot.

President Jimmy Carter grabbing some lunch with
his brother Billy at a service station
When Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal, his Vice-President Gerald Ford became President.  Ford wasn't in the White House long, and he wasn't known to drink much either.

In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected President.  Booze rarely touched Jimmy Carter's lips, but the same thing couldn't be said about his brother Billy.  As indifferent as he was to beer in his personal life, as President, Jimmy Carter signed the second most important piece of Federal legislation after the repeal of Prohibition.  Of course, I'm talking about HR 1337, which he signed on October 14, 1978.  This bill was a fairly nondescript reform of the Federal tax code, but included an amendment to legalize home brewing for personal use up to 200 gallons per year.  The amendment to legalize home brewing was actually a collaboration between Republican Representative Barber Conable and Democratic Senator Alan Cranston, harking back to a quaint era where Republicans actually worked with Democrats to craft legislation.   Little did anyone realize this small act of deregulation would release a legion of home brewing entrepreneurs who's passion for beer inspired them to start their own businesses, launching a wave of capitalistic brewing frenzy across America that continues to this day.  Funny, when Republicans today talk about deregulation stimulating the economy, they never bring up Jimmy Carter legalizing home brewing.

Ronald Reagan Toasting the Faithful in 1983
at a New England Pub (photo credit)
Our next President, Ronald Reagan was unique in many ways.   I'm no fan of Reagan, but must admit that unlike previous Presidents, he often appeared in bars and pubs hoisting a brew during his two terms, bolstering his "man of the people" image.  Maybe he wasn't such a bad guy after all.

The next few Presidents, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were not often seen drinking beer in public or were involved in any meaningful Federal legislation affecting brewing.

If you're keeping score at this point between Democratic and Republic Presidents, here's where things stand on beer:

Democrats: Wilson's Attempted veto of the Volsted Act, Roosevelt's repeal of Prohibition,  and Jimmy Carter legalizating of home brewing

Republicans:  Questionable quote about beer from Eisenhower and a few Reagan photo-ops.

President Bill Clinton with US Soccer Star
Carlos Bocanegra (photo credit)

Which brings us to our current President, Barack Obama.  Has any President since FDR done more to elevate the status of beer than Obama?  Early in his Presidency, he tapped into the awesome social lubrication powers of to overcome racial discord. I'm talking about the Beer Summit involving African-American Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge Police Sargent James Crowley.

On July 16th, 2009,  Professor Gates returned from an overseas trip late at night to find himself locked out of his own house.   As he broke into his home, a neighbor placed a 911 thinking a crime was taking place, and Officer Crowley responded to the scene.  Things did not go well when Officer Crowley came on the scene and asked Gates for identification, who angrily responded, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?"  Things rapidly escalated from there and Crowley finally arrested Gates for disorderly conduct.

President Barack Obama at the Beer Summit
(photo credit)

The incident became national news and divided the country largely along racial lines.  When Barack Obama, America's first African-American President was asked about the incident and seemed critical of the Cambridge Police Department, sympathizing with Professor Gates plight as a black man in America, it sparked national outrage. Looking to quell the flames of the first major racial discord of his Presidency, Obama invited both Professor Gates and Officer Crowley over to the White House for a beer in hopes all parties would come to an understanding.

The meeting was a rousing success and the conflict was quickly patched over their beers.  Officer Crowley speaking afterwords, remarked that he and Professor Gates discussed the incident "like two gentlemen, instead of fighting it out either in the physical sensor or in the mental, in the court of public opinion."  Gates was enthusiastic after the meeting with Crowley and quipped, "We hit it off well from the very beginning....when he's not arresting you, Sargent Crowley is a very likable guy."

In addition to highlighting the power of beer to bring people together, in his first term Barack Obama initiated a home brewing operation in the White House, becoming the first President to do so. Obama's small operation produced a few bottles of beer for special White House events, as he described on the David Letterman Show.  Obama's second term has been more quiet on the subject of beer.  While one can only speculate what 2012 Republican Presidential challenger Mitt Romney would have accomplished if he defeated Obama, since Romney was a practicing Mormon, it's a safe bet "elevating the profile of beer" would be pretty low on his agenda.

As we look to the 2016 Presidential Election, the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton looks to face off against a yet to be determined Republican challenger.  As I speak, Republican strategists are feverishly hatching their plans to retake the White House.  I doubt Republican strategists look to Left Coast Liberals like myself for advice, but if they're willing to listen to me, I have a genuine suggestion for Republican success in 2016:  Embrace beer.

Will beer propel Hillary to the White House in 2016?
(photo credit)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Clandestine Brewing Exposed!

A new kind of brewery has emerged in San Jose.

Breweries used to be these massive factories pumping out millions of gallons of beer that was all the same and shipped hundreds or thousands miles away. In the last two or three decades of America's brewing revolution, smaller breweries evolved. They were still factories designed produce in volume, but brewing a wider variety of styles and tended to serve more local markets. Then there are breweries like San Jose's newest brewery, Clandestine Brewing, that's one of those so called nanobreweries.   Clandestine is more like a tight home brewing collective with a license to sell beer at it's tap room to the local community. They have no flagship beers and they like it that way. Instead, there are eleven beers on tap with all sorts of different ones going in and out of rotation.  Going to Clandestine Brewing for beer like going to down to the bakery to fresh made bread rather than picking up of a mass produced loaf at the supermarket.

Clandestine has only been open for business about a month and I finally got to check the plae out last Saturday. Despite being located in a small industrial park in the middle of San Jose, the place has an informal, neighborhood feel.   One of the brewers will even give you a brewery tour which lasts about 5-10 minutes as the walk you through the various stages of the brewing process in a space the size of a large garage.

You might think their small operation would be stretched thin producing so many different beers, but most of their brews are pretty tasty. And to me, the best thing about their tap list is that it isn't chock full of a bunch of wild and crazy IPA's with maybe an Imperial Stout or Pale Ale thrown in for good measure.  There's a real respect for brewing traditions and a genuine diversity of beer styles, flavors and brewing techniques in Clandestine's beers.

What you see here is all the equipment currently used to
brew Clandestine's beers

So let's get to the highlights from last Saturday afternoon when my wife and I stopped by the place and took in a sampler flight. Adrian, one of Clandenstine's four brewers, was behind the counter that afternoon. and gave us a friendly tour through the various offerings as we tried them.

dOrt - Brewed in the Dortmunder style, this light, crisp beer had a refreshing tartness and light hints of lemon.

BND - I find Hefeweizens in the United States to be a hit or miss proposition, with some of them being rather tasteless and uninteresting.  This one works well with a nice light bubble gum-like esters.

Gratzer - Described as a "Smoked Beer" this light, tart beer had (surprise!) a nice smokey aftertaste.

Brush Pass - This is a Roggenbier, a traditional style rarely found today.  Adrian explained was Roggenbier is, but I was enjoying the beer so much, I forgot to write it down.  It's brewed with rye, giving the dark brew some peppery-ness, with some woody notes.  It's one of those beers where you can focus either on it's complexities, or simply ignore than as they provide a great background to whatever else you're doing.

Van Dam Hoppy - A Belgian IPA brewed with Amarillo, Columbus and Warrior hops. The result is a classic citrus and floral West Coast IPA with some aromatics from the Belgian yeast for good measure.

Adamatium - The name is a play on the beer "Hair of the Dog Adam".  The style is an Adambier, another old traditional German strong ale.  Adambier's are typically sour, but this one wasn't. Instead, it was brewed with smoked and dark malts giving it a smokey savory character with some sweetness, tasting almost like barbecue in a glass.

There's plenty of more Clandestine beer to explore....
Hopothetical: Azacca Hop - Part of Clandestine's single hop Pale Ale series which highlights individual hops, this was both my wife and my favorite of the afternoon.  The  light crisp, dry malt and Azacca hops combined to give a unique and pleasantly unexpected Jasmine flavor to the brew.  Apparently, Clandestine has all sorts of specialty hops stashed away for upcoming Hopothetical brews, so there are plenty of novel hop flavors from Clandestine to look forward to.

Clandestine's tap room is open Friday afternoons from 4pm-9pm, and Saturday's from 2 pm to 9 pm.  The brew on Sundays.  They rotate plenty of beers in and out of their rotation.   It's a place to check out a new type of brewery innovating with beers that are both traditional and contemporary.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Truth Be Told, I'm a Coffee Runner

Time to make a small confession.  I'm really a coffee runner.  Most of my days start with a run. Knocking back a couple beers afterwards that morning and then getting into my car and heading off to work has certain complications. So my post-run beverage of choice is a glass of water followed by a couple cups of coffee.  Running and coffee gets me ready to handle life's challenges during the day. Beer in the evening me to relax and recover from what each day throws at me.

I run alone most of the time, but some Saturday mornings I get a chance to meet with run friends at the Los Gatos High School.  We usually do between 2 and 4 miles of tempo running around the track for  and then catch up on things chatting away during our cool down.  Then we head to a nearby Peet's afterward for coffee and a scone before we all go our separate ways for the rest of the weekend.  

Most runners I know are morning people, so the post-run beer is rarely an option.  So yes, I'm really a coffee runner.  Feels good to finally get that off my chest.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hear Me Out on Redhook's Audible Ale

Redhook's Audible Ale sounds like one of those tired sports marketing gimmicks.  At least that's what I thought when I when the press release landed in my in-box, declaring Audible Ale the official craft beer of The Dan Patrick Show.  OK, I find sports radio personality Dan Patrick to be one of the least obnoxious personalities of his genre.  Apparently Dan Patrick and his in-studio team, The Dannettes were involved with everything from the beer recipe to the packaging and even the tap handles.  I was about to dismiss this as yet another marketing pitch when a small fact suddenly caught my eye.

Audible Ale won Gold at this year's World Beer Cup in the Classic English Style Pale Ale category.

“We’re incredibly proud of Audible Ale,” gushed Redhook brewmaster Matt Licklider in the release. “Our goal from the beginning was to brew a beer that stayed true to the style and exhibited lots of flavor, yet was sessionable enough that drinkers could enjoy more than one while watching the game. Since the initial launch, feedback has been incredible from both longstanding Redhook fans and new fans."

Redhook asked me if I wanted to sample Audible Ale, and not one to turn down award winning beer, I agreed.  I can see why it won gold.  It's got this interesting flavor combination of light, toasty malt with a little nuttiness to it and a grassy hop finish.    It's one of those highly underrated beers that can effortlessly recede into the background during a night out, yet contains all sorts of subtle flavorful complexities should you wish to focus on them.  

Which got me thinking, what specifically did Dan Patrick actually contribute to final Audible Ale brew?  Did he simply take a few swigs and say, "Yep, that tastes pretty good." Or did he determine the optimal mashing temperature, formulate the hop composition, or provide his own yeast strain?   Could there come a day when Dan Patrick leaves the broadcast booth to start his own brewery?

I'm afraid my query to through Redhook's public relations team was inconclusive.  Asking my Redhook public relations contact for more specifics on Patrick's contribution to Audible Ale, he assured me that Dan Patrick's involvement "is far more than your standard endorsement deal. Dan Patrick was a Redhook fan before Audible Ale and he’ll be a fan after Audible Ale. One thing of which I can assure you is that he worked hand in hand with Redhook  brewers and was, shall we say, very involved in product testing throughout the development process."  

Make of that as you will.
Could Dan Patrick be leaving the broadcast booth
to start his own brewery?