Monday, January 30, 2012

No Longer Home Brewing Behind Closed Doors

Brewing up a one gallon batch
Whenever I would tell my wife I would be home brewing over the coming weekend, there would be an awkward pause, and then realizing there was not much she could do about it, she'd respond with a quiet "OK".  She'd arrange to meet up with her friends for the day while I'd do my business, and when she was on her way back that evening, would give me a call to warn me of her impending arrival. I'd get everything cleaned up and put back so by the time she got home, she would have no idea what had actually happened while she was away, although there would always be some tell tale evidence if she looked closely.  Of course, she knew what really went on when she went away, but was wise enough not to ask too many questions.

OK, granted my wife is quite supportive of my brewing exploits, but understands it's best if she isn't around.  Our apartment kitchen gets pretty trashed whenever I brew up the standard 5-gallon home brew batch and I'd tend to get in a foul mood one or twice or three times brewing all that beer in cramped quarters.  My wife doesn't like watching our place get trashed and knows to get as far away from me as possible whenever I'm in foul mood.

And while brewing sounds like a pretty romantic activity, it's a lot about cleaning and sanitizing large metal and glass objects which I find about as exciting as cleaning the toilet.  And cleaning up the kitchen after I've splashed and spilt wort all over it is about as thrilling as, you guess it, cleaning up a dirty kitchen.

So after reading about brewing more manageable 1-gallon batches I set about brewing my first 1-gallon batch with a cautious optimism, choosing to brew a Honey Sage Ale recipe from the Brooklyn Brew Shop Beer Making Book .

Predictably, I screwed up recipe from the get go.  It called for using 1.8 lbs of Pilsner Malt and 0.3 lbs of Munich malt.  I  picked up what I thought were two 1-pound bags of Pilsner malt at my favorite home brew store, only to find out when I got home that I had actually picked up a one pound of Pilsner malt and a one pound of  Rahr Malted Wheat.  Luckily, this mistake was partially cancelled out by another mistake, in that I also picked up Belgian Wit Ale Yeast rather than Belgian Ale Yeast, since Wit beers are brewed with wheat malt.   Despite seriously deviating from the original receipe, the end result could be no worse than any of my previous brews.

Nice clean stove to brew beer on
So the final recipe turned out to be:

1 lb Pilsner malt
0.6 lb Munich Malt
0.5 lb Rahr Malted White Wheat
3/4 cup California Wildflower Honey
0.2 lb Cane Sugar

0.3 ounce East Kent Golding hops
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

Belgian Wit Ale Yeast

Mash the grains with 2 1/2 quarts water between 144-152 F for 60 minutes.  After sparging with an additional 1 gallon of water at 170F, boil for 1 hour adding 0.1 ounce of hops at initial boil, another 0.1 ounce at 30 minutes, and the last 0.1 ounce at 55 minutes.  Add 2 tablespoons of the sage at 30 minutes and the last tablespoon at 60 minutes.  Add the honey and cane sugar at 60 minutes, and stir to dissolve. 

Ferment for two weeks, and then add 3 tablespoons of honey for priming.

Original Gravity 1.070
Final Gravity  1.008
The Honey Sage Belgian Wit in all its glory
abv = 8.0%

After fermenting for two weeks, the sage and honey flavors were quite forward, with a definite boozy character to the brew from high alcohol content.  Two weeks of bottle conditioning mellowed things significantly.  The final result was a fizzy cloudy yellow unassuming looking wit beer with plenty of herbal sage flavors, some yeastiness, and a little savory and floral character from the wildflower honey and hops.  Despite the high abv, the alcohol was not longer apparent, and I didn't detect any obvious off-flavors. 

It only took about four hours to brew from start to finish, with a lot less before and after prep work than the 5-gallon batches I've made previously.  And the result was something pretty refreshing to drink during a Northern California "winter" and arguably the best beer I've ever brewed, even though I screwed up the initial recipe pretty bad.

Which underlines a key difference between running and brewing.  If you screw up running, some part of your body is going to feel pretty sore.  Screw up home brewing and chances are still good you'll have a decent beer when it's all over.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Proudly Introducing Ales for Autism

As a father of an autistic child, I can assure you that beer and autism go together.  And while sometimes a beer or two is needed to get through the stress and strain of raising a child with autism, what families with an autistic child really need is a support structure they can depend on to help them navigate the difficult moments.  And since over 1 out of 150 children born in this country are eventually diagnosed with autism, someone you know is probably dealing with this.

Which is why Greg Coll recently founded Ales for Autism, a non-profit organization based in Sonoma County to raises money for autism care centers, schools, and research facilities.  With his niece and nephew both diagnosed with autism, Greg saw firsthand the serious challenges autism creates for young families.  Greg once belonged to an informal organization that provided DJ services for parties and events and currently works for a beer distributorship in Sonoma County.  Coupling his DJ experiences with his beer connections, Greg found a way to create events that show case the best West Coast breweries while benefiting families dealing with autism.

"At the end of DJ'ing a party, people would come up tell me what a great evening they had, and it felt really satisfying," explains Greg.  "I wanted to create something like that while helping those dealing with autism."  Ales for Autism's inaugural event will be the Black and White Beer Ball held February 17th in Winsor, CA as part of San Francisco Beer Week. The event features both dark and white beers from leading West Coast breweries including Russian RiverLagunitas and Ninkasi Brewing.  So while you won't find any brown, amber, red, or green beer their that evening, you will first a tasty variety of stouts, black IPAs, black lagers, wit beers, lagers, and other beers fitting the unique format.

"The brewing community has been really supportive," adds Greg.  "Craft breweries have enjoyed a lot of success lately, and have been great about giving back to the community."  Santa Rosa's BBQ Spot will be serving food while The Nate Lopez Trio will provide the music.

So what's next for Ales for Autism?  With April being Autism Awareness month, Greg has a couple events in the works he's not ready to discuss yet.  But when he is, you can be sure I'll let you know about it here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

In Praise of NBC's Olympic Marathon Trials Coverage

It's been a while since I watched a televised marathon when I turned on NBC to see the United State Olympic Trials Marathon.  What I watched was shocking.  The actually covered the race.

So many times I've watched marathons on TV where the coverage seemed to be going out of their way to cover something other than the actual race.  They would cut away from the race to show human interest stories of the neighborhoods the course was running through or some cancer survivor entering finishing in the mid-pack.  While those stories have their own merit and can be inspiring in their own way, can you imagine the coverage of a football game to be interrupted to show a cancer survivor playing touch football in the stadium parking lot?  Of course not.  The focus in on the game.  The human interest are for another time and place.

Now of course, the men's and women's fields were open only to Olympic Trial qualifiers, so there couldn't be any human interest stories of mid-packers.  But maybe it's just me, but I remember watching world class marathons on TV and cringing and swearing at the TV the whole time through all sorts of fluff unrelated to the race and "up close and personal" segments.

The 80's and 90's are often looked at the dark age of American distance running, where we simply couldn't compete with the rest of the world.  It's probably no coincidence some of the biggest media marathon stories of that period were about non-distance runners like Oprah Winfrey and Florence Griffith Joyner.

And so perhaps is it indicative of the resurgence of American distance running that the Olympic Trials Marathon was covered by NBC for what is actually was:  A competition between highly trained athletes, rather than a whole bunch of human interest stories where some of the subjects happened to be pretty fast.

While the United States is not sending a men's and women's marathon team that's going to keep the Kenyans and Ethiopians up all night, its going to be a tough one.  And I'm looking forward to watching the big race on NBC if they cover the race the same way they covered the US Olympic Trials.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Beer of the Month: Le Merle Saison from North Coast Brewing

I don't know about you but I'm not quite ready to give up the holidays.  That's why Le Merle Saison of North Coast Brewing is Beer of the Month for January.  Looks like champagne in the glass, doesn't it?  Well, a little bit.

I was given a bottle of this as a Christmas gift. After unwrapping it and thanking my friend who gave it to me, I thought to myself "Haven't I had this a bunch of times already".   Except for the fact that that I couldn't remember the last time I had Le Merle, or what it tasted like.

Living in the Bay Area, Le Merle seems ubiquitous sitting on the shelves at all the speciality grocery stores, BevMos!, and better liquor stores and bottle shops.  And so seeing it so often when buying beer created this odd familiarity, where the beer was some sort of friendly acquaintence in the beer aisle that I really didn't know.

It was time to change that.  And getting to know this beer was more difficult than I expected.  The taste is difficult to define.  There's this light earthy yeasty background, with a bunch of crisp light fruit flavors mingling in the foreground sort.  Is it pear, pineapple, lemon?  I can't really tell for sure.  It's very dry, with no sweetness at all. 

Which is what I really like about Le Merle, it's unique and hard to define while avoiding to taste cluttered and muddled, always the sign of a great beer.  Besides, if I wanted well defined fruit flavors in my drink, I'd just go down to Jamba Juice, order a smoothie, and pour vodka in it.

It's lightly earthy, yet crisp.  Clean yet complex.  A beer that could pass for sparkling wine if you aren't paying too close attention. A contradiction of flavors, a last gasp of the holidays, and Beer of the Month.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Session #59: When I Don't Drink Beer, I Prefer the Wines of Anderson Valley

Inspired by a Dos Equis commercial, Mario Rubio of Brewed for Thought  asks us to write about what we prefer to drink when not having beer,  for this month's Session.  As the world's 2,643,459,882 most interesting man, here's what I have to say.

If I had to put a date on my so-called "craft beer epiphany", it would be Memorial Day Weekend 2007.  That weekend I took a trip with Linda, my girlfriend of about a year, to California's Mendocino County where we visited both Anderson Valley Brewing and North Coast Brewing.  While I was already leaning in a craft beer direction, these visits not only opened my mind to realize the endless variety and possibilities of beer, but also made me aware of how connected beer can be to the place where it is brewed.

For the first time in my life, I went wine tasting as we also visited a few of Anderson Valley's wineries in central Mendocino County.   I discovered many of the different varietals and nuances of wine, and while recognizing that although wine is a rather one-dimensional beverage compared to beer, it can still be tasty.

And most importantly, after an effortlessly enjoyable weekend with Linda, I realized we had something pretty special going on, and today, Linda and I have been married for over a year. 

You might say I hit the epiphany trifecta big time that weekend

What can I say about the wines of Anderson Valley beyond the warm fuzziness of that weekend?  The area is known for luscious Pinot Noirs, my favorite varietal.   But the best part of Anderson Valley wine country is how genuine the people are at the various wineries you meet.  Linda and I have done the Napa Valley thing, which is basically like going to a  foodie amusement park.  In smaller, more isolated Anderson Valley, you're more likely to meet the wine maker or at least someone highly involved in the operations of the winery in the tasting room than most of California's other wine regions.  The wine is every bit as good as you'll find in Napa, and costs about $15 less per bottle.

But the best thing about this wine growing region is once you're done wine tasting, you can drive just a few miles south and take the Anderson Valley Brewery tour.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Once again, the floor is open...your running questions answered

Perhaps driven by a long held, yet never satisfied desire to coach, or by my life-long mission of being a know-it-all routinely giving out opinions, I once again open the floor to your running questions out there.  You should rightfully ask, "What do you know about running?"

Well, I've been running  over thirty years since I was twelve. I ran on high school and college track and cross-country teams and way more road races than I remember, from little neighborhood 5k's to the Boston Marathon. There was a time where I was quite the training wonk, reading just about every book on running I could get my hands on. And while I've had plenty of success at running, there's been lots of failures. There's been plenty of injuries, and at one point, was 60 pounds overweight, so I've gone through the pain and frustrations runners of all abilities go through. We all need help from time to time, and I do believe I have the experience and knowledge to draw on to help some of you out there.

So hope you will share your running question here with us, whether it be on training, racing, injuries, or anything to make your running more successful and enjoyable. No question is too basic, fundamental or esoteric.  You can either leave a comment to this post, or send your questions to my slightly odd e-mail address at: photon(dot)dpeterman[at]gmail{dot}com or use the e-mail link here.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Reality Check for the New Year

It's hard to beat a 10k race for starting the New Year for two reasons.  One, every one's in a good mood for the holidays and the event is pretty good natured.  The more practical reason is that it's good to have off-season reality checks to see how well you're really doing with your training.  These smaller, less intense races actually provide a lot of good information to take into your goal races later in the year.  And besides, if you run well, you can say "Wow, I'm ahead of where I thought I would be!". But if you run poorly, you can console yourself with "Well, I still have plenty of time to train for the big race".  So how did it go for me at the New Year's Day Run for a Healthy World 10k?

I'm glad there's plenty of time to train from my half-marathon race target.  I finished with a time of 39:39 for the 10k run on mostly gravel paths in the Palo Alto near the San Francisco Bay, virtually identical to last year's time.  That despite I put in a lot more mileage in 2011 than in 2010, when I was just coming off a dislocated shoulder in October and a bad flu in November.  All things considered, it just was a pretty lack-luster performance.

The first mile in that seemed easy at 6:06 was encouraging, but too fast, as was the next mile in 6:07.  Then the wheels started coming off with 6:30-ish pace the rest of the way, and a real loss of focus around mile 5, which allowed someone to catch me with about 100 yards to go.  So the take-aways from this race were:

1)  A need to develop a better pace sense.  The early pace at sub-6:10 was too fast, even though it seemed reserved and comfortable.  Developing better pace sense should come from the weekly tempo runs I'll start doing this week that really helped for last years half-marathons to run at a more even and energy efficient pace.

2) Find a way to stay focused and run strong at the end of the race.   The end of a race is a lot about simply digging down and finding a way to get through a "crisis period" where your body and mind want to shut things down.    Of course, developing inner desire is an elusive intangible training objective, but putting yourself through a some "mini-hells" leading up to the race will prepare for the "total hell" at the key point in the big race.  It's time to start ratchet up the intensity on the hard days.

So now that I have a good idea what I need to do, it's time to starting doing it.  You want to start out things well, but for a runner, it's not realy about how you start.  It's how you finish.