Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ales for Autism Pyramid Beer Tasting April 7th

Someone you know is probably dealing with autism in their family.  Recent reports indicate 1 out of 88 children are being diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, as autism has reached epidemic levels.  What can you do about this?  You can drink some beer.

Specifically, beer at the Pyramid Brewery New Release Tasting this April 7th, the latest fundraiser held by Ales for Autism.   Pyramid Brewing is expanding their line-up in a big way, and for just $20, you can sample their new beers and reoccurring seasonals, along with food pairings.  All proceeds go towards Ales for Autism and their mission to support families struggling to raise an autistic child.

It's being held at Pyramid Brewhouse, located at 901 Gilman Street in
Berkeley, CA.  You can buy tickets here and check out the intriguing line-up below:

New Beers
Wit: A light white beer of Belgian origin brewed with chamomile, coriander, curacao (bitter orange peel) and sweet orange peel.
ABV: 5.1% IBU: 13         To be paired with:  Portuguese Churrasco Chicken

Dunkel: A Pyramid twist on the German Dunkel Weisse.
ABV: 5.6% IBU: 24         To be paired with: Bourbon Vanilla Walnut Cake 

Wheaten IPA: A boldly hopped IPA designed to provide a pleasant citrus and aromatic hop experience.
ABV: 6.5% IBU: 66         To be paired with:  Citrus Peel Creme Brulee


Pale Ale: Stylistically more in line with a traditional English pale, the sweet and malty flavor compliments its floral hop aromas.
ABV: 5.4% IBU: 38         To be paired with:  Chipotle Corn Focaccia Grilled Cheese

Returning Seasonals
Uproar Imperial Red Ale: A complex, ruby-hued ale. Punctuated with notes of citrus and herbs, Uproar has a velvet texture with pleasing hints of roasty chocolate.
ABV: 7.3% IBU: 60          To be paired with:  Smoked Salmon & Brown Rice Arancini

Curve Ball Blonde Ale: A deliciously drinkable golden summer seasonal.
ABV: 5% IBU: 18             To be paired with:   Tomato Bacon Panzanella

Full Bloom, MacTarnahan’s: A notably Northwest spin on a Bohemian Pilsner with a refreshing hop aroma and a gloriously smooth bite.
ABV: 6.3% IBU: 40

Grifter IPA, MacTarnahan’s: A criminally delicious surprise that’ll steal your allegiance and con your thirst into leavin’ town.
ABV: 6.2% IBU: 54

I got my tickets, and will see you there!

Monday, March 26, 2012

There's lots of good stuff in "The Illustrated Guide to Brewing Beer" by Matthew Schaefer

There are books loaded with lots of good information.  Others have plenty of detailed explanations which are clear and avoid becoming tedious.  And then there are those that have a lot of great looking, yet helpful pictures.  The good news is the "The Illustrated Guide to Brewing Beer" by Matthew Schaefer hits this trifecta.

The first thing I noticed when opening the book is all the great photography.  And yet, the photos don't come across as homebrew porn (not that there's anything wrong with that) but serve a purpose in supporting the text.  Whenever Schaefer describes some homebrewing gadget, there's a picture right there to show you exactly what thing-a-majig he's talking about.  Which is one of the strengths of this book is in its descriptions and explanations of various homebrewing hardware.

Of course, it's hard to use pictures to describe the various molecular chemistry involved in brewing, but Schaefer still takes care to provide clear explanations to good effect.   For example, Schaefer carefully explains why you shouldn't keep a lid over the brew kettle, as this prevents the evaporation of Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS) from the brew, which can result in off flavors.  As a novice homebrewer having brewed about 10 batches of beer over the past 2 1/2 years, I always kept the lid on over the stock pot on the stove to retain heat to help the underpowered electric stove in my apartment get the wort boiling. 
I was intrigued as this seemed to be the first time I've ever heard of this, having three other homebrewing books on my bookshelf.  Consulting these books to see if I had missed something, I found that one book never mentioned DMS evaporation.  The other two mentioned something about this, but only in an off-hand way that didn't make keeping the lid off the brew kettle to prevent off-DMS flavors obvious.  The extra care and detail Schaeffer provides made this concept really stick in my head, and now I'll make sure to keep the lid off.

In addition, Schaefer provides more deeper explanations on critical homebrewing topics such sanitizing, hop additions, secondary fermentation and other topic than other books often touch upon, but do not provide the level of information Schaeffer provides.   In fact, I'm getting psyched to make an IPA after learning some new stuff about adding hops.  Schaeffer, a practicing attorney, provides a helpful appendix on the homebrewing laws for all 50 United States and its an interesting read to see how the laws in each state differs.

The book is written fairly economically, and its 240 pages do not come across as a weighty manual.  But I'm afraid it reads a lot like a chemistry text book.  While  I'm sure Schaeffer is a passionate and enthusiastic homebrewer, this just doesn't come across in his the highly factual and procedural style of writing,  especially when compared to the work of Charles Papazian and Randy Mosher, or the Brooklyn Brewshop Beer Making Book, where a certain excitement for homebrewing leaps off the pages.   I kept waiting for a personal story or unique experience from Schaeffer's homebrewing exploits, and save for a rather routine tale about a carboy blowing its top, never got it. 

Which is why I would hesitate to recommend this book for a first time homebrewer as it would likely come across to as a dense tome that wouldn't generate any excitement needed to overcome any hesitation on taking the home brewing plunge.  It lacks any "first time homebrewing recipe" that I found to be very useful starting point for my first brew, which simplified all the homebrewing techniques I was trying to learn that were overwhelming at first.  And there were only two recipes.  Schaeffer must know a few more he could share with his readers and would be a great way to further to elaborate various homebrewing concepts much the same way he uses pictures to great effect.

These mostly stylistic issues aside, this book will make me a better homebrewer.  Five years from now, I expect my copy to be rather worn and have a bunch of brewing mash and hop stains on it.  Which is always a sign of a good homebrewing book.

(Skyhorse Publishing provide a copy of this book for the purposes of this review.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Would you buy a beer from this man?

I suppose it's a sign of craft beer's success that none other than Gene Simmons is getting into the act.  He's helping relauch a theme restaurant in El Segundo, CA with LA  restaurateur Michael Zislis and concert promoter Dave Furano based on rock 'n' roll and craft beer called Rock & Brews, set to open to much fanfare April 3rd.   It'll supposedly feature of world class tap list of over 40 beers, and having actually seen a version of Rock & Brews elusive tap list, (it's no longer on their website for some reason) will have to admit it looked pretty good.  Their capitalistic plot includes expansion plans in the  Los Angeles area, including one at Los Angeles International Airport, as well as locations in Denver, Atlanta, Maui, Tokyo, Los Cabos in Mexico, and who knows where else. They anticipate opening of four Rock & Brews in 2012 with aggressive plans for continued expansion worldwide beginning in 2013 and beyond.

And while this certainly seems like the latest in a long line of insipid Gene Simmons gimmicks, you have to admit he's quite shrewd at spotting a trend and cashing in on it.  After all, KISS started as an early 70's glam band, morphed into a late 70's hard rock act, then after a brief fling with album oriented rock (Music from the Elder), ditched the costumes and make-up and scored reasonable success in the 80's as a hair metal band, hanging around long enough before the wave of 70's nostalgia hit and the band came full circle, putting the costumes and make-up back on.  And as tedious as Gene Simmons's reality show is, I'm sure he'll be happy to remind you that he's making plenty of money doing it and lots of people are watching.

But of course, if you're some unknown idealistic singer-songwriter, Gene Simmons is not some cartoonish figure, but pure evil.  Here you are, trying to make a living creating music full of significance and meaning, and Simmons comes along and buries you with a bunch of pyrotechnics and banal lyrics.  But don't underestimate the considerable skill and talent KISS had in creating thrill and excitement out of emptiness.  And truth be told, if I'm given the choice between seeing some passionate musician crooning about world peace and how the break-up with his girlfriend helped him appreciate existential philosophy, or KISS do its thing onstage, I'm headed towards the explosions.  So the question is, will Gene Simmons do the same for craft beer he did for music?

You can argue a guy who can demonstrably sell stuff is going to be good for craft beer, as he provides another outlet for breweries to sell into.  So if you're a brewery trying to find new taps, this is good news.   And if Rock & Brews is providing exposure for breweries the public might not discover otherwise, isn't this a good thing?  But if you're a small brewpub or beer bar, and all of sudden Gene and his crew blow into town, life might start getting pretty difficult.

The continued success of craft beer makes its inevitable that more and more corporate acts get involved, and there is increasingly less emphasis on supporting your local brewer and more focus on supporting the bottom line.  Is Gene Simmons and his brethren the new face of craft beer?  Like it not, you'd better get used to it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Beer of the Month: OTIS by Firehouse Brewery

The name "Otis" has long been associated with excellence in elevators, or just "sittin' on the dock of the bay".  And we can now add "Imperial Stout" to this list of excellent Otis's, thanks to Firehouse Brewing.

OTIS is actually an acronym for One Tun Imperial Stout, as it takes literally one ton of malt in the mash tun to brew.   After looking for a bottle of OTIS in the San Mateo area without success, I finally broke down and went to the source at Firehouse's Grill and Brewery in East Palo Alto.   They didn't have it on tap or even listed on their beer list above the bar.  But I asked the waitress about it, and discovered they did have it in 22 ounce bottles.  Now sitting down for lunch with 22 ounces of an Imperial Stout and a pizza is  a perilous act.   Even just 8-10 ounces of a good Imperial Stout can fees pretty heavy in your stomach, and create a mouth feel similar sandpaper, but such was not the case with OTIS.

It's surprising smooth for an Imperial Stout, with plenty of roasty flavors of dark chocolate, with a slight sweetness, a barely noticeable alcohol heat, and a grassy herbal hop finish underneath all that bitter chocolatey goodness.  A liquid dark chocolate brownie if you will.  An amazingly drinkable Imperial Stout at 11% abv at a surprisingly high 70 IBU.

But then, if you're familiar with the work of Steve Donohue, Firehouse's Master Brewer, this shouldn't surprise you.  After all, he's won a bunch of Great American Beer Festival medals brewing traditional styles such as his Baltic Porter, or with his more contemperary beers such as the Belgian IPA Pete's Support.   And if you've read this great interview of him, you already know that.

OTIS elevates the Imperial Stout style, and it's March's Beer of the Month.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dear Ramblings: Why is that post-run beer so satisfying?

For our latest installment of "Dear Ramblings", Becca Pledger, who shares her fresh perspectives on running and motherhood at The Finish Line, asks:

"My husband and I both like to drink a beer after our long runs (not immediately after, but within 1-2 hours). I can't think of anything more refreshing, relaxing, or stomach-settling than a delicious ale, post 8+ miles. What are the effects of drinking beer after a good, long run? Is there any evidence proving that this is really a good thing, or is it just in our heads?"

There's plenty of evidence for the therapeutic effects of beer after a long run, given that the bars and brewpubs around the finish of any marathon or half-marathon are full of gimpy runners celebrating with a post-race brew.  But as Becca wisely asks, does beer have critical ingredients the body needs to recover from a long run?   Or are the positive effects runners perceive from a post-run beer more psychological than physiological?

To find the truth, I exhaustively researched the facts of the matter, which as you know means I Googled the phrases "effects of beer after running" and "is beer good for you after a run" and spent five minutes looking to see what turned up.

Both Runner's World and Running Times weigh in on this matter and come to nearly identical conclusions.  Both point out that alcohol delays injury recovery and beer is not a particularly good source of badly needed carbohydrates after a long run.  Neither suggest runners should avoid the post-run beer, but suggest making sure you're properly hydrated before partaking in a post-run beer and to avoid it if you're suffering from any injuries.

Now there was the curious study in 2007 by Professor Manuel Garzon of Spain's Granada University, which found people that beer had a slightly better hydration effect after exercise than water, which excercise psysiologists immediately called into question, given the diuretic effect of alcohol.  Dave Munger in his blog Science Based Running could not find any peer reviewed article by Garzon on the subject, suggesting that Garzon's findings did not pass scientific scrutiny.   But Munger did find a scientific article from 1997 which found that drinks containing 2% or less percent alcohol had no significant diuretic effect on recovery, while there was a slight negative effect on re-hydration on drinks containing 4% alcohol.   Virtually all beers, with the exception of low alcohol beers, contain more than 4% alcohol. Lagers, pilsners, Kolschs and other "lawn mower" thirst quenching beers typically check in at about 5% alcohol per volume.

Now my own theory of the positive effect of the post-run brew is the alcohol in beer tends to mask post run soreness, so it feels better to drink beer after a long run, even though if anything, it is slightly worse for you than water or electrolytic drinks.  But perhaps the mental reward of a beer after a long hard run makes the overall experience more pleasurable, and makes you want to do it again, so beer could be in fact a training aid.  You could probably say the same thing about a bowl of ice cream after a run as you could about a beer.

So while you're probably better off consuming something other than a beer after your long run, as long as you are well hydrated, go right ahead and have one.  After all, you deserve it.

Got a question about running, racing, training, or how beer relates to it all? Submit it to Ramblings of a Beer runner via e-mail.  I'm not a doctor, licensed therapist, or coach, nor have played one on TV.  But I have run for over 30 years, competed in high school and college, and had a few beers along the way, and like helping fellow beer runners out.   So take my advice for what that's worth.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

We're still going at it at the Juana Run

A couple days ago, someone asked me what my favorite race was.  What a hard question, having run so many races for over 30 years in so many places, all of which held a significance at one time.   I was tempted to answer "my next one", but after giving it some further thought decided to that my favorite race was The Juana Run, which indeed was my next race.

What's so great about The Juana Run, held every March at Palo Alto's Juana Briones Elementary School?  Maybe it's so great because it's such a modest community race, with a small time feel but plenty of great competition that's effortlessly well organized.  There was a time when my favorite race was  Wharf to Wharf, a super-intense six miler of 15,000 runners with a world class field clawing and scratching through the laid back coastal town of Santa Cruz each July, or the Dammit Run, a crazy 5-miler in Los Gatos in August that starts on a track crammed with 1,000 runners that leads to a gentle running trail for about a mile before you hit then three diabolical hills in rapid succession, each tougher than the last, before two miles of roller coaster down hills to the finish.

Held in March, The Juana Run is one of those early season races for gauging your fitness and finding your racing legs again.  It's also a pretty flat course, making pacing pretty easy.  At the start, I held back but still felt a bit labored holding the pace, not a good combination.  But coming through the first mile at 5:56, I'm thinking "Well, this is OK" since a 6-minute per mile, 30:00 for the 5 miles was my "A" goal, with a 30:30 my "B" goal.

I ran the next couple miles with the top female finisher coming through mile three at 18:02 .  But then she started pulling away (I hate it when they do that) and I started falling off the six minute pace, finishing in 30:19, which was 10 seconds faster than last year's time.  It's nice to be a little faster as I get a little older.

After the race, a bumped into a runner I sometimes trained with and raced against during my college days during the 80's Washington University in St. Louis.   We see each other once or twice a year now and catch up a bit whenever we do.

We both got married, divorced, and then remarried.  We both have two kids.  We both still have tendinitis, his in his Achilles tendon, mine in my left knee, except it's a lot worse for both of us now.  Both of us wonder if some day, our failing body parts are going to get their wish, and we'll hang up the racing flats for good.  We talk about our failed marriages in hushed tones, using stock phrases people use like "it was just a difficult situation" to avoid saying too much about the dark places we've endured.  We talk about the happiness our kids bring.

Two thousand miles away from St. Louis and 25 years later we're still going at it.  And just like the old days, he beats me by over 30 seconds.  That used to piss me off.  Now it doesn't matter.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

You'll be fit to be Tide with our latest "Ask Ramblings" Giveaway

I've had modest aspirations of becoming, shall we say, the Dear Abby of the Beer Running.  I'd ask, beg, and plead with readers to e-mail their questions about running, training, and/or drinking beer with all that going on, hoping to impress everyone with my 30 years running experience and sincerity to help a fellow beer runner out.  A few people to sent questions who seemed to genuinely find my answers helpful, and I learned something valuable along the way with regards with striving to become a trusted confidant the beer running community can depend on.

It takes bribery.

Free swag tends to induce people to share their most intimate beer running struggles.  And so I'm pleased to announce the fine folks at Tide, to promote their new odor fighting technology found in Febreze Laundry Odor Eliminator, are sponsoring the latest "Ask Ramblings" give away.

Tide has created some ingenious bags to keep the funk of running and working outs away, including the Tide Odor-Absorbing Sports Bag.  With this bag, they promise you won’t leave a trail of odors as you leave the gym or the track!  And one of these Odor-Absorbing Sports Bags will be yours if I use your beer running question for the next "Ask Ramblings" post.

Simply e-mail your question using the e-mail link you'll find here and if it's the one I decide to use, Tide will send you a free Odor-Absorbing Sports Bag.  Your question can be about running, training, racing, beer drinking, or some combination, and  no question is too basic, fundamental or esoteric.  Look forward to hearing from everyone! 

(Tide Odor-Absorbing Sports Bag and product information provided by Proctor & Gamble.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Wednesday Evening Beer Runs at Strike Brewing

I'm pleased to announce current reigning Beer of the Month champ Strike Brewing is hosting Wednesday evening beer runs in Los GatosLori Beveridge, who is a Lululemon Running Ambassador, leads the group, which starts their run at 6:30 at lobby of Los Gatos Lodge for a 3-4 mile jaunt through downtown Los Gatos. As the days get longer, they'll be enough light at that time to start heading onto the Los Gatos Creek Trail, a great running trail that winds through fitness conscious Los Gatos. 

"It was kind of fun running as a big group through town while everyone is eating dinner and staring at us like we’re crazy," explains Jenny Lewis, CEO of Strike Brewing.   Right now about 10-12 show up and that number is expected to triple in the summer.  This group also does a longer run, 8-12 miles on Saturday mornings on the trail.

Jenny has even larger plans for her group which mirrors her plans for her start-up brewery  "The ultimate plan is to make the brewery the place where everyone starts and ends.  And as soon as we have a location leased, that will begin – even while we’re still building it out – that way people can watch the progress and start getting excited about beer!"  Jenny went on to add that this club is modeled like FFP running clubs,  so they plan to have more events going on in the future.

So if you're looking for a good run and good beer in the South Bay, looks like Strike Brewing is the place to be Wednesday.

The group posing on the Los Gatos High School track.  I'm told guys also show up for these runs.


Friday, March 2, 2012

The Session #61: Of Course Local is Better. But Where and Why?

For this month's Session Matt Robinson of Hoosier Beer Geek  asks us what makes the local beer tastes better.  I don't have a clue what the answer is, which didn't stop me from writing.

When was the last time you heard someone say, "Support your local brewer"? Seems like it's been a while.

Of course, your "local brewer" has changed over the years. Growing up in Bowling Green, OH in the 70's, my dad drank Rolling Rock because it was from the local brewery, a mere 300 miles away in Latrobe, PA. By the 90's when I was a graduate student at Ohio State, the city of Columbus finally had its own brewery, but you couldn't find their beer at campus bars, so going out with friends and having a few "Rocks" was still drinking local. Rolling Rock just had that unique flavor you couldn't find with other beers, which I suppose was why we preferred it. Never mind that unique flavor in each bottle of Rolling Rock was from massive amounts of dimethyl sulfide, widely considered a brewing defect.

With so many new breweries popping up today blanketing the landscape, it's hard to say which ones are actually local. This was apparent the day I attended a beer dinner in Los Gatos a couple years ago featuring a San Francisco Bay area brewery located about 40 miles away. The brewery's representative exhorted the crowd to drink his beer because it was from their local brewer. He was seemingly unaware that he was standing about a block away from Los Gatos Brewing Company, which would probably beg to differ as to who the local brewer in Los Gatos was. In fact, I counted at least six breweries closer to where he was standing, proclaiming himself as our local brewer, than where his brewery was actually located. And yet, despite this apparent contradiction in brewing geography, his claim to be our local brewer somehow seemed genuine. Maybe that's because his beer was better than most of the beers from the technically more local" breweries.

One by-product of the commercial success of craft beer is that through inevitable industry consolidation and increased distribution, craft beer is becoming more national and less regional.  We're losing something in that.

My local brewer happens to be Devil's Canyon in my home town of Belmont, CA. I've had so many pints of Silicon Blonde, Deadicated Amber, and Full Boar Scotch Ale there's a warm familiarity each time I have one. The beers from my local brewer have a unique character, nuance, and flavor profile which make them unmistakably local.  I've had beers from far away lands like Kenya and Thailand which have a unique character, nuance, and flavor profile which make them unmistakably foreign. Drinking a pint of Deadicated Amber is like being out with an old friend. Drinking a pint of beer from a distant brewery is like meeting a new friend.

But that's just my opinion. Psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists have struggled to figure out why local seems better for years. Maybe that's because geographers and economists are still debating what "local" means.

Thursday, March 1, 2012