Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Session #35 : The First Annual Bay Area Beer Runner Awards for 2009

The year kicks off with The Session hosted by Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune of Beer for Chicks who ask "So we want to know what was your best and worst of beer for 2009? What beer mistakes did you make? What beer resolutions do you have for 2010? What are your beer regrets and embarrassing moments? What are you hoping to change about your beer experience in 2010?"

2009 is the year I started both blogging and homebrewing, becoming less of a beer spectator and more of a participant. Both were great journeys, bringing me to plenty of interesting people and places, with a few frustrating and awkward moments any new activity invariably brings. But besides a bottle of beer popping open in my luggage, no real disasters. I'll continue down that path in 2010 con mucho gusto.

Having enjoyed so many great beers in 2009, I simply cannot limit myself to picking just one as the best, so I'll mention a few memorable ones. And yes, there were some bad beers out there, and while I normally don't pick on a small craft brewer who had a bad day, or go after the obvious targets from the big, inter-galactic mega-breweries, I do have a couple dishonorable mentions. So without further ado, here's the First Annual Bay Area Beer Runner Awards for 2009.

The Award Winners

Best Zen-like Beer Drinking Experience: "Hitachano Nest Red Rice Ale" by Kuichi Brewery
It's pink and fizzy like Budweiser Chelada. It has strong notes of strawberry, an odd flavor for beer. Rice used in the brewing process is typically not a good sign. There's a sourness to the brew that suggests a Belgian, or at least European origin, but it's from Japan. Yet, all these unlikely elements add up together for an amazingly pleasurable and memorable beer drinking experience. Give it a one-handed round of applause.

Best Inaccurately Named Beer: "Terrible" by Unibrou
It comes in a big, black bottle with only the word "Terrible" on it in big, bold letters, daring you to drink it. Go ahead, and you'll be rewarded with flavors of raisin, dried fruits, anise, along with a nice toasty and slightly spicy yeast character. Despite all that subtle complexity, you won't notice the 10.5% abv. It's fantastic.

Best Chick Beer: "Raspberry Wheat" by El Toro Brewing
This category was chosen in honor of our hosts. I hope they see it that way. Plenty of brewers cannot resist the temptation to release "chick beers", light beers flavored with fruit. They're often either cloyingly sweet, or highly disjointed with fruit flavors sitting clumsily on top of the underlying beer. El Toro uses a fine touch to harmonize and blend raspberry into the slight tartness of their wheat beer creating something special. I'm not secure enough in my manhood to order this when I'm at El Toro, but have found stealing a sip or two from my girlfriend's glass to be a guilty pleasure. And if you're OK with the concept of fruit in beer, El Toro's aromatic and complex Peach and Blackberry Ales will open you to possibilities of fruit in beer you may thought had never existed.

Best Beer for Dessert: "Creme Brulee" by Southern Tier Brewing
An amazing and faithful reconstruction of Creme Brulee in an Imperial Stout. It starts out with a strong vanilla flavor with lactose sugar providing a custard-like character, roasted malt playing the role of the caramelized sugar, and just a whisper of Columbus and Horizon hops giving it balance. You know it's going to be good just from the aroma, and it just goes down silky smooth. This could have been easily been sickening sweet, but hits all the right notes for just an excellent beer drinking experience. And just behind Creme Brulee in the Beer for Dessert category is Southern Tier's "Mokah".

Best Beer That Makes Me Damn Proud to be Raised in the Midwest: "Blue Sky Rye" by Free State Brewing
I lived in the Midwest between the ages of three and thirty-three before moving to the California Bay Area ten years ago, so I have an affinity for great Midwestern beers. As you might expect from a brewery located in Kansas, Free State Brewing shows great respect for grain in their beers, and their Blue Sky Rye is my favorite example. Free State combines two types of rye with English Pale Ale malt and dark crystal malt, and balance it out with Styrian Golding and Crystal hops. The subtle rye flavors really add dimension to this brew, and it has a wonderful honey like sweetness to go with all those great fresh malty flavors.

Best Beer Tribute: "Bill Brand Brown" by Triple Rock Brewing
I enjoyed this special release at the Eat Real Festival in Oakland this year. Triple Rock used cocoa nibs to add an extra layer of bitter flavor to the rich, roasty, and slightly nutty malt goodness in this brew, elevating a humble brown ale into something very unique and memorable. I'm all for big flavors in a session beer, and have to think Bill would have heartily approved of this one. It's a great tribute.

Best Beer That Renewed My Faith in Lagers: "Premium Lager" from Creemore Springs Brewery
I don't know why people are so dismissive of the lager style simply because there are so many horrible ones. During a trip to Ottawa, Canada last May, I was fortunate to have a couple pints of this lager from Creemore Springs. Nothing complex here, just sharp, fresh, simple flavors of slightly toasty malt with a crisp, bitter hop finish. Great lagers are one of life's simple and overlooked pleasures.

Best Weird Beer : "Siamese Twin" by Uncommon Brewers
If a Belgian Double with coriander, Kafir Lime, and lemongrass sounds weird to you, you're not alone. I picked up a four pack of this last summer, and after finishing the first can, didn't like it. I appreciate being creative and unorthodox, but that does not always equate to being tasty. But by the third can, I'm thinking, "You know, this whole combination works really well". I still don't know how Thai spices take a Belgian Ale to a higher level, but they do. Uncommon Brewers is located in Santa Cruz, CA, where weirdness is a matter of civic pride.

Dishonorable Mentions

Most Ironic Tribute Beer: "Obama Presidential Ale" by Half Moon Bay Brewing
Does it make any sense to commemorate the first African-American President with an extremely light, straw colored ale that produces such a lacy, lily white head? Is a very timid tasting ale, dialed way down in flavor seemingly so as not to offend, really the right beer to honor a President who's called for sweeping, difficult, and uncomfortable change? There's a fine line between celebrating our new President and a desperate attempt to boost sales by simply slapping the popular President's face on a beer label, and I'm afraid if the beer doesn't remotely resemble anything about Obama, you're on the wrong side of that line. (This beer is normally sold as "Harbor Light Ale" by Half Moon Bay Brewing.)

Worst Beer from a Highly Respected Brewery That Beer Geeks Swooned Over, But I Did Not Like Very Much: "Thirteenth Anniversary Ale" by Stone Brewing
Plenty of beer reviewers and beer geeks raved about this one, which I found to be an out-of-control, harsh tasting monstrosity. I just didn't get this beer, where strong flavors of dried fruit, heavily roasted malt, alcohol, and shovels full of hops were kicking and screaming for my attention. It would seem this brew would age well, allowing the flavors to find a way to get along, but the bottle advised to drink it fresh, just another thing I just couldn't figure out about the brew. (Stone's 12th Anniversary aged beautifully after 6-9 months.) I've always thought Stone's strength was not because they use strong, aggressive flavors, but the finesse and balance they use with these flavors. They seemed to have lost their way with this one.

It's been a great year for beer. Look forward to doing it all over again in 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Economic Study Suggests Collectable Beer Release Prices to Continue to Go Up

There's been a fair amount of discussion and hand-wringing about the rising costs of limited release beers. It seems craft breweries are producing more and more special releases, collaborations, and other collectible beers, at prices that seem to be going nowhere but up. I recently found a paper presented at the First Beeronomics Conference held in May of 2009 which suggests this trend will continue.

In his paper entitled "The Price of Unique", economist Phil Armour studied the prices of Stone Brewing's Vertical Epic series on EBay. By correlating the mean winning bids for Vertical Epic bottles transacted on EBay as a function of the volume of each beer produced by Stone Brewing in the series, Armour calculated an economic quantity called the Own Price Elasticity of beer in the Vertical Epic Series, and compared it to data found in rare wine auctions.

Own Price Elasticity describes the change in the price of an item caused by a change of its available quantity. Generally, as more of an item is produced, it's price goes down. What Own Price Elasticity determines is how dependent is the price of the product to its supply. If an item becomes rare, is the price bid up to incredibly high levels by people desperate for it? Or does the higher price quickly drive people out of the bidding? The higher the Own Price Elasticity is, the more likely people will pay high prices for a scarce item. Water is sometimes considered highly price elastic since when it is rare, people will still pay high prices for it to survive, while sugar is considered highly inelastic, since people historically turns to other sweeteners like honey, molasses or corn syrup when the price of sugar increases even marginally.

Armour found that the Price Elasticity of the Vertical Epic Series was higher than in auctions for rare, first growth Bordeaux wines. What this suggests is that in the case of these rare wines auctions, bidders were more likely to decline to bid on as the price increased, and turn to different vintages, while those coveting the Vertical Epic series on EBay decided they had fewer alternatives, and therefore, continued bid up the prices higher.

From my vantage point, it seems that as the craft brewing industry grows, more potential buyers of rare releases enter the market, and thus, more people are available to bid up the prices in the marketplace. Since these special releases sell out quickly, and are often spotted on EBay selling at above the retail price, breweries are simply motivated to brew more of them, and sell them at a higher price, simply because the market allows them to do so. Both anecdotal evidence and Armour's study suggest the market for special collectible beer releases is not saturated, and so we can expect breweries to release more of these special rare brews and command higher prices for them. To my mind, it remains to be seen if and when the craft beer market becomes over saturated with these beers.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

New Year's Eve Wine and Beer Pairing at Wine Affairs

You can spend New Year's Eve at Wine Affairs pairing some excellent beers with tasty food, or can instead pair the tasty food with a somewhat one-dimensional beverage. Either way, looks like a good time will be had by all. Here are the details as they rolled into my e-mail a few days ago.

Ring in the New Year at Wine Affairs
Join us for a four-course dinner with optional wine or beer pairing

New this year - two seatings
6:00pm and 8:00pm
Live music begins at 9:00pm performed by Kristina Sablan with Darren


Baked Ricotta and Goat Cheese with Toast
Wine Pairing: 2008 Pierre Andre, St Veran, Burgundy, France
Beer Pairing: Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, Germany

Crab Salad in Endive Leaves
Wine Pairing: NV Zonin, Prosecco NL,Vino Spumante di qualità, Italy
Beer Pairing: Schneider Aventinus Doppelbock, Germany

Catalan Bean and Sausage Stew with Mint
Wine Pairing: 2006 Frescobaldi, Remole, Toscana, Italy
Beer Pairing: Duchesse De Bourgogne, Verhaeghe, Belgium

New York Style Cheese Cake
Wine Pairing: 2008 Marcarini, Moscato D'Asti, Italy
Beer Pairing: Smoked Beer - Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Maerzen, Germany

Price: Dinner only - $55.00 per person
With Wine Pairing add $25.00 per person; With Beer Pairing add $20 per
Wine Club members: 10% discount applied

Tax and gratuity not included

Call now for reservations. Space is limited. 408-977-0111

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Checking Out The Tap at the Haverhill Brewery

The first thing you need to know about Boston suburb of Haverhill is how to correctly pronounce it. On a recent trip in the Boston area, I was asking around about a place I kept calling "HAVE-er-hill". No wonder all the helpful Bostonians were giving me funny looks. I finally learned that it's actually pronounced something like "HAY-ver-ill". At any rate, once I figured out how to get to the The Tap at the Haverhill Brewery,which lies about 30 miles north of Boston, I navigated through the twists and turns of Interstate 495, before exiting River Street. Heading south of River Street past typically tired suburban strip malls, I finally arrive at a cluster of fortress-like stone buildings which appears to be the heart of the city's downtown business district.

It was a quiet Tuesday evening, and a few of the buildings looked totally closed or under renovation. That said, a few people were out, and a few other restaurants were open. It's hard to pass through a new place in the darkness and draw a whole lot of valid conclusions, but I just getting the sense this part of Haverhill was undergoing a slow urban renewal and the brewpub I was about to enter was a part of this regeneration.

The Tap itself is at the ground floor of one of these buildings, and with it's old wooden floor and bare brick wall interior, blends right in. On the left side of the place is a dining room, where no more than three people were seated that evening, so I head over to the bar on my right. More than a few people turn around to look at me, but once they realize it's nobody they know, they turn back around and go back to their beers. I grab a table, get an order of onion rings, before a dinner of beef short ribs, and start trying out some of their beers. Here's a brief rundown of what I tried.

The 2.9% abv listed should have been a bit of a yellow flag. That's really low, especially for this style, and as one might predict, this was a very thin beer. But when I concentrated hard, there was a light smokiness there with the slightly caramelized malt, and a pleasant earthiness at the finish. Of course, with little malt opposing it, the carbonation was pretty tingly on the tongue. I enjoyed the underlying flavor, and just wish it didn't seem so watered down here.

Swanny Boy Maple Porter
OK, now we're talking. The maple flavor is pronounced, but merges well in the roasty malt goodness of the porter. A very smooth, flavorful, and drinkable session beer.

I just had a sampler tasting of this Belgian Triple, so I didn't take any notes on this one. But I found it rather tasty.

Joshua Norton's Imperial Stout
Rich and complex, with noticeable bitter chocolate flavors and just a little bit of sweetness. Another very smooth drinkable beer and a great beer to end the evening with.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Session #34: Recovering from Family Stumbles at the Sonoma Chicken Coup

The month's Session, "Stumbling Home" by Two Parts Rye, we're asked to write about our experiences at a brew pub or bar within a short distance from our homes.

Learning something the hard way is the often best way to really understand it. Unfortunately, I've learned the hard way that families are fragile things. I went through a divorce five years ago, and now see my six-year daughter Verona and eight-year old son Brandon only about 20% of the time. During these moments, I do what I can to put a few of the pieces of a broken family back together. And while families are often torn apart by unforeseen events and complex psychological forces hardly anyone really understands, it is often the simple things that keep families together. And for this reason, I value the weekends walks my girlfriend Linda and I take with Brandon and Verona to Almaden Lake Park, before we all go to lunch at the Sonoma Chicken Coop. The Sonoma Chicken Coop seems to be best described casual restaurant that brews its own beers than simply a brewpub, and we started frequenting one of its locations near the southwestern edge of the Almaden Lake Park over the past year.

This journey involves a few rituals. Once we walk out the front door, Verona starts keeping a meticulous running tally of dead snails she finds on the side walks of our condominium complex, proudly announcing "There's another one!" soon as she make yet another of these important finds. Brandon will sometimes say, "Tag, you're it!" and run away for a few yards in hopes that we'll chase him, and sometimes we do. After covering making our about 400 yards to the park entrance, we follow the bike trail running along its eastern edge. When we get to the "balance beam", actually a small barrier fence built out of old telephone pole, the kids will always takes their turns walking down it, refusing to go any further until this is completed. Verona always goes turn first, and then Brandon quietly follows.

We take the bridge over Los Alamitos Creek, which feeds into Almaden Lake in the center of the park, and work our way along the trail along the western edge of the lake until we reach the playground at the park's Northwest corner. It sometimes takes Verona as long as five seconds to meet a new friend once she gets to the playground. She also enjoys testing her climbing skills on the rope jungle gym, and or playing pirate on one of the playground structures designed to look like a ship.

I know Verona enjoys these times, because we about them, and she tells me about the friends she makes. When Brandon hears we're going to the playground and Sonoma Chicken Coop, he'll smile and sometimes bang his wrists together rapidly in excitement, so I know he's excited about going, but otherwise, he hardly talks to me going to the playground besides a simple "yes playground" or "yes Sonoma Chicken Coop". Brandon hardly talks about anything to anyone. You see, Brandon has autism.

Autism is a psychological condition which makes it very difficult for Brandon to organize sensory inputs, and restricted his social and language skills. There is actually a broad spectrum of autistic behaviors, from children who may spend all day silently rocking back and forth, to the high functioning people with Asperger's Syndrome, who may be highly successful in society despite odd, somewhat anti-social and eccentric behaviors. Brandon's pretty much smack dab in the middle of the autistic spectrum of behaviors. The best estimates are that 1 in 150 children are born with autism, so there's a reasonably good chance someone you know is has a family member with autism.

When I first took Brandon to this playground two years ago, he would aimlessly walk around the edges of it, muttering quiet gibberish, often banging his wrists together. Sometimes when highly overstimulated, he would slam his chin with the top of his right wrist over and over again with enough force to producing an audible thud-thud-thud, a slightly mutilating self-stimulating behavior. (When this happens, we divert Brandon to a less dangerous self-stimulating behavior by asking him to "clap hands", which he obediently follows.) After maybe ten or twenty minutes of this, he would develop a comfort level to the sensory overload that a playground full of children would creates, and could be prompted to go over to the swing or go down the slide. On the swing, I would push him a few times on the swing and then stop. As gravity brought Brandon to a stop, we would ask, "Do you want a push, yes or no?" If he said "yes", he got a push. Later, once his language skills improves, we'd require him to use longer sentences like "More swinging" or "Can you push me, please?" in order to get us to give him the desired pushes on the swing. Inducing to use language in this manner involves principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), and Brandon has responded quite well to this type of therapy, which has proven to very successful helping many overcome their autistic silence.

Brandon's ABA therapists have worked with him to act more appropriately at play, and he now needs little or no prompting to play on the playground equipment on his own, simply blending in with all the other kids. It is a quiet, reassuring small victory when for a just a few moments, we're no longer battling Brandon's autism and he's simply acting like a normal kid. Verona tells me she hopes Brandon will talk normally when he's ten. Verona is arguably Brandon's best therapist, as she understands him well, and has picked up many speech therapy and ABA strategies and uses them often with Brandon. Linda, who is a professional speech therapist, has been great using her professional training and experience to help Brandon develop his language skills.

Once the kids have worn themselves out on the playground, we all head over to the Sonoma Chicken Coop. Many brew pubs have children's menus, which is reassuring for the future of craft beer. I cannot think of a better way to encourage the next generation to "respect beer" or "support their local brewer" than giving them as many opportunities as possible to watch their parents do just that. Linda and I enjoy the Sonoma Chicken Coop's Kolsch, which is light and refreshing and has a bit of a lemon-pepper zip to it. Their IPA is more balanced than most brewed in Northern California, and has sharp grassy bitterness to it. And they've recently released a Scotch Ale, which has a light smokey flavor and in their with all the caramel malt. The beers are nothing to rave about, but they're solid.

But going to the Sonoma Chicken Coop isn't about the beer. It's about Linda and I enjoying a beer while Verona tells us all about her new friends at school and boasting "I know minuses!". It's about Brandon no longer meekly saying "ketchup" when he wants us to pass him the ketchup for his fries, but know spontaneously asking "Do you have ketchup, please?" when there's no ketchup on the table. These are moments that at one point in my life, I could have totally lost. Knowing too well how families fall apart, I realize it's these times that keep us together.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wine Cycling?

You know, wine cycling just doesn't seem to be my thing. First, I don't even own a bike. Second, wine is fine, but only so much variety can be achieved with different grapes and growing conditions. Exploring the world of beer, whether brewed by devout monks or hippie homebrewers encompasses a wide spectrum of tastes, like peppery Saisons, sour Belgian Ales, bitter IPA's, and sweet stouts, just to name four of the dozens of beer styles. I try to explore this world every chance I get, so peddling around on a bike, sipping wine, was not necessary my idea of the best way to spend a day.

But since the best thing that ever happened to me was meeting a wine-loving cyclist, I've come to realize making certain compromises are in my best interest. So on one fine November day, my girlfriend Linda talked me into spending one of our days off to go wine cycling in the Livermore Wine Country.

Livermore's wine country has plenty of mixed use trails and roads with wide bike lanes, making it an ideal wine region for cycling around in. Linda and I have been to both the Livermore and Napa Valley wine regions a few times, and have come to realize the biggest difference between the wine regions is comparable wines from Livermore are about twenty dollars less per bottle.

I might also add that Napa Valley resembles a foodie amusement park, complete the big crowds and waiting lines, but without the fun, simple foods like funnel cakes or cotton candy. Well, there is cotton candy, but it's actually a bite-sized appetizer of a mousse of salmon, lamb liver, and sea urchin made to look like miniature cotton candy, which the chef hopes will evoke a pleasant childhood memory to distract you from how much he's charging for it. Just give us the wide open, unpretentious spaces of the Livermore Valley, where one can tool around on its many scenic bike trails, sample some great wine, purchase some of it, and still have some beer money left in your pocket.

Our trip covered 15-20 miles and included stops at Wente Vineyards, Retzlaff Vineyards, Steven Kent Winery, and Tamas Estates, and they all served up some excellent wines to taste. We also rolled through Sycamore Groves/Veterans and Holdener Parks, and it was easy to plan for the trip using this handy map the helpful folks at Livermore Cyclery provided, where I rented my bike to ride with Linda.

The highlight was at Retzlaff, which uses organically grown grapes grown on its estate for virtually all of their wines. On a slow weekday, we spent plenty of time with Gary and Connie, the married couple running Ratzlaff's informal and rustic tasting room. After chatting away about the wine and various past and present happenings around Livermore's wine country for close to an hour, and with it getting near their 2pm closing time, Connie took us back into the storage barn full of barrels of various vintages aging away to give us some samples straight from the barrels. She removed the plug from their 2008 Merlot, and gave us a taste of this full bodied merlot. Then she extracted some of Retzlaff's 2008 light fruity Cabernet. Both wines were a little young, but worked pretty well on their own. Once we had sipped about half of the Cabernet, she took our glasses back and added some of the 2008 Merlot back into them, put her hand on top of the glass, and vigorously shook the wine with her hand to mix and aerate it, grimacing like a gleeful mad scientist as she did this. The resulting blend's arousing depth and complexity surpassed what either the Merlot grapes or the Cabernet grapes could possibly muster on their own. I suppose this shouldn't be surprising, but it's a bit dramatic to see the taste of the final wine blend being far greater than the sum of its parts. And Connie seeming to enjoy this a little too much added to the drama.

So if you must drink wine, and can get to a wine growing region of the country with bike friendly trails, I grudgingly recommend wine cycling. Even if I really enjoyed it, you don't think I would admit it, do you?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Find balance and lost years at the SCORE Clinic

I walked into the SCORE Clinic knowing something was terribly wrong, but not quite sure what it was. My training regimen had degenerated into a cycle of a hard track workouts ending in injury, a two week recovery period, only to injure something else in the next hard workout. This is not training that leads to success in racing, and it was showing. The soles of my running shoes looked like someone whittled outside edges with a pocket-knife, a sure sign of supination. My left hip was noticeably at least an inch higher than my right one. For at least the least nine months, I'd been trying to push through chronic soreness in my upper left knee and soreness on the ball of my right foot, and was now starting to battle left hip strains on top of that.

With things get totally screwed up in an important area of life, and you don't have the foggiest idea what to do about, it's always good to consult a professional. And there's a certain irony to the fact that the SCORE Clinic is just a couple blocks away from my divorce lawyer. And once Dr. Omura of the SCORE Clinic simply watched me try to do a single squat, and he pretty much figured out what the problem was. I basically couldn't do even a single squat, and was rotating my left foot outward due to a weak left hip, and shifting most of my weight to my right foot to protect my weakened left knee and hip. Needless to say, a one-legged runner is at a considerable disadvantage, so Dr. O developed a plan to increase flexibility, get rid of the pain and soreness, and find balance in my running stride.

That all sounds wonderful, but Dr. O accomplished this with techniques a casual observer might think come from a CIA torture manual. A typical session started with electrodes attached to my ailing left knee, producing pulsing electrical current into the knee muscles, causing them to twitch and contract uncontrollably. Then, Dr. O scraped my knee with something like that looked like an enlarged butter knife to break down the adhesions and scar tissue. Then, he performed something called Active Release Therapy where he would apply strong pressure with his bare hands directly on the sore knee or hip with the muscle contracted, and would maintain this pressure as I extended the muscle, literally squeezing out the swelling and damage. The session concluded with a vertebrae popping chiropractic hip and back adjustment, allowing the hips and back to find their natural, optimal alignment.

But Dr. O did more than subject me to a number of teeth gritting situations. He patiently demonstrated some simple stretches and exercises to do at home to flush out soreness, increase flexibiliy, and build up weaknesses. I've seen physical therapists treat their patient's living tissue as if it were some inanimate car chassis, but Dr. O gave me the insight and understanding to know what my problems were, how to fix it myself, and how to prevent it from happening again. These sessions were quite possibly the best investments I've made in running. I've faced many injuries and set backs in my thirty years of running, but dealing with these lingering pains and frustrations over the months with no apparent progress at the advanced running age of 42, I was contemplating hanging up the racing flats for good.

Back when I was young, immature, and naive, I told myself the day I stopped running and racing was the day I died. Life has changed tremendously since then, but one thing that hasn't is the drive to keep running, and train for the next race. Like a lot of runners, running has been my rock. There simply must be some challenge to overcome or a goal to meet to keep me driven, and without this, I become very directionless. The lessons of discipline, persistence, and dealing with success and failure learned from running have guided me well in real life, where success and failure in things like family, career, personal fiances, and social relationships have consequences far more significant than whether or not you take home some cheap, plastic trophy. Running's gotten me through some hard times, when I could briefly escape life's turmoil and burn off frustrations just to get through the day. I simply wouldn't know how to give it up even if I wanted to. Thanks to the SCORE Clinic, I no longer have to make that difficult choice.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Boulevard Brewing's Smokestack Series

Over the past few weeks, I've been fortunate to sample a few of Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Smokestack series, since my girlfriend Linda and I visited my sister Leigh and her husband Keith in Kansas City last month. I have to really thank Keith for that, as every evening, even if we'd had plenty of Boulevard's regular beers, he would pull out a bottle or two of one of the Smokestack Series bottles from stored in his fridge and pour everyone a glass. And before getting on the plane and flying home, he directed us to stop at some liquor store called Gomer's, which from the outside, appeared to be a good place to get a 40 oncers of malt liquor to consume on a nearby street corner. But Gomer's had a great selection inside, so I picked up a few Smokestack Series bottles to take home to San Jose. I would characterize the worst beer in the bunch as pretty good, so they're worth hunting down. Here's a quick run-down.

Two Jokers Double Wit
Quite frankly, I think their are way too many "Double Somethings" out there, and the Witbier style doesn't seem to be one to lend itself to "doubling". Then again, Boulevard's ZON Witbier won a gold medal in this years Great American Beer Festival, so if I bite the bullet and try a Double Wit, this would be the one to try. And it is. There's a hefty amount of cracker like malt, and lots of spiciness, with noticeable coriander and cardamon. Some peppery flavors as well, and of course, some bitter orange peel.

A Whole Bunch of Different Saisons
Really, I just couldn't keep all the different Saisons in the series straight. At the Boulevard Brewery tour, they were pouring Tank7 Saison, a dry hopped Saison with a strong lemongrass aroma and plenty of herbal flavors, grassy hop bitterness, and a little lemon in there. Later on, Keith poured us something simply labelled Saison which was more yeasty, peppery, a little grassy and had this tingly carbonation to it. Finally, I took home a bottle of dry hopped Saison - Brett which seemed to have a lot of complex yeast flavors I couldn't quite define, some resin-like character and a musty aroma to go with all that. I'm not a big Saison fan, but they all worked really well. If you have the chance to have a Boulevard beer with the word "Saison" in the title, I say go for it.

Double Wide Double IPA
Lots of grapefruitiness going on here to go with the stiff malt backbone. I liked the bitterness level of this one, as it was very noticeable, but not really aggressive. A little astringent, but got noticeably creamy as it warmed up.

Seeyoulater Dopplebock
It's aged in cedar barrels, and the cedar is the dominant flavor, but it blends well with the caramel and banana-like fruit esters. It's got a complex flavor to it, but still seems crisp and uncluttered.

So glad Leigh and Keith could show us the way around Kansas City.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Session #33: Framed by 33

This month's Session, by Andrew Couch, of I'll Have a Beer is on framing beers, with the topic loosely summed up as "write about how the context the beer is presented affects the drinking experience".

Psychologists have long known that our choices are biased by the way each choice is framed. To illustrate this, suppose you are the head of a disease control agency, and are presented with two options to combat a disease which is expected to kill six hundred people unless something is done to stop it. A team of doctors have determined the outcomes of two possible options.

Option A: 200 people will be saved.

Option B: There is a one-third probability that 600 people will be saved, and a two-thirds probability that no one will be saved.

What do you do?

In a psychological experiment where subjects were presented with these options, 72% choose Option A. In the same experiment, subjects were also presented with the same options, simply worded differently.

Option C: 400 people will die.

Option D: There is a one-third probability that nobody will die, and a two-thirds probability that 600 people will die.

When presented with the same options framed differently, the same participants who picked Option A 72% of the time, instead choose Option D 78% of the time. Of course, we would rather save people than let them die, and so the options framed positively are favored over those framed negatively, known as positive frame bias. (1)

Psychologists have found numerous other framing effects, which I won't go into here. But clearly, the beer we chose and our experience drinking it is framed by things like the beer label, word of mouth, the advertising, the reputation of the brewer, and numerous other sensory inputs that are quite difficult to separate from the actual liquid in the glass. Beer judges have known this for years as most beer competitions are judged blind, where beer is presented to judges in unmarked glasses, and judges are not allowed to influence each other.

I find myself struggling with framing effects explaining craft beer to family and friends who are not craft beer drinkers. Often, they actually would like to drink something from their local brewer, but their perception of craft beer is that it is "too strong", overly bitter, hops run amok, and simply not enjoyable to them to drink. Beer names like "Arrogant Bastard", "Damnation" or "Hop Stoopid" tend to reinforce this notion. I've responded telling them that many craft brewers release lighter styles they might find more enjoyable. More than once, I been told, "Well, I really enjoy Blue Moon, from some small brewery in Colorado". They are usually pretty disappointed to learn that Blue Moon is actually made by Coors, a massive industrial brewery. Coors sells Blue Moon by framing it as a product of some quaint Colorado brewery, and the fact that once people get past the deception, they often lose interest in the beer seems to validate this strategy.

One brewery it took a while to warm up to was Flying Dog Brewery. So many times in a bottle shop, gazing at a wide array of beers in from of me, I simply moved past the frenzied, graffiti-style art Flying Dog uses on their label, and picked up something from a different brewery. In this Session, we've been asked to try beers we wouldn't normally drink, so I decided to try a couple Flying Dog brews, just to see what the beer is like.

As is often the case, stretching my beer horizons was rewarded, as I found the beer to be excellent. The Flying Dog Kerberos Triple had a light toasty yeast flavors with a little apricot, and a clean, clear character to it. Flying Dog's Double Dog Imperial Pale hooked with a great creamy mouth feel, toffee-like malty flavors coupled with a little tangerine and an orange peel bitterness. I can't help wondering why was the beer label art, designed to attract me to the beer, was actually pushing me away.

I think the answer to this question originates in the way beer was initially framed to me. I spent my childhood during the 70's in the small Midwestern college town of Bowling Green, OH, located about 15 miles south of Toledo. My dad exclusively drank "33", Rolling Rock, and would carefully allow me a sip of his Saturday afternoon beer. My father later told me he did this to prevent me from abusing alcohol, to demystify beer at an early age. These were also early lessons to respect beer, that it wasn't a beverage to be carelessly guzzled, but to be savored and enjoyed at special times. I also remember Dad proudly informing me Rolling Rock was brewed "in the glass-lined tanks of Old Latrobe" in Western Pennsylvania. Latrobe is about 300 miles from Bowling Green, but in those days, drinking exclusively Rolling Rock was supporting your local brewer, and from this I learned the place the beer was brewed was just as important as the beer itself. These experiences, burned into the neurons of my young brain, still guide me today.

I find it sad and ironic that InBev bought Rolling Rock, shut down the Latrobe brewery, and moved production to Newark, NJ in a cost cutting move, priming the pump of their plans for world wide beer domination. Yet, InBev still has the audacity to market Rolling Rock with the grammatically deficient slogan "Born Small Town", trying to sell the beer by framing it as from a tradition bound, small town brewery. I guess the corporate folks at InBev figured out a more accurate grammatically deficient slogan like "Born small town, multi-national corporation bought brewery, laid off workers, bean-counters rule day" would not be a good way to frame Rolling Rock if they wanted to sell lots of it.

But going back to my earliest framing of beer, I believe my earliest experiences of beer explains my initial aversion to Flying Dog beers, framed in chaotic, modern artwork. I've come to realize my favorite breweries like Anderson Valley, El Toro, and Deschutes are favorites of mine in part because these breweries evoke their unique local geography into their marketing, and are relatively close to where I live. This new understanding about how my beer preferences are shaped will allow me to make more informed decisions on the beer I choose to drink. There's nothing wrong with psychological warm fuzziness guiding what we drink. But of course, craft beer drinking is a lot about exploration and expanding beyond your comfort zone. And if you're going to expand beyond your comfort zone, it's helpful to know where the discomfort is coming from.

(1) Positive framing example from The Mind of the Market, Micheal Shermer, Henry Holt and Company, copyright 2008, pages 84-85.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Looking for it in the wrong place

At night on a sales trip, I fly into Dulles Airport from Boston and check into my hotel in Fairfax, VA. It's almost ten o'clock, and everything else around the hotel is closed, except for the Hooter's across the street. It's been over twenty years since I set foot into a Hooter's, but it in a flash of twisted logic, I figure they might have some local beer on tap or in bottles. Not ready to crash in my room, I mosey across the street to see what's on tap.

Of course, you're probably thinking I'm really going for something else besides the beer. But I've found good craft beer selections in unlikely places like dingy airport bars, squeaky-clean suburban convenience stores, and dilapidated liquor stores that one would otherwise assume specialize in 40 oncers of malt liquor to be consumed immediately outside from a paper bag. So maybe craft beer has arrived at Hooter's. Then again, Hooter's is not exactly one of the more progressive organization in the world, so if you're snickering at me for claiming I'm going to Hooter's for the beer, well you have a point.

The best they could muster was Sam Adam's Boston Lager. They were sold out of Sam Adam's Octoberfest. The closest thing they had to a local brewery was Yuengling on tap, even though my waitress couldn't pronounce it right. Sorry, while "Jung-ling" sounds like an psychologically fascinating beer, it's pronounced "ying-ling". Yuengling is a toasty lager I enjoy, and they don't distribute into California, so it wasn't a complete waste on the beer hunting front. Oh, you really don't think I was there for something else, do you?

Firm female cleavage is something I've totally been in favor of for since I was twelve. My eyes work pretty well, and I've got plenty of male hormones, so like any red-blooded heterosexual male with the evolutionary drive to implant his DNA into a healthy, fit female, I enjoy looking at women's breasts. Linda, my girlfriend of nearly four years, understands that, and as long as I don't look at other women's breasts for too long, she's OK with that. Or at least that's what she tells me.

But believe it or not, all the slender 20-25 year old Hooter girls, quietly gliding around the place, looking eager for the night to just end so they could leave and change into something less ridiculous, just didn't interest me in the slightest. Maybe being twice the age of the eye candy had something to with this. I've recently suspected that I've officially become an old fart, and perhaps this is God's way of confirming that for me. Then again with Linda in my life, who is demonstably good for me and my kids, when you're lucky enough to be in that situation, things like Hooter's girls become a pointless distraction.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Beer Works in Lowell, MA

While in the Boston area on business, I had the opportunity to check out The Beer Works at their Lowell, MA location. I was travelling that day with Scott, my company's manufacturer's representative in the area. Scott was kind enough to take my picture in front of the old brick building of the Beer Works before we entered after a day of selling.

With plenty of interesting beers on the menu we, started off with sampler flight consisting of four beers of our choice from the fourteen house beers listed. We found those beers pretty good enough, so we decided to sample four more with dinner. After that, I really wanted to sample a few more, or have a least a pint or two of my favorites. But Scott, who was doing the days driving, was clearly pacing himself to drive home, so I figured he would appreciate if I restrained myself, too. Of course, dealing with drunk factory sales people is part of any manufacturer's representative's job description. But my sixth sense tells me my company's management would be less than enthusiastic about one of their sales people getting shit-faced on a sales trip and posting the story on the Internet, so it's probably a good idea I stopped when I did.

Anyway, I was fortunate that Scott knew a lot about beer. And while two sales guys together are rarely at a loss for words, it was a lot of fun chatting away about the beers we drank that night, as well as some of the other beers we've had in the past. If I would characterize The Beer Works beers, they tend to go for the maltier session styles, and create something very drinkable, yet flavorful, with a few interesting wrinkles. Here's a run down on what we tried that night.

A really solid Octoberfest beer. Very fresh tasting, with a little caramel tasting malt, and well balanced herbal hop bitterness at the end.

There's a very noticeable level of pumpkin and pumpkin spices like cinnamon and clove in this light ale. It's pretty noticeable, but pretty well blended. They almost over do it, in my opinion, but in the end, this works pretty well.

Red October
I'm going to resist saying something "clever" like, "I'm sure glad I hunted for this Red October" or some other lame movie tie-in. But hey, this was another solid beer, being rather malty and rich with a little roasty, toasty malt. What resulted was very smooth and drinkable.

Dye House IPA
Have you ever gone out on a first date was someone and found her restrained, nuanced, with a character hard to identify, and were intrigued enough to go on a second date, only to finally realize that this "subtle sophistication" was her really not being all that interesting or alluring? Well, this beer did that to me, as I had a second sampler of this, thinking I missed something on the first go around. I hadn't. It's light, a little resiny and that's about it. It's a lot like the local Harpoon IPA. Except for Harpoon IPA is really enhanced by a floral component in the hops, which the Dye House IPA seems to totally lack. I've been out on the East Coast for only two days, and already I need a West Coast brewer to hit me in the face with a bunch of hops.

Milk Stout
Another smooth Beer Works offering, and yes, milky tasting, too. Nice little dark roasted malt bitterness at the end. It's another subdued beer, very easy drinking, and that's a good thing.

Kentucky Common
This was Scott and my favorite beer of the night. It's a Common aged in Bourbon barrels. Another smooth tasting beer, with a very noticeable woody taste, and a dry finish. You might think this would be a highly complex tasting alcohol bomb, but it checks in at around 6% abv, and has clean, uncluttered taste. We both found this very unique and memorable. I've said it before and I'll say it again, beers like this that make visiting places like The Beer Works worth the effort.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dusty and Crusty at the Rogue Ale House

A few days ago, Ross Baechle, who's involved in "Marketing / Athlete Services" e-mailed me to spread the word about Dusty & Crusty, a Cheese and Barley Wine Pairing being held at Rogue Ale house November 16. I'm afraid he didn't respond to my question about how "Athlete Services" fits into Rogue's plans, so this may forever remain a mystery. But you can never go wrong with beer and cheese, and the event looks pretty yummy.

Hosted by Sheana Davis of the Epicurean Connection, 7 years of Rogue Old Crustacean Barleywine will be paired with artisan cheeses from Delice de la Vallee, Rogue Creamery, Widmer Cellars, Carr Valley Cheese Company, Bohemian Creamery and Mato St. George.

Tickets are available at Rogue Ales Public House: 673 Union Street – (415) 362-7880

Friday, October 23, 2009

Elation and Sorrow at Gomer's Liquors

Surprise, surprise, surprise! Who would have thought a liquor with a sign with such, um, character would have such a good beer selection. Gomer's in Kansas City's Westport neighborhood. There were the Midwestern standards like O'Dell's, Bell's, Schlafly, and Boulevard Brewing. Plus many beers from the West Coast and Colorado like Stone Brewing, Lagunitas, and Avery. And a strong import selection as well. I found most everything I was looking for at Gomer's, with the notable exception of Miss Poobie behind the cash register.

So with my trip out in Kansas City coming to an end, I picked up a three bottles of Boulevard Brewing's Smokestack series which was about all that could fit into our suitcase. Linda and I had a great time with my sister Leigh and her husband Keith, and really enjoyed Kansas City. And stopping at Gomer's before taking the plane home, seeing all that great beer behind the glass refrigerator doors I couldn't take with me was not just saddening, it was tragic.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

We're not in California Anymore: Free State Brewing

A recent article on Free State Brewing mentioned that owner Chuck Magerl studied Bay Area brewpubs before opening Free State Brewing. If you ask me, Bay Area brewers ought to put down their out of control hop monsters and pay attention to what Chuck's doing. The beers seem to have a lot of respect for the grain, which should be too surprising from a brewery out in Kansas. Something else Free State Brewing is known for is sourcing from local merchants wherever possible. And that's good for my brother-in-law Keith, who works for a Kansas City Mexican food supplier, and sells Mexican ingredients to Free State Brewing.

Free State Brewing is at the northern end of the Midwestern college town of Lawrence, Kansas in an old, narrow two-story building. When it opened in 1989, it was the first legal brewery to open in Kansas in 100 years. It's a brewery that wears it's local Civil War-era history heavy on its sleeve, with beers such as Emancipation Pale Ale, or the John Brown Ale, named after the militant abolitionist.

The fight between pro-slavery and anti-slavery activists as to whether Kansas would become a slave state or a free state was one of the early confrontations that triggered the Civil War. Popular vote would decide whether or not Kansas would become a free state. Large groups of both pro- and anti-slavery activists poured into Kansas to decide the outcome, which at times escalated into violent confrontations, and many of these battles were centered in and around Lawrence. Finally, on January 29, 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state, less than three months before the Battle of Fort Sumpter which began the Civil War.

(Tragic Prelude by Joh Steuart Curry, depicting the militant
John Brown, and inspired by the armed conflict over slavery in Kansas)

Keith and my sister Leigh visit often, and so with my girlfriend Linda and I in town to visit, we dropped by Free State Brewing on a cold, overcast fall Sunday. Let me just ask that if you ever go there, please order some tortilla chips, tortilla, or their custard-like tort with Mexican Ibarra chocolate to help my brother-in-law out. So what did we think about their beers?

John Brown Ale
Brown ales are not the most exciting style in the world, but this one crackles with rich, roasted malt and nutty flavors like a Civil War-era rifle. Has a little grainy mouth feel to it, but that was a plus to me. We're in Kansas, it should be grainy. A really excellent brown ale.

Ad Astra Ale
From the Free State Brewing website, Ad Astra comes from the Kansas State Motto - Ad Astra per Aspera, Latin words meaning "To the Stars through Difficulties". Free State blends Pale, Caramel, and Munich malts, balanced with Northern brewer and Fuggles hops. We found the resulting brew very crisp and fresh tasting, with some sweet fruity flavors.

Stormwatch IPA
Free State uses Amarillo hops and some dark roasted malts. I found it rather grassy, herbal, and astringent, and maybe it's just me, but it tasted a lot like nearby Boulevard Brewing's Single Wide

Blue Sky Rye
It's excellent, unique session beers like this one that make finding places like Free State seeking out. Two types of rye are combined with English Pale Ale malt and dark crystal malt, with Styrian Golding and Crystal hops to balance it out. The subtle rye flavors really add dimension to this brew, and it has a wonderful honey like sweetness to go with all those great fresh malty flavors.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Boulevard Brewing Tour and Tasting

Boulevard Brewing is one of the largest craft breweries in the country and the largest in the Midwest. Of course, it is the second largest in Missouri. But it seems to have a strong hold in Kansas City, as just about every bar, tavern, and liquor store prominently displays a large, conspicuous Boulevard Brewing sign.

Linda and I were in Kansas City for a few days visiting my kid sister Leigh and her husband Keith. Keith couldn't get off of work, but Leigh reserved a spot for herself, Linda, and me on the Boulevard Brewery tour. If you plan visit the tour someday, reserve well ahead of time, as it fills up a few weeks in advance.

As brewery tours go, it was pretty standard stuff. An energetic and enthusiastic guide took about twenty-five of us around the brewery, stopping at key locations to show a brief videos on the history of the brewery, or how various machines and gadgets are used in the process of making beer. We learned that founder John McDonald began construction of the brewery in 1988. This hand-made furniture maker and homebrewer turned entrepreneur when everyone told him he ought to start selling his homebrews. He even travelled to Germany to learn traditional brewing techniques prior to opening the brewery.

We also learned that all the old, red brick buildings housing the brewery have reinforced concrete inside to support the brewing equipment, which makes the brewery both tornado earthquake proof. And while the tour began in an old, dusty cellar full of beer aging in barrels for Boulevard's Smokestack series, most of the brewery is full of recently installed, shiny automated brewing and bottling equipment. While Boulevard has one of the largest outputs of any craft brewery in America, it takes a mere 12 hours for Anheuser-Busch to equal Boulevard's yearly output. That's longer than last year, when it took Anheuser-Busch just ten hours.

And of course, what most people consider the highlight of the tour, the tasting room at the end. So here's a brief review of those beers, from sampling them at the tasting room, and enjoying some more back at my sister's place. About 70% of Boulevard's sales is of their unfiltered wheat beer, which I didn't get a chance to try. I suppose any comprehensive review of Boulevard beer should include their flagship, but frankly, American wheat beers don't get me all that excited, and faced with a "so many beers, so little time" situation, I opted to try their styles that interested me the most.

ZON Witbier
It's pronounced "zone" and this summer seasonal won this years Gold Medal at the Great American Best Festival (GABF) in the Belgian Style Witbier catagory. I can see why this won, as it has a sharp, tangy citrus flavors that yield to strong notes of coriander. It's all enhanced by the tingly carbonation, and while I'm finding witbiers to be a tired, over-exposed style, this one is quite lively and really pops.

Tank 7 Dry Hopped Saison
It's part of Boulevard's Smokestack series, and according to Boulevard, you can only find it in their tap room, and on tap at selected locations in Kansas City which they didn't specify. It's too bad this is such a limited release. The brew has a lovely lemongrass aroma and the dry hopping gives it a strong herbal flavor, with some grassiness and a little lemon to boot. Another light, summer style from Boulevard with exploding flavors.

Luna Ale
Described as combination of a tradition British Brown Ale and a German Dunklewiessen, it's as weird as that sounds. I picked up all the flavors one would expect if you mixed two beers of those style together. Nutty roasted malt? Check. Creamy mouth feel? Check. Peppery yeast with some fruity esters ? Check. And put this all together and it's...ummm...well my sister really likes it. I'm trying hard to like it, but let's just say I'm still getting to know this beer.

Bully! Porter
Lot's of roasty malt goodness, with lots of bitter chocolate flavor and some detectable coffee notes, and little or no sweetness. Despite all the roasted malt, very smooth and drinkable.

Single Wide IPA
It's not a malty East Coast / UK IPA. It's not a thinly malted West Coast hop-bomb IPA. It's comes across as a middle of the road, IPA. There's a decent amount of malt to balance the grapefruity and slightly grassy hops. The mouth feel is pretty astringent. For me, I found this to be a good, change of pace IPA.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

BevMo! Holiday Beer Fest

Announcing the first ever BevMo! Holiday Beer Fest to be held at Fort Mason, Herbst Pavilion in downtown San Francisco on Sunday November 15th, 2009 from 1pm to 4pm.

According to Jeff Moses, the event organizer, it's for beer connoisseurs everywhere to come and taste over Holiday, Seasonal & Special, soon-to-be-released, Beers for the 2009 California-style winter season. In case there was any confusion, the event is not limited to "winter warmer" seasonals, as he cited well over 30 styles he expects to be available at the event.

According to Jeff, "the beauty of the event for attendees is to taste all the holiday beers and other many other great beers (including many, many Belgians(there will be at least 100 special beers to taste), all in one place."

Tickets are $35, and more information and online purchasing can be found at

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Running motivation can come from unlikely sources

This post was written for the folks at Run Reviews, a website that reviews treadmills.

One of the hardest things in running is simply getting started. Every day. There's always something else to do, or things just don't feel right, and before you know it, another day has passed without getting the daily run in. How can one find the daily motivation to run and exercise?

The standard answer to this is to find some big goal and train for that. It might be to run a certain time in a race, or to complete a run of a certain distance. Lot's of people start running with the goal of finishing a marathon. Others do it to get down to a certain weight by some future date. And goal setting in this manner, where the goal is specific and time bound, does work. In fact, I have simply entered races two or three months in advance simply to give myself another reason to run over that time. So if you are looking to find extra incentive to run, setting a specific, challenging goal for yourself is a good way to do it.

But not everyone can be training for the big race all the time. Sometimes in our lives, family, work, and other important commitments take priority. What to do then? Instead, think about all the things you like to do in your life that would be better if you are in good running shape. Of course, "good running shape" means different things to different people, but you probably have a good idea what that means for you.

Perhaps you'd want to have more energy to keep up with your kids, or to maintain your energy at work. If you're like me, if you're not running, you tend to gain weight and no longer fit into your clothes, and get tired easily. I happen to enjoy drinking craft beer and eating ice cream, two foods that by themselves, do not compose a healthy diet. But I enjoy them both in moderation, knowing that as long as I'm still running, the negative effects of these foods are largely, if not totally cancelled out. Life, for me and a lot of other people, would be pretty bad without craft beer and ice cream.

So you don't have to be training for the big race to find your running motivation. Simply find the the little things in life that matter to you, and ask yourself how running would help you enjoy those things more. Once you find those things, the motivation to run will start taking care of itself.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Brewed For Thought Presents Jack and Tony’s Barrel-Aged Beer Dinner

Wanted to let everyone know about Jack and Tony's Barrel-aged Beer Dinner. You can read more details at Brewed for Thought , but here's a brief summary below:

Jack and Tony’s Barrel-Aged Beer Dinner
October 15th @ 7pm ($60 per person – Reservations recommended)

Blackened tiger prawns with cajun remoulade – Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale
Mushroom stuffed chile relleno with smoky tomato coulis – Deschutes Brewing Mirror Mirror
Roast pork loin with sun-dried tomatoes and white cannelini bean stew – Russian River Brewing Consecration
Chocolate three ways: stout float, mini pot de creme and bourbon soaked chocolate cake – Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
For reservations, please contact Jack and Tony’s at (707) 526-4347.

The Session #32: I cannot run like a Kenyan, but at least I can drink like one

For this months Session, Girl Likes Beer asks everyone to "..pick your favorite beer made east from your hometown but east enough that it is already in a different country. It can be from the closest country or from the furthest. Explain why do you like this beer. What is the coolest stereotype associated with the country the beer comes from (of course according to you)?"

For runners, "Kenyan" is an adjective to describe how distance running performances relate to world class levels. For example, "John Smith's 10,000 meter time was so fast, it was almost Kenyan." This started happening in the 80's, when Kenya started regularly sending distance runners to international track meets. The rest of the world, except for Ethiopia, didn't have a chance, and Kenyan distance runners quickly dominated the world scene. Major marathons like the Boston and New York marathon often resemble Kenyan inter-squad competitions, rather than the the international marathons that they are.

While Kenya is known for great distance running, it is barely known for beer. However, Kenya does have is a brewing history I recently learned about. Kenya Breweries was founded in the early 1920's by two brothers, and by the 50's, Tusker Golden Lager became their flagship beer using Kenyan grown barley. I discovered Tusker this summer, and upon learning it was from Kenya, was intrigued enough to give it a try.

And I'm here to say, Tusker satisfies this Mzungo. (Mzungo is Swahili for "white man".) It's a bit of a change of pace for the lagers I'm used to, very clear tasting with a light hoppy bitter crispness. Yes, there's a little skunkiness in there, that somehow adds to the flavor complexity, rather than detracting from it. It has this tingly fizziness to it, like mineral water, and the beer has a refreshing palate cleansing mouth feel to it.

Back in the day, I dreamt about running as fast as the Kenyans, blazing across the rolling African countryside. Today, I'm content to plod around my suburban neighborhood, and knock back a couple Tuskers after a run.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's About Time I Write About El Toro

El Toro is only my favorite place to get a beer in the Bay Area, so I ought write about it by now. OK, Morgan Hill is not technically the Bay Area, but it's close. Morgan Hill is not the chic, hip, happening place people want to go to, but if you ask me, that's part of its charm.

The brewpub opened in 2006, but Geno and Cindy Acevedo of El Toro have been brewing since 1994. They do great standard session beers, and they do great beers with that have their own unique twist on a style, that few other breweries attempt. With about 20 taps, there's something for everyone. And the food is pretty good, too. Frankly, if this place was in San Francisco, everyone would be talking about it. But it's not, and too few people have heard about it, or have even been there. Luckily, I live in the South Bay, and El Toro is only a 20 minute drive from where Linda and I live. We were fortunate to spend dinner over the weekend, and enjoy some of their beers. Here's what we thought of the beers we had.

El Conejo Red IPA
There's a little sweetness in this red IPA, and plenty of roasted malt. Centennial and Amarillo hops give it a tropical fruit, pineapple character to it. The bitterness of the roasted malt coupled with a healthy dose of hops gives this brew a very strong bitterness and astringency. Unique and different, it's just a little too much bitterness for my taste, but Linda, the wine loving closet hop-head can't get enough of this.

El Toro Awesome IPA
Here's to truth in advertising. El Toro uses Columbus, Centennial, Cascade and Amarillo hops to give this the classic citrus, slightly floral West Coast IPA bitterness, with just a modicum of malt. The slight sweetness what little malt there is works well here.

El Toro Blackraspberry Ale
Fruit beers are often dismissively labelled a "chick beers" by card carrying beer geeks. I'm afraid I was not secure enough in my manhood to order this, so left it up to Linda to get this one. We both like the slight tartness and the clear, slightly earth black raspberry fruit notes, without the cloying sweetness that ruins many a fruit beer in my opinion. El Toro also has Peach and Raspberry Ales on tap, and perhaps next time, I'll have the guts to order one of these brews.

El Toro Negro Oatmeal Stout
Plenty of roasty, coffee-like malt goodness you look for in a stout, but we found it light and smooth, with little or no sweetness, despite the rich flavors. We also picked up some bitter chocolate in there. Very easy drinking and enjoyable.

Can't wait 'til I get back there.

On Running With Pain

Here's a guest post from Miki, who writes for, a site where you can read all kinds of treadmills reviews.

I have to admit, I'm from the old school "No pain, no gain" camp. Anyway, her contribution to Bay Area Beer Runner is timely, as I am currently seeing a chiropractor to deal with some chronic knee and foot pain I've been dealing with for several months now. So without further ado, here's Miki's passionate article on running with pain.

Never do that. Never run if you feel any kind of pain. Don’t ignore it. You already know you can only make it worse. This is s a golden rule for all kind of sport addicts: to not ignore pain’s signs. There are 99% chances it will not fade away unless you pay attention. By ignoring you only develop a greater injury which can lead to a greater future damage.

Don’t find surrogate cures. Pills only reduce discomfort on a short run, but they definitely don’t cure your injury. Go straight to the problem’s source. It’s always best to investigate the cause of the problem so that you effectively solve it. Be rational about your inflammations and dull pains. Try not to wear your new pair of shoes during a race for the first time. This is the best way to go if you don’t wish blisters to pop out. Sports are most prone to blisters; there are various efficient ointments at preventing them. Just go to the drug store and investigate your options.

Be cautious. Always have with you a bandage you can use if you get injured. It’s a recommended quick way of stopping inflammation. Never use the sentence “It will pass, oh, it will pass”. It can not pass unless you give it a reason to. If you wish to remain an athlete than make sure it passes by giving your injury the right medication. Pain is one concept neither of us embrace. But it is real, you can definitely feel it and for sure it’s not a piece of candy. Sometimes it can be impossible to endure, other times it’s dull and passes quickly.

Still, there is one thing that I’ve learned from my experience: never think you can treat it by yourself, especially if the pain you have been feeling has been there for a few days. We are not all doctors so we should let medical professionals take care of things that are not in our area of expertise. Meanwhile, avoid running while aching. You will only hurt yourself even more. Find a hobby that can make you feel less sad until recovery ends. If you care for body, your body will care for you too. Keep it safe and it will react as you wish it to. Hydrate and make sure it receives natural energy. This way you will give yourself the insurance of a successful sport’s life.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Brewing up a batch of Blind Ambition Amber Ale

It's said that when you get to hell, they play a video of your first date over and over for all eternity. If I don't make it to the pearly gates, maybe the Devil will instead play a video my first homebrew.

Despite my bet efforts to plan ahead and make things predictable as possible, there were plenty of chaotic moments, and I did things that would likely make a good brewer cringe.Part of this was due to Didi, the lovable but slightly brain damaged cat who generally got in my way in the kitchen.
I chose to make a pretty straightforward Amber Ale from a single kit I bought at MoreBeer! in nearby Los Altos. With basically little idea of what I was doing, but have plans to keep homebrewing, I decided to call it Blind Ambition Amber Ale.

The Recipe
The recipe below is straight from the More Beer! kit.

8 lbs. Ultralight Malt Extract
1 lb Crystal 60L Steeping Grain
1 once Galena Hops, Bittering Hops boiled for 60 minutes
1 once Willamette Hops, Flavoring Hops boiled in the last 5 minutes
1 once Willamette Hops, Aroma Hops added for the last minute
5 gallons distilled water
Yeast strain: California Ale Yeast? (from memory, didn't actually write down the strain)

Original gravity: ???? (Not measured, recipe estimates it should be 1.060)
Final gravity: 1.008

Brewing Notes
OK, I didn't get the original gravity because once the wort was in the carboy, I was reluctant extract some of the wort back out of the carboy, potentially introducing a source of contamination. The crystal malt was steeped at about 120-150 Fahrenheit, which may have been a little low. Did a partial boil of about 3 gallons of wort, cooled it in my bath tub to something that seemed like room temperature, and then poured it into the carboy. To that, I added the remaining 2 gallons of water which was chilled in the fridge. After about 1 1/2 days, active fermentation was observed. The wort fermented for 15 days, then 2 cups of water with 4 ounces of corn sugar dissolved into it was added to prior to bottling the final product.

I kicked up a lot of the yeast from the bottom of the carboy lifting it up from the floor into the kitchen sink to siphon the beer into the bottle filling bucket. With about 4 out of the 5 gallons of beer siphoned out, I started noticing large particulates in the siphoning hose, and with that, abruptly stopped filling any more bottles.

Tasting Notes
As you can see from the picture above, a pretty solid white head floating above the hazy light brown brew. I really liked the spicy, aromatic character imparted by the Galena and Willamette hops. The malt was there, but was a little thin, as would might expect with the low final gravity. However, there was a noticeable grainy character to the beer. I also noticed that a few of the bottles had a noticeable harshness, which seemed like an alcohol presence to them, which is really an off-flavor for the style. Differing levels of carbonation in the bottles suggest I need to mix in the priming sugar more evenly next time.

My final, highly biased, verdict. Not a bad beer. It's maybe as good or better than 10-15% of the craft beers I've tried, whhich includes a few clunkers from craft breweries where something went horribly wrong. But Blind Ambition Amber Ale is certainly not a good beer. But I enjoy drinking it, and quite frankly, the only person I really have to satisfy is me so on that score, it is a modest success.

If you're wandering on by and read this, and have any thoughts or advice, don't hesitate to let me know. I would love to get any advice from any real home brewers out there.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lower the drinking age?

There's an interesting article on the CNN website, which argues for a lower drinking age. You can read it here, with the gist of the argument seeming to say that a lower drinking age coupled with more regulation and intervention is the best way to limit binge drinking at an early age. You can also participate in a discussion on the topic on Mario Rubio and Peter Estaniel's latest Hopions.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Profiled by THE Beer Runner at Draft Magazine

I'm glad Tim Cigelske has a good sense of humor, and has profiled me on his Beer Runner blog on the Draft Magazine website. You can read it here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lots of good beers, and one lame autism joke: 6th Annual Brews on the Bay

The 6th Annual Brews on the Bay was held on the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien, a World World II era merchant ship docked on Pier 45 at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. The seven members of the San Francisco Brewers Guild were spaced around the deck of the restored ship, pouring their beers. I suppose I could write about the festive atmosphere aboard the ship, or the U2 cover band that playing. Or I could just start writing about the beer. But instead, I'm going to write about a subject one of the pourers at the festival was joking about. It's something many people aren't familiar with, and often people aren't comfortable about. The subject is autism.

Linda and I were at Thirsty Bear, and one of the pourers was loudly apologizing for having Asperger's Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. My eight year old son Brandon has autism, so I turned to him and told him, "It's OK, my son has autism. Having Asperger's is OK". He looked stunned, and I suddenly realized at that moment he probably didn't have Asperger's, and his affliction probably involved sampling way too much of Thirsty Bear's product. I've said enough stupid stuff stone cold sober to cut the guy some slack, so shrugged off the lame joke, and Linda and I walked away with our Thirsty Bear brews.

Five minutes later, Linda and I are somewhere inside the ship, sipping our beers and looking at various rooms restored to their World War II era appearance, when a woman from Thirsty Bear came up to us and said "I've been looking all over the ship for you. I want to apologize for that guy who told you he has Asperger's Syndrome." Now it was my turn to be surprised. We told her not to worry, that we still liked Thirsty Bear, and it wasn't a problem, and thanked her for her concern. My son Brandon was diagnosed 5 1/2 years ago, and I've more or less come to terms with his condition, so I pretty much shrugged this off.

Most people rarely if ever deal with autism, and often when confronted with it, are confused and uncomfortable as to what to do. Brandon's autistic behaviors are erratic, confusing, nonsensical, and yes, at times, funny. So I can actually understand why some guy might think it's pretty funny to say "I have Aspergers". But I find that 99.9% of the people who meet Brandon for the first time deal are confronted with this awkward situation, respond with a great deal of patience and understanding, which is huge for Brandon overcoming his behaviors. Who ever tracked us down inside the ship from Thirsty Bear to apologize, thanks so much for going the extra mile. It's people like you who give Brandon a fighting chance.

OK, let's talk about beer. Here's what Linda and I liked that evening, starting with a couple from our friends at Thirsty Bear.

Thirst Bear Valencia Wheat
We both enjoyed this clear, refreshing wheat beer, brewed with a little coriander and orange peel in the Witbier style. It poured a clear yellow, so perhaps it was filtered. The noticeable orange flavor gives this one a nice twist.

Thirsty Bear Irish Coffee
I didn't note what style this was, but appeared to be a barrel aged, Imperial Stout with lot of bitter coffee goodness, and we noticed some whisky in the background. Seemed a little light on the malt for the Imperial Stout style, which I found to be a good thing that evening, as it made for an easy drinking barrel aged Imperial Stout. I don't know if you're into something like that, but it worked for us.

Speakeasy Mickey Finn Imperial Red Ale
I've found many excellent brewers turn this style into something really aggressive, with a double punch of bitter roasted malt and heavy hops, and the result is often barely drinkable. That's not the case here, as this Imperial Red from Speakeasy has a flavorful caramel malt, with some raisin like character, and a mellow resiny aftertaste.

Magnolia Dark Star Mild
Magnolia seems to focus a lot on their malt, and it seems to be reflected in their beers, which have an artisan bread character to them. Mild is almost a forgotten style in the United States, but this drinkable session beer with lots of roasty malt and a slightly grainy character made me wonder why.

San Francisco Brewing Hugh Hefnerweizen
When it comes to beer, variety is the spice of life. I cannot, and will not simply settle down with one beer. But this Hefeweizen from San Francisco Brewing is luscious, yet slightly muscular, and has a slightly sweet, alluring aroma. It tastes a little rich and fruity with seductive banana notes. If forced to be faithful to one beer, I just might shack up with this one.

Maybe someday, Brandon and I can talk about our favorite beers.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Engineers Find New Way to Brew Green Beer

No, they're not talking about that stuff bars serve on St. Patrick's Day. Instead, these engineers found a way to make brewing beer more energy efficient, by effectively storing energy creating in boiling the wort, and using it for the next batch. You can read the article here for yourself.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

September 9, 1972 : An Important Date in Beer Runner History

On September 9, 1972, Frank Shorter drank, by his own account, nearly 2 liters of beer.

So what?

The next day, he won the Gold Medal in the Olympic Marathon.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Recent Study on the Co-existence of Drinking and Excercise

First brought to my attention on Tim Cigelske's Beer Runner, is this study showing that those who drink actually tend to exercise more than those who don't. Given that plenty of runners drink, not to mention football players, cyclists, and even bowlers regularly knock back a few pints, the study seems a little like proving the sun rises in the east. But it shows what many people have known all along. Responsible drinking and exercise easily co-exist.