Thursday, April 30, 2009

What's a runner doing homebrewing?

I'm not quite sure myself.

For thirty years, I've had pretty much one hobby, running. A good run is enjoyable in its own right, but training for a race is actually an elaborate game of managing fatigue and discomfort in pursuit of running further and faster. The moment you break free of the tedious workouts, over come the limitations your body and mind put on you, and cross the finish line at a time or place you were shooting for, is priceless. It happens only 2-3 times a year for most runners, and that is why these moments are so precious.

I've always enjoyed a good beer, and a good beer buzz after a hard run is a wonderful thing. Over the last couple years, I've found craft beer to be like a set of new set of running trails to explore. You never know what's going to be around the corner, and you always run across something a little different. In a addition to being satisfying and tasty, beer as the people's beverage, is a reflection of economics, politics, and geography, all subjects of interest to me.

I didn't really appreciate food until I started making it for myself, and so if I'm really going to understand beer, I'm going to have to brew it. A long time friend of mine, with a great deal of homebrewing experience, has agreed to work with me and start me down the homebrewing road. He hasn't homebrewed in seven years, and was thinking about starting again. We realized we had been drifting apart, and homebrewing seemed like a good way to reconnect.

Homebrewing is a whole new world for me. "Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew" is the mantra of homebrew author Chuck Papazian, at total odds with the "Pain is temporary, pride is forever"running ethic I grew up with. If things go horribly wrong with a homebrew, you can just pour it down the drain. If things go horribly wrong running, I'm usually limping around for at least a couple weeks. Perhaps it says something that plenty of runners are in to beer, but not a lot of homebrewers seem into running.

Success in running is satisfying due to the rewards that come from the discomfort and committment that comes with the territory. My friend warns that homebrewing involves a lot of cleaning glass and stainless steel gadgets. Even thought I'm not much into cleaning, that doesn't seem so bad. I'm sure there are some pretty driven home brewers, and homebrewing can be a lot of hard work. But if all I have to do is clean some things to brew beer, will I care about success or failure of the taste of the final brew? Have I been missing the point all along?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

This is not Obama's Beer: Obama Ale from Half Moon Bay Brewing

What can we do to support our President to heal our battered nation? We can go into the forests and rescue endangered species. We can volunteer to distribute medical supplies and care for those who have no health insurance. We can mentor orphan children. I have taken it upon myself to support the President in his quest, by doing something I do well. I will drink his beer.

It's an OK brew, but a nagging question tugs at me as I drink it. Does this brew resemble our President?

It's odd the first African-American President would be honored with such a pale looking beer. Well, our President looks good, and this brew looks good in my tulip. A golden yellow with a thick, foamy white head and plenty of lacing action on the glass.

I have never smelled the President. I suspect he does not smell of faint malt and a little grassy hops. As for how our President tastes, I'm not going to go there. This beer has a flavor has a flavor of light malt with slightly fruity and grassy hops. Well balanced, for sure, but the flavor was rather light. There was a little sweetness as the brew warmed. Does Obama gets sweeter as he warms up? Only the First Lady knows for sure.

Obama is a pretty smooth talker and operator, and this is a pretty smooth tasting brew. But for all the sweeping change Obama is calling for, and must make, this was one of the most straightforward, safe, and unoffensive brews I've ever had. Wouldn't a beer befitting of our President take some risks? Shake things up a bit? Challenge us in some way? This beer falls way short in that department. I'll be happy to toast our President, but I plan to do it with a beer more representative of his character, which this brew is not.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Beers Wars: A War Worth Winning You Probably Didn't See

"Beer Wars Live" is Michaell Moore-esque movie documentary on the beer industry in the US, where the huge industrial brewers you all know, Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller goliaths takes on hundreds of much smaller craft brewers. It's one of those event films, that only plays for one night all over the country. There were only about 10-15 people in the theater, and I suspect attendance all over the country was similar.

To no one's surprise, the big corporate brewers flex their economic and political muscles to keep the craft brewers small. It's also an interesting tale of Sam Calagione, a craft brewer who happily chases his passion, and Rhonda, a former Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) executive, who appears to lose her soul and her family trying to create the next big thing with a slightly weird sounding Craft Beer/Energy Drink hybid me-too knock-off product.

I enjoyed the movie, and Linda and I talked all about on the way home, which is a sign of a good movie. But in some ways, it was a bit of a disappointment. There were a lot of tired cliche's about big corporate power and money funding the three-tiered system of distribution, a relic of prohibition that gives the larger industrial brewers and unfair advantage over craft breweries but zip, zilch, nada about what alternative system would be fair. And I have no problem finding small California craft beers in the Midwest, or even the East Coast. Somehow, the little guys are finding some way to get some good distribution, but the film has nothing to say about how that's been accomplished.

It's really a business movie, and so the "war" comes across as a fight for the almighty buck, but I view this battle as more than that.

It's a war about American Entrepreneurship being stifled by pointless regulation and near monopoly power. I love that fact that the craft beer industry was set into motion by Jimmy Carter signing a bill legalizing home brewing. Imagine, good ol' Democrat Jimmy Carter eliminating government regulation to create free market economic growth. Entrepreneurship makes this country great, but in the beer world, it is suffering under the current system in America.

It's also a war about what we decide to taste and put in our bodies. We can choose to drink industrial beers which basically all taste the same, and are made from cheap ingredients. (There's a great scene in the movie where loyal Coors Light, Bud Light, and Miller Light drinkers cannot tell which is their favorite of the three, in blind taste tests.) Or we can choose to drink a variety of distinctve beers, that are skillfully made, and while do cost more, are intended to be appreciated, instead of something just to fill you up or get you buzzed or drunk.

You can probably get this on Netflix soon. If these things matter to you, this movie will definitely get you thinking. I also ask you to vote with your pocket books the next time you buy a beer.