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 runreviews.com, 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.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Session #31: Summer Beers

This month's Session, Summer Beers is hosted by Peter Estaniel over at the BetterBeerBlog.

This month's Session, Summer Beers, is a great topic, since I have little interest in jumping on another bandwagon of beer geeks raving about the latest hyper-malty, barrel aged, hop bomb where the brewer actually did throw in the kitchen sink. The lighter beer styles we normally associate with summer require much skill and talent to brew, with no places to hide off flavors. Having had so many great summer beers, it's hard to pick a favorite. For me, a "favorite beer" is largely determined in the context of which it is consumed, as well as how and where the beer is produced. That's why my favorite beer this summer is from a brewer you never heard of, and I haven't even swallowed a drop of it yet. I'll get to my favorite summer beer at the end of this post, so allow me to celebrate a number of my summer favorites before then.

Favorite Summer Beer with Lime In It
Summer beers with lime in them are typically some hideous product from big industrial breweries that are barely recognizable as beer. That wasn't the case with Coronado Brewing's Lime Wit that I enjoyed this summer at my favorite beer bar in San Diego, Downtown Johnny Brown's. Sour lime dominates the slight yeasty flavors of this Wit beer, and there's a bitter lime peel finish to it. I've enjoyed other wits more than this one, but this unique San Diego-inspired beer deserves a mention.

Favorite Summer Beer to Drink After a Summer Run
It's only natural to expect the writer of blog called Bay Area Beer Runner to cite a favorite summer beer for drinking after a run. The problem is that during summer, my runs are exclusively in the early morning when the air is coolest, which is when many runners train. Knocking down a couple pints of beer after a morning run before heading off to work is a pretty risky career strategy. Not being a fan of those foul-tasting, over priced sports drinks, I just have water after a run.

Favorite Summer Beer to Witness Another Disappointing Chicago Cubs Baseball Season
I've been a Cub fan for thirty years, and each year, the Cubs find a new and creative way to build up expectations and then deflate them over the course of a baseball season. The other constant over that time is that Heileman's Old Style has been strongly associated with Cubs' baseball. If you've ever had this light lager, you'll begin to understand why Cub fans have such a high tolerance for pain and misery.

Favorite Summer Beer to Get Ready for The Ohio State University's Football Season
Keeping on the topic of sports, as a graduate of The Ohio State University, I've spent many a summer chatting away with other Buckeye fans in anticipation of the upcoming fall football season. And there's no better beer for this than Buckeye Beer from Maumee Bay Brewing in Toledo, OH. It's a beer with a long history that ceased production in 1972, only to be recently revived with a retro-marketing campaign. But it's no weak, gimmicky pilsner. This refreshing beer's malt is a little biscuit-like, and the hops crisp and grassy. It's also good in winter time for Buckeye fans recovering from a crushing Bowl game defeat.

Favorite Summer Beer to Experience a 60's Flashback
Last month, my girlfriend and I checked out Magnolia Pub and Brewery, merely a block away from the storied Haight-Ashbury intersection in San Francisco. We were both really impressed with their Kalifornia Kolsch. It's a hazy yellow brew, with a strong peppery flavor and we also noted some notes of lemon. Despite the strong flavors, there was a feathery lightness to it. It's so good, it actually caused me to admit The Grateful Dead had some redeeming qualities.

Favorite Summer Beer That I Couldn't Come Up with a Category For, But Wanted to Mention Anyway
I've long been a fan of Victory Brewing in Downing, PA, but it's hard to find their beers in the Bay Area. In San Diego last month, I found Victory Brewing's Prima Pils on tap. Like any good pilsner, it’s got a crisp grassy hops finish, but I also picked up some savory herbal character with all that hoppy goodness, giving it a rare complexity and dimension for a pilsner.

Before revealing my Favorite Beer of the Summer, I should start by saying why I think running is a great activity and for those of a competitive nature, a great sport. All you need is a good pair of shoes, lace 'em up, and go out the front door. The equipment is very affordable, and the best places to run are public areas available to all. There are road races held all over the United States where for a reasonable fee, anyone can enter to run with the best runners in the nation, or even the world. The stop watch does not discriminate on the basis of race, income, sex, religion, origin, good looks, or anything else.

The same egalitarian qualities that makes running great, makes beer great. It is most commonly consumed in informal public gatherings. Even the finest beers are affordable to most. And with a small investment, anyone can start brewing beer for themselves. That now includes me, as I've home brewed up my first batch of beer of what I expect to be the first of many home brews. Perhaps someday, my brewing skills will progress to the point where I'll compete in home brewing competitions, but for now, I'll settle for brewing up something that just tastes good.

I didn't muck around in the kitchen that badly brewing it up, so fingers crossed, it will taste OK. Since it was bottled a week ago and needs two weeks of bottle conditioning, I haven't even tasted the final product. But sampling the brew as it went into the bottles didn't reveal any obvious off-flavors, and it tasted like a decent beer to me. Having only the slightest idea of how to brew beer, but with plans to keep at it, I call it Blind Ambition Amber Ale, and it's my favorite summer beer.