Monday, December 27, 2010

Keeping a running journal again at DailyMile

Back in the day, I religiously kept a running journal. Actually, the information wasn't all that detailed. If I run a track work-out, I would just list the mileage and might note "track work-out" but wouldn't include the length of the track intervals or the times. It's not so much the information one puts into a running journal, but the thought and concentration involved in putting the day's run onto paper that makes a running journal valuable. Well OK, it doesn't take a lot of thought or concentration to write "7" on a piece of paper after running seven miles, but you get the idea. The problem was, every couple of years, I'd lose my notebook, and would have to start the whole process over again.

Sometime in the mid-90's, I ended my daily devotional of running journal entries entirely. A lot of this was simply because I wasn't running much then, and was well on my way to gaining about 50-60 lbs over the next fives years. There was a time I'd blame it all on marrying the wrong woman, who wasn't a big fan of me running, but I think it's fair to say that my first wife probably gave me a well needed break from running seriousness, just not in the right way.

So as to slowly reclaim back the old running life once lived, it's time to start keeping a running journal again. And instead of an old fashioned notebook, I've recently joined DailyMile to record each day of running. It's got a few new fangled features they didn't have back in the day. The most notable is the social networking aspect of the website, where you can have training "friends", and even send your friends motivation, in the form of icons shaped like a blue ribbon or a green thumbs up sign. If you want to send me motivation, well that's nice, but after thirty years with plenty of runs and races under my belt that have gone horribly wrong, countless running injuries of all type and severity, and a few unfortunate incidents involving either end of the digestive system, a green thumbs up icon from out of the blue is not going to make much difference in whether or not I keep at it.

The really neat feature of Daily Mile is their running route mapping feature, leaving no wild guesses as to how far each run is, or how high certain hills are. I've had some fun looking at the online map of my neighborhood, and think, "Hey, what if I ran this course?", then map it out and immediately get a good idea of what I'm getting myself into, rather than finding out the hard way.

For my other hobby, homebrewing, I haven't found the equivalent of Daily Mile, and wouldn't join, even if it existed. Something about quantifying a hobby changes it. By keeping track of miles, times, and workouts, running becomes, at a certain level, a chore, but it's doing those chores that pay off on race day, so I gladly do them. On the other hand, I just simply like brewing beer and sharing those results with friends, end of story. I have great friends who lie to me, always telling me the beer tastes great, whether or not it actually does. And perhaps because the stopwatch is more brutally honest than my friends, I have no real desire to monitor every last beta acid or religiously keep track of the gravity of the beer over the entire process, which would take a lot of fun out of home brewing for me. Maybe some day I'll enter my home brews into competitions and start keeping more detailed notes on my home brews, but right now, developing a repeatable malt extraction process or agonizing over how the judges are going to perceive my homebrews are stresses I'd rather not deal with right now.

So I keep a running journal, and will remain blissfully unaware of metrics needed to improve my homebrews. And unlike my old running journal written in a notebook for my eyes only, my daily workout are now on this blog via some Daily Mile gadget, for the whole world to see. My training is now a wide open book. Is this really progress?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Beer of the Month: Sleigh'r!!! By Ninkasi Brewing!!!

I once bought a Slayer album over twenty years ago back when I was in college. All I could remember about it was a bunch of really fast guitars nearly drowning out some guy yelling about a of bunch of people dying in particularly grisly detail. Metal bands have created some pretty compelling art about universal themes of fear, anger, frustration, and alienation, but I just found all that noise about countless gruesome deaths to be of all things, incredibly boring. I returned the record to the store in exchange for something else.

I certainly understand this personal anecdotal snippet from many years ago is no way to judge a band that's been together for nearly 30 years, but I still consider Slayer to be an interesting cultural curiosity I just don't get. But any band that's been together that long, has achieved status as one of the Big Four of Thrash Metal, and has millions of fans, including critical acclaimed classical violinist Rachel Burton Pine, must be doing a lot of things right. Like being the unlikely inspiration for an excellent Dark Double Alt beer released for the holidays by Ninkasi Brewing.

The beer itself pours a very dark brown, nearly black. As one might expect from its appearance, the first thing that hits you on the tongue is a heavily roasted, slightly smokey malt goodness which is surprisingly smooth and drinkable, despite all that heavy roasting and strong flavors. Then the banana-like esters kick in, solidly asserting themselves just before the a light clove-like aromatic spicy finish. It makes for an easy drinking sipping beer, or a beer that would pair quite well with a lot of strong wintery holiday foods like roasted beef, pork or smoked turkey.

Speaking of the holidays, not only has Slayer inspired a holiday beer, it's also inspired an entire Christmas light show someone created for their Southern California neighborhood my beer blogging buddy Peter Estaniel recently brought to my attention. Make sure you don't miss the flashing Christmas presents next to the electric flowing river of blood.

Perhaps the message here is that holiday good will can come from unlikely places. Maybe we'd have a lot fewer rivers of blood in this world if we did more to accept, seek out and welcome those who might seem strange and out of place, understanding it's these differences which make our world a great place to live. OK, it's a bit of sappy message, but I thought it would seem a lot less sappy cloaked in beer and thrash metal, so just work with me here.

Have a very Sleigh'r Holiday!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Open It!: Celebrating a little more room in the fridge with Stone Brewing's Old Guardian

Mark Dredge of Pencil and Spoon has asked us to Open It! and just choose a bottle you’ve been saving for ages, open it and then tell others about it.

I have this small problem with stock piling lots of great beers to be saved for a special occasions. Special occasions happen a lot less often than I find great beers to celebrate it with. And with the finite amount of available space in my refrigerator dwindling down due to the ever increasing collection of beer, my wife Linda tends to remind me in her own special way that unless I want to pour spoiled milk on my breakfast cereal and eat lots of rotten fruits and vegetables, I better do something about reducing my beer collection. And since Linda appreciates good beer as much as I do, sharing a beer with her to celebrate this slight reduction in the beer inventory tends to go a long way in defusing this volatile situation.

And so for the inaugural Open It!, a celebration of drinking great beer for no other reason to enjoy it, we shared a bottle of Stone Brewing's 2010 vintage of their Old Guardian Barleywine. I found the 2009 version, opened shortly after it's release in January of that year, to have a lot of good flavors, but plenty of rough edges that left an unpleasant harshness. And so figured giving the 2010 version 10 months to soften up and mellow out would result in a much better drinking experience than the 2009 version. And yes, waiting those extra months did pay off.

Pouring the amber colored brew into our glasses created a medium-sized frothy foam, which dissipated in a couple minutes, suggesting a rather low malt content for the style. As you would expect from Stone, hops were in abundance both in the aroma and taste. As the initial pour suggested, there was very little caramel and toffee-like malt in this barleywine style to hold back all the piney and grapefruity hops. The 10-month aging worked to the advantage of this brew, as it had much smoother, almost ticklish feeling on the tongue instead of the mouth puckering astringency I recalled from last year's version. Also noticeable was a little alcohol heat. If the bottle didn't say "Barleywine" on it, I'd guess it was an Imperial IPA.

For the next version of Open It!, we'll celebrate reorganizing all my home brewing equipment scattered around our apartment.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Session #46: Nothing's Shocking

For this month's Session, Mike Lynch of Burgers and Brews discovered on a recent beer trip that "despite all the amazing stops I planned, one of the best experiences was completely accidental". From this experience, he asks us to write about unexpected discoveries in craft beer .

For the biggest jaw dropping, how the &%$# did that get there craft beer experience, I would have to go with the day I dropped into a 7-Eleven in Carlsbad, located just off of Interstate 5 while travelling on business just to get a Diet Coke. To my amazement, to the left of the Diet Cokes were bottles of Alesmith's IPA and Pale Ale. OK, so I wasn't all that far away from Alesmith's brewery in San Diego, but would anyone really expect to walk into the typical roadside 7-Eleven in one of those tired California strip malls and find something from a small, niche' brewery like Alesmith staring in the face behind the glass doors inside the wall-sized beer cooler?

But since that shock nearly two years ago, I've discovered great craft beer in lots of completely unexpected places like dingy dive liquor stores, a zoo, or at an airport in of all places, Salt Lake City as the craft beer industry continues to grow and proliferate. As I thought about this month's Session, what I found really shocking was that craft beer is now in so many shocking places it's no longer shocking.

For further evidence of craft beer's creeping ubiquitousness, where do you think these pictures below were taken?

Would you believe at my friendly neighborhood Safeway in Belmont, CA, located on the San Francisco Peninsula? And while I'm fortunate to live in a prime area for craft beer, walk into a nearby grocery store, give the beer selection a careful look and ask yourself, did you expect it to look like this five years ago?

Beer Wars? Indeed.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Only Goal was to Finish

There's been very few races where my only goal was to finish, but I found myself on the starting line with that objective last Thanksgiving morning. I'd like to say I was about to start a marathon, ultra-marathon, or run some obscenely difficult course, but in fact, it was a simple five mile cross-country race in Golden Gate Park. I was pretty sick the day before and while I'm striving to be more descriptive in my writing, you'd probably don't want to read a detailed description of what emerged from my throat and nose over two previous two days. While I had recovered somewhat, certainly not enough to feel optimistic take on the race, even if these holiday races tend to be pretty good natured events.

Why was I even running in the first place rather than stay home? I have this certain ethic, perhaps better described as a stubbornness, to finish something I've started, no matter what. So if I've entered a race and not at death's door, I'm obligated show up on the starting line and give it my best, no excuses. I don't recommend this attitude for everyone but like to think it has served me pretty well. As long as we ignore all those times I've turned a little sickness into a raging fever because I didn't want to take a rest day, or a ended up limping around for a week thinking I could just push through some "little, nagging injury". So flying in the face of most conventional reason, there I was, after a few tepid and lethargic brief warm-up jogs and sucking nonstop on a water bottle all morning to battle a still slightly sore throat, about to give the race a go.

Surprisingly at the start, the slow "just finish the damn race" pace was surprisingly effortless, and I was a bit bewildered at where the sudden energy had come from. I have to say that whenever there's a starting line, a finishing line, and a clock timing how long it takes to run between the two, it just turns on some sort of high energy switch inside of me. But maybe drinking five or six glasses of water, each with a packet of Emergen-Cee dissolved into them the day before, giving me a daily dose of vitamin C good for over 50 people is what gave me the necessary recuperative powers. Or perhaps I was energized by the postcard-picturesque course that twisted and turned through the green rolling hills and coastal forest Golden Gate Park landscape, with the ground perfectly soft from four days of light rain, meticulously marked by tiny bright yellow flags and burnt orange traffic cones so no one would miss every zig and zag only the course.

Whatever the source of unexpected strength, I slowly picked up the pace, and methodically reeled in runner after runner over the first couple miles. And while the urban forest location provided a pleasing background to the race, it also provided some handy underbrush cover required for a little pit stop at about 1 1/2 miles, that was quite necessary from all the extra pre-race hydration. That business taken care of, I just concentrated on keeping good form, maintaining pace, and looking at the back of the runner in front of me, gradually pulling up to them, before concentrating on passing the next person. After five miles of this, I finished with a time and place much higher than I thought I could have realistically hoped for.

One thing running has taught me is there that are no guarantees for success. You can have several excellent weeks or months of training, with a good focused attitude and strong game plan, and things can still blow up in your face on race day for reasons either completely unknown or outside your controll. Thankfully the opposite is also true. Everything can be off or sub-par going into race day, and you can still end up hanging up a performance you think you had no business reaching. Enjoy those days when you can. I know I will.

PS - Considering all the "opps" and "oh shit" moments while home brewing the day after this race, I can only hope to have the same kind of luck with that endeavor once the yeast finishes its thing.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pilgrimage to a Craft Brewing Shrine at Sierra Nevada

Maybe there should be some sort of craft beer Mecca, a spiritual journey each individual in the craft beer community must take in their lifetime. And while there are plenty of breweries in Europe that could rightfully lay claim to be the Mecca of craft brewing, it's hard to think of a better Mecca for the US craft brewing revolution than Sierra Nevada's Brewery in Chico, California, which Ken Grossman founded 30 years ago.

I recently travelled to Chico, but it was foot fungus, rather than craft beer that brought me there. I was there on business, helping a customer as they were commercializing a laser based foot fungus treatment. Once that meeting was completed and with no further business to attend at the end of the day, I drove across town to check out the brewery, hoping to have a look before heading home. To my pleasant surprise upon my arrival, there was a brewery tour scheduled to start about ten minutes, and acting fast, I secured a spot on it.

Giddy with the excitement of a five year old on Christmas morning, I went to the very front of the line as we marched around the brewery, and enthusiastically raised my hand every time our guide asked audience participation questions like "Does anyone know what wort tastes like?". As brewery tours go, it's one of the better ones, as our guide was pretty knowledgeable, and well trained to show people around the place.

The most impressive fact I learned is that Sierra Nevada generates 85% of the energy to run their brewery either with solar cells, or natural gas based fuel cells which have a low carbon footprint. Imagine the impact if every factory in the United States, if not the world, made even half this commitment to more sustainable sources of energy that Sierra Nevada has. The brewery has all sorts of little flourishes with frescos and etched tiles on the walls depicting the history of brewing.

I do not claim to be much of a photographer, but gave my best for these pictures to give this shrine of craft beer the reverence it deserves.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beer of the Month: Hops on Rye from Firehouse Brewery

Firehouse Brewery's Hops on Rye earns the title of Beer of the Month for November. This Rye IPA is one of those unique beers that defy simple description. It's got a hefty amount of malt, with caramel and rye flavors up front, and a little sweetness. The malt balances well with all the hops that give the beer a piney and slightly menthol-like finish. Not only is it a great beer, it's the first time Firehouse has ever bottled one of their beers. Since Firehouse has won medals at the Great American Beer Festival each of the last three years, you might say it's about time their beers got more exposure. You can find it at Bay Area BevMo! and Whole Foods locations, as well at K&L Liquors in Redwood City. Renowned bottle shops City Beer and Beer Revolution also should have it before too long.

Firehouse Brewmaster Steve Donohue graciously provided a couple bottles at a recent meeting of the Bay Area Beer Bloggers held at Firehouse, where Devon, John Heylin, Brian Stechschulte, Peter Estaniel, Jen Buck McDaniel, Rich, David Jensen, and myself attended. It was a fun, enthusiastic, and vibrant bunch and I immensely enjoyed being a part of it. It was also rather interesting matching the real life personalities with each individual writing style.

So what actually happens at a Bay Area Beer Bloggers meeting anyway? You'll be shocked to discover it basically involves a bunch of people chatting about beer and blogging while they sit around a table and drink beer. As a special bonus at the end of the evening, Steve Donohue took us into his brewery and showed us around the place he's brewed those award winning beers.

But the beer blogging meeting was not all just about fun and beer. It served as a launch pad of scietific inquiry as Peter Estaniel, John Heylin, Steve Donohue and I contemplated the effect of dissolving Xenon gas into beer rather than the traditional Carbon Dioxide. And beer blogging proved to be an unstoppable force for peace and brotherhood, as Bruce Stechschulte, a graduate of the University of Michigan, and I, a graduate of their hated rival Ohio State University, still had an amicable discussion over a couple of pints, despite the fact that I'm a pretty fanatical Buckeye fan. One can imagine from this example how much destructive carnage and bloodshed could have been averted if only George W. Bush and Suddam Hussien had been beer bloggers.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nifty Session Beers and Rumbling Trains at Social Kitchen and Brewery

Brewmaster Rich Higgins of Social Kitchen and Brewery is probably thankful I'm finally paying him for his beer. I've sampled it at a recent beer festivals, at which he likely provided gratis. And while I've given him genuine compliments of it at those festivals which he likely appreciates, when it's time for him to pay his employees or the loans on his brewing equipment, kind words uttered in his direction are not going to do him much good. Linda and I have been meaning to go to Social Kitchen for some time since it opened earlier this year, and we finally got a chance to visit on a crisp, sunny Saturday afternoon.

Located just south of Golden Gate Park on 9th street, it's at the former site of defunct Wunder Beer. I've heard talk that this slightly snake-bitten location is not a good one for a brewpub. But maybe because that's because the area feels like an actual San Francisco neighborhood, rather than the contrived tourist attractions where many of San Francisco brewpubs are found. The periodic rumbling from the Muni trains rolling down 9th street gave the place an authentic urban feel, an acoustic connection to the surrounding city. Dark brown wooden panelling gives the place a somewhat sophisticated look, with the otherwise light and airy interior providing a welcoming feel.

As for the beer, you have salute a place where session beers figure prominently the beer line-up. Social Kitchen didn't have an Imperial-anything on their tap list that day, and we didn't miss them at all. One of my favorites is their L'Enfant Terrible, described as a Belgian table beer which has a nice mix of chocolate and roasted malt, with a little fig and a little spicy zip to it. I also enjoyed the Old Time Alt, a robust alt-style beer with a decent amount of rich, roasted malt with a woody character to it.

Of course, Social Kitchen does more than just drinkable session beers. Leave it to a California brewery to call an IPA with 65 IBU, their Easy IPA, which they describe "your friendly, neighborhood IPA". There's not much heft to the malt to balance of that floral hop goodness, but the lack of balance works in favor of this brew, which really has a intense, very flavorful floral vibe. Lots of California brewers try to make beers like this, but end up simply socking you in the taste buds with simple, non-descript hop bitterness.

As for the food, I am no food critic and will do my best and try not to pretend to be one here. Linda and I enjoyed the whimsical Brussels Sprout Chips appetizer. It sounds like a kids worst nightmare, but the lightly fried, salted thinly sliced Brussels sprouts was almost as addictive as popcorn. Almost. As for the menu, it's a notch above simple brewpub fare, but otherwise is pretty accessible and straightforward. Linda and I found our food to be well executed, and really liked the warm neighborhood feel to the place. Call Social Kitchen and Brewery your friendly neighborhood gastro pub.

Finally, for "dessert", we tried the Dapple Dandy Grand Cru. Made from their Raspcallion Belgian Ale, with a little red ale, and lots of Dapple Dandy pluots, I'm finding it elusive to describe. I appreciate the light touch with the fruit, as the fruit flavors blended with a light clove spiciness, a little sweetness, and a tannic-like bitter finish. I'm not sure this beer totally worked, but give them credit for something creative, complex, and interesting.

I'll pay Social Kitchen and Brewery perhaps the highest possible compliment by saying I really wish it was in my neighborhood.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Slightly Encouraging Sign at Mayfield Brewing

There's a slightly encouraging sign at Mayfield Brewing since my post ten days ago where I suggested things were not looking good for Mayfield's future. During my morning run through the Belmont, CA industrial park that's home to Devils' Canyon and Mayfield's breweries, I noticed an official sign posted at Mayfield's location by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control that was not there two weeks ago. The notice, dated October 29, indicates the owner has applied for a premises to premises transfer of their Category 23 - Small Brewery License. This could mean a lot of things, but it's encouraging there's some small sign of life there.

Still, it makes no sense that if this was an orderly and planned move by Mayfield, why they wouldn't simply announce they were moving. Their website still says "Under Construction". What ever's going on, I hope they are successful.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Session #45 : Wheat Beer Love and Money

Nemsis of Beer Taster has decided to take us back closer to the original roots of The Session, and asks us to write about Wheat Beers.

While Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing is about 1,500 miles away from my home, it's one of my favorite breweries. I've enjoyed several of their beers, such as their Single Wide IPA, their Bully Porter, and sampled a few releases of their acclaimed Smokestack Series. However, the most unquestionably important beer in Boulevard's line-up is a beer I've never tried. It's their humble Unfiltered Wheat Beer, which comprises about 70% of their sales. Four days out of each five-day work week, Boulevard's brewery is bottling or kegging this brew. I'm not alone in ignoring Boulevard's Unfiltered Wheat Beer. Check out Boulevard's Beer Advocate profile , and you'll find a mere 5-10% of the total Boulevard Brewing beer reviews are of its Unfiltered Wheat

I must confess to not finding many Wheat Beers, at least those brewed in the United States, all that exciting, and many other beer geeks seem to share this opinion. Wheat beers appear on a lot of brewery's beer line-ups seemingly as "transition beers", for that guy who faithfully drinks Budweiser who got dragged into the brewpub one night by his friends. Or even more derisively as "chick beers" especially when fruit is added to it, since wheat beers do provide a good base for flavor experimentation. But the dirty secret is that most of the non-beer geek population, as well as a few beer geeks hiding in the closet, generally prefer to drink something light and refreshing with good flavors going in it, rather than dealing with an onslaught of bitter hops or roasted malt. And selling "chick beer" or "transition beers" is good big business, as MolsonCoors will attest with their successful Blue Moon Belgian wheat beer brand.

And since Boulevard's owner John McDonald is both a businessman and a brewer, I expect he cares rather deeply about his wheat beer, and is quite grateful it pays his bills, giving him the freedom to experiment with all the sexy barrel aged stuff we beer geeks tend to swoon over.

Is Boulevard unique as a craft brewery which relies heavily on wheat beers for their main source of revenue? Well, maybe. But since I am a mere beer blogger hobbyist, and not a paid brewing consultant, I'm not really in a position to do much scientific research on the subject. So instead, I did the next best thing, which is go to a beer festival, drink beer, and shoot the shit with various brewers and brewery staff about their wheat beers.

And so I learned at a recent San Francisco Bay Area beer festival that 21st Amendment sells lots of their refreshing and innovative Hell or High Watermelon Wheat over the summer, especially when the San Francisco Giants are in town, since their brewpub is close to their stadium. Talking to the folks at 21st Amendment about this, nobody could actually say how much of their total revenue was due to Watermelon Wheat, but "lots" , "plenty", or "well over 50% when it's hot" were their best guesses. At the same beer festival, I learned Thirsty Bear's Valencia Wheat, an excellent Belgian Wit Beer with a California twist, is a pretty heavy hitter in their line-up, accounting for about 20-30% of their sales and their third biggest seller.

There was one brewery I spoke with that claimed to make very little money on their wheat beer. It's one of my favorite breweries in the San Francisco Bay Area and they've brewed plenty of well respected beers, but seemed to treat their wheat beer as some sort of bastard child in their line-up. And I found their wheat beer rather uninteresting, like a Saltine cracker without the salt. I can't help wondering if they gave their wheat beer a little more love, attention, and creativity, they'd be a lot more successful with it.

As a craft beer drinker and more than casual observer of the craft beer industry, let me draw on these experience to give this unsolicited advice to craft brewers everywhere: Love your wheat beer, and it will pay you back.

Monday, November 1, 2010

An Early Tasting of Stone's Vertical Epic 10.10.10

I'm not exactly sure what about Stone Brewing's Vertical Epic series excites me. Maybe it's the fact that arrives once a year, with each years release date is on the same numbered day and month of the release year, this year's release falling on October 10, 2010. Maybe it's because for each release, Stone tries brewing something highly original, even by their standards. Maybe I'm just a slave to their particular hype.

Especially since I didn't think the first Vertical Epic I tried, their 8.8.8 was all that special. A solid Belgian Strong Ale to be sure, but nothing really noteworthy, despite their best efforts. However, last year's 9.9.9 was a mighty tasty, roasted Belgian porter with all sorts of lovely flavors and nuances. So with high hopes for this year's version, I bugged my local San Mateo BevMo! for days after October 10th, until their shipment came in. Thankfully, they had stashed a box up front for me and a few other people who had been pestering them about it, and so I picked up three bottles to try every few months as the flavors evolve over time.

Stone's website describes Vertical Epic 10.10.10 as Belgian Strong Pale Ale brewed with pale malt and triticale (a cross of wheat and rye), hopped with German Perle hops, and steeped with chamomile during the whirlpool stage. A juice blend of Muscat, Gewurztraminer, and Sauvignon Blanc grape varieties was added in the secondary fermentation.

And give them credit, it's a very unique, memorable, and most of all, delicious brew. I'm sure if it's a good idea to age it that long, since must white wine is typically something not aged for more than 2-3 years, and there weren't really any rough edges in the flavors to mellow out over time. Drinking this is lot easier than describing it, as it has a unique character all to its own. The white wine grapes are pretty up front, complimented by a nice clove spiciness, and a tea-like bitter finish. I also picked up an interesting floral component, which may be from the chamomile.

What is Chamomile? I had to look this up myself and found it is daisy-like flower which traditionally has been used to cure sleeplessness, anxiety, and diarrhea.

Anything that makes you relax and doesn't give you diarrhea is probably a good thing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's Not Looking Good for Mayfield Brewing

I can now admit to having a bit of sick feeling while writing a recent post on Mayfield Brewing for The Session. This sickness was due to a nagging suspicion the brewery was going out of business. The week before I posted the article, I wanted to do some extra research for the article at Mayfield's usual open house, held monthly on the last Friday of the month concurrently with Devil's Canyon Brewing's much larger Beer Friday just across the alley of the small industrial park in Belmont, CA both breweries call home. Everyone was having at good time over at Devil's Canyon, but Mayfield was all closed up, with a new "For Lease" sign covered the top of Mayfield's building. Now this sign could have been intended for any of the units in that industrial park, but it did looked a little ominous up there over Mayfield's loading dock. I sent Mayfield owner John Alderete an e-mail asking "What's up?" and didn't get a response. Hmmmmm.

So I thought maybe he was just on vacation that month. Alderete had talked to me the previous open house about transitioning to a "Wine Club" business model, and so I rationalized this this might have been part of that transition. But now their website has nothing but a boiler plate "Under Construction" graphic and Alderete hasn't responded to another e-mail about what's going on, and it's pretty hard to come to any other conclusion than Mayfield Brewing is in pretty serious financial difficulty, if it hasn't completely gone out of business. I certainly hope to be wrong.

You never want to see anyone fail, and Alderete clearly had the passion for beer everyone in the craft beer community shares. The ever present elephant in the room at Mayfield was the very high price of their premium beers, aged for several months in used wine barrels. Their $30-$45 price for 750 ml bottles was way above what most breweries charge for similarly barrel-aged and special releases, and I'm afraid not everyone who tried his beers felt the taste justified this pricing.

Now I gladly paid $30 for a recent vintage of Mayfield's Noctura Imperial stout, a sensational brew with wine, vanilla, smokey notes mingling with the ale's very rich, complex roasted malt. But I didn't feel the same way about Mayfield's IPA and Alt-style offerings, nor was I alone. Aged in red wine barrels, the resulting flavors seemed to clash more than they complimented. An interesting, complex, thought provoking, but not necessarily delicious beer is not something most people will pay $45 a bottle for, especially in the Bay Area's floundering economy. The fact that the Bay Area has many excellent barrel-aged beers, such as Russian River's Temptation, that taste sensational, are hardly "acquired tastes", and cost about half of what a typical bottle of Mayfield was going for indicates how out of whack Mayfield's pricing seemed to be.

Of course, this is my outsider's view. Who really knows the complex set of issues facing this business? A lesson I learned from running that has served me well in professional life is that when setting goals, one can sit down and formulate an intelligent, reasonable, and well conceived plan to reach them. And then you follow that plan with great effort, dedication, and focus. And even after all that hard work and well directed effort, failure is still very much an option.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Nanny State Does All Right at the Logan Utah State Liquor Store

I do not profess to fully understand Utah's complex alcohol regulations, but from my vague understanding, you can actually by a six-pack, or a 22 ounce bottle of beer from a supermarket or other private retail location, as long as it doesn't exceed 4.0% abv. Otherwise, you have to go to a one of the Utah State Liquor Stores operated by the Utah Division of Alcohol Control. And trust me, if you're in Utah on business learning SAP installation and implementation, like I was last week, you definitely will need a beer. Or two. Or three. Maybe a lot more than that.

So last week, I was glad to get away for a few minutes during a business trip in Logan, UT to stop by the town's state liquor store. Surprisingly, this government run relic of prohibition actually had a pretty decent beer selection at reasonable prices. I found stuff like Anderson Valley Brewing, Rogue Ales, and tried and true imports like Samuel Smiths or Gulden Draak. I can get that back in the Bay Area, so my main interest was brews from the Utah Brewers Cooperative and Uinta Brewing. And since beers are sold by the individual bottle, assembling your own "sampler six-pack" is not only possible, it's almost encouraged.

According to the Utah Division of Alcohol Control website, liquor sales provided a major source of income to the state's general fund,with gross sales totaling $267 million in 2009, resulting in a net profit of $59 million for the state. Utah state laws restrict the density of state liquor stores to 1 per 48,000 residents, so looks like the state of Utah is leaving some beer money on the table, so to speak. As a Left Coast Liberal from California, I wish they would unshackle the brewing industry from big government regulation, and let free enterprise thrive, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon. The State of Utah is one of the least likely organizations you'd expect to run a decent liquor store, but give them credit for doing exactly that.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Someone other than my sister is reading this

Having heard that Wikio recently started keeping rankings of beer blogs, I couldn't help looking to see what the their top rated ones were. Listed as 10th is "Bay Area Beer Runner", what this one used to be called.

Get the %&# out!

I really can't believe with so many beer blogs out there, this one ranks in the top ten. Of course, it isn't clear how this ranking is actually determined, but I look at the blogs ranked around me, and feel I'm in excellent company, so it has to have some validity.

Thanks so much for reading, and I'll just keep writing as best I can to make it worth your while to drop by.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's a pain waiting for a dislocated shoulder to heal

There's nothing better than starting the day with a trail run. I've many mornings running the Belmont Open Space Trails, which lead to a great overlook of San Francisco Bay. This great view is the perfect way to start the day, and having to run up a few hills to get there, the best thing is that this view is earned.

Trail running is good for more than great early morning views. The changes in elevation and uneven terrain are great for developing running strength, flexibility, and balance that simply cannot be achieved on flat city sidewalks and streets. But taking more challenging trail workouts also exposes you to more injury, and last week on the trails, I tripped, stumbled, and fell and in the process dislocated my left shoulder.

I knew my shoulder was dislocated almost immediately after I hit the ground. I tried to raise my left arm hoping it might pop back into place, but it was too painful to raise above a 45 degree angle. My hand felt numb, so I started flexing my left arm in hopes it would create some circulation and feeling. A light headed feeling descended upon me, and so I bent over, dangling my left arm to my side and bracing myself with my good right arm, so I wouldn't pass out from shock. Once I gathered myself, there wasn't much more to do than walk out of the woods and go back home so my wife Linda could take me to the hospital.

Luckily, I knew a shortcut through the trails back home, so it only took about a half hour to get home. And Linda works in a hospital as a speech therapist in head injury rehabilitation, so a dislocated shoulder hardly the worst trauma she deals with on a regular basis. She got the kids dressed, and we all went to the hospital to put my left arm back in place.

My doctor just didn't have the strength to do it. It actually felt good as he pulled on my arm, which loosened up a lot of tightness in it, but he couldn't get it back into the socket. Next, he had me lie face down while they attached weights to my left arm dangling off the side of the hospital bed in hopes of fatiguing the arm muscles over time so the arm would pop back into the socket by itself. When that didn't work, they put me under with the same stuff that killed popstar Michael Jackson, and with my body relaxed and mind totally unaware, finally put my left arm back where it belonged.

Yes, dislocating my shoulder hurt, but really not that bad. And after all, running is about managing discomfort effectively to achieve goals, more succinctly and alliteratively phrased as "no pain, no gain", so the pain of a dislocated shoulder is simply part of running. They got me in a sling, and supposedly six weeks from now, my arm will feel back to normal, but my left shoulder will be more prone to dislocations due to the damage. I'm not supposed to lift things with my arm. When I'll be cleared to run, I have no idea.

A dislocated shoulder is painful, but I can handle it. What I can't handle is sitting around doing nothing, especially since there is not much I can do to make it recover. Not running for a while few weeks is something I actually find a little scary. Before started running at the age of twelve, I was this skinny kid with no self-esteem that everyone seemed to pick on. Running gave me the confidence I needed at this fragile age. I kept at it until there came a point during my first marriage where I nearly stopped running all together, gained 60 pounds, and was generally angry and unhappy. Running got my life back on track, but unfortunately not my first marriage. There's this irrational fear that if I stop running, I'm going to become that timid skinny 12-year old, that fat unhappily married guy, or some hideous hybrid of the two.

I was planning to enter a couple races in October and November, and was starting to gear up from them in my training. Since that looks like that's not going to happen, I've started spending mornings walking for 20-40 minutes instead of the usual run. It not much, but it's better than nothing, and one thing I've learned in 30 years of running is that maintaining a routine being consistent to it is important. For now that routine is morning walks, and sometime I'll get in another walk during the day. I'll build from there.

I will get back up those hills and earn some more great views in the morning. But for now, I walk and wait.

Friday, October 8, 2010

New Bay Area Brewery: Old Oak Beer

I've been trying to steal ideas from Jesse Friedman for quite sometime. He'd go to some brewery, take a bunch of great pictures, write no more than three descriptive but highly readable sentences about the place, post it on his site Beer & Nosh, and I'd feel like I'd been there. I tried to do posts like his, but my problem was I talked too much, nor had his eye for photography.

The good news is that I will have less opportunities to steal from him as he's partnered with Damien Fagen to form the Bay Area's newest brewery, Old Oak Beer. Friedman describes the new brewery as "dedicated to producing “Farm to Barrel” artisanal ales inspired by the farms of Northern California".

Old Oak Beer's first release will be a Belgian Golden Strong Ale, which they started with large amounts of Citra hop additions. Then, they added two hundred and fifty pounds of blackberries from a Northern California berry farm, and the mix has been aging in used wine barrels since July. Yes, this summer beer will be released this winter, but Friedman explains this beer is meant to be aged for the flavors to evolve.

The beer will initially be sold at a few San Francisco bottle shops and a restaurants, and to find out where, check out the Buy Local page on the Old Oak Beer website. Let's all wish them luck.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Beer of the Month: Anchor Brewing's Humming Ale

For the month of October, I bestow the honor of Beer of the Month of October to Anchor Brewing's Humming Ale, their recently released fall seasonal brew. While Anchor Brewing has long been a craft brewing pioneer since Fritz Maytag rescued the brewery in the 60's, they seemed a bit behind the craft beer curve, with a tried and true beer line-up, but nothing particularly new or original. That's changed in 2010, with an excellent collaborative Imperial Stout with Sierra Nevada, and now Humming Ale, the first seasonal Anchor's released since 2005.

And what a great, easy-drinking yet sophisticated brew this is. It's rather fruity, with apricot and a little pineapple flavors, and then has this herbal, almost savory, slightly astringent hop finish. I found it well balanced, with a great composition of flavors that just seems to hit all the right notes.

Everyone seems to be holding their breath, wondering how the new ownership of Anchor will handle the national craft brewing treasure Fritz Maytag sold them. Seems like everything is working out all right so far.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Session #44: The Drive of a Scientist Brewer at Mayfield

For this month's Session, Ashley Routson asks us to write about"Frankenstein Beers", beers where the brewers are "creating beers that transcend style guidelines. These “Frankenstein Beers” challenge the way people perceive beer. They are freaks of nature — big, bold and intense. The ingredients resemble those of a beer and the brewing process might appear to be normal, but some aspects of the entire experience are experimental, unorthodox and insane."

There are plenty of Frankensein-sque brewers out there, pushing and sometimes breaking the envelope using usual brewing techniques or ingredients. Some cannot resist the temptation to jack up the levels of alcohol or bitterness to obscene levels. Some of it can be attributed simply to a creative drive to do something new and usual, to experiment and take risks, which pay off in the creation of a new and unique beer drinking experience. It's also driven by the desire of to stand-out in an ever more crowded brewing field, where the bar for doing something new and usual get raised higher and higher to absurd, ridiculous levels. And there's no shortage of craft beer drinkers willing to stand in long lines to pay the top dollar prices just to taste them. Why? We all like to take a peek at the monsters.

For this this session on Frankenstein beers, I decided to focus on one of my hometown breweries, Mayfield Brewing, known for their Iconoclast series of beers aged in used wine barrels. Located in Belmont, CA, about 20 miles south of San Francisco, Mayfield Brewing seems ideal for this discussion of mad scientist brewers, since brewer and owner John Alderete actually is a scientist, with a Ph.D. in molecular biology. When I met him at recent brewery open house, he hardly came across as a mad scientist, speaking in a calm, reserved, and logical manner while explaining his barrel-aged beers, making it almost seem like he's not doing anything particularly unusual.

Aldrerete's most celebrated beer is his Iconoclast Nocturna, an Imperial Stout aged in Petite Syrah barrels. And it is excellent. Red wine and chocolate is a natural pairing, and the Syrah and rich chocolate flavors of the Imperial Stout pair effortlessly. There's also smoky and vanilla notes adding to the complexity of this creamy, rich tasting stout, and it truly is a very memorable experience. There's a bottle of it in my refrigerator that I'm saving for a special occasion. Alderete's decision to brew and barrel age an Imperial Stout, a commonly barrel-aged beer and Mayfield's most popular one, was mostly an after thought. He almost seems bored by this beer.

He appears more passionate about his other two beers, the Iconoclast Aurora an Altbier and the Iconoclast Eclat an IPA, which are both aged in Cabernet and Zinfandel barrels. Having tried these beers as well, I can tell you both are quite complex and interesting. Interesting flavors come and go as the beer warms up, the flavor profile changing with every sip. However, the red wine flavors seem to clash with the Altbier and IPA styles and the tastes seems a bit forced, with the end result coming across a bit like a mad scientist's brewing experiment. John readily admits his beers are unusual and often take a while to get used to, also points out that while his IPA is atypical by today's standards, it is in fact more true to the IPA style's origins of travelling long distances by sailing ship inside wooden barrels. I have to say, Alderete seems much more turned on by the challenge of creating a beer of unusual flavor combinations for people to slowly discover for themselves, than putting out something easily and instantly appealing to everyone that's easy to sell.

While I'm not totally sold on John Aldrete's Aurora and Eclat beers, they continue to draw me in every time I drink them, and I look forward to tasting them again. Why? I like to take a peek at his creations.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Pliny Bites at Russian River Brewing

A word of advice. If you go to Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, CA, don't order the Pliny Bites. It's this typical pub appetizer they serve, sliced toasty bread with melted cheese and jalapenos on it. Lots of jalapenos. Linda and I picked off about a 2-3 hand fulls of sliced jalapenos from our basket of Pliny Bites after realizing we weren't going to taste anything else for the afternoon besides jalapenos unless we pulled them all off. We don't shy away from spicy foods, but there's a difference between adding a spicy kick to a dish and having absolutely no restraint what so ever with the jalapenos, and this definitely fell in the latter category. While no culinary expert, I have to question the wisdom of an appetizer that effectively kills the taste buds for the rest of the day.

Fortunately, the Perdition Ale I ordered was brought out before the Pliny Bites. My dictionary defines the word "Perdition" as "a total loss". Well, it wasn't that bad. There just wasn't too much to the beer, which Russian River describes as a Biere de Sonoma, but might be more directly described as a brown ale made with Belgian yeast. It had a little malty, nutty character, a slight aromatic spice note, and a slightly astringent finish, but as a whole, I found it not particularly special. The good news is that things got a lot better from here.

Next up was the Russian River Porter, checking in a 5.7% abv and 41 BU, hefty numbers for the porter style. I doused my tongue with as much water as possible in hopes of tasting something. There's plenty of rich coffee and chocolate malt flavors, and a surprising citrus-like finish to it. At least that's what I think I tasted trying to push it's way past the overwhelming jalapeno burn in my mouth. I also gave the OVL Stout a try. It's a great bitter roasted malt coffee bomb, very dry and astringent, and at only 4.0% abv. Always great to find find another flavorful session beer, but then actually handling 2-3 pints of all that roasted bitterness in an evening would be a challenge for most. Russian River made their claim to fame on Belgian beers, special barrel aged releases, and of course, the cult status of hop monsters like their Blind Pig IPA and Pliny the Elder Imperial IPA, but they do traditional English malt forward styles quite well. Linda, ever the hop head decided for the Russian River IPA and Pliny the Elder. Finally, after lots of water and a tasty vegetarian pizza, we could finally taste something other than jalapenos.

So Linda and I decided to share a 10 ounce glass of Temptation. Now we're talking. This Belgian Ale, aged in chardonnay barrels had lots of great, intense flavors, yet remained smooth. It starts our with an intense sourness, oak, tropical fruit flavors and a slightly buttery chardonnay in the mix. Just a great beer drinking experience that we savored slowly, and the week after we shared it, it won a sliver medal at this year's Great American Beer Festival.

I probably don't need to tell you they have some great beers at Russian River, but eat the Pliny Bites at your own risk.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Beer of the Month: 3-Way by Anderson Valley Brewing

Today, I grant Anderson Valley Brewing's 3-Way the title of Beer of the Month. 3-Way is a hybrid beer concocted from Anderson Valley's ESB aged two years in whisky barrels, their 20th Anniversary Imperial IPA, and their Imperial Amber. It's got this great warm, smokey, nutty, malty flavor with a very slight resiny hop finish. Give them credit for creating something unique, greater than the sum of it's parts. I'm afraid it's only available at the Tasting Room next to the brewery in Boonville, which Linda and I enjoyed on our honeymoon.

Of course, bringing up the subject of a 3-Way during a honeymoon is particularly dangerous. When I noticed this selection at the Anderson Valley Tasting Room, it seemed wise not to bring it up. Of course, I could only restrain myself for about five seconds before turning to Linda and asking, with a sly confidence, "Linda, would you be interested in a 3-Way on our honeymoon?"

"Why sure," Linda replied, batting her eyelashes,"if Sting would join us, I'd be up for it."

One of the many reason why I love her.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A few observations from Brews on the Bay

The Brews on the Bay beer festival, hosted by the San Francisco Brewers Guild is a pretty simple concept. Each member of the guide sets up a few taps along the deck of the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien, a World War II era supply ship permanently docked to a pier in San Francisco's Fisherman Wharf. Before you climb the stairs to enter a ship, they give you a plastic cup. For four hours, you walk around to the various brewer stations on the ship's deck, and ask the servers to fill your cup with one of their selections on tap. When you get tired of walking around the ship, drinking beer, and enjoying great views of San Francisco from the ship, you leave. Or, 5 pm rolls around, and they kick you the ship. Oh, and there was a Van Halen cover band this year, if you're in to that sort of thing.

It's a good opportunity to see what the many great San Francisco breweries are up to. And like any good beer festival, there's a few brewers around, most of whom will gladly tell you about there beer, and are also good for picking up a home brewing tip here and there. A while plenty of breweries poured there tried and true brews, there were enough specials and seasonals pouring to make it interesting. Here's a few random observations from that afternoon.

-21st Amendment poured their new Imperial IPA, Hop Crisis. One would think the Bay Area needs another big Imperial IPA like most people need another hole in their head, but if you tasted this one, you'd likely disagree. It's big and powerful, with a strong strong hop vibe, but makes it work is its sturdy malt character that provides a good balance and almost viscous mouth feel to this brew. 21st Amendment plans to release it in four-pack cans this coming spring. I don't know about you, but I'll be looking for it.

-Social Kitchen & Brewery made their Brews on the Bay debut. I was rather fond of their Rapscallion, a pretty intense Belgian Ale with a zippy ginger-like aromatic spiciness and light apricot notes. Their Big Muddy Weizenbock has plenty of roasty malt, some banana-like esters, and a little clove like spicy vibe to it. I need actually go to their brew pub and actually purchase some of their beers.

-Also enjoyed Rum Runner from Thirsty Beer. It's got a lot of molasses in it, as well a 120L Crystal Malt, and British Aromatic Malt. It's lightly sweet, malty and molassessy. (Is "molassessy" a word?) If you ask me, molasses in beer is way under rated, and I've got to love a beer with "Runner" in the title.

Since I'm having some problem with my camera, I decided to use a picture for last year's Brew's on the Bay, just in case anyone would actually notice.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Returning to the source at Anderson Valley Brewing

If you want to officially date my craft beer epiphany, it happened over three years ago Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville, CA. Linda and I took drove in from nearby Ukiah in hopes we could take the brewery tour. Unfortunately on that week day, we were told the person who normally does the tours "wasn't in", so there were no tours that day. We went into the warehouse-like tasting room and enjoyed a sampler of their many fine beers. I'd enjoyed plenty of craft beers and samplers at brewpubs prior to that, but for some reason, simply drank them didn't pay all that much attention. Things like IPA's, Ambers, Belgian Doubles and Triples were foreign concepts to me, but for some reason, at that place and time, I started really paying attention and realizing what I've been missing. The next day, Linda and I drove up to Fort Bragg to visit North Coast Brewing and we've continued down the road of craft beer discovery ever since.

Having come back to Boonville over three years later, I kept calling Anderson Valley, making doubly and triply sure there I wouldn't miss the tour again. And sure enough there was a tour we when arrived, and I finally got to get inside. Unfortunately, Linda was wearing open toed sandals, and so was not allowed on the tour, since a brewery is a working factory which has strict rules on things like that.

The current brewery is actually only ten years old, with the old copper brewing kettles obtained from a Germany brewery that went out of business. There's a big, impressive control panel full of dials and knobs, but they're just for show. An Allen-Bradley touch-screen mounted into the control panel is actually used to operate the brew kettles. And finally, going onto the roof of the brewery and seeing the actually Anderson Valley landscape used on Anderson Valley's beer label right before my very eyes was a surprising moment that made me utter a quiet "Wow!".

So I leave you with a few sights from the place that's started it all for me with craft beer.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Honeymoon in Boonville

Tiny Boonville, in the middle of California's Mendocino County, is not a typical honeymoon destination. But it seemed the natural place for ours, since Linda and I were here on our first vacation together three years ago, and discovered the endless possibilities of craft beer. And slightly more important, we discovered we had something pretty special going on. We came to this realization not because had "the perfect vacation", or one set of amazing experiences after another, but simply how effortlessly enjoyable the whole trip was.

Maybe I shouldn't be writing any "deep thoughts" about relationships. After all, I spent a few thousand bucks and countless hours with a really good therapist during the break up of my first marriage to discover the "profound truth" that seeking out women whom I didn't anything in common with was not a particularly good idea.

Breaking down difficult barriers, taking on seemingly insurmountable challenges, and constantly testing your limits on an almost daily basis to reach fleeting goals, is what running, at least to me, is all about, and has served me well. But trust me, you don't want to be taking on challenges in your close personal relationships, nor be overcoming barriers with people close to you all the time. Life tried to teach me that lesson over and over again, and it took a few hard falls along the way to finally get it.

People ask how married life is treating me. It's very comfortable.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Session #43: The craft brewing industry is indeed welcoming. How long will that last?

For this month's Session, Carla Companion, The Beer Babe has asked us to write about welcoming the new kids, the new breweries, into the craft brewing community. Here's what I have to say about that.

Social Kitchen & Brewery opened in San Francisco this year, and I finally got to sample some of their beer at last weekend's Eat Real Festival in Oakland. Social Kitchen Brewmaster Rich Higgins is well known in the Bay Area, having organized this year's SF Beer Week , and has received plenty of outward support from the close knit Bay Area brewing fraternity. One of the great things about beer festivals is you can actually talk to the brewers about their beer, and Rich Higgins poured some of his L'Enfant Terrible, which he describes as a table Belgian Ale. I found it to be a great mix of slightly chocolaty roasted malt, a little fig, and a clove-like finish. It checks in at only 4.5% abv, proving once again, there's some really flavorful, complex, yet drinkable session beers out there.

How should the craft brewing community welcome Rich Higgins and his brewpub Social Kitchen? I'm afraid I do not have any particular deep insights into that, but a wild guess is that if members of the craft brewing community actually actually purchased Rich Higgins's beer, he'd probably feel pretty welcome.

What strikes me about this month's topic about the craft beer community welcoming new breweries is very much in the spirit of the extremely chummy craft beer industry. In virtually every other industry, new entrants are rarely welcomed, and often scorned. But when new craft breweries open, there's often plenty of support from the regional craft brewing industry, who seemingly do not view this new entrant as a competitor.

There's always room for new players with the craft beer pie growing robustly despite a deep recession and glacial economic recovery. And since the craft beer community seems unified against the global mega brewers, the enemy of my enemy is my friend seems to apply here. But how many new breweries can the industry sustain before the craft brewing fraternity no longer considers the new guy a fellow craft beer evangelist, but another guy trying to take their money?

The success of craft brewing has inevitably and unavoidably created larger and more corporate entities entering into the business, especially as the older brewing pioneers ride off into the sunset of retirement. And while many of these corporation organizations seem committed to continuing the legacy and quality of craft brewing, they do have investors to answer to, who are not as driven by concepts like "support your local brewer", as they are on things like "return on investment", and it's hard not to conclude this warm fuzzy feeling of "we're all in this craft brewing thing together" will invariably end.

When will all these feel good vibes within the craft brewing industry be lost? Who knows. The current levels of growth may be sustainable for a long time to allow new breweries plenty of elbow room. And maybe there is something about brewing great beer that minimizes a sense of cut throat competition. But craft brewing is a business. And there are plenty of brewers who are demonstrably true to their craft, while also being shrewd, ambitious, and in some cases, ego-driven businessmen working hard to grow their small empires, and delivering a few bruises as they fight for tap handles, shelf space, and mindshare comes with that territory. I've already heard of a few grumblings from smaller craft breweries about strong arm sales tactics of the larger craft beer players. Call me a pessimist, but my guess is that 5, 10, or 20 years from now, the craft brewing industry won't be nearly as friendly as it is now.

The craft brewing industry is indeed a welcoming industry. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Knishes, Kung Fu Tacos and Beer at the Eat Real Festival

The Eat Real Festival, in it's third year, seems to be hitting its stride. It's a great concept, a celebration of locally produced street food, with a beer shed featuring a good selection of Bay Areas breweries, held every year at Oakland's Jack London Square. Last year, the festival seemed a bit sparse with few seemingly authentic street food vendors, and a few decidedly non-street food vendors selling things like frilly cupcakes and creme' brule. This year, the crowds were decidedly bigger, and street food definitely ruled.

It's was a great opportunity for Linda and I to try some local beers, then go out and try a little of this, a little of that from the bite size servings the various street vendors were serving, before going back and trying another beer. Repeat as desired.

Of course, any taco truck advertising "Kung Fu Tacos", described as containing the spirit of Bruce Lee, is going to get my attention. While they didn't cause me to exclaim "waaaaaaaaAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH" and deliver a flying kick, the Asian marinated chicken and Mu Shu vegatables worked pretty well in a taco. And then there were those Philippine pork sliders Linda and I enjoyed. Somehow, this melting pot cuisine where Asian foods are served in Latin and American methods of tacos and sliders seemed natural and unforced.

But let's talk about the beer. Plenty of Bay Area breweries could be found at the beer shed, which supported no fewer than 40 taps. Every hour, a different Bay Area brewer was on hand to pour their beer and talk about it. I wasn't able to uncover any profound secrets from any of the brewers, but there's something about talking directly with the person responsible for the brew. So here's a few notes of some of the more notable, at least to us, beers we tried.

Rye'd Piper from Ale Industries
This somewhat rich tasting, dark brown colored ale has a strong rye presence. The rye blends well with the roasted malt, and there's this slightly herbal and astringent finish. Not a lot complexity here, but with a name like "Rye'd Piper", you would expect big rye flavors, and this beer delivers. Mission accomplished.

L'Enfant Terrible from Social Kitchen
Social Kitchen Brewmaster Rich Higgens describes this as a table Belgian Ale. This was has a light roasted chocolate a fig character, with a little spicy character from the Belgian yeast, and yet this flavorful, complex brew checks in at 4.5% abv. Nothing like finding another nifty session beer.

Saisson from Ondonata
Ondoonata is a Sacremento area brewery that opened last year, and after tasting this effort, it looks like they are going to be around a while. Their Saisson is a little lemony, slightly bready, and a little spicy peppery finish, all adds up to a great, refreshing summer beer.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Trying not to screw up The Bride's Ale, and other related matters

A friend and I are brewing up The Bride's Ale for my upcoming wedding, which was dry hopped and bottled last weekend. In case you didn't know, the word "bridal" comes from "The Bride's Ale", an old English tradition where a special beer was brewed for the bride in celebration of the wedding. Linda, my wife to be, always enjoyed the hoppier beers, so it seemed appropriate the her Brides Ale would be a dry hopped IPA.

We think it's going to be a good one from the samples we took going into the bottles. There's a nice caramel note to the malt, a smooth bitterness, and a nice floral hop bitterness that matches with the brew's aroma. So all we have to do is make sure the bottles are clean, store them in a cool place with little temperature variation, stand back and let the residual yeast do its thing with priming sugar inside the bottles.

If only marriage were that simple. Linda and I have over eighteen year combined marriage experience, so we can no longer claim we had no idea what we were getting into. We've been living together for a couple years now, and she's great for me and my kids.

I'm pretty damn lucky. She's smart, attractive, funny, and does a reasonably good job putting up with all of my crap. But while you can control the brewing process, you can't control what life might throw at you, and yes, this could turn into another train wreck. But hey, part of taking the marriage leap is saying "I love you so much, I want to take this relationship to the next level, even that might result in complete disaster."

Just like brewing and running, all you can do is your best effort to make it turn out for the best. I've survived bad beers, plenty of bad races, and even my last marriage. So I really have nothing to fear, and have pretty good feeling about this one. And at least there should be some good beer at the wedding.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Great Double IPA Found at an Unlikely Airport

One of life's more fruitless tasks is trying to find new and interesting beers at an airport. Amid the Bud, Bud Lite, Coors, Coors Light strangle hood the big boys have on most cramped airport bars, usually something Sam Adam's Boston Lager or Widmer Hefeweizen can usually be found on tap somewhere. And as a fellow Bay Area blogger found, it's hard to find an IPA in an airport, even when it's located in a city with a great craft brewing community.

So it was no small thrill when I discovered a great Double IPA last week awaiting my flight back home. And at what airport could one discover a great Double IPA? Would you believe Salt Lake City's?

Yep, smack dab in the middle of one of the most alcohol adverse states of of the Union is a Squatter's Brewpub at Salt Lake's Airport, and I was fortunate to find their excellent Hop Rising Double IPA there. There's lots of big floral and citrus hop flavors, with a dominant note tangerine in this one. The malt side of the brew held it's own, with a slight caramelly character to it, and at 9% abv, this is an intensely flavorful brew, that isn't overly aggressive or downright assaulting, like too many Double IPA's I've tried.

Don't let anyone tell you there's no good beer to be found in Utah, or in an airport for that matter, either.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Aaarrr! Black Ship Pirate Stout is a Keeper of a Recipe

Talking like a pirate is one of those things that's pretty entertaining for about 20 seconds, and then gets really annoying pretty quickly after that. So I won't attempt to write like a pirate, and spare you the tedium of reading something barely readable. Of course, most pirates were probably illiterate, or wrote in languages barely recognizable today. And they probably didn't go around saying "Aaarrr!", either.

So I'll get to the point and tell you the Black Ship Pirate Stout, from Randy Mosher's great home brewing book, Radical Brewing is an absolute keeper of a recipe. It's my first "Damn, did I brew that?" moment in the six batches I've made since starting home brewing a year ago. Here's the recipe, from page 200 of my copy of Radical Brewing.

Black Ship Pirate Stout
5.5 lbs Amber Dry Malt Extract
1.5 lbs Black Patent Malt
1.5 lbs Dark (Blackstrap) Molasses
1.0 lb Dark Crystal Malt

2.25 ounces Willamette 90 minutes
2.0 ounces Styrian Golding 30 minutes

British Ale Yeast

At end of boil, add 1.0 ounce crushed coriander, 1.0 teaspoon of allspice, and 0.5 teaspoon of ground black pepper. Post fermentation, zest of an orange or tangerine soaked in vodka for 24 hours, and added at bottling.

Some additional comments:

-There's an all grain recipe for this as well in Radical Brewing. I just haven't taken the all grain plunge yet.
-I actually ended up using Fuggles as the 90 minute bittering hop, as a substitute for the Styrian Golding, since that's what they had at my local home brew store. I used Tettnanger hops at 30 minutes, since I picked up the wrong package. Mosher describes Tettnanger as a great aroma hop for wheat beers, so I was a little concerned how this would work out in a completely different brew. I say it worked out all right.
-I used orange zest for this recipe, but would like to try tangerine next time,.

My greatest fear brewing this was that all the different additions, the molasses, four ounces of hops, and the different spices would produce a harshly bitter and cluttered brew. It actually turned out surprisingly smooth and drinkable, with a slight sweetness and spicy zip, the molasses noticeable but hardly overwhelming, and everything blending nicely into all the roasted malt. The orange zest gave it a really nice citrus aroma.

Talking like a pirate gets old really fast, but I could drink this all day.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Beer of the Month: Saisson de Buff from Stone Brewing

Having spent last week in San Diego, it only seems fitting that the Beer of the Month of August should come from this great brewing region. And so I bestow this upon Stone Brewing's Saisson de Buff.

Saisson de Buff is one of those collaborative beers that were all the rage six months ago. Brewed by Greg Koch of Stone Brewing, in collaboration with Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione and Victory Brewing's Steve Covalesky brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Back in 2003, this trio formed an organization called BUFF, Brewer's United for Freedom and Flavor, which met a grand total of one time, and quickly adjourned to a nearby pub to discuss brewing ideas tactics, amoung other things.

All three breweries will take turns brewing the recipe at there respective locations, the version I tried having been brewed at Stone the past spring. It's one of those complex beers best explored on multiple occasions. The first thing that hit me was it's light, almost feathery mouthfeel. Then, a rich yeasty flavor kicks in with some clove spiciness and a little piney character, most likely from the rosemary. Finally a strong, yet smooth herbal bitterness finished the taste excursion. Somehow with all those strong, complex flavors, it remains refreshing and very drinakble.

And there's no better place to explore Saisson de Buff and the many excellent beers San Diego has to offer than Downtown Johnny Brown's, where I savored this beer twice last week. It's a neighborhood sports-like bar, located just north of San Diego's Gaslamp district, where few tourists venture. You could also go to The Toronado-San Diego or The Neighborhood for a great tap list, but those places just seem to have a manufactured trendiness to them. Johnny Brown's authentic character remains contemporary on its own terms. I guess you might have figured out Downtown Johnny Brown's is my favorite beer bar in the world.

And San Diego is one of my favorite cities. The Inner Harbor running trail is some of the most picturesque urban running in the United States, and the great scenery always seems to enegize me on when I run there. There's always great, innovative, and memorable beers to be found. When I die and go to Beer Runner Heaven, it will be lot like San Diego.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Session #42: The Round Up

Once again, the beer blogosphere provided many unique, memorable personal perspectives, this time, about how beer connects us to places. In many cases, the "special" beers associated with special places where rather ordinary, even substandard, as most posters readily acknowledged. And as I anticipated, "place" clearly meant different things to different people. So let's jump right in to what everyone wrote.

My session post was about my earliest beer experiences, as well as my graduate school years in Ohio revolving around Rolling Rock, which is now a troubled ABInBev product.

My friend and co-worker Mary Russell shared her story about family fishing trips to western Lake Ontario, and her 12-year old son's earliest beer experiences.

Mary wasn't the only person who considers the western Lake Ontario region a special place. John of BeerTaster remembers a small skirmish with the law in his younger days, but laments his old stomping grounds have become "plastic".

The Beer Nut recently sampled some beers at an English-style pub in Paris, revisiting a place he'd been to many years ago. While the beers were a mixed bag, English-style pubs are particularly rare in France. Does that make the place special?

The special place for Stan Hieronymus is Saint Benedictus Abbey of Achel, the beers brewed there, and the powerful effect silence creates.

PivnĂ­ Filosof, the Beer Philosopher, writes of a school where 15 to 19 year olds learn to brew beer in Czech Republic, concluding that "In most countries this would be, if not highly illegal, at the very least terribly controversial. In the Czech Republic, it is tradition."

The Reluctant Scooper writes that "a sense of place is greater than just physical location. It’s about interaction – who you’re with (or not); what’s happening (or not); what you choose to do (or not)" before revealing a surprising "place" that's revolutionized his attitude toward beer.

Kudos to The Bottled Llama from Kingman, Arizona, who added the extra dimension of time to their discussion of beer and place.

Alan of A Good Beer Blog has written on this session topic before from many different angles, and helpfully provides the links to his previous works.

For Michael Stein of Beer Made Clear, the Southampton Publick House and Brewery in East Hampton, New York, is a place not only of his not only his roots, but greed, sacrifice, and where "the “haves” and the “have nots” both spend time on the beach", and is the subject of his post.

Jay Zeis of A Beer in the Hand is Worth Two in the Fridge, Yuegling Lager brings back memories of his hometown, where he and his friends "shared many a beer on the front porch talking about religion, politics, girls and sports."

Mike Lynch of Burgers and Brews writes about his personal connection to McSorley's Old Ale House in New York City, and admits if it "were any other dive, I’d rip it a new one on Yelp". With the ambiance of "old wishbones dangling from a light fixture" that "have collected so much dust that they have formed stalactites (stalagmites?)", and beer poured "by a barkeep with a black trashbag tied around his waist", it sounds like a place I've got to check out!

Jon over at The Brewsite fondly remembers his days at Spokane's now defunct Birkebeiner Brewing Company in the 90's, as it was an inspiration during a time of his discovery of craft beer and homebrewing.

Jay Brooks enjoys visiting breweries to taste beer from it's souce, explaining that "I do love the feeling of being in a brewery — or being with the brewer, or some other intangible, but I inevitably get the sense that that’s the beer’s home."

Once again, thanks to all who participated, and we look forward to what Carla Companion, The Beer Babe has in store for us for next month's Session.