Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ask Ramblings: How much weight is too much to be running?

Our latest running question comes from Pete of Chicago who asks:

"At six feet tall, I've fluctuated up and down between 230 and 300 pounds over the last five years. I run (read: jog) 5K's every now and again. Now in my early thirties, I've been getting a smidgen of recurring knee pain. In general, is there some point where one is too heavy to run? A point at which I should simply focus on my diet (including less craft beer...[sniffle]) and lose weight until it's safer to put the stress of running on my knees? I enjoy running but have become more hesitant recently."

It's great that you've gone at it despite being heavier than a lot of runners, and since you describe the knee pain as "a smidgen", I'd keep my eye on it to make sure it doesn't get worse, but otherwise, I think you can keep on running.  But you definately want to get your weight under control, becasue 70+ extra pounds of weight is putting a lot of extra wear and tear on your knees. 

I asked Pete more about his knee pain, and he added this:

"The knee pain is not exclusively tied to running. If I run or bike for a while, it will be painful/sore afterwards.  If I say, have to stand for 4 hours for a concert, it will be painful/sore afterwards. Then, much less consistently, I sometimes have pain while running, biking, or even something as simple as walking up steep stairs. The pain has not affected my running form at all, so I guess that's good."

I'll let you in on a secret.  Plenty of runners go through some low level of pain similar to what you describe.  I have knee soreness pretty regularly, and the ball of my right foot sometimes starts hurting on runs of 10 or more miles.  Hardly any runner feels like those smiling faces on the cover of Runner's World and other fitness magazines, effortlessly running about in near-orgasmic bliss.  Running is hard work that makes body parts sore.

The trick is to make sure the soreness from running isn't so bad that it affects your daily life, or starts affecting your running form.  Favoring an injury in your running forms is particularly disastrous, as it often leads to unusual stresses on the legs, creating more injuries elsewhere.  Certainly you want to get your diet in order, but if you can to run with a "smidgen" of pain and can both tolerate and manage that pain and still enjoy running, I'd continue to keep at it.   Determining the balance between diet, exercise, career, social life, family, and other important things in your life, such as beer, to discover the weight you will be happiest at is one of those big life questions only you can answer. 

I'd add that since you are past the age thirty, your body is going to take increasingly longer to recover from the pounding of running, and the joints are simply going to get more brittle, so if you enjoy running and other activities, carrying around those extra pounds are going to take a larger toll as you get older which is something you should factor in. 

Finally, runners are constantly breaking down barriers, so if you can overcome the extra weight and still run, congratulations on accomplishing a big part of the battle because you have what it takes to be a runner.    There will always be people out there who'll say you're "too old" or "too heavy" to run.    Don't ever let one of those people be you.

Got a running question? Submit it to Ramblings of a Beer runner via e-mail or a comment to this post and if I use your question, your reward will be my brilliant response, and something to tell your friends and grandkids for the rest of your life.  I'm not a doctor, physical therapist, or coach, nor have played one on TV, but just trying to help fellow runners out, so my advice here for what that's worth.

Sorry, Pete got the last Ortholite insole and currently there's no swag to give you if I use your question.

Earn Your Beer at the 3rd Annual SF Beer Week Beer Run

Photo used by permission of Bryan Kolesar of www.brewlounge.com
Once again, Brian Yaeger, Bryan Kolesar and myself invite you to celebrate the unlikely union of running and beer with the 3rd Annual SF Beer Week Beer Run, as part of San Francisco Beer Week.

When? February 12th, 2012 at 11:00 am

Where? Run starts and ends at Social Kitchen and Brewery, 1326 9th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122.  Click here for location.

How far? The run is approximately 5 miles much of it through picturesque Golden Gate Park, with an optional beer stop at Magnolia Pub and Brewery, as indicated on the official course map.  (Sorry, the course won't be marked.) If you get lost or 5 miles is a little beyond your ability, feel free to head back anyway you want to Social Kitchen and Brewery for the post run festivities.  In the friendly spirit of the event, finishing times or places will not be kept.  As the run will be held on city sidewalks and streets, we ask all runners to obey traffic signs, stop lights, and observe other pedestrians' right of way.

What are the post run festivities?  We're glad you asked.  Each finisher of legal drinking age will get a dollar off their post-run beer(s) at Social Kitchen and Brewery.  But wait, there's also the post run raffle with lots of great prizes.  The grand prize is a $50 gift certificate to Social Kitchen and Brewery.  We'll be awarding other great prizes like "Earn Your Beer" t-shirts from Adventure Sports Journal, an East Coast Beer Basket from Bryan Kolesar and others to be determined. 

For the latest list of raffle prizes, look here.

Money raised in the post run raffle will be denoted in memory of beer writer Bill Brand to the Contra Costa Food Bank and also to Autism Speaks.

Come rain or shine. Race will only be cancelled in case of severe weather.  Don't hesitate to let us know you're coming or ask any questions by posting a comment, or sending me an e-mail using a link from this page.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Beer of the Month: Cappuccino Stout from Lagunitas Brewing

Normally I'd pick a holiday themed beer for the month of December, but the problem was, every holiday themed beer I tried this month was pretty underwhelming.  Not bad, mind you, but nothing to make me sit up and say "That's the Beer of the Month!"  And I certainly looked around.  So with no holiday beer jumping out at me, I decided to choose a beer that's long been a favorite of mine each December when Lagunitas Brewing releases it.  I'm talking about their Cappuccino Stout.
The first thing you'll notice with this beer is a blast of strong coffee aromas hitting your nose.  Taste it, and you'll discover strong, sharp, roasted flavors of bitter chocolate and (surprise!) coffee.  Coffee beers can sometimes be muddled, dull brews but this has a uniquely crisp and drinkable quality to it.  But be careful, because at 9.2% abv, this one will knock you out in a hurry, all that caffine from the coffee not withstanding. 

Seeing as most of the holidays have past, give this one a try to either break out of the holiday doldrums, or recover from the unsual holiday madness.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Back in Adventure Sports Journal

I would like to think Adventure Sports Journal rejected the last couple articles I submitted to them due to artistic differences.  But the unfortunate truth is these last couple articles, to put it into literary terms, sucked.

Of course, the editor of Adventure Sports Journal was way to kind to tell me my articles sucked.  Instead responding with comments like "doesn't hang together" or "reads like a Wikipedia article" or the ultimate kiss of death "I'm sure there's a few people who would find this interesting".  I suppose real writers actually use a more descriptive vocabulary to describe bad writing simply responding "this sucks".

But I appreciated the continued encouragement from the folks at Adventure Sports Journal, and published some short beer reviews of mine in the back of the magazine.   I kept plugging away.  And they liked my interview with Sean Turner of Mammoth Brewing posted earlier on this blog and decided to run it, which you can read it here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

One last Ortholite Insole Left for your Running Questions

Once again, the floor is open for your questions. I cannot promise I can help you, but after running for 30 years, I've learned a few things about running along the way. And the fine folks at Ortholite have offered to provide one last insole to the person who's question I use.

Did you know that Ortholite insoles are designed to fit all athletic and outdoor shoes or boots, and made with open-cell foam, allowing air to circulate around the foot, keeping it cooler and drier inside the shoe? Or maybe you didn't know that it wicks moisture away from your foot leaving your foot cooler and drier, employing its unique spring-back technology ensures that your insole won’t flatten out and it will retain over 95% of its thickness over time. And get this, their patented anti-microbial formulation (approved by the EPA and FDA) fights fungus, bacteria and shoe odor, and its fully lightweight and fully washable.
And allowing me to give away another insole proves two things about Ortholite. They are certainly rather generous and they clearly do not read this blog.

So please don't hesitate submit your question either by leaving a comment, or sending me an e-mail. No question is too basic, fundamental, or esoteric. Look forward to hearing from you!

(Ortholite provided the product information and the insole.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The old "ice cube in the sock" trick for Achilles Tendonitis

I am grateful for Bay Area Half-Marathon Enthusiast Lauren Olerich of Sugarcoated Sisters for injecting some badly needed dignity to the "Ask Ramblings" forum with her question:
"Have you ever dealt with soreness in your Achilles tendon? While I'm running, everything seems fine. Once the shoes come off (New Balance WR890s), my right Achilles area gives me hell! The day after a run, I hobble around. Strangely, if I'm at home and not wearing shoes, the heel pain doesn't pop up. Any recommendations on how to avoid the pain? (Short of going shoe-less at work, of course!) Any warm-up exercises? Cross-training suggestions?"

Have I ever dealt with soreness in my Achilles tendon?  You bet and it's no fun!  The most effective treatment I've found for it is the "ice cube in a sock trick".  Simply put on a sock, and slip in an ice cube positioned over the sore area and leave it there for at least 15 minutes.  I've found even one treatment can really bring the soreness under control.

You can leave it there longer if you want and I've left it long enough that the whole cube melts.  You can repeat this a few times each day to bring down the swelling, but it's most effective to ice right after your run to keep the swelling down and allow as much blood as possible to repair the damage.

Tight calves will put a lot of pressure on the Achilles tendon, so keep them loose.  This video will help and I also do stretches numbered 4 and 5 here.  You want to be careful doing a lot of stretching with a sore Achilles tendon, so a balm like Icy Hot can help loosen the calves without putting extra pressure on tendon. 

Since you mention that going barefoot seems to lesson the pain, you might want to consider both running and everyday shoes that have low heel raises.  This doesn't seem to be a good time to be wearing high heels.

Good luck and let me know how this works out for you.  And remember, I'm not a professional physical therapist or anything.   Just another guy giving out free advice who hopes you get more than you paid out of it.

Got a beer running question? Submit it to Ramblings of a Beer runner via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or a comment to this post and if I use your question, your reward will be an Ortholite Shoe Insole, my brilliant response, and potential world wide humiliation on the Internet.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ask Ramblings and win an Ortholite Insole

Once again, the floor is open for your questions.  I cannot promise I can help you, but after running for 30 years, I've learned a few things about running along the way.    And the fine folks at Ortholite have offered to provide another insole to the person who's question I use. 

Did you know that Ortholite insoles are designed to fit all athletic and outdoor shoes or boots, and made with open-cell foam, allowing air to circulate around the foot, keeping it cooler and drier inside the shoe?  Or maybe you didn't know that it wicks moisture away from your foot leaving your foot cooler and drier, employing its uunique spring-back technology ensures that your insole won’t flatten out and it will retain over 95% of its thickness over time.  And get this, their patented anti-microbial formulation (approved by the EPA and FDA) fights fungus, bacteria and shoe odor, and its fully lightweight and fully washable.

And allowing me to give away another insole proves two things about Ortholite.  They are certainly rather generous and they clearly do not read this blog.

So please don't hesitate submit your question either by leaving a comment, or sending me an e-mail.  No question is too basic, fundamental, or esoteric.  Look forward to hearing from you!

(Ortholite provided the product information and the insole.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dear Ramblings: How Can I Succeed at Chunder Running

For the inaugural "Ask Ramblings" Beer Running question, we start with this one posted anonymously:

"I would like to know how one succeeds at the disciplines of running AND beer drinking at the same time. Way back when, in college, we used to have this contest called "The Chunder Run," which combined beer chugging with running all-out. Even after becoming the event's race director, which I thought would give me an unfair advantage, I came in second at the race and never won it. Oh wait, the second time I lost, it was... to you!

Please help me, as being first runner-up at the Chunder Run for two years in a row has been the thorn in my side for 20 years...."

Dear "Anonymous":
I would first like to categorically deny ever participating in an event held at the conclusion of the Washington University - St. Louis cross-country season called simply "The Chunder Run" consisting of a five mile race where a cans of the cheapest beer we could find was consumed at the beginning and after each mile and the resulting projectile vomiting was said to be impressive. 

Now if I were ever to participate in such an event, I would approach it like any other race.  First,  figure out a good target pace based on current training level, then start out at that target pace for the first third of the race, push the pace slightly in the middle third if the pace seems manageable, and then fight like hell for the final third. 

As for training for this race, it's important to keep periodically challenging yourself and varying your training to develop the mental toughness to roll with whatever the race throws at you, be it hills, uneven terrain, weather, or really bad beer beer surging up your esophagus. 

As for dealing with being runner up for two years in a row, I'm afraid I cannot help you with that, but can recommend a good therapist.
I also refuse to confirm that the "anonymous" poster of this question is Brian Kim of Tempe, AZ who was a teammate of mine on the Washington University cross country team back in the day.

Got a beer running question?  Submit it to Ramblings of a Beer runner via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or a comment to this post and if I use your question, your reward will be an Ortholite Shoe Insole, my brilliant response, and potential world wide humiliation on the Internet.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Got a running question? Just ask Ramblings.....and get an Ortholite Insole

There are way too many people giving out advice, and I'm about to join their ranks.  I've decided to take this blog in a little different direction by answering running questions from other runners.  Perhaps this has been driven by a long held, yet never satisfied desire to coach, or by my life-long mission of being a know-it-all routinely giving out opinions.  You should rightfully ask, "What do you know about running that make you better than all the other experts?"

A good question I will not answer that question directly.  I will say I've been running for a long time, over thirty years since I was twelve.   I ran on high school and college track and cross-country teams and way more road races than I remember, from little neighborhood 5k's to the Boston Marathon.  There was a time where I was quite the training wonk, reading just about every book on running I could get my hands on.  And while I've had plenty of success at running, there's been lots of failures.  There's been plenty of injuries, and at one point, was 60 pounds overweight, so I've gone through the pain and frustrations runners of all abilities go through.   We all need help from time to time, and I do believe I have the experience and knowledge to draw on to help some of you out there.

So hope you will share your running question here with us, whether it be on training, racing, injuries, or anything to make your running more successful and enjoyable.  No question is too basic, fundamental or esoteric.  I suppose you could ask also a question about beer as well, but my beer knowledge extends to mostly having drunk a lot of it.  Send your questions to my slightly odd e-mail address at: photon(dot)dpeterman[at]gmail{dot}com or use the e-mail link here.

You can also post your question on the Ramblings of a Beer Runner Facebook page or tweet it via Twitter.

And thanks to Ortholite, if I use your question, you'll win a pair of Ortholite Fusion insoles.   Ortholite was previously found only exclusively in many of the top athletic shoes, but are now available for purchase to go in any pair of shoes.  Made with open-cell foam allowing air to circulate around the foot, keeping it cooler and drier inside the shoe, they also have a patented anti-microbial formulation (approved by the EPA and FDA) fights fungus, bacteria and shoe odor.  (Ortholite supplied the insoles and product information for this giveaway.)

Look forward to hearing from you all out there.   It should be interesting.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Beer Experts Have Expressed Their Polite Silence on Habenero Chili Stout

You'd think after the last three batches of home brew that ranged from barely drinkable to down right awful, I should just give up brewing altogether.  But then, there have been times running where long term fatigue and multiple injuries lead to pain and frustration for weeks and months on end.   It happens to a lot of runners, and you need just keep working through the difficulties and find ways to correct the problems to eventually come through it a wiser runner than before.  So in that spirit, I just kept at it with home brewing.  Of course, it is also possible the culmulation of all those slight jolts to my head with each running footstrike over 30 years has resulted in a certain level of  brain damage which clouds my judgement.

So whether motivated by positive thinking or simple brain dysfunction, I decided to brew a Habenero Chile Stout feeling slightly confident I'd isolated the source of the contamination that soured my last brews.  You may reasonably ask "Why on earth would you brew something like that?".  I would like to answer the strong, roasty flavors of stout and stimulating Habenero chiles are part of my personality, vision, and creativity as a brewer.  But the more honest answer is that agressively roasted malts and hot chiles are great at masking any off-flavors lurking around in the brew. 

For the recipe, I used Randy Mosher's Black Ship Pirate Stout from his excellent book Radical Brewing.

5.5 lbs Amber Dry Extract
1.5 lbs Black Patent Malt
1.5 lbs Dark Molassess
1.0 lbs Dark Crystal Malt
5 gallons distalled water

1.0 once Willamette Hops (90 minutes)
2.0 onces Styrian Golding (30 minutes)

After mashing and sparging the grain, the resulting wort and powered extract was boiled for 90 minutes.  With five minutes left in the boil, I added this spice mix:

1/2 tablespoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 tablespoon commercial chili powder
1/8 teaspoons Habenero chile powder

English Ale Yeast was used to fermet the brew, which was racked to a secondary in three weeks, and then bottled two weeks later.

The idea was to replicate Mexican chocolate, with a little heat mingling with the roasty chocolate flavors.  I'd say this came close.  You can certainly detect the heat from the Habeneros.  Its strong, but I didn't find it overpowering, and it takes front stage to a complex roasted malt background.   I'll also add that the heat from the chiles mellowed after the bottles had aged after 3-4 weeks.   I thought it was and interesting and unique beer, but then since I brewed it, I'm bound to be biased. 

So I took a bottle to this month's Bay Area Beer Bloggers meet-up and bottle share to see what experienced beer drinkers in the Bay Area Craft Brewing community thought about at.  I've known Brian Stechshulte for nearly a year and being that I am a graduate of The Ohio State University, find him to be an inspiration as he's overcome his education from the University of Michigan to become a decent, productive member of society.   (We don't need to talk about last weekend's Ohio State-Michigan game.) I don't recall what he said about the Habernero Chile Stout or if he even tried it.  For some reason, he seemed more interested in sampling from bottles of 2009 and 2010 vintages of the always excellent Deschutes' Abyss sitting on the table, as well as all the other stouts available that night from highly renowned and hard to find breweries than something from a hack homebrewer who insults his alma mater on a regular basis.  Imagine that.

Next up was John Heylin who remarked "The chiles are noticeable, but not that hot.  It's smokey."  Colin James, who graciously hosted the bottle share at his apartment agreed "You can certainly taste the chile powder".  Both Chuck Lenatti and I noticed a metallic taste.  There are know-it-alls who claim "metallic" is an off flavor, but it actually provides a mysterious complexity to the brew.   Beyond that, the silence was a little telling.  Nobody came out and said "I don't like this" or even "this sucks" something people often think, yet rarely say, but nobody said "this is good" or "I like it" either.    Never the less, I'll take this polite awkward silence as a ringing endorsement from the Bay Area Beer Bloggers of my latest home brew.

Yeah right.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ledger's Liquors: The Bottle Shop Time Almost Forgot

Walking into Ledgers Liquors in Berkeley, CA feels like walking into some sort of time machine set to 1977.  The faded light brown wood paneling adorned with traditional beer signs and the old linoleum tile floor underneath your feet come from an earlier, simple time.  Which you would probably expect from a family business started in 1935, and is now in its third generation.  But take a close look at the beer on the shelves, and Ledgers becomes highly contemporary, if not cutting edge. 

Sure, the bottles are arranged rather haphazardly, seemingly where ever they can fit on loosely defined "domestic" and "import" shelves.   But search through this chaos carefully, and you'll find beers you rarely see anywhere else.  From this unassuming liquor store, I've found rare beers such as Dogfish Head's Hellhound on My Ale and Stone Brewing's Cherry Chocolate Stout, and there's always a wide menagerie of Russian River selections.   You do not earn the privilege of stocking beers like these on your shelves unless you've built the reputation of being one of the best bottle shops in the country.   Unlike other bottle shops which often host release parties announcing new beers with great fanfare, great beers at Ledger tend to show up quietly unannounced.  And lest you think this store is only for beer geeks, beers like Budweiser, Coors Light, and Keystone are prominently on display.   There's something for everyone here.

So all I can say is that if your looking for some of the most skillfully brewed beers in the world, or just need a 40 ouncer of Old English Malt Liquor to make it through your day, do the world a favor and buy something here to help support this great American institution.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Beer of the Month: Fireside Chat by 21st Amendment

Why has it taken so long for something from 21st Amendment to earn this blogs "Beer of the Month"?  I've long been a fan of this brewery, so one of life's minor mysteries has been rectified as 21st Amendment's Fireside Chat takes this month's honors.

What can I say about this beer?  First, you got to love the can art which depicts FDR sitting by the fireplace chatting jovially with a holiday elf.  The beer itself has this great ruby brown color and sturdy, sticky head to it, hitting most of the visually aesthetic points if you're in to that sort of thing.  But my favorite attribute about this beer is that it tastes "wintery" in an obvious, yet undefinable way.
At least what I taste is a strong, slightly nutty ale with cinnamon, some nutmeg, and some other spices.  21st Amendment uses cocoa nibbs which I didn't pick up at first taste, but I believe provides the earthy, nutty note to the brew.  Magnum and Goldings hops give it 45 ibu's, but it just doesn't seem that bitter, with the hefty amount of malt seeming keeping it in check.   At 7.9% abv, it's more drinkable than of lot of winter warmers, almost quasi-sessional in a "have a couple in an evening and still be standing upright" sort of way.

Which I think is the best thing about Fireside Chat.  Do we need another monster Holiday Ale, checking in at 12% abv, brewed with Frankincense, Candy Cane Sugar, and Reindeer Must?  I think not.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Brooklyn Brew Shop's Beer Making Book: Homebrewing for the Rest of Us

Last time I brewed a five gallon batch of stout in my small cramped apartment kitchen, lugging around all the hot liquids in heavy containers created all sorts of spills, drips, and splatters that by the time I was done, it looked like someone with stout colored blood had been murdered in my kitchen.   I don't home brew as often as I'd like since my small apartment kitchen didn't seem like good place to do it.  But my kitchen is an ideal place to brew using standard equipment found in most kitchens to make smaller 1 gallon all-grain receipes, as I found out reading the The Brooklyn Brew Shop's Beer Making Book, writen by Stephen Valand and Erica Shea, owners of the The Brooklyn Brew Shop.

"We wanted to create something where people familiar with a cook book could just start making beer," explains co-author Stephen Valand.  "We didn't want to say, first thing to do is go to a hardware store."  The book describes how to brew beer in small, scaled down 1 gallon batches, a far more manageable size than standard five gallon recipes found most in home brewing books and magazines.  At these small batch sizes, little specialized equipment is necessary to brew beer, such that "..if you've ever made a pot of pasta, you're in good shape".

Erica and Stephen founded their business in 2009 the way a lot of business are created: Through serendipity, followed by looking around, asking questions, and recognizing a unmet demand.  In their case, it started when Erica discovered an old glass carboy in her father's basement from his brief home brewing excersion fifteen years ago.  After making ice cream and pasta from scratch, Stephen and Eric decided their next food project would be to brew beer, so they went about reading up on home brewing.

"A lot of the books seemed to be written for someone with a Ph.D. in Chemistry," recalls Stephen.  "and there were really no place to get home brewing equipment in New York City."  This was largely due to the fact that homebrewing emerged as a hobby in the 80's where 5 gallon and larger batches of beer were typically brewed in backyards, basements, and garages to accomodate equipment like large propane heating torches.   Few New York City homes had the space and facilities to accomodate this, something plenty of people in San Francisco Bay Area can relate to.

After adapting standard home brewing techniques to one gallon batches, they developed their own one gallon recipes.  Realizing that food conscious New Yorkers were ill-equipped to join the craft and home brewing revolution, they started selling home brewing kits at the Brooklyn Flea, a local food and crafts fair, in 2009.    Making brewing accessible to the masses turned out to be good business, and they expanded into a 6,000 square foot warehouse a year later to keep up with demand.   Today you can purchase their kits and recipes in Whole Foods, Williams-Sonoma and other retail locations all over the country, as this handy dandy store locator on their website will show you.

As for their new book, it explains the equipment needed to brew one gallon batches, with a brief introduction to brewing malts, hops, and beer styles in simple direct manner.  What follows are 52 different brewing recipes, with a few standard beer styles like IPA's, Porters, and Pale Ales, but plenty of beers that are kind of out there, such as Lady Lavender Blonde Ale, Eggnog Milk Stout, and Lobster Saison which is brewed using an empty lobster shell.

Of course, it took some experimentation to come up with all those different beers.  "There are a few beers we made that have been hidden away, and we don't talk about," concedes Stephen.  "We experimented with a lot of different woods for our Bourbon Dubbel.  We tried cedar wood, which someone told us was poisonous.  It tasted like drinking the closet."

And if you ask me, experimentation and sharing beer you made with family and friends is the best thing about home brewing, an element sometimes lost in the home brewing community, where there can be a lot of emphasis on reproducing and miniaturizing an actual brewing operation.  Given the fact any professional brewing operation, even your local craft brewery, is mostly concerned with sanitizing large metal objects and meticulously pouring over brewing data to brew batch after batch of identical tasting beer, it is not surprising that a lot of mainstream home brewing really doesn't resonate with the general public.

And this book brings up one of the parallels I've descovered about beer and running.  One of the best things about running is you don't need any special equipment or belong to any elite club.  All you need to do is lace up a pair of running shoes, go outside, and you're a runner.  One of the best things about beer is that if you take grains, hops, water and yeast and combine them the right way, you're a brewer.  Thanks to this book, more of us can be brewers.

(An advance copy of this book was provided by Randon House Publishing for the purposes of this review.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Session #57: Fizzy Blueberries

For this month's Session Steve Lamond of Beers I've Known pinch hits for Peter Brown while Peter recovers from the theft of his PC, and asks us to share our "beer confessions and guilty pleasures."  

There have been many moments in my life where beer was involved that I look back and think "Why on earth did I do that?".  It would not be wise to share most of those moments on the internet for all to see, but will confess to a guilty beer pleasure I discovered the time I took my family on vacation to San Diego last year.

We starting the trip driving down from our home on the San Francisco peninsula, and after a morning of driving, rolled into Paso Robles a little before noon on a Monday to stop for lunch at Downtown Brewing, located in the main square in the center of town.  For some odd reason, I ordered the one "chick beer" they had on the menu, their Blueberry Ale.   You know what beer I'm talking about, the one on their tap list for those who would otherwise get something like Coors Light or Corona if it were available.

Maybe because I was thirsty and at that early hour, just wasn't ready for an IPA, Stout, or some of the other styles they had on tap.  The waitress brings it out and there's a bunch of blueberries in the light golden brew swirling around at the bottom half of the pint glass.  It looked like one of those Asian inspired tapioca pearl drinks you see junior high school girls slurping down at the local mall.  Thank goodness the place was pretty empty and only my wife and kids were there to see me drink this totally unmanly foo-foo girlie beer.   My nine and seven year old kids laughed and pointed to the blueberries, and I forced myself to laugh with them, but the whole time I'm thinking "Why did I just order this?".
I braced myself for something sickening sweet, but the blueberry flavor was really restrained, with only the barest of sweetness and provided a great accent to the light ale.  Subtlety and balance in a light refreshing ale is an underrated thing of brewing beauty, and if you asked me, Main Street nailed it.  Sometimes beer works in mysterious ways and this odd looking concoction was exactly the beer I needed to regenerate before continuing our journey south.

So if someday you find me hiding in a dark closet clutching an empty beer glass with dark blue stains on my hands and face, you'll know why.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mike Royko and the Beginnings of the Craft Brewing Revolution

Little did I know Mike Royko, one of my all time favorite writers, helped launch the craft brewing revolution in the 70's.  Royko's daily newspaper columns were full of blunt, crusty sarcasm that somehow held an underlying warmth that completely resonated with the city of Chicago.  He gave Governor Jerry Brown the name "Governor Moonbeam".  I remember opening the newspaper each morning to page 2 to read what Royko had to say about Chicago politics, sports, food or culture. 

Joe Sixpack's later column chronicles how Rokyo's bitter snarky criticism of beer in the 70's and his championing of smaller regional brewers helped start create the current American beer landscape.  You can read about it here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What's the point in writing about the Stone Brewing Brewmaster's Dinner at California Cafe?

That's the question.   Why should I even bother writing about this?  I mean, Stone brews great beer, and the California Cafe in Palo Alto puts on great beer dinners featuring a California brewery about once a month.  Is there any point of even writing about it, other than to say, "Well, it was great"? 

Besides, I'm not a exactly a culinary expert such that I can really deconstruct the subtleties and nuances of the combined brewing vision of Stone's Greg Koch combined with California Cafe's Mark Pettyjohn's magic in the kitchen.   But I can sort of fake it.  And aren't blogs all about writing about stuff you have no business writing about for the sole purpose of looking more important than you really are?  So in this proud tradition, I will provide my take on the Stone Brewing Brewmaster's dinner in an attempt at entertainment, or your possible amusement at my expense. 

First Course
Food: Grilled Portobello Mushroom, chic pea fries, foie gras croutons, goat cheese
Beer: Arrogant Bastard

The first course was a significant food milestone for me since I've never had foie gras before starting off the beer dinner with this.  It's hard not be be curious about foie gras, as the food seems so highly polarizing.   On one side, you have those who claim eating it is the most heavenly orgasmic surreal experience in the world. On the other side, you have PETA-inspired backlash claiming it embodies everything wrong with civilization.  Having now tried it, I have to say I'm a little bewildered this fatty stuff with a light livery taste to it has generated so much commotion. 

I mean, it tasted all right, but if I had to face down a bunch of angry animal rights activists just to eat it again, I'd go for something else.  Sitting to my left for the evening was Peter Estaniel of BetterBeerBlog of fame, who really enjoyed his and he's a big foie gras fan, so Chef Pettyjohn must have executed it well. 

Peter also probably forgot more about beer and food pairing last week than I'll never know.  After the first course, I turned to him and said "You know, the Arrogant Bastard seemed to over powered the Grilled Mushroom a little," and he immediately responds with a complex explanation about the roasted malts and the hop varieties contrasting with the grilled mushroom and other elements on the plate.  I struggled to follow what he was saying.   I think he agreed with me.

My favorite thing about the first course was not the grilled mushroom or the foie gras croutons, but the well seasoned chick pea fries.  PETA 1 Foie Gras 0.
The Second Course in all its porkosity
Second Course
Food: House cured pork belly, crispy pancetta, smoked bacon butter
Beer: Ruination IPA

The smoked bacon butter and house cured pork belly melded together to form a bunch of creamy pork stuff, contrasting with the crispy pancetta, a bunch of crunchy pork stuff.  Ruination IPA, with plenty of strong pineapple and grapefruit hop flavors and no malt backbone to speak of, cut right through all that pork goodness. 

I turn to Peter again after the second course to pick his brain on the second course.  Instead of a detailed, insightful deconstruction of the interplay between the different pork elements and the hops, he simply says "Mmmmmmm, that was good."  I can work with that.

Surprise Course
Food:  Duck medallions with cherry compote on top
Beer:  Cherry Chocolate Stout

Surpise!  After the second course, they bring out the Stone Cherry Chocolate Stout, a limited release that is otherwise sold out and unavailable. It's got plenty of bitter chocolate flavors and cherry, think of a decadent liquid chocolate covered cherry.  And the duck medallions with the cherry compote basically echoed that, even though Chef Pettyjohn conceded they were under salted to my wife and I at the end of the dinner.  Chef, if you hadn't told us that, we wouldn't have noticed.

Third Course
Food: Braised beef short ribs, parsnip puree, crispy onion strings
Beer: Imperial Russian Stout, Vintage ’08

What to say here, once again, the food and beer basically echoed each other.  And once again, my favorite element on the plate was a lovely, creamy parsnip puree under the braised beef ribs, rather than the savory ribs themselves.  Strike another blow for PETA!

Fourth Course
It's a big party of all things carrot
Food: Carrot cake, tipsy raisins, carrot gel
Beer: Old Guardian barley wine, Vintage ’09

My favorite dish of the night.  Way too often, beer dinners end with a desert of Imperial Stout with something like a chocolate tort, or some other Stout and chocolate combination.  Sure, the combination works, often quite well, but it's an obvious pairing and not particularly imaginative to the point of becoming a cliche'.  Instead, for the desert course we get a whimsical plate of all things carrot with this odd, carrot egg roll that comes out of left field.  Some people, like me, loved it, others were a bit underwhelmed by it, but everyone was talking about it, and by that measure, it was a hit.  And the aged Old Guardian with its smooth, sweetness, and slight astringency jumped right into the big party.

There's a nasty rumor that this might be the last of the Brewmaster's Dinners for the year with the holidays fast approaching.  I sure hope that isn't true, as the best part of the series is a certain suspense in seeing what Chef Pettyjohn and the California Cafe crew do next.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Drinking Local on the High Sierras: Mammoth Brewing

Inside Mammath Brewing's Tap Room (photo from Sean Turner)
Hearing the words "head for the mountains" brings back awkward college memories of swilling cheap Busch beer in college back in the 80's. Thankfully in our more enlightened times, heading for California's Sierra Mountains won't lead you to a skunky brew, but the fine beers of Mammoth Brewing.

Located in Mammoth Lakes on the eastern edge of Yosemite National Forest, the brewery was founded by Sam Walker in 1995, who sold it to current owner Sean Turner in 2006. Turner explains that what makes his beer unique is that at 8,000 feet, water boils at 198 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than 212 degrees at sea level, resulting in a softer flavor profile in the brewing process.    He also adds that a 8,000 feet, the mountain water they use is the purest being furthest upstream.  Mammoth is known for their Golden Trout Pilsner, Epic IPA, IPA 395,  Double Nut Brown, and Hair of the Bear Doppelbck among their more popular beers.  They've won a slew of awards at the California State Fair and other beer competitions, so they must be doing a lot right.

I can personally vouch for IPA 395, named after the main highway through the Eastern Sierras. Mammoth Brewing uses locally grown hops with dessert sage and mountain juniper to create one of the more unique and memorable California IPA's you'll find.  If hoppy beers aren't your thing, then give Mammoth's Hair of the Bear Doppelbock a try.   It tastes like liquid banana bread with it's banana-like fruity esters melding seamlessly with the highly roasted malts.  

In addition to innovative brewing, Mammoth Brewing was one of the first craft breweries to distribute beer in cans. "Putting in a canning line was one of the first things I did at Mammoth, before the sale was even completed," recalls Turner. "We sell most of our beer around Yosemite and putting beer into cans made it much easier for hikers to carry into the forest. We've increased our output by a factor of three since 2006, and going to cans was a big part of that." The second largest region for Mammoth is the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, as the beer is also popular with skiers.

Mammoth Lakes is also the home of the mighty Mammoth Track Club which includes many of  elite runners, including United States Olympic Marathoners Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi. These athletes are seen all over town but apparently are focused more on running fast and winning races than drinking beer, as they rarely venture into Mammoth Brewing's tap room.  Turner remembers his first encounter with Meb Keflezighi when "Meb approached me about a deal to wear a cap with our logo on it for a couple hundred dollars. I barely knew who he was and I had just started running the brewery to get the brewery, so decided to pass on the idea.    Next thing you know, he wins the New York Marathon and becomes famous."

In early November, Mammoth will release its Owen's Valley Wet Harvest Ale, brewed using organically grown hops from a local hop farmer transported straight from the hop fields into the brew kettle.  Mammoth Brewing purchases these hops to support agriculture in Owen's Valley, a battle ground of California water rights where much of the local water has been diverted to Los Angeles.

To find Mammoth Beers, you literally need to head for the mountains as Mammoth Brewing distributes only from Truckee down to Kern County along the High Sierras.  You can also stop by Mammoth's Tap room open daily from 10am-6pm at 94 Berner Street in Mammoth Lakes. Two ounce tasting samples are free.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Interviewed on Beer Samizdat

I was surprised the day Jay Hinman, author of the Beer Samizdat blog asked if he could interview me, especially since I don't know the correct pronunciation of "Samizdat".  I've always enjoyed Jay's smart and enthusiastic writing on Hedonist Beer Jive, which evolved into Beer Samizdat as he expanded his writing into other interests.  Turns out Jay is a Beer Runner too, having taken up running a few years ago.

So it is indeed a privilege to be interview by him, and I appreciated his simple, yet thought provoking questions.   You'll find the interview here.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Grape Stomp Half Marathon: Where'd that come from?

There are good races, bad races, and then there are races like the one I ran this morning which make you say "How did I pull that out of my ass?".  I went into Grape Stomp Half-Marathon in Livermore, CA  hoping to run something like 1:26-1:27 and finished in 1:24:10 on a course with some decent hills on it, good for seventh place overall, and 3rd in the 40-49 group.  (Us old guys are kinda fast.)  And kudo's to Finish Line Productions who put on a great race on a scenic and varied course.

This race turned into one of those surreal events where good things unexpectly happen so fast, you don't realize what's going on.  My plan going into the race was to hit 6:40 pace through 6 miles, which is 40:00.  I come through at 38:13 feeling pretty good, and all I could think was "Hmmmm....well, I'm ahead of pace."   Expecting to see certain times at certain miles and instead seeing a totally different time on my watch caused me to simply dismiss each mile split without really thinking about what was actually happening.  I just concentrated on the runners ahead of me and the hills at the later stages of the race, worrying little about time..  I cross the finish line, look at my watch, see 1:24:15 and think, "Did I just do that?"

After bad races, I typically go through all sorts of soul searching about what went wrong and how to fix it.  So with this equally mystifying good run, maybe it's time to reflect on the things I got right and how to build on that.  And yes, blogs are great vehicles for navel gazing, but know some of you out there run, so you might actually benefit from a few nuggets of running wisdom I learned this year.

Day to Day, Month to Month, and Year to Year Consistancy is key
I spent the latter half of the last three years in some related injury rehab the prevented me from running.  Whether it was bad tendonitis in the knees that I finally gave into in 2008, a bad hip imbalance I had to see a chiropracter for in 2009, and a dislocated shoulder in 2010, I just could never string several good months of training together.  Taking a lot better care of myself, doing more stretching and avoiding the layoffs was really key.

Finding a Good Crew to Run with is Golden
I joined the Palo Alto Run Club (PARC) last May, a group full of talented, hard working running and got a bunch of great runs in.  Those "easy" five milers where we'd start hitting 6:25, 6:10 pace I think paid off.  Do enough 6:25 miles in your regular runs, and it'll start seeming like nothing.  And there's something about the shared experience of a run with others that makes all the hard work more meaningful. 

Run your long runs fast
I put in a bunch of 12 mile runs along the Sawyer Camp Trail, a nifty running trail on San Francisco Peninsula.  Most of them were timed efforts and several of them were with PARC, which meets there every Saturday morning.  I'm not a fan of slow long distance runs.  Do your long distance fast.  But  be careful, since fast long runs will take a lot out of you, and I normally did one every couple weeks to give myself plenty of recovery.

Tempo Runs are your Friend
The biggest difference in my training between the Water to Wine Half Marathon, where I ran a 1:28:46 in August and the 1:24:10 at the Grape Stomp were Jack Daniel's inspired tempo runs.  (That's Jack Daniels, the revolutionary track coach, not the bourbon.)  There's a high school track conveniently one mile away from where I lived, so once a week, I'd run to it, run 4 miles comfortably hard at anerobic threshold pace around the track, and then run home.  Tempo runs like that also help build focus, concentration, and create "pace sense" which helps any runner.

I might do another race or two before the end of the year, but nothing major, as this is basically the end of the racing season for me.  I still plan to start going to back to work soon, pointing towards the US Half Marathon in San Francisco this coming April.

But after this morning, I am tired.  And drinking beer.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Brewmaster's Dinner featuring Stone Brewing at California Cafe in Palo Alto

There's a great looking beer dinner featuring Stone Brewing coming up at the California Cafe in Palo Alto this Thursday.  They always put on a great dinner and usually the brewmaster is on hand to talk about end beer.  Seeing Greg Koch there may be a little too much to ask, but expect a knowledgeable rep from Stone Brewing being there.  I have my reservation and expect they'll fill up fast.  Hope to see you there.   (The details and menu below were shamelessly swiped from The BetterBeerBlog.)

Who: California Café in Palo Alto
What: Brewmaster’s Dinner featuring Stone Brewing Company
Where: California Café, 700 Welsh Road, Palo Alto, CA map
When: Thursday, October 27, 2011 @ 6pm – 9pm
Cost: $45 per person, exclusive of gratuity. Call 650-325-2233 , or email paloalto@californiacafe.com to make your reservations today!


First Course

Food: Grilled Portobello Mushroom, chic pea fries, foie gras croutons, goat cheese
Beer: Arrogant Bastard

Second Course

Food: House cured pork belly, crispy pancetta, smoked bacon butter
Beer: Ruination IPA

Third Course

Food: Braised beef short ribs, parsnip puree, crispy onion strings
Beer: Imperial Russian Stout, Vintage ’08

Fourth Course

Food: Carrot cake, tipsy raisins, carrot gel
Beer: Old Guardian barley wine, Vintage ’09

Monday, October 17, 2011

Beer of the Month: Lagunitas Doppel Weizen

For the month of October, I thought about giving the honor to a pumpkin beer, and I had a good one in mind.  But pumpkin beers are quickly becoming a bit of a cliche in my opinion, and I decided to go with a more traditional style that you don't see much these days.

And so the Beer of the Month for October 2011 is a nifty Doppel Weizen from Lagunitas.  For those of those of you who thought a wheat beer was one of those light summer beers, you'll be in for a bit of a shock with this one.

The yeast really dominates, producing strong aromatic clove-like spiciness complimented with a little banana-like fruitiness on a bready, slightly toasty malt substrate.  It's a strong tasting beer with a slight alcohol heat, that nearly crosses the line into harshness, but thankfully doesn't.

So if you're looking for a real change of pace this month without resorting to having pumpkin in your brew, pick up this unique seasonal from Lagunitas.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Strange Trail Running Affair

I have the same problem with running trails I used to have with women.  I seek out the one that are gorgeous and difficult ones, and the few and fleeting good times seemed to be worth all the pain.  Sure, trail running is full of aesthetic beauty and training benefits you can’t find on the roads, and it’s a great way to train as you constantly have to adapt to the changing terrain.  But that leads to more risk for injuries, and I’ve had plenty of bruised toes, sore knees, strained ankles, and even a dislocated shoulder to show for it. 

All course seeking beauty and overcoming barriers and taking risks is good attitude for a runner, but this approach in your personal life can cause you to seek love from people you shouldn’t fall in love with.  Thankfully, a good therapist showed me the errors of my ways in personal relationships, but this desire to keep running on the trails seems like I’m stuck in a bad love affair.

I first realized this on a hiking trip to Berry Creek Falls in Big Basin State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains a couple years ago.   I had run a competitive half-marathon through those very trails only a few months earlier, but found the trails on that hike almost completely unrecognizable. That’s because I ran the half-marathon like a hunted animal, desperately focused on the uneven, rocky ground just a few feet ahead of me in order to avoid a serious face plant, ignoring the towering redwoods overhead and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.  The set of cascading waterfalls in the center of the park is a place where people linger, relax, and enjoy the unique sights and peaceful sounds, but they were just an anomalous sparkling blip I blew by during the half-marathon race.  This leisurely hike through these same woods made me realize that running or hiking through the woods creates a totally different perspective and appreciation of the forest. 
So these days, a bit older and presumably wiser, when I get to the top of the hill or to a scenic overlook, it’s time to stop for a few seconds and enjoy the view before hurrying along.  I now realize this brief interlude is something I deserve, but the nagging injuries from the trails keep coming, especially since I'm not getting any younger.  But despite the problems, I don't want to give up on this relationship.  I may be blind, but I still think we can work through all this.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Session #56: Damn Right I'm a Bud Man!

For this month's Session Rueben Gray of Tale of Ale asks us to write about our appreciation  for the "Big Boys" the large breweries most craft beer advocates most passionately hate.  I risk ridicule from the Beer Blogging Community and having my Beer Geek Membership Card revoked by singing the praises of Budweiser. 

I first gained an appreciation of Budweiser while discovering craft beer.  It was during my RateBeer phase a few years ago, when I carefully tasted and documented each and every beer I could possibly get my hands on, whether it be "craft" or "macro".  When I got around to putting a six-pack ounce bottle of Budweiser through those paces, I remember my surprise at how good Bud actually tasted.  Now it certainly wasn't a great beer, but it wasn't a bad one, either. So while your local brewer almost certainly makes a better lager than Budweiser, I'll have a Bud with its crisp, clear light green apple flavors and slightly astringent finish over any of its macro-lager brethren full of skunky off flavors any day of the week.

I'm also appreciative that Budweiser is central to the American barbecue, our country's unique contribution to world cuisine.  Now you will find culinarians and Cicerones pairing barbecued meats with a wide spectrum of beer styles including Smoked Porters, Milk Stouts, Dunkel Weizens, American Strong Ales, Saisons and other beers the typical barbecue pitmaster would find hopelessly exotic.  With all due respect to the extensive training, experience and super sophisticated palates of these so-called culinary experts, they are dead wrong.  The correct beer pairing for any barbecue is a Budweiser served exactly one nano-degree Fahrenheit above freezing temperature.  No fancy, schmancy glassware is required, as it is perfectly acceptable to drink it straight from the can or bottle. If you insist on glassware, a frosted mug is the preferred choice.   This fact is widely understood from Kansas City to Texas to all the way to North Carolina. I dare say you'd be wasting every one's time lecturing folks who've enjoyed barbecue this way for decades on proper beer serving temperatures and the pairing of contrasting or complimentary flavor profiles.  The fact that Budweiser played a major role in bringing friends, family, and neighbors together over a simple plate of barbecue is one of the many great things about beer, even from beer coming from some evil mega-corporation.

As a life long Chicago Cubs baseball fan, I must also give thanks to Budweiser for supporting the late, great baseball announcer Harry Caray, one of our country's national treasures, who announced the Cub games in the 80's and 90's during the time I grew up near Chicago. Harry Caray was from a by-gone era of unapologetic home field announcers who connected emotionally with Cub fans with his passion, elation and frustration over the course of each season.  Today's announcers are far more distant and analytical by comparison. You could tell whether that Cubs were winning or losing just by listening to Harry's tone of voice for only five seconds.   Considering how well he resonated with Chicago sports fans, he must have been an obvious choice for Anheuser-Busch to hire as a pitchman for Budweiser, and his smiling face could be seen all on billboards all over Chicago and on local TV commercials hawking Budweiser.  Somehow, the constant presence of Harry Caray warmly exhorting us to enjoy a cold Budweiser had a comforting effect few grew tired of.

Harry sometimes announced the games from the Wrigley Field bleachers, taking the perspective of the typical fan.   He blended effortlessly into the crowd on those occasions, and when he would declare to crowd around him, "Now would be a great time for an ice cold Budweiser!" it seemed so natural and genuine, even if you realized he was being paid to say that, we forgave him.  At the end of each Cub game, after Harry would either cheerfully recap a Cub's victory, or more often solemnly summarize a Cubs loss, he would always sign off with  an enthusiastic "I am Cub fan, and a Bud Man, and I hope you are too!"

I'm with you, Harry.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Beer of the Month: Stone Brewing's 15th Anniversary Black Imperial IPA

For the month of September, I bestow the title of Beer of the Month to Stone Brewing's Imperial Black IPA.  Perhaps I award them this month's title because I've found Stone's last couple anniversary ales to be pretty underwhelming.  They were full of strong aggressive flavors you expect from Stone, but instead of being bold and arresting, the resulting brew was harsh, over done, unbalanced, and just plain difficult to drink.

That's not the case for this years version.  There's plenty of big, bold flavors in there, but they somehow remain smooth and balanced.  The first thing that hits you when you open the bottle is the aroma of whole bunch of hops.  Lot's of piney, resiny hops.  The beer itself has plenty of rich, malty bitter chocolate flavors and that some how melds seemlessly with all those hops. It's just this big brew full of roasty malty hoppy flavors that somehow come together and create something unique.  Actually describing the flavor is a challenge and one of the signs of a great beer is that it has a uniqueness that cannot be simply summed up by ticking off flavor components or referencing other beers. So I'll just say that, rather tick off a flavor profile full of wild guesses.

Beware, as this warms up, the flavors start to get out of whack, the alcohol get more pronounced and the beer goes from sublime to barely drinkable in seconds flat.  When that happened, I just put it back in the freezer for a few minutes to bring the flavors to balance.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Eat Real Festival: The Food Trucks Take Over

The Eat Real Festival used to be one of my favorite beer festivals. It claimed to have a wider mission of highlighting enivronmetally sustainable street food, but its first edition in 2009 could be best described as a great beer festival in Oakland's Jack London Square with a bunch of funky taco trucks parked around it. The beer shed would always be chock full of all sorts of special brews from Northern California's finest breweries, and every hour on the hour, a different brewer would be on hand at the Meet the Brewers Table to pour his beer and chat away about it. It was a great way to connect the beer you were drinking from where it came from and how it was made.

So perhaps it is a sign of the festival's success that this year's Eat Real Festival was no longer a great beer festival with a lot of interesting food, but a great food festival where you can still get a pretty good beer. The beer shed was still there pouring plenty of good selections from area breweries but ones most beer geeks are quite familiar with, and there seemed to be fewer specials and hard to find brews compared to years past. The Meet the Brewers Table was an unfortunate casulty of this new emphasis.
So the rightful stars of this years Eat Real Festival all the brightly colored food trucks. For five bucks, you could get a decent bite of street food inspired by the cuisines of The Philippines, The African Continent, India, Korea, Viet Nam, Argentina, Mexico, and good ol' American Barbecue. I tried lots of it, and am not a food critic, so don't expect any culinary insights, but let's just say all the unique street foods tasted good. Especially with a good local beer.

We all know about the modern American beer resolution, but is there anything more American than the food truck revolution? It's a revolution of small scale entrepreneurs serving up food from America's melting pot as they quickly maneuver their mobile restaurants to follow the ever changing mob of customers, all the while broadcasting their location to the world via the Internet so just in case they happen to be just down the street, you can run down and get a delicious Chorizo Egg Roll.

So I can't wait until next year's Eat Real Festival, even if the beer part of it won't be what it used to be. But can we get the Meet the Brewers Table back?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eat Real Festival this Weekend

The East Real Festival has always been one of the more novel ones. You never know exactly what you'll find there, and I'll never forget the time a couple years ago when I saw a huge tattoo of a beet on a man's muscular arm, which pretty much sums up the overall spirit of the festival.

There seems to be less of an emphasis on local breweries this year, with no mention of the "Meet the Brewer" table where brewers told turns pouring their beers at a table for an hour at a time, answering questions and chatting away about there beers, or whatever. There's still going to be an impressive list of breweries. My weekend plans are still a little up in the air, but hope to see you there.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Biketoberfest Marin Returns to Fairfax

I'm not a cyclist, but figure there's a few cyclists our there that read this who would be interested in the Biketoberfest Marin. Excellent list of brewers. Have to say it look's so good, I might get myself a bike just so I can participate.

Here's the press release they sent me:

A highly-anticipated annual festival, Biketoberfest Marin attracts cyclists and West Coast brewers alike in a combined bicycle expo and stellar brewfest! Held in Fairfax—the birthplace of the mountain bike—the event is not only Marin County’s premier bicycle event but is also a fundraiser for and presented by the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC) and Access4Bikes (A4B). Last year the event drew over 5,000 cycling and beer enthusiasts from all over Northern California and raised $20,000 for MCBC and A4B. Biketoberfest will feature a celebrity road ride (with "Fast" Freddie Rodriguez) mountain rides, live music, great food, family activities, a Cargo Bike Jubilee, dozens of bicycle, component, nutrition and athletic attire vendors, a women's skills clinic with Pro Catharine Pendrel, and 25 West Coast brewers serving over 40 beers! It’s a great way to have fun while helping a good cause.

WHO: Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC) and Access4Bikes (A4B) Present
WHAT: Biketoberfest Marin 2011
WHEN: 11am-6pm, Sunday, September 25, 2011
WHERE: Fair-Anselm Plaza, downtown Fairfax, CA
COST: FREE Admission; brewfest tasting $25 advance, $30 day-of. Proceeds from Biketoberfest benefit bicycle advocacy in Marin County.
CONTACT: www.biketoberfestmarin.com

Tickets for brewfest: http://biketoberfestmarin.eventbrite.com/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/bikefestmarin

Biketoberfest Events:
Celebrity Ride with “Fast” Freddie Rodriguez
Cargo Bike Jubilee
Live Music from noon to 6pm: WTJ Squared, Miracle Mule, Beso Negro and Tom Finch Group
Family Activities
Celebrity women’s mountain bike skills clinic with Team LUNA Chix’s Catharine Pendrel

# # #

Full List of Participating Brewers

(as of 8.21.11):

21st Amendment
Anchor Brewing
Anderson Valley Brewing
Bear Republic
Bison Brewing
Broken Drum
Deschutes Brewing
Iron Springs Brewing
Lagunitas Brewing
Luckyhand Brewing Company
Marin Brew Co
Santa Cruz Ale Works
Sierra Nevada
Triple Rock
Weed Ale
Pizza Orgasmica
Moonlight Brewing Company
Petaluma Hills Brewing Co.
Beltane Brewing Company
Van Houten Brewing Company
New Belgium
Pine Street Brewery
Tieton Cider Works
Peloton Cellars (WINE)
Clif Family Winery

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Brews on the Bay 2011: Peace through Beer and Mutual Hatred

There was a feel good San Francisco vibe for those who boarded the good ship Jeramiah O'Brien this September 1oth for the Brews on the Bay festival. The festival is held annually by the San Francisco Brewers Guild on the Jeramiah O'Brien, a World War II era ship docked near San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, providing fantastic views of the San Francisco Bay from it's decks. There isn't a better spot for quaffing some of the finest beers the San Francisco brewing community has to offer.

And there was plenty of great beers to chose from. Perhaps since this festival has been condensed from a two-day to single day event, all the breweries had much larger selections than they have in years past. And it was nice to see Anchor Brewing show up this year. Kudos to Magnolia Pub for rolling out plenty of interesting session beers. Double IPAs and Imperial-styles seem to dominate festivals, but their skillfully brewed milds, bitters, and Kolsch session brews were a breath of fresh air. The worst beers were OK, and the overwhelming majority were good to great. But then, one of the best things about San Francisco is that its breweries always deliver great beer.

And it was a pretty chummy brewing community on the ship, with plenty of brewers hanging out at other brewer's pouring stations chatting away and sampling each other's beer. In fact, this feel good vibe was so infectious I actually had a pleasant conversation with not one, not two, but actually three graduates of the University of Michigan, including craft beer blogger and SF Brewer's Guild social media whiz Brian Stechschulte. This may not seem like a big deal, but as a graduate of The Ohio State University, we're usually more comfortable spewing hatred towards other. That's just the way it is.

Of course, a certain bond is created through rivalry, a respect gained by understanding just how deeply the other side disrespects you. There is a certain release in the controlled bloodlust of the game, but once it is over, most of us realize it is just a game and we're all just people. If we could only overcome our fears and take this same approach over matters like race, religion and sexual orientation.

So as we reflect on ten years after September 11th on the consequences and challenges of hate, I'll give the last word to the Dalai Lama, who said:

“We need to learn from our painful memories of September 11th and become more aware of the destructive consequences that arise when we give in to feelings of hatred. This tragedy in particular has reinforced my belief that fostering a spirit of peaceful co-existence and mutual understanding among the world’s peoples and faith traditions is an urgent matter of importance to us all. We must therefore make every effort to ensure that our various faith traditions contribute to build a more caring, peaceful world.”

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Yes We Can!

This article, co-written with Pete Gauvin originally appeared in Adventure Sports Journal.

Something new is showing up in backpacks, in mountain streams, on rafts, and even on the beach. It’s beer in cans brewed by local and regional craft breweries.

The great outdoors is often enjoyed with beer in a can, since cans are lighter than bottles, shattered glass is not a hazard, and empties can be crushed for easy transport out of the woods. Moreover, bottles are often prohibited at many outdoor locations. Plus, canned beer submerged in a cold mountain stream cools down much faster than bottles.

So craft beer in cans is good news for outdoor enthusiasts, an independent-minded crowd that generally appreciates quality local and regional brews with character over the mass-market swill from corporate breweries that sink more of their budgets into advertising than their product.

Craft brewers themselves are also enthusiastic about cans. Check out their websites and you’ll find plenty of feel-good statements about how cans are better for both the beer and the environment. Cans protect beer from oxygen and sunlight better than bottles, and are a more earth-friendly package because they are significantly lighter than glass (35% of the weight of a bottle of beer is the bottle itself), stack easily with less packaging, require less energy to transport, and are more efficiently recycled.

“I absolutely love the package. They’re like mini-kegs,“ gushes Sean Turner, owner of Mammoth Brewing Company in the resort town of Mammoth Lakes. The Eastern Sierra brewery, founded in 1995, started selling beer in cans four years ago, one of the first craft breweries to do so. “Everything out here is so outdoor oriented. We sell beer in cans to hikers, fishermen, boaters, and golfers,” says Turner, whose brewery cans three of its brews to satisfy a wide range of taste buds: Epic IPA, Golden Trout Pilsner, and Real McCoy Amber Ale.

North of San Francisco in Mendocino County there’s a similar new-found enthusiasm for aluminum pop-tops at Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville. Brewmaster Fal Allen is encouraged by the new sales growth spurred by last year’s decision to release three of Anderson Valley’s more popular beers in cans: Boont Amber, Hop Ottin’ IPA and Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema.

“Canned beer is about 8% of our business and growing fast,” says Allen. “It used to be our canning line would run once or twice a week. Now it runs pretty much every day.”
While it turned out to be a good business decision, Anderson Valley Brewing, which generates 40% of its electricity from solar panels atop its brewery, was also highly motivated by the environmental benefits of cans. Cans are nearly 40% lighter to ship than bottles, greatly reducing fuel costs and their carbon footprint.

It’s been less than 10 years since Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery became the first U.S. craft brewery to can its product when it started hand-canning its Dale’s Pale Ale in 2002 — a hoppy, strong (6.5% ABV) and critically- acclaimed brew that no doubt shocked a few unsuspecting palates weaned on limp, watered-down, mass-market lagers.

Today, there are 117 craft breweries in the U.S. offering premium beer in cans, according to the Canned Beer Database at CraftCans.com. And more are hopping on the can wagon every month.

The First Canned-Beer Revolution

Of course, canned beer has been around for decades. The first canned beer was sold in 1935 by the Krueger Brewing Company of New Jersey, which canned Krueger’s Cream Ale and Krueger’s Finest Beer for distribution in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. By the end of 1935, 36 breweries were using cans — which, interestingly, included Pabst Brewing, whose “PBR” in recent years has established itself as the unofficial value beer among the outdoor set.

The first cans were made from heavy- gauge steel. Aluminum cans didn’t debut until 1958.
Sounds pretty good. But such regional breweries like Krueger’s (sold in 1961) wouldn’t last in the face of competition from national breweries like Schlitz and Anheuser- Busch.

In following decades, corporate breweries with high-speed canning machines began to dominate the American beer market. Creativity, quality and distinctiveness suffered in the battle for market share and profits. In most cases, the resulting product from these corporate breweries was a thin, fizzy, watery brew with a slightly metallic taste.

As tastes evolved with the resurgence of American craft breweries in the ‘80s and ‘90s, canned beer was derided by beer enthusiasts as cheap, tasteless and decidedly low-brow. But for cans, it was guilt by association. They were unfairly judged for the character of their contents, rather than the quality of the container. And such perceptions die hard.

Indeed, for the craft-brewing community devoted to flavorful hand-crafted beers brewed in small batches, canned beer epitomized everything that was wrong with American brewing. Even when an inert water-based lining for aluminum cans was developed in the 1980s to help protect the contents from ever touching metal, canned beer could not shed its cheap and inferior reputation. The stigma persisted and was only enhanced as “micro-brewed beer” became widely available, all in bottles, initially.

Clearing the Bottleneck

So how did canned beer mature to become the new darling of craft brewers?
The unlikely transition was spurred by a micro brewery in Canada’s Yukon Territory and a small Canadian manufacturing company which stumbled onto canning beer like a bear on a backcountry campsite.

Virtually all beer in cans sold by craft breweries in North America is canned by equipment manufactured by Cask Brewing Systems out of Calgary. The company got its start selling on-premise brewing systems to small brew-it-yourself operations that allowed home brewers to come in and use the facilities to brew their own beer.

Problem was, these brewing hobbyists often poured their beer into used and poorly cleaned bottles, with the beer degrading quickly thereafter. So in 1999, Cask developed a simple manual canning system so all that homebrew didn’t get poured down the drain.

Shortly thereafter, the owners of Yukon Brewing, a craft brewery in Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital and largest city (pop. 20,500) …… a brewery “conceived like many Yukon babies — around a campfire on a canoe trip” …… recognized that about 60% of beer in the Yukon was sold in cans and wondered how they might be able to squeeze into that market.

As they looked around for canning equipment, everything they found was for large scale brewing operations dealing with far greater volumes than they could possibly brew and priced far higher than they could afford. Then they tripped upon Cask Brewing’s manual canning equipment and gave them a call.

“That’s when all the light bulbs went on around here,” recalls Jamie Gordon, a technical sales rep for Cask who’s been with the company for over 25 years. In 2001, Yukon Brewing bought Cask’s manual canning system and became the first North American small-scale brewery to sell beer in cans.

Seeing a market for small canning systems for the hundreds of small breweries then in existence, Cask Brewing Systems decided to market their system at the 2002 Craft Brewing Conference in Cleveland, hoping to make a big splash. The response went over like warm beer on a summer day.

“Everyone looked at us like we were crazy,” remembers Gordon, as negative perceptions of canned beer remained high. “One guy walked up, shook his head, and told us it was the stupidest thing he’d ever seen …… I’d like to know where that guy is now.” As the saying goes, all it takes is one — and others will follow. Perhaps no one knows this better than beer drinkers.

In this case, Oskar Blues from tiny Lyons, Colo., was looking for a way to distinguish itself from the numerous craft breweries dotting the Rocky Mountain landscape like 14,000-foot peaks, and was willing to make the leap. “We thought the idea of our big, luscious pale ale in a can was hilarious,” recalls founder Dale Katechis on the Oskar Blues website. “And it made our beer immensely portable for outdoor enjoyment.”

Only later would he and his crew discover the benefits of cans — such as better beer preservation, a lighter environmental footprint and lower shipping costs. Already a successful brewpub, Oskar Blues was mainly looking for a way to sell some extra beer. But so many campers bought Dale’s Pale Ale on their way to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park they soon automated their canning system to keep up with the unexpected demand.

Colorado’s dynamic craft brewing scene couldn’t help notice Oskar Blues’ success.
The market for canned beer for the active, outdoor-oriented consumer was no longer a secret. Coors Light wasn’t going to be the first option any more.

Fermenting Acceptance

Yet negative perceptions of canned beer continued to be hard to settle, even as more and more small breweries started selling beer in cans. In 2005 when San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery decided to start selling beer to take home from their brewpub, Shaun O’Sullivan suggested to co-founder Nico Freccia to package it in cans.

“It seemed like the stupidest thing I ever heard of,” remembers Freccia, “until Shaun started explaining all the benefits of canning, and then it seemed like a no-brainer.”
Another regional brewery that rolled straight into cans is Reno’s Buckbean Brewing Company, started in 2008, which cans its Black Noddy Lager, Orange Blossom Ale and Tule Duck Red Ale.
Things really started to change when the major craft breweries got into the canning act.

In 2008, New Belgium Brewing released their nationally popular Fat Tire Amber Ale in cans. “Fat Tire in a can really validated everything we were doing,” says Mammoth Brewing’s Turner. “The negative perceptions are no longer an issue,” agrees 21st Amendment’s Freccia.

And if that validation isn’t enough to pop your bottle cap, word comes down the canning line that the most prominent and influential craft brewery in California, if not the nation, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company of Chico, plans to release its iconic Pale Ale and Torpedo India Pale Ale in cans by the end of the year.

“The number one reason we decided to do this was cans go where bottles can’t, especially on hiking trails, rafting, and other places people want to take them outdoors,” explains Bill Manley, Sierra Nevada’s spokesperson. “I’m really excited our beers are coming out in cans this year.”

One of the reasons Sierra Nevada — which founder Ken Grossman named after his favorite hiking destination — hasn’t joined the canned beer frenzy sooner is that they’ve been searching for a plastic lining for their cans that won’t absorb hop compounds over time, says Manley, which they believe they’ve now found.

For “malt forward” beers such as Fat Tire Amber Ale, which generates most of its flavor from roasted malts, absorption of hop compounds has little consequence. For Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale and Torpedo IPA, with their distinctive hop flavors and aromas, preservation of the beer’s hop character is more essential.

Though it is now the sixth largest brewing company of any stripe in the U.S., Sierra Nevada remains an environmentally conscious, independently owned business. The brewery is powered by solar energy, operates its own water treatment plant, and is the largest buyer of organic hops in the U.S. For these reasons and others, it won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Green Business of the Year” award in 2010. But it wasn’t going to jump into the canned beer fray just because cans are an arguably greener option without first assuring that its first priority, the quality of its beer, would not be compromised.

Just as with bottles, craft brewers realize that canned beers are only as good as the beer inside. The last thing they want is someone carrying a couple cans 10 miles into the backcountry only to be disappointed. For one, that person could be Ken Grossman.

Secondly, how far behind can freeze-dried beer be? Just tear open the foil pouch and add water. Suddenly hiking the PCT for weeks on end would appeal to a much wider audience, I’m guessing. Or perhaps not.

For the foreseeable future, though, it appears craft brewers will no longer be kicking the can down the road.