Sunday, February 27, 2011

Daily Mile Gadget Dilemma No More

Runners like talking about running. After all, running is what we do, so it's only natural that we talk about it. And so after thirty years of talking to runners I've learned a couple things.

1) The best thing to do when meeting runners is asking questions that get them talking about their running. "How's your running going?" or "Got any races coming up?" are my go to running ice breaker questions.

2) Talking about my running when not specifically asked usually bores people to tears.

Let's face it, in the grand scheme of things, our workouts and our races are not that important. Of course, our family and friends will care about what's important to us, and if that happens to be running, of course they will be interested. But that doesn't mean they want a blow by blow account of yesterday's run. Runners are often deeply invested in their running, and for good reason, but let's face it, everyone including runners, has more important things going on in their lives than running. We have family, jobs, and other activities, and it's hard for anyone to muster up more than a polite enthusiasm about your next 10k. And our training involves a rather mind numbing sequence of times, distances, and other trivia. Do you really care how far I ran yesterday? Didn't think so.

And so for the last fews days I've thought about removing the DailyMile gadget off this blog which dutifully listed each days run with my comments, and today I did just that. It was hard to see the point of having it there. Keeping a daily running log is about carefully documenting each workout so that you can look back on it someday, and figure out what works, and what doesn't work, and tiny snippets of this are not something I think most people would find interesting. Of course, I could try to make it entertaining with witty comments about each run, but what can you really say about a run that's new and fresh that you've already done a bunch of times already. The result was some pretty innocuous commentary on this DailyMile gadget, such as "Felt pretty good, day off helped". Boy, doesn't that sound exciting!

The thing to remember is that running is not about individual workouts. It's really about the totality of weeks and months of hard work, slowly ascending to your goals over the long haul. Sure, you can have a big day and pop a really good workout, but just like distances races themselves, training is a lot about steady persistence. And so a training log book is bound to reflect that, with most days being rather routine.

And just because I can broadcast my daily running log book to the world doesn't mean I should. Running is a rather personal endeavor, and I often only discuss it with my close circle of family members, friends, teammates, training partners and coaches. I'd like to keep it that way.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

SF Beer Week Photos and Videos at The Brew Lounge

Bryan Kolesar has put up a whole slew of photos, videos and stories on The Brewlounge about his days here in the Bay Area during SF Beer Week, including the Beer Run. You can find it all here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Nanobreweries are Big Stuff at the Breweries of Tomorrow Festival

I should have expected my predicament. Plenty of people I spoke to in the days leading up to SF Beer Week cited the Breweries of Tomorrow NanoBrewery Festival as one event they didn't want to miss, which featured a number of small, new breweries in the process of commericializing their operations. This explained why my wife Linda and I were stuck way in the back of a stagnant line leading out the door of Social Kitchen and Brewery and all the way down the adjacent parking lot at 6 pm on a cool Sunday evening. We considered going somewhere else that evening, but decided to wait out the line in hopes we could get in. But with the line not appearing to budge one bit, it was not looking so good for our plans.

Linda and I did eventually make it inside after about an hour of patiently waiting. There is a certain irony in the fact that I wouldn't dream of standing in line for an hour for a pint of something like Pliny the Younger from one of my favorite breweries Russian River, and yet here I was, standing in line for an hour for beers from a bunch of brewers I basically knew nothing about. You could say this experience gave me a new perspective on waiting in long lines for hard to find beers, since as soon as we got inside, Linda and I pretty much left our frustrations outside and enjoyed this quirky, crowded, and unusual festival.

What struck us was how these new comers genuinely produced beers every bit innovative and well crafted as anything you can find in the Bay Area. Linda and I tasted about twelve beers between us and were impressed by many of them, not finding one clunker in the bunch. It was fun talking to folks in the crowd, asking what they liked, getting various impressions from different breweries that were complete wild cards to virtually everyone in attendence. I was also glad to bump into fellow beer bloggers John Heylin and Matt Knopf.

So congratulations to Brian Stechschulte, creater of the Bay Area Craft Beer Website and blog All Over Beer, who organized this unique event that succeeded beyond everyone's expectations. And congratulations to all the nanobrewers, who proved they can craft a beer every bit as good as the big boys. While they were all good, I'd like to cite four beers that Linda and I tried that really stuck out from the rest. (Sorry if I got anything wrong here, the crowd made it difficult to take notes and I was just trying to enjoy all the new beers, so my note taking that evening was not the greatest.)

Peppermint Porter from 510 Brewing
Peppermint what? Both Linda and I both thought we weren't going to like this beer, judging it only by the name. Surprise, surprise, it was our favorite of the night. The peppermint is rather up front, but blended well with the roasted malt flavors of the porter. Think of a peppermint patty and you start to get the idea. 510 Brewing's Travis Smith explained this was their idea as a winter seasonal beer, since peppermint is a flavor associated a lot with the winter. I don't know exactly why this beer worked, but give these guys credit for trying something original and pulling it off.

Luminesce Belgian Strong Ale from Beltane Brewing
A close second for favorite of the evening was this arresting Belgian Strong Ale from Beltane Brewing. I enjoyed its rich malty character, aromatic flavors, and banana-like fruity esters at the finish. Beltane also poured a Double Belgian Ale Linda really liked as well.

Porter from Petaluma Hills Brewing
I'm a porter fan, and really liked this porter from Petaluma Hill Brewing. I didn't take any notes, just enjoying sipping away on this one not wanting to be bothered by writing down any tasting notes. The head brewer at Petaluma Hills Brewing gives his name only as "JJ". Dyno-MITE! (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

English IPA from Orange and Black
I just loved the great hop aromas eminating from this well balanced and refined IPA brewed in the English style. If these guys keep brewing beers this good, they really ought to get themselves a website.

Can't wait for some of these brewers to give their beers actual names!

I look forward to all the brewers going pro, and might even wait in line over hour for their beers even then.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Beer of the Month: Retribution from High Water Brewing

February's Beer of the Month is awarded to a new brewery in the Bay Area brewing scene, High Water Brewing, founded by acclaimed brewmaster Steve Altimari. Altimari was brewing highly regarded ales at Valley Brewing in Stockton, CA before his abrupt dismissal last year for curious reasons that remain elusive. I can only go by what I read of this particular break-up, but on a 1-10 scale of break-up animosity, where "1" means "they still remained really good friends" and "10" means "resulted in a murder-suicide", this one seems to rank about an "8". And so it seems natural Altimari would name one of his first beers Retribution, which Wiktionary defines as "punishment inflicted in the spirit of moral outrage or personal vengeance."

I sampled Retribution at a Meet the Brewer Night held at Gourmet Haus Staut, a San Francisco Beer Week event, where Steve Altimari was on hand to discuss his beers, and got a minute to chat with him. Understanding one can only take an approximate measure of a man upon meeting for the first time in a loud, packed bar, for only a minute, Steve's calm and solid stature, measured and easy going demeanor, and long salt and pepper hair tied back neatly in a long pony tail suggests someone more likely to name his brews along the lines "I'm OK, You're OK Ale".

Retribution is a fantastic Imperial IPA, composed of lots of strong herbal, grapefruity hop flavors balanced by lots of rich, slightly sweet and lightly caramelized malt that goes down really smooth for all of its intensity. Somehow, all those 95 international bitterness units embrace, rather than attack the palate and I found this beer, for all its strength and power, actually easy drinking. At 9.5% abv, it literally and figuratively knocked me out.

Retribution is such a good brew, I would have one with my ex-wife, except she still doesn't drink beer.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Discoveries from the 2nd Annual SF Beer Week Beer Run

What if they had a beer run and lots of people came? Believe it or not, this was something I worried about when Bryan Kolesar and Brian Yaeger approached me about holding the 1st Annual SF Beer Week Beer Run last year, as I have this peculiar habit of analyzing ideas in terms of worst case scenarios. What if someone got hit by a car? What if holding a run like this was actually illegal? After a day of contemplation, I realized a bunch of people getting together for a run and drinking beer afterwards was probably not going to lead to a cataclysmic disaster, and so worked together with Brian and Bryan to get the run organized.

Plenty did go wrong. A blizzard hit Philadelphia that week, and Bryan Kolesar never got a plane out of his home town. We publicized the run only a few days before the event, so very few people were actually aware of it. Of the five people who showed up, pretty much all of them got lost at some point running through Golden Gate park, and one guy had to head back to retrieve his girlfriend who was nowhere to be seen. But I think it's fair to say that despite all that, everyone had a blast, and a beer run turned out not be not such a crazy idea after all.

So this year, we figured with better organization, more people would show up to the 2nd Annual Beer Run. What we hadn't counted on was a contingent from Team in Training showing up, members of the San Francisco Road Runners coming out, that the run would be the subject of a meet-up , or that one of the runners was already organizing beer runs in San Francisco on her own. About 60 of us took over Social Kitchen that morning, proving once again, the seemingly different activities of beer and running hold some sort of resonance.

Beer has long been recognized as a social lubricant. Running, which involves more hard work than drinking beer, not so much so. But since the time I started running as a socially awkward twelve year old, I certainly recognize and appreciate how the shared effort and experiences from a run brings people together and breaks down social barriers. Unlike other sports requiring memberships, access to special facilities, or expensive equipment, if you lace up your shoes and head outside, you're a runner. And on that late Sunday morning in San Francisco, 60 of us became less of a stranger to each other.

So for those who ran that morning who might be reading this, all I can say is I hope you've felt as fortunate to join the beer run as I did.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Genesis of a new beer style: The Sour Porter

Inspired by craft brewers all over the world who are constantly pushing the brewing envelope to create new and innovative beers, my home brewing exploits resulted in the creation of a new beer style, the Sour Porter. While the traditional porter roasted malt flavor profile is apparent if you concentrate real hard, the initial sensation the brewing connoisseur will experience from this beer is an intense sourness in homage to the long Belgian tradition of sour ales. This innovative feat of home brewing was accomplished using traditional porter brewing ingredients fermented using traditional British Ale yeast, combined with a rare, mysterious yeast strain that can only be found lurking around somewhere in my apartment. Upon sampling this beer, there are those who will not share my out of the box thinking, and claim that it tastes like a home brewed porter gone terribly wrong due to some horrible yeast infection, but that will only prove they have highly unsophisticated palates.

Lord, what the hell happened to my last home brew? It was supposed to be a coffee porter made with Starbuck's Verona blend coffee, which I called Verona's Coffee Porter as a tribute to my eight year old daughter of the same name. It tastes like some porter that someone poured a bottle of vinegar into. I suppose screwing up a home brew named after my daughter shows what a fair, even handed parent I am, since I just recently made a rather funny tasting brown ale named after my son Brandon. After further reflection and analysis, I believe I know where the contamination is from and will correct for it, but for now, I'm stuck with a bunch of undrinkable stuff.

They say anything worth doing is worth doing badly. And like running, what you get out of home brewing is what you put into it, and my last couple of brewing efforts have been decidedly half-assed efforts. But the good thing about bad home brew is you can simply turn to beer made from a professional brewer who knows what he is doing, rather than choke down your own swill. And the struggles of home brewing is one way to appreciate the skills and talents of brewers who owe their livelihood to what comes out of their brew kettles.

Sorry Verona, next time I'll get it right.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Session #48: Teletubbies, David Beckham, and Cask Ale

For this month's Session, Simon Johnson of The Reluctant Scooper asks the simple question: Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle: Does dispense matter?.

What do Teletubbies, David Beckham, and Cask Ale have in common? Do I dare say they're three things in held in high acclaim from the United Kingdom which many Americans find quite underwhelming?

Of course, if our friends on the other side of the pond wanted to claim a reasonable microcosm of American society could be found in any episode of The Jerry Springer Show, our national pastime of baseball involves a bizarrely complex set of rules and the players mostly standing around for several minutes at a time only to be interrupted by a second or two of action, and that the only thing sillier than The Teletubbies was American religious conservative leader Jerry Falwell denouncing Teletubbie Tinky Winky as a immoral gay influence, I'd say they've made three excellent points.

Sure I'm being confrontational. But one path to cultural understanding is acknowledging things about our respective cultures the other doesn't understand. The Teletubbies earned lots of awards in the UK for children's television, but like most American parents, I got down on my knees and praised the Lord when my kids outgrew them. David Beckham has hardly set our second-rate soccer league on fire, and owes his notoriety in the United State more to Posh Spice than anything he's done on the soccer field. And when I'm out with family and friends who are genuinely interested in craft beer and cask ale is available, I'm greeted by confused looks and indifference whenever I explain its significance. I've found there's far more interest in the taste and origins of craft beer, than the method of how the beer is stored or dispensed. Usually someone will order a pint from the cask, and when I ask them how they like it, rather than raving about the unique qualities cask conditioning imparts to the beer, the most likely response is a polite, but unenthusiastic "it's nice" to cask conditioned ale.

Yes, all things being equal, I will order something on cask rather than from a keg. But what style beers are available as well as any past experiences I've had with them, combined with what I'm in the mood for, factor far more into my decision on what beer to order than what happens to be on cask, or from a can or bottle for that matter. Perhaps my feelings about cask ale can be summed up from the time I found myself in a brewpub where the beers, in my opinion, were quite ordinary, but the porter happened to be on cask, so I ordered it. The feathery lightness injected into this mediocre porter by the cask conditioning magically and wondrously transformed it into something slightly better than mediocre.

The fact that the Real Cask Ale movement has never really gathered much traction in the United States suggests to me a certain craft beer cultural disconnect between the United Kingdom and the United States echoed in this month's session question. Sure, there are studies indicating sensory differences between beer dispensed by forced carbonation, cask conditioning, bottles, cans and what not, but it seems most Americans are far more focused on the content and origin of the beer, than how it actually gets into the glass. Taking a stab at where this cultural disconnect lies, the American craft brewing community seems more focused on the brewing methods, ingredients, and the American entrepreneurial spirit of the craft brewing industry where home brewers turn their passions into a business. Our friends in the United Kingdom seem to concentrate more on the context of how the beer is consumed and enjoyed, with more focus on pubs and tradition, with this month's Session topic a natural extension of this emphasis.

Which means I'm really not the right person to be answering this month's Session question. I'm afraid a more lucid answer would come from Tinky Winky.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Avoiding Treadmills

I just find treadmills mind numbing. You just keep moving your arms and legs back and forth on them with your surroundings remaining static, your feet landing on an artificially smooth surface, with no wind in your face or anything else to really connect you to the outside world. I understand for many runners where constant heavy winter snow makes it impossible to get any reasonable workout in, they are a necessary evil. But just because treadmills are sometimes necessary does not make them any less evil.

My travels took me Logan, UT this week for business, and I could have run on the treadmills at my hotel. Especially since the temperatures were in the single digit degrees Fahrenheit, which is pretty cold for people who live around here, and really cold for people like me who live in Northern California. But running is about breaking down bariers and that includes barriers put up by the weather. Training for races is more than simply getting into some level of cardiovascular fitness. It's about training the mind, testing yourself either by running over different and difficult terrain, slogging through inhospitable weather, and varying the running distances and paces so that on race day, your prepared for anything the race throws at you. A treadmill just doesn't provide the same spontaneous unpredictable experience of running outside.

And with this in mind, I stepped out of the hotel to start each day. There was a certain peace in those cold, quiet mornings gliding down the empty streets of Logan as the sun, hidden behind the snow covered Wasatch Mountains, slowly brightened the dark morning sky. After a while, the harsh cold provided more than morning stimulation, creating burning sensation and eventually numbness to my hands and face. But I prefer pain and numbness in the hands and feet from the cold outside to numbness in the brain from a painfully monotonous session on a treadmill indoors.

Besides, braving the cold morning makes those surprsingly addictive cinnamon rolls they have at the Holiday Inn Express breakfast bar even sweeter.