Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Beer of the Month: Ruhstaller 1881 California Red Ale

Our Beer of the Month comes from Ruhstaller, a relative newcomer to Northern California, a brewery founded 2 1/2 years ago by Jan-Erik Paino.  So who's this Ruhstaller guy?

That would be Captain Frank Ruhstaller, a Swiss immigrant who travelled across the United States and in 1885 at the age of thirty-five, opened his third brewery, the Ruhstaller Brewery in Sacramento, the largest brewery west of the Mississippi at that time.  (Which included the legendary August Busch Brewery, which was also a few miles west of the Mississippi River in St. Louis.)  Why then, did Ruhstaller travel all the way to Sacramento to build his brewery?

At the time, Sacramento was surrounded by the leading hop growing region in the United States, so the brewery was located in Sacramento to be close to the local sources of high quality hops.  "Hop growing migrated to the Yakima Valley and the rest of the Pacific Northwest for economic reasons, not quality reasons", explains Paino.  "The best hops still come from California."
Which is why Paino uses hops exclusively from the Kuchinski hop farm in California's Lake County in 1881 California Red Ale.  And while,  many brewers to urge you to "buy local", Ruhstaller takes that a step further, and sources no less than 94% of their ingredients from within California, with most of that 94% within a two hour drive from Sacramento. 

All those ingredients come together in this well balanced Red Ale.  It does have a bit of a rustic feel, as the brew is pretty dry, with really no sweetness at all, with toasty grain and caramel notes, and finishing with a nice warm resiny hop bitterness.
Red Ales can be pretty forgettable, and this one hits the familiar Red Ale notes, but its restraint, balance and complexity  makes it unique and memorable.  It's yet another example of the continual reinvention of beer by California brewers, whether by going all out with esoteric extreme beers, or by simply brewing a familiar style with precision while reviving traditional ingredients from a by-gone era.

Marty Kuchinski checking out some of his hops
before they're used in 1881 California Red Ale
(Photo provided by Ruhstaller Brewing)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The 4th Annual SF Beer Week Beer Run Heads to Los Gatos

Photo by Bryan Kolesar of The Brewlounge
In collaboration with C.B. Hannegan's and Strike Brewing, the 4th Annual SF Beer Week Beer Run heads to the South Bay.  Join us to celebrate the unlikely union of beer and running in this unique SF Beer Week event to benefit Autism Speaks and 2nd Harvest Food Bank. 

When: February 10th, 2013 at 11:00 am

Where:  C.B. Hannegan's at 208 Bachman Avenue in downtown Los Gatos.

What's the course?:  We'll start at C.B. Hannegan's, head to the Los Gatos Trail, then turn north, run the trail to Vasona Park to the Vasona Park Dam and then turn around and go back to C.B. Hannegan's.  That's 5 miles total, but if you want to run a little less (or more!) that's OK.   In the spirit of the beer run, finishing times or places will not be kept.  No entry fee either!

About the run:  It's a run, not a race!  Please obey traffic signs, yield right of way to vehicles and peacefully co-exist with other runners, bikers and walkers on the course.  We may employ a wave start if necessary for crowd control.

What happens afterward:  Stick around and enjoy a Strike Beer and food at C.B. Hannegan's and meet Strike Brewmaster Drew Erlich.  They'll be a post-run raffle to support Autism Speaks and, in memory of the late beer writer Bill Brand, 2nd Harvest Food Bank.

Raffle prizes:  Both Runner's Factory of Los Gatos and Running Revolution of Campbell have pledged a $25 gift certificate for the raffle.  In addition, the  Runner's Factory will give all runners who mention the beer run a 20% discount on any purchase.  In addition, both Adventure Sports Journal and Strike Brewing are providing T-shirts and other items for the raffle.
Raffle tickets are a dollar each, six for $5 with the raffle proceeds benefitting Autism Speaks and 2nd Harvest Food Bank.  You must be present to win.

Tell your friends...the Beer Run Facebook page can be found here.

See you there!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Randy Mosher's "Tasting Beer" on Inkling

One of my go to books for beer is Randy Mosher's "Tasting Beer".  It's full of great historical information and tasting notes, and I find myself going back to it again and again for researching stories.  Turns out you can get "Tasting Beer" for less than two buck this weekend from Inkling, a new digital media start-up based in San Francisco.  From this Friday (12/14) to Sunday (12/16), it's on sale for $1.99.  You can find out more about Tasting Beer and Inkling media version of it here:


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Guinness Joins the Holiday Party

Guinness Generous Ale in the wilds of my kitchen counter
One thing learned during in my "research" for an article on California Seasonal Beers is that there's plenty of good ones out there, from some unlikely sources.

And yes, the big macrobreweries are getting into the act, some of their holiday beers are a lot better than this jaded beer geek expected.  One I really enjoyed was a new release from Guinness, their Generous Holiday Ale. 

A press release describes this beer as:

"Inspired by Arthur’s philanthropic legacy and devotion to generous, full-flavored beers, Guinness Generous Ale is special edition holiday beer that was developed in a traditional winter ale style, but with more body and the distinct roast for which Guinness Draught is known."

I found it to have a lot of light roasty malt flavors, with a little vanilla, and a fruity character (plums?).  Each sip ends with a noticeable piney hop presence.  Not something I would have expected from the beer, and it works.  It's "wintery" all right, but has it's own unique character.  Definitely worth checking out.

(Yes, Guinness did provide a sample for the purposes of this review. I'm glad they did.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Video on Artist Jim Stitt's History with Anchor Brewing

In the wake of Anchor Brewing's 2012 Christmas Ale, they've put together an interesting video telling the story of label artist Jim Stitt. Jim has had a hand in nearly every Anchor label since the 1970's and hand draws a new tree each year for the Anchor Christmas Ale Label. Jim Stitt, Fritz Maytag, and author/historian Dave Burkhart collectively tell the story of a huge part of Anchor's history in this  video I enjoyed watching that you can find here:

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Session #70: Don't Believe the Backlash, Either

For this month's Session, Mr. David Bascombe asks everyone to discuss beers surrounded by hype.

If there is a beer surrounded by hype, it is Russian River's Pliny the Younger. The first Friday in February is Pliny the Younger Day, when hop aficionados eagerly line up outside the Russian River brewpub in downtown Santa Rosa  their annual fix of Pliny the Younger. You might say Triple IPA Pliny the Younger is the older brother of Russian River's legendary Pliny the Elder, their storied Double IPA. Pliny the Younger supposedly takes "the Elder's" stratospheric hopticity up to yet another notch to an almost incomprehensible level, at least according to the buzz surrounding it. Only a small, limited batch of "Younger" is released each year, which is why so many people willingly queue up for it in early February, often waiting well over an hour to taste the brew.

Which has inevitably led to a backlash of anti-hype against this beer. Beer geeks now gain a supposed air of sophistication by declaring to their friends that Pliny the Younger is overrated or  "just isn't that good" and that if you really want the good stuff, it's from some brewery they'll whisper in your ear, which of course, you've never heard of.  On top of that there is the "anti-nerd" faction of beer geekdom, deriding the whole enterprise as lemming-esque, as simply no beer is worth standing in line over an hour for.

But this misses the point. The point is not whether Pliny the Younger is really this breathtakingly euphoric experience worth waiting over an hour for.  The point is that standing in line for Pliny the Younger is a shared experience with other like-minded individuals, showing a certain commitment to both "beer" and a local brewery known for brewing excellence. Of course, the pay off at the end has to be a pretty good beer or the whole journey falls flat. But it doesn't have to be one of world's greatest beer simply because it's one of the very few people clamor for it in this way.

And I'm here to tell you that while it probably isn't the worlds greatest beer, it's pretty damn good. No, I don't wait for it each year during Pliny the Younger day.  I'm not a patient man, and yes, there are nearly equally good beers I can pick up with a lot less trouble. But I'm willing to wait a week after Pliny the Younger day to sample it at the Bistro Double IPA Festival held the first Saturday of SF Beer Week. Get there early and there's hardly a line for it. And how good is it?   Let's just say among the many examples from the finest West Coast brewers pushing the limits of their skills to create hop-alchemy, Pliny the Younger clearly stands out among that crowd.

Which does raise the question, do I find Pliny the Elder to be a great beer because of its hype? Or is it due to some mischievous notion I have to be part of the backlash to the backlash to the hype?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

California Winter Seasonal Beer Round-up in Adventure Sports Journal

If I learned one thing from the write-up on Winter Seasonal beers from California Breweries I wrote for Adventure Sports Journal, it's that a surprisingly number of them are complex and flavorful, yet quite drinkable.  I really thought it would be difficult to find a bunch of winter seasonals that weren't heavy malt bombs or high alcohol flavor explosions that are quite frankly the last thing I'd want after a trail run.  Further proof that the vibrant California brewing community cannot be easily pigeon-holed.   You can read the round-up here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

I Run Therefore I Am Still Nuts: Dispatches on the Strange Tribe of Runners

We runners are a strange tribe, no doubt about that.  Author Bob Schwartz captures this strangeness in an entertaining way in his new book I Run Therefore I Am Still Nuts which takes a humorous look at the peculiarities and obsessions of runners and pokes fun at their idiosyncrasies.   As someone who's been running for over 32 years, I can certainly relate when Schwartz writes, “We wear black toenails as medals of distinction, use more Vaseline in a week than quintuplets with diaper rash and chapped lips, and try to convince ourselves that a horrifically painful muscle pull that prevents us from even walking is really nothing more than a temporary cramp."   

As with all good books of this genre, it garners its biggest laughs through its human insights. Of courese, it help that runners willingly, often with great joy, engage in activities that other sensible people would avoid at all costs.  And the book also succeeds in describing "fish out of water" situations, such as my favorite chapter in which the author attends his first yoga class, despite admitting he has the flexibility of concrete.

The book is the sequel to I Run Therefore I Am Nuts!, which Schwartz wrote ten years ago.  Schwartz is the author of five books and a freelance writer whose popular articles have been published in more than 40 national and international running magazines and regional magazines, including Runner’s World and Running Fitness.  He's been running for over 40 years, and maintains the website Running Laughs.

Describing his desire to explore the humorous side of his running passion, Schwartz explains, "I’ve continued to enjoy the pleasures of running and the sometimes humbling nature of it as well.  I can now share those laughs with you from topics that include what occurs when your favorite training shoe is abruptly discontinued, the inability to admit that an injury is truly a big one, the issue of competition and aging, the inherent simplicity of running, running alone versus with others, the concept of schadenfreude, running logs, runner’s high, excuses, barefoot running, and the many peculiar talents runners possess.”
Proceeds from will the book will help fund running programs for individuals with physical and mental disabilities, recess running programs for elementary school students, and middle school cross country programs.

(A copy of this book was provided by Human Kinetics for the purposes of this review.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Beer of the Month: Ale of the 2 Tun from Hermitage Brewing

Having moved last month from the San Francisco's Peninsula to the South Bay, I'm eager to try the best beers the South Bay has to offer.  A lot has happened, beer-wise, in the 2 1/2 years since I left and I'm looking forward to catching up.  Of course, if you're one of the few remaining loud-mouthed beer geeks from San Francisco (or elsewhere) constantly sneering at the South Bay Beer scene, you'll dismiss this whole enterprise.  But then, that crowd proves nothing more than they like to talk a lot about stuff they know nothing about and need to get out more.

But these days even the most jaded San Francisco-phile (Is that a word?) will grudgingly admit plenty of good beer can be found from South Bay breweries.  And Exhibit A is our Beer of the Month for November, Ale of the 2 Tun Imperial Stout from Hermitage Brewing.

It's a real roast bomb.  There's lots of bitter chocolate and some coffee flavors, and just a slight grassy hop finish.  It's very dry with hardly any sweetness at all, giving it a rather sophisticated taste.  But this isn't one of those beers that's "an acquired taste" as it goes down smooth despite all that roasted bitterness with almost a creamy consistency, and its 9.0% abv is virtually undetectable.  

Just who is Hermitage Brewing anyway? Hermitage started in San Jose in 2009 when the Tied House brewpub closed down its downtown San Jose location and move the brewing equipment to its current location just south of downtown. In addition to its own beer line up, it produces beer for the remaining Tied House location in Mountain View and contracts out its capacity for other firms in the soda and beer industry. The current brewing team includes Brewmaster Ron Manabe, Brewmaster Peter Licht, Brewer Greg Filippi. They recently picked up brewing free agent and four-time consecutive GABF winner Brewer Steve Donohue who recently left Firehouse.  

Next week, we'll discuss why Rice-A-Roni is the San Francisco treat.  Or should we say the 'Frisco Treat?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Giving Thanks, Albeit in a Rambling Sort of Way

I took this incredibly dramatic picture of runners waiting around for traffic
to clear before putting away the camera to get serious for the
Silicon Valley Turkey Trot
When we think of Thanksgiving traditions, most of us think of turkey dinner with family and friends.  And while I think of that too, I always also associate Thanksgiving with running.  Thanksgiving morning has usually meant a running a race ever since my high school days in Oak Park, IL, which I'd trek a few miles up to Chicago's Riis Park for their annual Thanksgiving cross-country race, a tradition that I'm glad to see still exists today.

Thanksgiving races are always fun, since everyone's in a good mood for the holidays and late November usually brings great running weather.  That tradition continued yesterday at the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot, a huge running extravaganza held in downtown San Jose.  So my wife and I joined nearly 25,000 runners, and then met up with a couple of friends for Thanksgiving dinner at the retirement home one of them manages.  And yes, a great Thanksgiving Day made me reflect on just what I'm thankful for.  And at the risk adding another insipid holiday "things I am thankful for" post into the blog-o-sphere, I'd like to share these things with you.

  • I'm thankful that on race day, I still remain excited, tense and focused on the upcoming effort, such that I spend little time snapping a bunch of pictures to post on my blog.  (That's why most of my race pictures on this blog are pretty crappy, by the way.)
  • I'm thankful for finding an empty porta-potty just 15 minutes before the start of a race of 25,000 people without having to even wait in line.  If there is any testament to the incredible organization of the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot, it is this.
  • I'm thankful for my Garmin watch, which told me that "easy pace" early in the race, was about a minute faster than goal pace, so I should slow down before it was too late.
  • I'm thankful I still have the energy to get out there in a 10k, having fun competing and pushing myself, and after over 33 years of running since starting at age twelve, I'm not too old for this shit.
  • I'm thankful my wife has found joy and fullfillment in running, too.
  • I'm also thankful that when my wife rolls her eyes at another one of my stupid jokes, she does it with such dramatic flare.
  • I'm thankful the standard turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes served at a retirement home, when enjoyed with the company of good friends, is elevated to a sublime eating experience.
  •  I'm thankful for sharing the deliciousness of Great Divide's Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout with friends who also appreciate its rich, intense complex nature.
  • And finally, I'm thankful for you, because I write things so others gain by reading them, and there's a satisfying feeling whenever I discover someone actually reads something here.
All the best to you for the holidays!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Scenes from a Beer Walk

Give credit San Jose's Willow Glen Business Association for coming up with a bright idea, the Downtown Willow Glen Beer Walk.  For thirty-five bucks, they give you a tasting glass and map of downtown Willow Glen indicating where no fewer than 26 business were pouring various beers to taste between 2 and 6 pm last Saturday afternoon.  The idea of course, is to get new customers to walk into stores they might not otherwise go into in search of beer.   And just maybe as each beer walker contemplates the malt-hop balance of the latest California IPA amidst shelves of, say beauty products, they might see something they like and buy it.

And I have to say it worked.  My wife and I ventured into plenty of new stores during the Beer Walk and let's just say we bought a few things.   And while each pouring location is indicated and the entire brewery list is provided, the actual location were each brewery is pouring is cleverly left to be discovered by each participant on the beer walk.  So it was with great suspense as we entered a Hair Salon or Clothing Boutique, looking to see what beer awaited us. I often exclaimed things like "Cool!  They're pouring Firestone-Walker here!" as we walked into realty office once the mystery beer became apparent.  We found this unlikely beer festival to be a blast, arguably the most fun we've ever had at a tasting event due to its off-beat and unpredictable nature.

And while this may have been a good marketing idea for Downtown Willow Glen, I suspect a number of proprietors hadn't figured on a bunch of very tipsy beer walkers clogging their stores during the last hour of the beer walk, stumbling around with little interest in buying merchandise to the chagrin of the non-beer walking customers who probably wished they had chosen a different time to do their shopping.   As you can see from the photos, I had plenty of goofy fun with my iPhone taking pictures of my tasting glass in unlikely locations.  Hope you enjoy my photographic artistry!


Monday, November 19, 2012

Cooking with Beer for the Holidays with Chef Ian Knauer of the TakePart Tastemakers

Smoked IPA_Braised Duck Legs with Cherry Gravey
(Image provided by TakePart Tastemakers)
Looking for a good beer recipe for your holiday dinner?  Even if you aren't, you might be intrigued by a recent video of the TakePart Tastemakers series.  It's devoted to spotlighting leading local businesses committed to bringing their communities food produced in more environmentally sustainable ways.  As part of this campaign, TakePart is also launching key social initiatives designed to help people make better food choices and improve America’s food system as a whole.

On an recently released episode, the intrepid Tastemaker's Chef Ian Knauer visits Golden Road Brewing in Los Angeles to find ingredients to add to his Thanksgiving meal.  It's a solid, well produced video serving as a reminder how craft beer is at the forefront of a new consciousness of how food can be better delivered to our tables. You can view the episode at and check out a couple of Chef Knauer's recipes below.  If you'd like .pdf copies of these recipes, drop me an e-mail you'll using the e-mail form you'll find at this link and I'll send them to you.  Enjoy!
Smoked IPA-Braised Duck Legs with Cherry Gravy

Serves 6


2 carrots
2 celery sticks
1 onion, halved
1 head garlic, halved
6 parsley sprigs
6 fresh duck legs
1 cup smoked IPA
2 cups duck or chicken stock
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1⁄2 cup cherry preserves


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and parsley in a deep roasting pan. Season duck with salt and pepper, then place on top of vegetables in pan. Add stock and beer to pan and cover with foil. Braise duck until very tender, about 21⁄2 hours. Transfer duck to a broiler pan, skin side up. Strain braising liquid and separate fat. Save fat for another use.

Bring 3 cups of braising liquid to a boil in a medium heavy pot and boil until reduced by about half, about 10 minutes. Stir together water and cornstarch, then stir into braising liquid. Boil until thickened, about 1 minute. Stir in preserves and transfer to a serving boat.

Preheat broiler. Broil duck about 3 inches from heat until skin is browned and crisp, about 6 minutes. Transfer duck to a serving platter and serve with cherry gravy.
Crispy Beer-Roasted Duck


1 (6-lb) duck
1 small orange, quartered
5 or 6 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
1 sage sprig
2 cups boiling Smoked IPA
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper


Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F.

If necessary, cut off wing tips with poultry shears or a sharp knife. Remove and discard excess fat from body cavity and neck, then rinse duck inside and out. Season cavity with salt and pepper, then fill cavity with orange, thyme, rosemary, and sage. Tie legs together with kitchen string. Fold neck skin under body, then put duck, breast side up, on a rack in a 13- by 9- by 3-inch roasting pan and pour hot beer over duck (to tighten skin). Pour out any beer from cavity into pan. Pat duck dry inside and out, reserving water in pan, then rub duck inside and out with kosher salt and pepper.

Roast duck, breast side up, 45 minutes, then remove from oven. Turn duck over and roast 45 minutes more. Turn duck over again (breast side up), tilting duck to drain any liquid from cavity into pan. Continue to roast duck until skin is brown and crisp, about 45 minutes more (total roasting time: about 21⁄4 hours). Tilt duck to drain any more liquid from cavity into pan. Transfer duck to a cutting board and let stand 15 minutes before carving.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

This is not a review of Campbell's Liquid Bread...but you're damn right I'll be back!

I shamelessly stole this photo of Liquid Bread from
their Facebook page.  Hope they don't mind.
As I've said many times, when it comes to culinary insight and criticism, I basically just wing it.  So if you've come looking for a insightful review of Liquid Bread, Campbell's new gastropub, you're going to have to look elsewhere.  But I know what I like, and can demonstrably write about things I like, and Friday night my wife and I checked out Liquid Bread for the first time.  And we really, really liked it.

So exactly what did we like about it?  Well, a smokey grilled kale salad with goat cheese and jicama was a unique, lively way to start a meal.  My wife had their monkfish entree, and while everything about it was good, she could have eaten luscious black bean puree on her plate from a bucket like ice cream if they'd let her.  I enjoyed something called "38 Chicken" or whatever, which was a playful riff on chicken and waffles comfort food enjoying a minor resurgence.  I was too busy enjoying all the different tastes on my plate to take any notes. 

Did I mention they serve beer at Liquid Bread?  For a newcomer to the Bay Area Beer Scene, they had a pretty impressive tap list, as well as an extensive assortment of bottled brews.  I thoroughly enjoyed a Sierra Nevada Scotch on the Rocks, a Scotch Ale brewed with caraway seeds, a project of Sierra Nevada's prestigious Beer Camp.   For "dessert", we split a smooth sipping Anniversary Barlywine from Uinta Brewing, one of my favorite breweries from the underrated brewing state of Utah.

I suppose part of me really wants a gastropub within walking distance of my home to succeed big time, so maybe I'm guilty of being a rather biased in their favor.  But you know what?  I don't care.  I'll be back at Liquid Bread, and hope to see you there.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Get your South Bay Beer Vibe this Saturday at the San Jose Beer Walk

Having just moved back to the South Bay after living 2 1/2 years on the San Francisco Peninsula, the San Jose Beer Walk this Saturday seems like the perform way to get my South Bay Beer grove back.  Looks like a great line-up of breweries pouring tastings throughout cozy Downtown Willow  Glen.  More details here and below.    Can't wait to reconnect with the South Bay, and some of its underrated breweries.  Hope to see you there!

SJ Beerwalk returns to San Jose, hitting the streets of Downtown Willow Glen on Saturday, November 17th!

Stroll the streets of Downtown Willow Glen while visiting retailers & restaurants
and enjoying 25 beer tastings with friends and neighbors.

Tickets are only $30
and include a tasting glass

Purchase online at:

or at any check-in location the day of the event for $35.

The Walk runs for 4 hours from 2pm to 6pm. Check-in starting at 1pm and ending at 5pm. Check-in locations listed below.

Don't miss this one of a kind event!

Proceeds Benefit the Willow Glen Business Association
Follow them at
or on twitter @dwtnwillowglen

The Breweries:
Sierra Nevada
Santa Cruz Ale Works
Firestone Walker
New Belgium
North Coast
Fox Barrel
Gordon Biersch
Lost Coast
21st Amendment
El Toro
Karl Strauss
Devil's Canyon

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Session #69: Beer Fix?

For this month's Session, Jorge of Brew Beer and Drink It asks "What would you change to lead us into the Perfect Beer World?".  You know, the beer world isn't perfect, but if you ask me, it's darn near close.  And if I tried to do something to make the beer world a better place, I'd probably just totally screw it up. 

That's my answer.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Running Ransom Road: A Review and Interview with Author Caleb Daniloff

There's pretty much universal agreement that running is great for physical fitness.  Less appreciated is how running strengthens mental fitness, albeit in ways elusive to measure and highly individualistic.  There's no better example of this than a new book entitled Running Ransom Road. It's about the personal journey of author Caleb Daniloff, a recovering alcoholic (he prefers the term "former drunk"), took as he turned to running to help battle his addiction.   He decides to  revisit the different cities from his dark past, his "sinning grounds" as he calls them, by running marathons and other distances races in each place as an attempt to further heal himself and those around him. 

What raises this book above a standard self-help memoir is Daniloff's highly poetic writing style, razor sharp observations, and astute personal assessments.  Of course, it also doesn't hurt that his early upbringing was hardly ordinary.  The son of US journalist Nicholas Daniloff, who was assigned to cover the Soviet Union for US New & World Report in the early 80's, Caleb Daniloff spent his teenage years in Moscow during the cold war in the early 80's until his father was arrested in 1986 on espionage charges by the Soviets.   (Nicholas Daniloff was eventually allowed to return to the US.)  It also helps that three of his sinning grounds are Boston, New York and Washington, home of marathons heavily steeped in running lore.

But where the book really stands out is with memorable description of how running enabled his recovery with passages such as "My stride started to gain fluency, my feet acting as metronome.  The repetition became less monotony and more a rhythm of nothingness, like a Buddhist chant, my head humming with open space".    Daniloff also captures each race with great imagery, such as describing  the teaming masses assembling before the New York Marathon, noting "There was no way you couldn't feel small, like so many plankton inhaled into the whale's mouth."   Through it all, Daniloff includes brief flashbacks which serve as cracks through which the reader catches glimpses of his former life.  You won't find too many sordid tales in these flashbacks, but they are effective in not only what they reveal, but also what is left unsaid and alluded to, leaving the reader to speculate what dark places Daniloff  had actually gone to.

It's a book sure to resonate with runners, especially those who used running to help them through difficult times in their lives.  And certainly those dealing with alcoholism and other substance abuse issues will also find reassurance from someone they can identify with.  Of course, any story well told with unique insights about being human has universal appeal.  As Daniloff engages in a slow march every few weeks at each of his marathons to break the four hour finishing time barrier, we see whether one attains the personal goals they've set for themselves isn't what's important.  It's what you gain from the act of reaching for them.

I caught up with Caleb Daniloff during his book tour, both over the phone and through e-mails, to discuss his latest work.  Here's what he had to say.

Q: How do you find people reacting to your book?
Daniloff: So far, so good.  A lot of readers, including runners, are reaching out and identifying themselves as having battled with alcoholism or other demons or just dealing with difficult times in their lives.  The greatest reaction so far was from a mother who has a son struggling with addiction and currently in prison. She really wanted to send him a copy of the book, but prison rules required it come directly from the publisher. So we arranged for that. She was incredibly grateful.

Q: A lot of people tell me they hate running, or think it’s a necessary evil they need to do to keep in shape.  How are non-runners responding to your writing about running’s therapeutic effects?

Daniloff: Most people recognize that following some form of passion has a therapeutic effect and most people recognize the mind-body connection of regular exercise. But yes, lots of people do find running boring and repetitive, so it’s sometimes hard to explain to them how the repetitiveness and increased exertion over time is where a lot of cool things can open up. But I can see how some runners might say, “It’s a running thing, you wouldn’t understand.”  There’s something mesmerizing about the rhythm--the pounding feet, sawing arms, heaving lungs.
Q:  Can you explain some of these “cool things” that arise from the repetitiveness?

Daniloff:  Creative thought for starters. Plenty of images and lines for the book bubbled up during a run. Even things that I’d never have thought of sitting still at my desk; seeing a stubborn problem in a whole new light. There’s a real clarity. You can access greater depths of feeling for people in your life, for the world around you.
Q: I’ve always felt that success in running requires a willingness and tolerance for self-abuse.  Do you think the self-loathing you describe in your alcoholic past factors into your running?

Daniloff: I think in the beginning, running was more like self-punishment.  Running was fairly painful in the early years and I was welcoming of that pain.  Over time as running became less physically painful, and the mental element of running helped mitigate the self loathing, the shame, the guilt, the insecurities. I used to think if I run a marathon, then I’ve really come out the other side. But there always more “other sides” to come out of. That’s just life.
Q: Is it a sense of accomplishment that mitigates the self loathing?  I have to say some periods when I ran my best races and fastest times correlate pretty well to difficult times in my life, and my dad once told me, “You always run your fastest when you’re running away from something.”

Daniloff:  Your dad is probably right. Yes, the sense of accomplishment gives you the confidence and boosts your self-esteem, which can mitigate and soften negative feelings you might be harboring.  Running also allows one to indulge in the feeling of running away without actually doing so. And at the same time, it reminds you that you can’t run away from your problems. Your head is always going to be on your shoulders.
Q:  You’ve completed marathons in your old “sinning grounds” and earned redemption.  What’s next for you, running-wise?

Daniloff:  I’ll be running the Philadelphia Marathon in a couple weeks, and would like to run the Boston Marathon in 2013. I now run one marathon a year, but have no real time or distance goals at the moment.  The idea of running South Africa’s Comrades Marathon (a 56-miler) pops up in my mind from time to time.
Q: Have you thought of doing shorter races, like cross-country or 5 and 10k’s?

Daniloff:  I’ve run a couple 5Ks, but I like the challenge of the longer races where it’s about more endurance, not speed, at least for me.  I also prefer the longer races because I don’t want the run to end so quickly.
(An advance copy of Running Ransom Road was provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the purposes of this review.)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Where have I been lately?

Bear Lake, UT in the early morning.  Couldn't run by it since
my arm was in a sling at the time, but was invigorated
by the early morning walk to its banks.
No doubt most of you are losing sleep, staying up all night, wondering what's happened to me as the posts here have slowed to a trickle.  OK, even though you haven't, plenty has been going on in my world lately.  In the past nine days I have:
  • Undergone shoulder surgery on my left shoulder to rid it of it's nasty habit of popping out of its socket at inconvenient times.
  • Gone to Bear Lake, UT for three days on a job related meeting.  My boss has a rather dim view of me blogging on all hands meetings.  Go figure!
  • With my wife, packed up all our stuff, loaded it on a van, and moved from Belmont, CA on the San Francisco Bay Peninsula to the South Bay's Campbell, CA.
Needless to say, I haven't had much time for blogging, and my left arm hanging in a sling isn't the greatest situation for writing blog posts.

Not to worry, there's several projects in the works you'll see here in the coming weeks..  As for beer and running, the blog is going to take a decidedly South Bay turn.  I'm writing this sitting no further than a mile from the Los Gatos Creek Trail, and a fifteen minute walk from the Sonoma Chicken Coop, and their brewing alter ego Campbell Brewing Company.   Across the street from the Sonoma Chicken Coop is this new, nifty Belgium cafe I just discovered called Byr of Belgium featuring a very solid line-up of Belgium beers.   And our front door is literally a stone's throw from Fermentation Solutions, a home brew supply store I shopped at many times.  So while family and work matter largely drove the move to Campbell, the beer and running side of the equation unexpectedly fell into place quite nicely.

I think I'm going to like it here. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Beer of the Month: Ahwahnee Amber Ale from Mammoth Brewing

It's no puzzle that Ahwahnee Amber and
Yosmite National Park are interlocking.
The sheer cliffs, the towering water falls, and the overall surrealistic landscape of Yosemite all speak to us.  For some, Yosemite declares the overwhelming power and beauty of nature.  For others, it reminds us of a need to preserve our environmental treasures for future generations.  But for me, the grandeur of Yosemite whispers "Hey, there's a Mammoth Brewing brewski just around the corner with your name on it!"

So our Beer of the Month is one enjoyed on a recent weekend trip to Yosemite, Ahwahnee Amber Ale from Mammoth Brewing.  (Outside of the National Park, it's known as Real McCoy Amber.)  Now Mammoth makes a couple of pretty good IPA's (Epic and 395) and their Hair of the Bear Dopplebock is one of the best Dopplebock's I've had.  But the day I spent long five miles and 2,000 vertical feet hiking of The Mist Trail to Vernal Falls, and then up to Nevada falls, the Ahwahnee Amber at the bottom tasted like sweet nectar.

There's really nothing fancy about this beer, and that's what's so good about it.  Just lots of toasty malt, with a little nuttiness, and a smattering of earthy hops combine to create a smooth, drinkable pleasure.  Ever since I discovered Mammoth Brewing 2 1/2 years ago on my last tip to Yosemite, the brewery and it's iconic landscape have become intractably linked.  And I just can't leave without showing you a few more Yosemite pictures.  Hope you enjoy.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ode to my Garmin Watch: Breaking 40 minutes in the Theta Breakers "10k"

Finishers milling about at the Theta Breakers 5k and 10k
Maybe this post going to sound like a commercial for Garmin GPS watches, but I don't care.  A few months ago, I saved up a bunch of "thank you" points on my credit card and got one of those Garmin watches that indicate how far you've run using GPS.  Perhaps in part I was motivated by my last big race, a half-marathon in San Francisco last April where the first few mile markers were clearly wrong and I had no idea what my pace was.   This proved to be a killer in the half-marathon as I ran out of gas miles before the finish line.   I'm a pretty anti-gadget runner, but had to admit if I had one of those fancy GPS watches at the time, the half-marathon would have likely gone a lot differently.

It wasn't until today that I finally had a chance to use it in a race at the Theta Breakers 10k.  The race is in it's 27th year, and is put on by the Stanford University chapter of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority to raise money for Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, which provides court appointed representation of abused and neglected children.   The picturesque course starts next to Stanford Stadium and twists and turns through the university and surrounding Palo Alto  neighborhoods. 

And wouldn't you know the Garmin watch came in handy about a half mile into the race.  After we all take off and run all  the way around Stanford Stadium, I look down at my watch and see my current pace is 5:45.  Considering I was hoping to break 40 minutes for 10k which is about a 6:25 pace, you might say I was going out a wee bit too fast. So I backed it off, but still came through the first mile in a way too ambitious 5:58.

At each critical turn in the race course, there was a helpful and enthusiastic Kappa Alpha Theta sister holding a glittery arrow showing everyone where to go.  There were also cheerful Theta's spaced out at each mile of the course holding signs saying things like "4 miles!!!  You can do it!".  Except according to my Garmin watch, each mile marker was actually about a block or two beyond where the actual mile mark should be located. 

My trusty Garmin watch letting me know the "10k"
was really 0.2 tenths of a mile longer than 10k
So instead of having no clue of how fast I was really running, I came through mile 2 at 6:24 (right on pace), and then an uphill mile 3 at 6:39 (yikes!), and doubt set in as to whether sub-40 minutes was really in the cards.   Hope returned on a downhill mile 4 (6:16) and another slightly downhill mile 5 (6:26).  Pushing hard the last mile to beat the 40 minute 10k goal, I crossed the finish line at 40:37. 

Bad news for the sub-40 quest?   Not really.  The course was actually 6.4 miles according to my Garmin watch, and so the effort was equivalent to a 39:16 10k.  Mission accomplished!  And instead of going home dejected with a "slow" time, I discovered I'm not as slow as I thought, thanks to my new fancy Garmin watch.  (And no, they aren't paying me to say that.) 

And forgive the bragging, but this earned first pace in the male master division, never mind that few old guys show up for sorority races, and the fast old guys were probably running the Rock and Roll Half-Marathon in San Jose that day.  At my age, you realize there are only so many small victories left and it's best to just savor them in the rare moments when they occur.  With a beer, of course.

Another shamelessly posed photo of my sweaty 1st Male Master Finisher certificate,
a frilly bag with a gift card to a fancy San Francisco eatery, and a celebratory beer.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Session #68: When Does Novelty Cease?

For this month's Session, Tiffany at 99Pours asks us to write about novelty beers.   Here are my riffs on the subject.

In the 50's, Elvis Presley introduced novel innovations in music to the world.  About the same time, Alvin and the Chipmonks released records using novel recording techniques.  Both Elvis Presley and Alvin and the Chipmonks won multiple Grammy Awards.  Elvis is still Elvis.   Alvin and the Chipmonks are still unlistenable to anyone over the age of seven.  Somewhere between Elvis Presley and Alvin and the Chipmonks lies the interface between timeless innovation and perpetual novelty.

Beer is no different.  Chile beer is one novelty beer that many feel has not only overstayed its welcome, but should never have come over in the first place.  And yes, chile beer is often a stale lager with a jalapeno pepper thoughtlessly dunked into it, a beer gimmick resulting in an overpowering and undrinkable mess.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  One of my favorite beers is Devil's Canyon's Hades Habanero, where a deft touch of the habenero's transforms an earthy underlying amber ale into a lively concoction.  And this year I experienced the pleasure of Green Chile Ale from De La Vega's Pecan Grill & Brewery in Las Cruces, NM, a beer where local green chiles are carefully put on a pedestal of light malt to be celebrated in all their glory.  I also experienced a beer brewed with fennel of all things, Almanac's Spring 2012 Bière de Mars, and found it sensational.   Somehow, these beers made with habaneros, green chiles, or fennel  don't seem like novelty beers, but examples of innovative brewing with unusual and local ingredients.

Of course, there was a time when the ubiquitous IPA was a novelty beer.  Just a few decades ago, an IPA in America was either a rare British import, or was handed to you by a shaggy homebrewer with a devilish glint in his eye.  And as IPA's caught on and became ordinary, the new novel became uber-hoppy double, triple, and even quadrupal IPA's, as brewers engaged in a hop-driven arms race.  Until there was nowhere else to go and a few breweries got the bright idea to release Gruits, beers without any hops, but often flavored instead with spices and other exotic additions.  And it was novel.

Well, sort of.  For the first 5,000 years of brewing history, the Gruit ruled, as hops first started showing up in beer around 1400 AD.  Seems like as long as beer is continually reinvented, there will always be novelty beers.  They just may be standard beers from our past, or of the future.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Touring Four Innovative California Breweries

(An edited version of this post was published in the Oct/Nov 2012 issue of Adventure Sports Journal.)

This isn't a museum.  It's Anchor's Historic Brewhouse
(Photon courtesy of Anchor Brewing)
There’s revolution going on in this country, born largely in California that has nothing to do with music, politics, or some insanely great gadget.  It’s a revolution in beer, a beverage that’s existed for over 5,000 years of human history that continues to be reinvented to this day.    Large breweries run by multinational corporations producing unoriginal light, flat tasting yellow lagers are dramatically losing market share to a growing fleet of smaller independent breweries concocting a wide variety of rich, flavorful, and unique brews.   People are enjoying the endless flavor combinations and possibilities of beer and becoming more aware about where their beer comes from.  California breweries are major pioneers of this movement.

Unlike most businesses with tightly protected company secrets, many breweries happily throw open their doors to let you experience their sights, sounds, and tastes.    You can tour four of California’s leading breweries changing the way our nation experiences beer, and here’s what you’ll find.

Go to Anchor Brewing and you’ll see a piece of San Francisco history.   The brewery is housed in a four story Depression-era brick building in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood.  Visitors meet in brewery’s tap room, with its classic carved wooden interior and old brewery photographs, which include Janis Joplin happily enjoying an Anchor Steam.    The brewery itself, with its old copper kettles and brick interior, looks like something out of a museum, but is where all of Anchor’s beer is brewed today.

The tour starts with recounting of the tumultuous history of Anchor Brewing.  It’s one of the oldest breweries in the United States, dating back to the Gold Rush-era in San Francisco.  It survived the 1906 Earthquake and Prohibition, but nearly went out bankrupt in 1965 before Fritz Maytag, a recent Stanford graduate from a Midwestern family of prominent dairy farmers (think “Maytag Blue Cheese”)  learned of the imminent demise of his favorite beer and purchased 51% of the business.

While saving the brewery, Maytag carefully studied brewing methods from the brewery’s earliest period, when San Francisco breweries were known for their “Steam Beer” fermented in open vats often on roof tops with the cool San Francisco climate providing natural refrigeration.  It’s a brewing practice that had long been abandoned, most likely due to the likelihood of wild yeasts and other airborne microbes ruining a batch. 
Maytag developed a system of open shallow vats in a more controlled environment to replicate brewing technique, and today every drop of Anchor Steam slowly ferments in these vats.   A highlight of the tour is catching a glimpse of these vats, which had long been a brewery secret.     As brewery spokes person Candice Uyloan describes, “These fermenters are an important part of our unique brewing history and represent a marked difference from the vertical tanks found in other breweries. Except for the occasional hot day, we still simply use the naturally cool air from San Francisco's foggy coastal climate.”

After viewing the brewing equipment and bottling line, the tour concludes back in the brewery tap room where visitor can taste between 6-8 Anchor Beers, depending on the season.   Uyloan adds “We would like visitors to leave knowing that every Anchor beer comes from the hands of people who love and are dedicated to what they do.”

Tour Information
The brewery offers two tours a day on Weekdays.  Tour reservations are taken up to six months in advance and dates fill up quickly, often weeks in advance.  Call 415-863-8350 for more information and to make reservations.  Admission is free.


Tiny, rustic Booneville, with its 1,000 residents, looks like a typical small town, but is like no place on earth.  It’s home to an eclectic group of artists and some of the finest Pinot Noir growing land in all of California.   It’s also the source of Boontling, a quirky, folk language of the region that sprang up in the late 1800’s.  Boontling is largely defunct, save for a few dedicated local practitioners keeping the language alive.  This includes Anderson Valley Brewing, located on the Southern edge of town, which names their beers after Boontling phrases and place names. 
Don't let all those controls in the Anderson Valley Brewhouse fool you,
none of them actually work.

 Anderson Valley’s current brewery went online in 2000 after outgrowing its previous location in central Booneville.  The open 30-acre brewery grounds also include a Frisbee golf course, a tap room, a field of hops growing up a series of a vertical support lines, and eight goats used to “mow” part of the grounds.

The Anderson Valley Brewery tour meets in the tap room and proceeds into the Brew House, where the first thing you’ll see are three gleaming copper brew kettles recovered from a defunct German brewery.  There’s an equally impressive looking old world control panel that looks like something Captain Nemo used to pilot the Nautilus, but if you look carefully, a smaller, more modern electronic controller is actually used to control the brewing equipment.

“We like to educate people on the brewing process,” explains Rebecah Toohey, Anderson Valley’s Tap Room Manager.  “During the tour, we go over the history of the brewery, as well of each step we take to brew our beer.”   This includes a trip to the hop freezer.   There’s nothing more stimulating the walking into the cold air of the hop freezer and deeply inhaling all the fresh, piny hops Anderson Valley uses for beers such as their Hop Ottin’ IPA and Poleeko Pale Ale.  Visitors also get to go up on the brewery roof and see the solar panels which generate about 40% of the breweries electricity, while learning about the many other environmental initiatives that are part of Anderson Valley’s commitment to its unique region.

 Tour Information
Tours start Daily at 1:30 and 3:00 pm, except between January and March, when they only run Thursday-Monday.    The tour costs $5, and include two beer samples from the tap room, and a $5 coupon for any purchase over $10 in the brewery gift shop.  Call (707) 895-BEER for more information.

Lagunitas is first and foremost about having a good time.  And everyone working at Lagunitas seems to be having one, as all the staff at the Lagunitas Tap Room and Beer Sanctuary has an genuine, infectious  enthusiasm for the place.  The Tap Room and Beer Sanctuary serves food and often features live music.  Tours guides announce the start of each tour by clanging a bell and waving a small, crudely written card board sign above their head.  Anyone who wants to join simply follows them out into the brewery.
Ryan Tamborski discussing Lagunitas's Barrel-aged Brews
Brewery tours typically have the aura of a high school science field trip, but as tour guide Ryan Tamborski tells the story of Lagunitas founder Tony Magee, he works the room like a stand-up comic.  “In the early days, there was a problem when Tony Magee flushed yeast into the community septic tank.  Does anyone know what you get when you flush yeast into septic tank?  Coors Light!”  Indeed, there’s plenty of entertaining stories behind many Lagunitas beers, and most involve either marijuana or owner Tony Magee thumbing his nose at various authorities.   The tour guides are master story tellers, and the Lagunitas Brewery tour is the most entertaining hour I’ve ever spent at a brewery.
But behind the goofy humor, one also witnesses a relentless capitalism. Lagunitas is one of the fastest growing breweries in the United States, available all over the country, and commanding high prices on the black market overseas.   Ryan happily showed off the shiny state-of-the-art equipment Lagunitas recently invested in to meet this exploding demand, and well as telling us Lagunitas’s plans to open a second brewery in Chicago at the end of this year.    Sure, Lagunitas is a place to have a good time, but touring the place also reveals how much hard work and commitment must go into creating the good times.

Tour Information
Mondays-Tuesdays 3:00 pm, Wednesday at 3:00 and 5:00 pm, Saturdays 1:00, 3:00 and 5:00 pm 

Call 707-778-8776 for more information

Sierra Nevada is where to go to learn a lot about beer. 

“We have a very technical tour, “explains Marie Gray, Tour Coordinator for Sierra Nevada.  “We get a lot of questions from beer craft drinkers who really want to know more about beer, so we do our best to answer them.  It’s a lot of fun, and we meet a lot of great people out there.”
The dignified splendor of Sierra Nevada's Brewhouse

The tour takes over an hour and carefully goes over every step of the brewing process.  It starts in the mill room, which prepares the malted barley for brewing.  Next in the Brew House,  large room with impressive copper brewing kettles, visitors can peer into to see the mash through glass windows.  You can actually sample a taste of wort, the liquid full of extracted sugars from malted barley, used in Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to understand how the hops and fermentation transforms the sweet liquid into beer.  There is also an invigorating trip to the Sierra Nevada hop freezer room as well as overhead views of the bottling and canning lines.

 In addition to brewing, visitors learn plenty about Sierra Nevada’s legion of environmental practices.  Climbing up to a catwalk above the brewery, you’ll look down on no fewer than 10,763 solar panels adorning the roof.    Guests also discover that hydrogen fuel cells provide approximately 50% of the brewery’s electricity needs and that Sierra Nevada actually paid to extend a railroad line a few miles to so that rail cars could roll right up to the brewery, eliminating the CO2 emissions from trucks transporting supplies those last few miles.

At the end, there’s a tasting of eight samples of different Sierra Nevada beers at the brewery tap room, and even this is used as an opportunity to educate.  “We try to make it an educational tasting, where people learn to enjoy the different aromas and flavors of beer,” explains Marie.  “In the end, our guests walk away with a really good experience.”  

For those more interested in Sierra Nevada’s environmentally sustainable practices, the brewery hosts Sustainable Tours on Fridays, Saturday, and Sunday the focus on Sierra Nevada’s environmental initiatives.  There is also beer tasting at the end of this tour, but is held in an outside garden, weather permitting, and consists of four samples.

Tour Information
Tour Hours:
Monday – Thursday: 11:00am 12:00 pm, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm 3:00pm & 4:00 pm
Friday and Saturday: 11:00am 12:00 pm, 12:30pm, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, 2:30pm 3:00 pm, 4:00 pm, 4:30pm & 5:00 pm
Sunday: 11:00am 12:00 pm, 12:30pm, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, 2:30pm 3:00 pm, 4:00 pm
Phone:  530-899-4776