Sunday, April 29, 2012

California Cafe' Brewmasters' Dinners Remain in Good Hands

Dessert of Glazed Plums, Pine Nut-Prune Chutney, Honey-Cinnamon Sabayon
paired with Firehouse's  Hardly Thomas Barley Wine
When I heard Chef Todd Yamanaka was replacing departing Chef Mark Pettyjohn at Palo Alto's California Cafe', that proverbial sound of a needle scratching across a vinyl record echod in my mind.  After all, Mark Pettyjohn was clearly a driving force behind the California Cafe's Brewmaster series, with his enthusiasm for both the breweries and pairing their beers with creative plates.  In fact, Yamanaka only assumed his post as Executive Chef at California Cafe's Palo Alto location barely one week.  If that wasn't enough, things fell through with the previously scheduled brewery for April, and so Steve Donohue of Firehouse Brewing came in to pinch hit with just a couple weeks notice before the next dinner held this past April 26th.   Considering the amount of time and effort that goes into these things, sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

Except it didn't.  Sure, for some of the courses, I'd have to admit some of the beer and food pairings were not as cohesively integrated as in dinners past.   But there was this comfortable spontaneity  and "let's just try this" to the whole affair, both in the food and in Donohue's brews, especially his experimental Barley Wine and Sour Ale, that couldn't be duplicated with the weeks of preparation Pettyjohn usually took.  I should add the penultimate course of Coffee Crusted Angus Ribeye and Wild Mushroom Risotto paired with the uber coffee roastiness of Firehouse's Brendan’s Irish Stout hit it out of the park with its warm, earthy comforting character.  Otherwise, I'm not going to go into a culinary breakdown of the evening, since I'm not good at that stuff, especially since my esteemed beer blogging colleague Peter Estaniel was there that evening, and he is good at that stuff, and I expect he'll post something soon.

Yamanaka may not be a hard core beer geek, but in talking with him he clearly appreciates beer, and the man can clearly cook.  With all the announcements of $100 plate beer dinners in out of the way places in San Francisco, Sonoma and Napa Counties, and it's reassuring for rest of us that one at half the cost can be found in Palo Alto and it's future looks at lot stronger than it did a week ago.

Next up, Devil's Canyon Brewing from my home town of Belmont May 31st.   By then, Chef Yamanaka will have time to breathe, get his sea legs, and whatever other cliches you want to add by then.  It ought to be interesting. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Beer of the Month: Evil Cousin by Heretic Brewing

Jamil Zainasheff is well known in home brewing circles for his shows on the Brewing Network, and his books on brewing.  And while it appears he never advocated any theological views challenging an existing religious orthodoxy, nor was banished from any church for his teachings on home brewing, he none the less decided to call his new brewery Heretic Brewing.

My favorite of Heretic's initial releases is Evil Cousin, an Imperial IPA.  And while you could make a solid argument the Bay Area needs another Imperial IPA like most people need a hole in their heads, I happened to enjoy this new one for its sheer over the top hop enthusiasm. 

There's a little sweetness to this brew, but otherwise the malt has no further contributions to the flavor which I suspect is exactly the idea.   It rates 100 ibu's and you can taste every one of them, but has this nice pineapple, tropical fruit vibe to the sticky bitterness.  It's one of the most imbalanced Imperial IPA's out there, which is meant as a compliment.

If hop overload isn't your thing, I recommend you try Heretic's Evil Twin, a more maltier Imperial Red Ale I also liked.  Either beer is great way to celebrate nailing 95 theses to a church door.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Good News! Beltane Brewing to join the ranks of Bay Area Breweries

There are plenty of Bay Area breweries, but some how when a new one opens up, it still seems to bring something new to the party.  Such is the case for Beltane Brewing, founded by renowned homebrewer Alan Atha, which will be opening up a tasting room in Novato, and you can read more about in this announcement on Bay Area Craft Beer.

I've been fortunate to sample a couple of Beltane's beers in the past, which I thought were great examples of the Belgian-style brewing.  Can't wait to check the new place out.

Firehouse Brewing featured at California Cafe Beer Dinner Thursday

The South Bay's Firehouse Brewing is featured this Thursday in another one of California Cafe in Palo Alto Brewmasters Dinners.  The festivities start at 6:30 am this April 26th.  I've said it before, California Cafe does an awesome job in this series, and my reservations were made almost as soon as I heard about it.

What's on the menu?  It hasn't been released yet but frankly, I don't give a damn about it.  The California Cafe always puts on a great dinner and if you don't believe me when I tell you Firehouse brews great beer, maybe all their Great American Beer Festival awards will convince you.  Wanting to know the menu in this collaboration is like hearing Martin Scorsese is doing a mob flick with Robert DeNiro and wanting to know the plot.  If you know great things will happen, does knowing what form they will take really matter?

If you insist on checking out the menu, you probably find it eventually on California Cafe's events page, and recent tweet from California Cafe' suggests will see it tomorrow.  Whatever.  I'll see you there!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ales for Autism is at it again....Mini Golf Mania!!!

Anyone can play miniature golf.   Unlike regular golf, there are no clubs you have to join and you don't need to develop the difficult skill of driving that little golf ball off a tee and keeping it out of the rough or sandtraps.  My son Brandon, who has autism and some motor skill limitations, has enjoyed the sport of miniature golf. 

So perhaps it is fitting that the next Ales for Autism  fundraiser is Mini Golf Mania!!!  (Don't forget all three exclamation points.) this coming April 27th at the Scandia Fun Center in Rohnert Park.  You can find all the details out here.  Start practicing your putting!!!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Coming to terms with The Yardhouse in San Jose's Santana Row

It's big, it's bad, and it's most decidedly corporate.  And although any card carrying beer geek has probably had every beer on its tap list of 40+ beers, you must grudgingly agree The Yardhouse at San Jose's Santana Row finally provides a place you can get an honest to goodness beer in San Jose's upscale Santa Row, where half the fun of going there is seeing people who are there to be seen.  And sorry, but that stuffy bar that charges something like fifteen bucks for a glass of Chimay doesn't count as a place to go for a beer.

The Yardhouse has quietly encroached into major retail areas in the United States, bring craft beer to the masses.  The beer selection consists of mostly easy to find, but decidedly local brews.    Sort of like a TGI Fridays with a more restrained decor, better food and a really good beer selection which, my friends, is another sign that the good guys are winning.

And while this big corporate entity is yet another sign of craft brewing's success that puts the "support your local brewer" ethos even further back in brewing's rear window, somehow it doesn't seem threatening.   Maybe it's because at The Yardhouse, it seems to be genuinely about the beer.
The interior of the Yardhouse, with the blurry, out of focus photography this blog is famous for.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Other Half: What just happened?

The finish line didn't come soon enough
I've had a few races of near perfection where my mind is totally alert and in tune my senses, where I vividly recall exactly what I was thinking during every second of the race, can effortlessly recall each  split time afterwards, and even remember nearly every foot plant over the terrain from start to finish.  On the other hand, there are races like The Other Half Marathon in San Francisco I ran last Easter Sunday where I cross the finish line and think "What just happened?".

I vaguely recall coming through the first mile in 5:42.  I was shooting for 6:30 opening pace, which explains why I exclaimed "Oh shit!" as I looked at my watch breezing through the Mile 1 marker.  But then, it didn't seem THAT fast, and when I arrive Mile 2 at 12:41, it seemed pretty unlikely that I followed a 5:42 mile with a 6:59, confirming my suspicions that the mile markers were out of place.

I remember something about my left shoe feeling too loose right after the start.  It wasn't so bad at mile 2, but through miles 3-6, mostly uphill to the Golden Gate Bridge, it began to start to bother me more and began to effect my stride.  Reaching the bridge at mile six and crossing over from San Francisco to Marin County, feeling more fatigued than usual at this point in a half-marathon was not a good sign.  I was hoping to establish a decent stride over the relatively flat section of the course, but over the next mile I still struggled to find any rhythm and the loosening shoe continued to be a hindrance.

Finally at mile 7, I stopped to retie my left shoe.  Unfortunately, the laces slipped through my sweaty fingers and after a couple aborted attempts, finally produced an awkward looking but effective knot that kept my left shoe on tight.  I figured it was worth stopping to tie my shoe, that I'd only lose maybe ten seconds and a couple places retying it, but the resulting damage was far greater, something like 30 seconds and countless people whizzing by my as a struggled to tie a knot any 1st grader could make.

Friends, if you put in all the hard work to run a half-marathon, don't something stupid like waste some of that hard work over something silly like a poorly tied shoe.  It points to a pretty serious lack of concentration in my pre-race preparation, where you are supposed to check things like how your feet feel in their shoes.   Unbelievable.

Going back over the Golden Gate southward with two tightly tied shoes on my feet, I allowed myself to take in a few looks over the Pacific Ocean, a vast expanse a blue dotted with a few scattered boats on that clear, cloudless day.  Most people will marvel at the beauty of such a scene.  Others will feel blessed to take in this magnificent vista while running over an iconic national landmark.  But all I was thinking was "How soon can I get off this damn bridge?" as I struggled to keep pace 8 1/2 miles into the race.

I could tell how the last 3-4 miles were going by what I wasn't thinking.  Usually I'm thinking "Get this guy!" or "Keep your legs moving!  Work your hands!" but instead, the last few miles were spent mainly in numb contemplation of what went wrong.   Was it the perfect storm of several extended work, family and personal commitments over the previous week?  Or maybe that crash and burn 12-mile run nine days ago, even though I seemed to fully recover from it two days later.  Did I blitz last Tuesday's tempo run too fast, and leave some of my race on the track?  Have I not recovered from that sore throat I had last week?

You do your best to avoid them, but off days happen despite your best efforts.  It would be easy to blame going out too fast on the inaccurate mile markers, but that's a poor excuse.  Pacing involves basically zoning out all the runners around you and concentrating on form and breathing, and I wasn't doing any of that.  And besides, everything else about the race organization was near perfect, and they organized the race a lot better than I ran it.  No, I just wasn't sharp, didn't concentrate well, made a stupid mistake with the simple act of tying my shoes,  and didn't do the little things that really add up over the course of the race.  Yes, I am proud of what I accomplished that day and finished in a time most people would think was pretty good, but complacency is the enemy of any runner.

Seconds after I crossed the line, the announcer bellowed, "You just completed a half-marathon!".  Oh, that's what happened.
The picturesque finish line area.  Trust me, there are runners finishing the race down there.
Look closely off in the distance and you can barely make out the Golden Gate Bridge.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

New Discoveries from Pyramid Brewing at the latest Ales for Autism Event

Last Saturday, Pyramid Brewing teamed up with Ales for Autism to highlight some of their new releases and reoccurring seasonals to help raise money to support families struggling to raise children on the autistic spectrum.  The concept was simple.  For a mere 20 bucks, all of it going to Ales for Autism, you got to enter a loft space in Pyramid's Brewpub where they had a bunch of their new beers on tap, each paired with an hors d'oeuvre or dessert item.  So you just go around and taste all the new beers, and snack on the pairings, until you're done.  (To check out the full details, go here.) 

My wife and I found it to be one of those low key casual events, highly underrated if you ask us, where it's easy to strike up a conversation with the strangers sitting next to us, and the beers can be enjoyed and savored without loud interference from the crowd.  So what's new from Pyramid?  Plenty judging for the event.  Here were our favorites:

McTarnahan's Full Bloom Lager From Pyramid's McTanahan's label based in Portland.  We loved this unique off-beat lager with highly floral hop profile, with a sturdy, bready malt backbone. 
Little mini-velvet cakes awaiting to be eaten with McTarnahan's Full Bloom Lager

Wheaten IPA The controversial beer of the afternoon.  Wheat IPA's are an up and coming style, but I have to admit I just don't get these beers.  They taste like over-hopped wheat beers, and I find the underlying wheat tartness clashes with the hops.  For what it's worth, I found this to be one of the better ones.  Linda, a much bigger hop-head than I, really enjoyed all hop aromas and really liked how the wheat malt gave this IPA an extra dimension.

And while it wasn't poured at this event, you should check out Pyramid's Thunderhead IPA, a very drinkable and balanced IPA, that celebrates the hops without hitting you over the head with them.

Uproar Imperial Red Our favorite of the afternoon, full of lots of roasty flavors with a nice herbal, earthly hop finish.  Very smooth and drinkable for an Imperial Red.

Pyramid stepped up to the plate to help support families raising children with autism, with Ales for Autism raising $2,400 from the event.   As the father of an autistic child, that means I'm going to buy more Pyramid beer, and hope you will too.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lighting it up blue for Autism Awareness Month

What do the Empire State Building, the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro and this blog have in common? All are being lit up blue for April, which is Autism Awareness month.

"Light it up blue" is an initiative of Autism Speaks to raise autism awareness by encouraging the public to illuminate either national monuments or their front porches with blue light.  OK, lighting this blog blue for Autism Awareness Month involves nothing more than changing this blog's layout settings, but just work with me here.  As the father of an 11-year old autistic son, I have a certain self interest in creating more understanding of this affliction.  And if I can help out the 1 in 88 children diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum and their families, than I've accomplished something more with this blog than simply writing about beer and running. 

Besides, running is a lot about overcoming barriers.  Watching my son work hard everyday to overcome the sensory and cognitive barriers of his autism in order to simply communicate and participate in our world has been an inspiration.  While I certainly hope more resources can be brought to bear on this condition which is nearing epidemic proportions, if we can just take a few moments to appreciate what people with autism are going through every second of their lives, the daily challenges of our lives will seem a lot less daunting.

So please join me this month to support those dealing with life on the autistic spectrum and celebrate the accomplishments of those struggling with this disorder.