Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sausage Fest Run this Sunday at Los Gatos County Park with Strike Brewing

Get ready for the SausageFest 5k this Sunday, which bills itself as "a race for the Men!!" but women are welcome, too. The race starts at 9am at Los Gatos Creek County Park at 1250 Dell Avenue in Campbell.  This Fun Run event benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the post race festival will  include sausage and beer from Strike Brewing. Each participant will receive a tech t-shirt.

As Strike Brewing's CEO Jenny Lewis exclaimed, "I think it’s a great concept and a great cause – a race for men, benefitting LLS, and there’s beer at the end.  What else could make you want to get up on a Sunday morning and run a 5K?"

To regisister for the SausageFest 5k, follow this link.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Surviving the Family Vacation to New Mexico with a Few Good Beers Along the Way

High Desert's Peach Wheat with Green Chile Fries
Taking my nine year old daughter and eleven year old son with my wife where she grew up in Las Cruces, NM to meet the in-laws last week made me appreciate that family vacations are really more like psychological puzzles.  They require balancing the needs of a diverse set of age related interests while dealing with traditional family roles that have mostly laid dormant for months.  Casual conversation around the dinner table contain subtle subplots that go back decades.  The desire to provide my children with a unique, once in a lifetime cultural learning experience must be balanced with the family bonding experience created by playing the same XBox game with their nephews for the 647th time.  Moments where all nine members of three family generations peacefully coexist within a small house are so magical one can fight the inevitable desire that occurs once an hour to run out the front door screaming from a house teaming with inescapable noise and activity.  But really, family vacations are a lot of rewarding fun, and difficult as they may be at times, they sure beat estrangement.
A short rest on a hike to Dripping Springs just east of Las Cruces
And unlike other beer bloggers, who clearly signal they do not have kids as they post a review of eight pubs and three brewery tours conducted over weekend trip, getting away for an hour to a brewpub is a guilty and rare pleasure.  Perhaps it helped that Las Cruces is hardly known as a brewing Mecca so there was relatively few opportunities to be missed.  Thankfully, my wife Linda and her sister Mary accompanied my eleven year old son Brandon and I to High Desert Brewing for a short getaway on a hot Sunday afternoon with a couple beers and green chile fries.

Feeling mighty thirsty, I went for High Desert's Peach Wheat.  It was very peachy.  Almost too peachy, but if were any less or more peachy, it would not have been perfectly peachy.  Somehow, High Desert avoided making this too sweat with all that peachiness riding effortlessly over the clear, slightly tart wheat beer.  Linda and Mary went for the Hop Harvest IPA, with its slightly sweet biscuit-like malt and savory hop bitterness.  Brandon, of course, had the house root beer.
Sign atop High Desert Brewing.....Duh!
Later that day, I was able to sneak out of the house for a few minutes driving around looking for promising looking liquor stores which might have a decent local beer selection inside.  After driving around my in-laws neighborhood for fifteen minutes with no success, I found this place called Fiesta Foods.  Walking over to their large beer cooler and seeing a few bomber bottle selections from Stone Brewing was a promising sign, and sure enough, there were plenty of six packs from breweries all over New Mexico.

A six-pack of Rio Grande Desert Pilsner from Sierra Blanca Brewing was a fine Pilsner to keep cool by the pool, but seemed to lack the spicy hop bite one usually looks for in a Pilsner.  On a trip to White Sands National Monument we all enjoyed the the Sante Fe Brewing Pale Ale, where the lightly toasted malt harmonized well with the soft, earthy herbal hops notes.   Looking over the brewery website descriptions of Rio Grande Desert Pilsner and Santa Fe Brewing Pale Ale, which brag about their respective beers aggressive hop character, one wonders if the mellow hop character I tasted in these beers might have resulted from the six-packs sitting in the Fiesta Foods cooler a bit too long before I finally purchased them, as time subdues the hop bite of any beer.

The thrill of sliding down the dunes in White Sands
National Monumenton a snow disk
We all enjoyed climbing up and down the sand dunes of White Sands, and sledding down them in snow disks.  Unfortunately, after a couple hours, the cooling breezes intensified into gusting winds, and we had to cut our evening cook-out of grilled hamburgers short and run for shelter from the sudden sand-storm before glumly driving home in growing darkness.

The next day as we were getting set to catch our flight home, I engaged in a water polo game with my daughter, with us taking shots on goal against each other by heaving an inflatable rubber ball across the pool.  Throwing a hard shot just before the game was supposed to end created a sharp cramping sensation in my upper left arm, and it took just a second of realization in the confusion to understand I had dislocated my left shoulder.  Again.

My wife Linda hustled me into the car and drove me to the hospital.  As I sat in the passenger seat in my wet bathing suit, feeling increasingly nauseated and light headed while losing all feeling in my arm, we drove by a place called the Pecan Grill and Brewery on the way to the hospital.  "If they can't fix my shoulder in time to catch our flight home," my groggy brain thought, "we're all having dinner there."

The good Doctor Butcher took some x-rays, had his nurse stick an IV into my right hand, and gave me some drugs.  Then while I was incapacitated, Doctor Butcher grabbed my left arm while an assistant pulled at my torso, and this tug-of-war action with my body popped the left shoulder back in place.  When I came to, Doctor Butcher advised us to post-pone our flight out that day, which was set to take off in two hours.  So Pecan Grill and Brewery for dinner then!

The Pecan Grill and Brewery is this upscale looking restaurant.  Unlike most brewpubs which display conical fermenters, grain silos, or other brewing paraphernalia, there was nothing to indicate the place brewed any beer beyond the word "Brewery" in its name.  It even took me a couple minutes to find a beer list, located in the bar menu.  Turns out, the beer is actually brewed in Moriarty, NM, which explains the lack of any brewing equipment on the premises.  Moriarty is 260 miles away from Las Cruces so that might not seem like drinking local, but it's all relative in a state like New Mexico, where the next town is often a three hour drive.

Any questions that the Pecan Grill's beer wasn't really "local" were immediately put to rest by my first selection, a glass of Green Chile Ale, which was nothing less than a celebration of green chiles featured so prominently in New Mexican cuisine.  Pecan Grill Brewmaster Rich Weber uses light malt and the barest additions of any hops to keep those ingredients out of the way of the lightly roasted green chiles, which come shining through without threatening to be overpowering.  It's just sharp and clean green chile goodness.  Which is also reflected in the Pecan Grill's menu, which largely infuses the local green chiles into traditional American dinner fare.

My father-in-law, traditionally a light macro lager drinker, couldn't decide what beer to get, so ordered the whole nine-beer tasting flight.  While our dinner orders were taken, I next tried the Pecan Amber, another nod to local ingredients, as this region is a leading pecan growing area.  My initial reaction was not so good, as the sweetness of the pecan extract gave the impression of pecan syrup dumped into a glass of standard Amber Ale.   However, as the brew warmed and the flavors came to balance, the apparently sweetness diminished, and the pecan flavors melded with the roasty underlying amber ale more effortlessly, creating a nice riff on a familiar beer style.

With dinner, both Linda and I tried their Double IPA.  At 5.8% abv, it's really more of a regular IPA.  Stylistic quibbles aside, this one was a lively blend of grapefruit and peppery flavors.  Frankly, I prefer IPA's like this one that go for flavor than simply packing a huge, often muddled, tongue blistering hop attack.  A good example of the style.

And how was Dad doing with his beer sampler?  He pretty much liked all of them and his favorite was the Double IPA, suggesting that my wife's obsession with hops has genetic origins.   And it was quite satiafying turning a macro-lager drinker onto drinking local, yet another small vactory in the craft brewing revolution. 
The beer flight at Pecan Grill and Brewery just before
a small battle in the craft brewing revolution was won.

The next day, I walked gingerly walked around with my arm in a sling as my daughter learned a new XBox game, my son and I took a walk, and Linda and Mary spent some more sisterhood time in the art shops at Messilla's historic plaza before it was time to catch our postponed flight.  After all the family bonding, a dislocated shoulder, and a few good beers, it was time to return to our lives back home.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Running Thought for the Week: Strength from Running is a Fragile Strength

About a year and a half ago on a run I'd done countless times, I tripped over a small rock or tuft of grass, fell to the ground and dislocated my left shoulder.  Now I've dislocated it again, this time by simply throwing an inflatable ball to my daughter across a pool on a family vacation..  My daughter asked me how long it will be until I can run again.  Like many questions she asks, I don't know the answer.  Maybe four weeks since it took about that long last time.

We runners put in hard work day in and day out, and over time, accomplish feats we didn't think we  possibly had the strength to do.  Some of our non-running friends look at us as if we have some kind super powers, but we're just running.   But this tower of accomplishment is built upon a fragile scaffolding and a small break anywhere within it, whether caused by injuries, sickness, freak events, overwhelming events in our personal life, or other events largely out of our control, can happen at any moment, causing the whole tower to come crashing down.   There's not much else to do but start over.  Like it or not, it's what you signed up for the day you decided to be a runner..

The tenacity to overcome the setbacks makes the inevitable rewards even more satisfying.

Friday, July 20, 2012

See you in about 10 days!

I'm off to the White Sands of New Mexico starting tomorrow for a few days.  Family vacations, beer and running are always a difficult mix so you'll probably won't hear from me for a while.  So look forward to getting back with you in about 10 days.  I might even have an adventure or two in New Meixco to talk about.  Until then, run hard, and may all your beers be good ones!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Thank Goodness for the Breast Fest

The teaming crowds enjoying The Breast Fest inside
San Francisco's Fort Mason Festival
No, the The Breast Fest isn't a porn movie, but an annual beer festival to raise money for the Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic, held last Saturday at the Fort Mason event center my wife and I attended.  The Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic is a California state licensed clinic which provides complementary alternative treatment for low income women suffering from breast cancer.

While it's great to support this valuable cause, I'm also thankful this event gives me a decent excuse to diverge from writing about beer and running to discuss women's breasts.  After all, as a heterosexual male with demonstrably active hormones, I've been a fan of women's breasts longer than I've been a fan of beer or running.

Escaping the noise inside to enjoy the San Francisco Bay
I also appreciate that my wife understands and supports this enthusiasm for women's breasts, although strongly prefers this enthusiasm for breasts is primarily directed towards hers.  As we go about town, she will sometimes helpfully point out large, healthy looking breasts on other women (which I've already noticed) and asks for my opinions on them, enjoying watching me carefully try to  tactfully escape the mine field she's just tossed me into.  She lets me read the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue with impunity, although I've found it wise to toss this issue in the recycle bin as soon as possible.

But getting back to the beer festival, more than sixty breweries, cideries, and even a couple wineries were on hand to pour their offerings in the open air industrial space on the San Francisco waterfront. The 80's hair metal cover band Metal Shop played for the crowd, which seemed a logical choice, since hair metal bands have long been energetic proponents of women's breasts.  It was good bumping into Gabriel Scott and Bryan Kolesar, fellow travelers in the beer running blogosphere.
And while there were plenty of good and interesting beers to be had, here are four I found particularly noteworthy. 

E.S. Chi by Marin Brewing
Nothing says "Marin County" more than a brewery collaboration with noted Chinese herbalist Dr. Yen-Wei Choong of Marin's Yellow Emperor Healing Institute.  (The Yellow Emperor website even features a pop-up ad for Lexus Automobiles to complete the total Marin experience.)   It was the first beer at The Breast Fest I tried and I'm here to say that Dr. Choong's herbs melded effortlessly with the lightly toasted malt creating a feel good vibe to start the afternoon.

Ginger Wheat by Napa Smith
I almost didn't try this, thinking the ginger would create a harsh tasting brew, but my wife talked me into it.  I found Napa Smith's Master Brewer Don Barkley careful, restrained use of ginger root with the clear wheat beer created a surprisingly bright, refreshing brew.

Ramsgate Rye PA by Social Kitchen & Brewery
I was eager to see how Social Kitchen's new Brewmaster Kim Sturdavant was doing replacing Rich Higgens, who departed the brewpub last February.  Rye beers are becoming all the rage these days and while I enjoy the peppery flavors rye grain bring, I've found more than a few rye beers to be a bit harsh.  Not this one.  I enjoyed the smooth, light peppery character of this beer that would likely go well with a lot of foods.  Sturdavant has big shoes to fill, but there's been a lot of positive responses to his efforts, and you can add mine to the growing pile.

Duece by El Toro
Morgan Hill's El Toro Brewpub was one I frequented often back when I lived down in South San Jose.  Their Deuce Double IPA is a classic West Coast concoction, with the clear malt a small distraction to the strong yet smooth floral hop blitzkrieg.  Totally unbalanced the way a Double IPA should be.

Once again, The Breast Fest proves it's one of the best beer festivals on the increasingly crowded Northern California beer festival calendar. It also provides yet another opportunity for guys to engage in that time honored tradition of swilling beer and fixating on women's breasts, but at least with a more thoughtful fixation.  It's a sign of civilization's progress that a Google search on "Breast Fest" or even "Breast Fest adult film" does not result in a bunch of titillating pornographic content, but several fundraisers all over the country highlighting breast cancer and other women's health issues.  So let's thank The Breast Feast and other efforts to support women fighting breast cancer, giving us all the proper perspective on what women's breasts are all about.

Running Quote for the Week: The Roads are Always Open

"There are clubs you can't belong to, neighborhoods you can't live in, schools you can't get into, but the roads are always open."

-From a 1990 Nike advertisement

One of my all time favorite running quotes from a time when Nike was known for innovative advertising that seemed about changing world perceptions of sport than simply selling shoes.

We sometimes forget that running is one of the most elementary and lost-costs sports in the world.  It requires no special training, expensive equipment, or exclusive facilities.  Lace up your shoes, go outside and you're a runner.   Look around at your next race and notice the diversity of runners.  And while running is a lot about breaking down barriers of mind and body from within, running also breaks down barriers of sex, race, nationality and economic status imposed upon us from society.
Perhaps the best thing about running is the stop watch plays no favorites.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Beer of the Month: Biere de Mars 2012 from Almanac Brewing

I've made up some hypothetically silly beers with odd ingredients on this blog to poke some good natured fun with brewers who push the envelope with their experimental and extreme beers.  But I never got so crazy to suggest any brewer might use fennel.  Then wouldn't you know, Almanac Brewing puts it in their Biere de Mars 2012.  And what's really irritating is that the fennel actually works.

Almanac is no stranger to taking risks and putting unique contemporary twists on traditional beer styles with their "farm to table" concept.  And unlike other breweries, they make it look natural and unforced, rather than forcing flavors together that ought to be left separated, as I discovered with their first release which used a grand total of four varieties of blackberries and citra hops. They they even aged it in used, oaken red wine barrels and somehow avoided making an overblown monstrosity, but instead created a delightfully subtle, nuanced beer.

This Spring release from Almanac sports a  lightly toasted and slightly sweet malt.  There's flavors of honey and fig flavors with  a herbaceous bitter finish and a slight anise-like notes, presumably from the fennel.    It's a totally unique and unprecedentedly taste composition that completely works.

And not only does the beer work, it proves the adage "You need to know the rules before you break them".  The underlying ale is would be a great beer all by itself without any fennel or other weird beer ingredients.  The fennel just takes something really good to the next level.

Ever since they starting brewing, I'm always waiting to see what Almanac does next.  I just hope they don't get any bright ideas with Lima beans.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

This Week's Running Quote: From a Fortune Cookie

After sifting through quotes from elite athletes and coaches looking this week's running quote, I must admit I being a bit stumped as to which one to use.   But then one day after finishing lunch at a Chinese restaurant, opening my fortune cookie and reading:

"Allow disruptions to deepen your concentration."

I instantly realized this was going to be week's quote.

Running is such a simple elementary action of driving forward with your legs with the arms serving as a counter-balanced repeated thousands of times over the course of a single run.  And yet it's the disruptions to this simple bio-mechanical activity like running for time, running over varied terrain, running through difficult whether, and pushing yourself against other athletes which makes our running strides more powerful and efficient.

We often to seek to minimize disruptions and distractions around race time, and this is made a lot easier if we've dealt with plenty of disruptions in our training.  After all, distruptions don't go away simply because it is race day.

Now if the next fortune cookies I open solemnly advises "Now is the time to start doing mile repeats", I'm going start getting suspicious.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Session #65: Where Nobody Knows Your Name

Nate Southwood of Booze, Bites and Beats asks us to explore going out and drinking alone for this month's Session.

During those troubled, disorienting times I was going through during my divorce, I found solace in the company of strangers.   When you've been fighting constantly with someone close, and end up angry and lost, brief superficial conservations with people you don't know can have an unexpected restorative effect.  Maybe it's because contact, even sparse contact like this, with other humans is something we need to feel alive, and these small interactions always end painlessly. and often on a good note.  Sure, family and friends are important at a time like this, but there comes a point, more quickly than people realize, when you don't want to keep rehashing all the bad news.   When strangers ask you "How are you doing?" during these times, it isn't in concerned worried tones.  Besides, responding with "I'm fine" to a stranger was a courtesy, to friends and family, it was a blatant lie.

I hadn't discovered craft beer back then, so coffee was my usual drink of choice.  Many an evening was spent in a coffee shop, reading a book, and occasionally  engaging in chit chat with the person sitting next to me or the baristas who came to know me as a regular.   Going out and drinking booze alone during a time where I was dealing with depression seemed a little dangerous, and I could easily see the evening degenerating into drunken blabbering to a bunch of strangers things I didn't want to talk about.

Things have changed a lot since then, mostly for the better.  I've gotten remarried, and usually glad to respond to the "How are you?" questions.  But there are times when the wife is off somewhere and the kids aren't around, or I'm travelling on business.   It doesn't take long before I'm fighting restlessness and feeling disconnected  in my quiet apartment or unfamiliar hotel room, and going out for a pint or two of a good beer amidst the background buzz of a bar becomes a necessity.

 You can casually ask the guy next to you "What are you drinking?" and have a brief, simple conversation about the brew's flavor without venturing into off-putting elitism.  There's usually a random sporting event on TV you can talk about, or just watch.  Sure, beer and sports elicit passions, but they rarely involve the value judgments and emotional baggage that end up dividing people.  It's just beer we drink while watching young men play games.  And when you're done, you can turn to the person next to you, say "Nice meeting you," and simply leave.

There's a lot to be said about beer cementing strong bonds of friends and family for lifetimes.  But overlooked is that beer also serves as Post-It note adhesive, a critical utilitarian bond that serves its purpose for a brief time before being broken effortlessly and painlessly as it vanishes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What is this Mezamashii thing, anyway?

Mizuno Running Shoes wants me to tell you about their new Mezamashii Running Project. What's a "mezamashii"? The word means "eye-opening" or "brilliant" in Japanese — it's a word Mizuno chose to "captures the euphoric feeling of a brilliant run." Mizuno is looking for people to participate in their project who want to experience "euphoric, brilliant, mezamashii running."

Hmmm......well yes, there is certainly thrill and euphoria in running. But fatigue, sore body parts, and smelling real nasty also come with that teritory. (Actually, you can say the same thing about sex.) I've always found this yin-yang exists in running. Sure, the goal is to experience the good stuff while minimizing the bad stuff. But in order to get to the good stuff, you have to go through a lot of the bad stuff even under the best of circumstances. So call me a cynic, but I'm not so sure about this whole idea of "euphoric, brilliant mezamashii running".

But then, the Mizuno folks would probably rather tell you about it, than have me make my usual snarky comments about it, so I'll direct you to their Mizuno Running News website:


Mizuno will give away thousands of shoes and exclusive invitations to join the Mezamashii Run Project to runners who are looking to experience more euphoric, brilliant, mezamashii running. The nice, hard working lady from Mizuno who contacted me said there's still plenty of invitations available. And if you're thinking "I bet he's posting this in a desperate attempt to get one of those invites" you would be correct. And if you send me an e-mail from this link, I'll see if I can set you up.

So what is this Mezamashii Run Project really? The route to running bliss? Some weird Zen running cult? A great way to meet other runners and share experiences? A slick way to scam some free shoes? A progressive, modern business practice where customers and designers interact? A tired marketing effort wrapped in Japanese clothing? All of the above?
So I figure from this post, I might get invited into this deal, meet some other runners and possibly experience running euphoria, and maybe you can, too. Or Mizuno will never bug me again. Either way, looks like I come out ahead.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Running Quote for the Week from the new US Olympic Trials Record Holder

"I was excited to see it was really raining."

-Galen Rupp after setting an American record in the Men's Olympic Trial 10,000 Meter Run

After watching Rupp's thrilling victory in the 5,000 meters in the US Olympic Trial, where he retook the lead from Bernard Lagat in the homestretch, breaking running legend Steve Prefontaine's Olympic Trials 5,000 meter record in the process, his impressive 10,000 Olympic Trials victory and record in the pouring rain seems a distant memory.

Truth be told, part of Rupp's excitement about the pouring rain during the start of the Olympic Trials was due to his allergies.  But I find the best athletes tend to thrive under the worst conditions, as if raising the bar on what needs to be accomplished brings the best out of them, and Rupp's quote seems to capture that.   

Rupp's performance in the Olympic Trials 10,000 is also a reminder that race conditions and circumstances are rarely ideal, so make sure your prepared for the anything that might get thrown at you on race day.  You might even get excited when that happens.