Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Brewmaster Greg Filippi on Hermitage Brewing's Single Hop IPA Series and the release of "El Dorado"

Bottling El Dorado Single Hop at Hermitage Brewing
(Photo from Hermitage Brewing)
Leave it to Hermitage Brewing to turn an esoteric brewing experiment into a series of great tasting beers.

Virtually all IPA's are brewed with a blend of different hop varietals.  Each hop varietal has its own unique flavor profile, and when blended together, create a deep and unique flavor profile one appreciates in a good IPA.  Brewers sometimes brew test batches of beers using a single hop to better understand what flavor components it brings to the overall blend.  But rarely are these experimental beers intended for general consumption.

While other breweries like Oregon's Ninkasi and Maryland's Flying Dog have released single hop IPA's, Hermitage may be the only brewery in the United States to establish a series of single hop IPA's as part of their regular beer line-up since the series started two years ago.  Each beer in Hermitage's Single Hop Series is made with the same composition of grains using identical steps in the brewing process.  The only thing different with each beer is the hops.

"I honestly don't know why we've succeeded," admits Hermitage Brewmaster Greg Filippi when asked how Hermitage succeeds where most breweries won't even go.  "The first couple beers were Columbus Hops and then Amarillo Hops, and they didn't sell too well.  But then we released Citra Hop and things really took off."  Citra Hop IPA took gold in both the 2011 and 2012 California Craft Brew Competition and is now a year around fixture in Hermitage's line-up.

I think Greg Filippi is a bit too modest.  Hermitage succeeds with their Single Hop Series because they choose hop varieties in the series with great floral and fruit-like qualities like Citra and Galaxy. These IPA's are pretty dry, and brewed with a lot of late hop additions to the boil to create a wonderful aromas and a freshness to the beer so the intense hop flavors sing.

This is true of their latest addition to the Single Hop Series, El Dorado.  "I've been trying to get El Dorado hops since 2010," remarked Greg Filippi.  As a newly cultivated hop strain, it was only available from a single farm in the Washington State's Yakima until last year, when two additional farms started growing it.  Filippi visited farm where El Dorado was originally cultivated and finally got his hands on 100 lbs of the hops, enough to make a 25 barrel batch of IPA.   "El Dorado gets its name from the lost city of gold, because the flowers contain so many essential oils and resin that your hands quickly turn yellow handling them, even for a short time.   The hops have a strong tropical fruit aroma like pineapple and mango, with a noticeable underpinning of resinous pine."

Hermitage sent me a bottle of El Dorado Single Hop IPA to try so I was able to experience it for myself.   There's a noticeable smooth resinous undertone to the brew.   As it warmed up, an elusive fruity component emerges that tastes a bit like watermelon.  The El Dorado hops work well on their own, but I could also see this hop providing unique depth to a more traditional hop blend.

Not only will this beer let you experience the latest in the continual experimentation of brewers and hop growers, it's pretty tasty in it's own right!

El Dorado Single Hop, at the far left, taking its place in the Hermitage Single Hop Line-up
(Photo from Hermitage Brewing)



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Beer of the Month: Board Meeting from Port Brewing

Brown ales are underrated.  There's something about how roasty malt flavors pop in a well executed brown ale.  While brewers continue to push the envelope to create the ultimate hop bomb, Port Brewing has quietly gone in the other direction to create the an awesome roast bomb with their Board Meeting Imperial Brown Ale.

True, this is no simple brown ale.  They've amped up the roastiness factor with coffee from San Diego's Ryan Brothers coffee roasters and cocoa nibs from San Francisco chocolate maker TCHO.
The result is a rich, roasty, very lightly sweet brew with a lot of depth and complexity.  The flavors slowly evolve over time with each sip, with the cocoa nibs seeming to dominate at first, giving way to the coffee at the finish. 

Kind of ironic a brewery known for hop bombs like Mongo Double IPA, Wipeout IPA, and Hop-15  succeeds big time going the malt direction, don't you think?   It's a new beer to Port Brewing's year round line-up they introduced just last February.   As Port Brewing director of brewery operations Tomme Arthur put it in a press release,  “Interestingly, we’ve never produced a brown ale, so Board Meeting seemed a natural fit in our portfolio. ”

Looks like I've found my "go to" beer whenever I need a brown ale fix in a big way.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bay to Breakers? I'd Rather Have a Migraine

You won't find me running with guys in
pink gorilla suits this May 19th
(photo credit here)
This coming May 18th, I'll be running the Miles for Migraines 10k rather than Bay to Breakers the following day.  Running Bay to Breakers is worse than suffering a migraine.  In fact, I'd rather have my spleen removed without anesthesia than run Bay to Breakers.

Can you tell I'm tired of answering questions from well meaning non-runners asking "Are you running Bay to Breakers?".  Like many runners, I avoid this race like the plague.   Now I must admit never having run Bay to Breakers myself.   But everything I've heard indicates it's a huge mob of San Francisco-style exhibitionism and excess with some running thrown in for good measure.  No thank you.

Let me be clear, I'm not against the Bay to Breakers.  It's just not for me. If you're doing Bay to Breakers, knock yourself out.   You'll probably have a much better time without old school curmudgeons like me around, anyway. 
Lots of runners like to run races to, you know, like actually run.  There's a liberation in going out and running free from the chaos of urban life.  There's a sense of accomplishment in preparing for the challenge and testing yourself on race day.   Many runners have no interest missing out on these experiences stuck in a mob behind a bunch of drunken streakers.  And smaller races like Miles for Migraines also contain a certain familiarity and camaraderie mega-races like Bay to Breakers simply can't capture.

So instead of Bay to Breakers, I'll be running an actual race that weekend.  Have fun without me! 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Beer Effortlessly Subs for Wine in Janet Fletcher's "Cheese & Beer"

Say this about Janet Fletcher, the lady knows her cheese.  In addition to writing a weekly column on cheese for the San Francisco Chronicle, she's authored numerous books on cheese including the "The Cheese Course", "The Cheese Tasting Party Kit" and "Cheese & Wine".  The Napa-based food writer has earned three James Beard Awards and the IACP Bert Green Award, and  now ventures into new territory with her latest book, "Cheese & Beer".  Sure, she knows plenty about cheese.   But does she know beer?

I'd say she does.  Judging from her book, it appears she's enjoyed many fine brews when her wine friends aren't looking.  Or maybe they drink more beer up in Napa than we think.  Either way, her book is a very complete, well researched guide to pairing any beer with good cheese.  It's clear from the pages that cheese is her main passion, given so much detail she shares on different cheeses and the cheese making process.  But that shouldn't detract from all the good advice she gives on virtually every available style of beer and how to pair them with cheese.   I also like the fact she gives equal attention to sessional beers styles such as Bitters as she does to the stronger (and arguably wine-like) Belgian Ale or Barley Wine styles.   Writing about beer effortlessly, with a very matter of fact treatment, her writing is a refreshing contrast to other works that treat beer as the "new wine" or as some hot new thing.     There's an enjoyment of beer that's palpable from each page.

One of Ed Anderson's fine images from
"Beer & Cheese".
The book is organized by various beer styles.  Each style is introduced in Fletcher's own words, followed by a discussion on pairing each style with cheese, and concluding with Fletcher's cheese pairing recommendations.  A useful cheese pairing table can be found at the end.  As a cheese ignoramus, I found this to be a useful guide to navigate through the sometimes baffling world of cheese.

Photographer Ed Anderson delivers vibrant photos throughout the book, bringing the subject matter alive.

"Cheese & Beer" is now hitting the bookstore shelves, and Janet Fletcher is embarking on a book signing tour.    I suspect this book will resonate more with wine lovers looking for an entry point to explore great beer, than with beer drinkers looking for a way to discover fine cheese.  But craft beer aficionados looking to further their appreciation of beer will find no better book.

(Andrews McMeel Publishing provided a copy of "Cheese & Beer" for this review.)



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The California Beer Festival, June 29th

California's largest beer festival, the California Beer Fest is coming to Marin on Saturday, June 29th.
-Over 70 craft beers on tap
-Live entertainment
-ABBQ Cook-off / sampling / judging
It's being held at gorgeous Stafford Lake Park in Marin County.
For more information, check out their website:

It's also for a good cause - benefits go to the Gen Giammanco Foundation - providing financial support to student athletes in Marin County.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sampling Hangar 24 Brews and a Chat with Owner Ben Cook

Ben Cook working the brewery bottling line
(Photo from Hangar 24)
There's literally zillions of breweries you can chose from these days in the Bay Area these days. And now, along comes Hangar 24 from Redlands, California, which started distributing into the Bay Area earlier this year. You've got to wonder what yet another brewery could bring to the Bay Area beer scene.   But after sampling some of their beers they sent my way, let's just say I think you'll be doing yourself a favor trying them as well.  I was also fortunate to get a few minutes to talk with Hangar 24 owner Ben Cook about his brewery and his beers.

So what's with this name, Hangar 24, anyway?  As Ben Cook explains, "A bunch of us would meet at Hangar 24 at Redlands Airport.  Some of us would fly around in our planes and afterwards, we drink craft beer or some of my homebrew.   I wanted our corporate and brewing culture to be like those times when I started the brewery in 2008."  Now that we have that out of the way, let's try some of Ben's beers.

The first one I tried was their Double IPA.  Now you might think, as I did, that the Bay Area needs another Double IPA like a hole in the head.  But I tried Hangar 24's version, and it's different than any I've tasted before.  This was a real fresh, tasty citrus bomb, very dry, without any of the mouth puckering bitterness or sweetness of typical Double IPAs.  "We wanted to make something easy drinking, full of hop flavors, yet smooth," as Ben described.  "It was one of our Head Brewer Kevin Wright's first recipes that went commercial." 

Moving along, let's check out their California Spring Beer.  As Ben Cook recounted,  "We wanted to create nice floral aromas in our spring beer and ended up with two we equally liked."  So they did the most logical thing and mixed the two together.  "When we blended the two, we ended up with a really great beer."  This one was unique, a slightly tangy wheat beer made with both American and Belgian yeasts, with floral aromatic notes both from the hops and the Belgian yeast.  I also picked up a nice herbal finish with the character of fresh cut grass.

Bottling the the beer at Hangar 24
(Photo from Hangar 24)
Let's go on to the others.  The Alt-Bier was a nice composition of caramel, woody, and earthy malt flavors.   Pale Ales can sometimes be a tired style, but Hangar 24's Amarillo Pale Ale was a nice change of pace with it's healthy dose citrus-like Amarillo hops.   The fresh flavors of their cloudy Orange Wheat really popped, when fresh orange flavors from locally grown oranges well balanced with the underlying wheat beer.  And to finish it off, Chocolate Porter, a silky smooth Imperial Porter with a light sweetness with cocoa nibs and vanilla giving it great depth.  This would make a great desser beer.  Virtually every single one of Hangar 24's beer made me sit up and go "Mmmmm!" or "Wow" when I tried them.  Of course since I like beer, so this happens frequently, but very few breweries create this wow-factor on such a consistent basis.

So how does Hangar 24 do it?  How do they distinguish themselves from all the other breweries out there?    "We wanted to become a brewery that represents our local geography, using local ingredients and brewing beer that people in our area like to drink.  That's means beer that's drier, and more sessionable " explains Ben Cook, who describes his local geography as "Inland Southern California".  Lots of breweries talk about being local, but at Hangar 24 it's more than just talk.  They prominantly feature a Local Field Series using locally grown ingredients. 

For those of you in the Bay Area who want to check out Hangar 24's beers for yourself, you'll find them using this handy dandy beer finder on their website.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cyclists Like Beer Too....

Cyclists posing for a group shot at Pyramid Brewpub in Berkeley
(Photon from The Grand Cru)
Yep, cyclists like their beer. Maybe even more than runners.  That's what I discovered out writing my latest contibution to Adventure Sports Journal, which you can read here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Santa Cruz Half-Marathon: Somehow, the Planets Aligned

The start of the Santa Cruz Half-Marathon just before near disaster.
I'm the guy in the white singlet in the middle looking down at his watch
(Photo from FirstWave Events's Facebook Page)
One thing I've learned from running is that no matter how hard you work, a stupid thing like an untied shoe lace can bring months of hard training crashing to the ground.  The flip side is sometimes everything just fits into place and you end up running much faster than you had any business doing.  Such was the case in the Santa Cruz Half-Marathon last Sunday, as everything clicked on a gorgeous early spring Sunday.

Not that things could've gone horribly wrong.   When the starting gun fired, my car remote key entry tied into my shoe laces promptly broke off after I taking the first couple steps at the start.  Some how, it got kicked to the side of the road and a spectator picked it up.  Fighting back through the crowd like a single fish swimming against the rest of the school, I plowed my way back to the nice lady who picked it up, yelling "That's my key!" and took it from her hand in a panic, without even thinking to thank her.  Not the best way to start the race, but imagine the other possibilities.  The remote could've got kicked into the middle of the pack where it would be harder to retrieve, or may have not noticed it missing until half way through the race.  All things considered, I got pretty lucky with the whole episode.
A pristine row of porta-potties is
always a welcome site before a

Working my way through the field, I tried to calm down and settle into a good opening pace.  My plan for the early miles was to make sure no mile was faster than 6:45 pace, so of course, I come through the first mile in 6:35.  Telling myself to slow down and relax, I come through mile 2 at 6:40 pace.  So much for my pre-race strategy.

After five miles at 6:40-6:45 pace, I feared I would finally pay the price leaving the smooth asphalt for the uneven dirt and gravel trails of Wilder Ranch on the west edge of Santa Cruz, but I was still living a charmed life, running 6:45-6:31-6:46 for miles 6 through 8.  There were plenty of great views from the trails as we ran along the cliffs high above the ocean, but I only snuck a few peeks.  I've learned the hard way that taking too much scenery on uneven trails is a face plant waiting to happen.

Exiting Wilder Ranch, the course heads back into Santa Cruz the same way we came.   Coming through mile 9, I wasn't too worried about clocking a 6:59 mile since this part of this mile consisted of a series of uphills, especially since I followed that up with a 6:50 on mile 10.  But the hills and the optimistic pace began to really wear me down, and I started running out of gas from there, with the last couple miles a real struggle at 7:00 pace.  Still, at 1:28:26, I averaged 6:45 pace, the upper end of my pre-race goal, despite chasing down my remote entry key which probably cost me at least 10-15 seconds. 

My training the last three months was plagued with a back injury in early February and a bad stomach flu in early March, each setting my training back about 10 days.  I honestly thought breaking 1:30 for the half-marathon on the moderately challenging course would be difficult.  How did I manage doing nearly two minutes better than that?

Apparently, all those 6-12 mile tempo runs really helped, even though the fastest twelve mile tempo run clocked in a 7:09 pace.  A couple eight mile tempo runs at 6:45-6:50 pace within six weeks of the Half-Marathon were probably good preparation as well, since I came through the first eight miles not too much faster than those training runs.   I find long distance tempo runs help create the pace sense and mental discipline required to keep knocking out mile after mile at the same pace and for the first ten miles, so all those runs really paid off.

There was another slight adjustment I made in my life which also seemed to help.   I cut back on my beer consumption a bit the last couple months.  Yes, beer is good, but each beer has a fair amount of calories and tots of calories aren't good for running half-marathons.

While I'm pretty happy with the performance, what held me back was that my longest runs, save for a 14 miler in January, were all 12 miles.   At that distance, I simply wasn't prepared to grind out the last 2-3 miles of a half-marathon.  And my speed work was non-existent, consisting of a single workout of four half-mile intervals so I didn't have the strength to handle the uphills of the ninth miles and hammer thelast four miles after that.

So I'll give myself a little pat on the back for a job well done, thank the running gods for looking favorably upon me that day, and just hope I haven't blown too much running karma for not thanking that lady for picking up my key remote.  I'll take a couple days off, re-evaluate my training, and start going to work for the next race.  I'm thinking of a 10k some time in May.

The festive oceanside finish area

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2nd Annual Summer Pyramid Beer Release Party, Benefitting Ales 4 Autism

Pyramid's Brewpub summer release party to benefit Ales for Autism was a fun event last year and the good news is, they're doing it again.   They'll be lots of interesting beers and tasty finger foods and it's only 20 bucks.  It's a great way to celebrate Autism Awareness Month this April. Here are the details of this years event:
When: Saturday, April 13 from 3:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Where: Pyramid Alehouse, 901 Gilman Street, Berkeley, CA.
What: April is Autism Awareness Month and Pyramid is releasing seven new brews so Pyramid is throwing a party to fundraise and celebrate. One hundred percent of the event ticket sales benefit Ales for Autism, a local North Bay organization supporting autism research.
· Tickets are $20 in advance and include: Seven beers for unlimited tasting during the event, food pairings by our award-winning chef, Roxy Photo Booth, live music and more.
· Beers being released: Imperial Pils, Gold IPA (only available on draft locally!), Full Bloom Craft Lager, Zig Zag River Lager, PBC India Pale Lager, Curve Ball Blonde; PBC Helles.

Sample food pairings:

 Marjoram spiced German Rostbratwurst served with a medley of roasted vegetables and lager quinoa salad. Paired with Helles.
Szechwan pepper-crusted pork belly with Japanese yuzu glaze and Amarillo hop broth. Paired with PBC India Pale Lager.
Oven-baked French toasts with cinnamon anglaise. Paired with Zig Zag River Lager.
Take public transit! AC Transit Bus #25 stops in front of Pyramid Alehouse and the North Berkeley BART Station is a 20 minute walk.
For more information, visit: www.facebook.com/#!/events/324254587678026/
About Pyramid Brewing Co.
Pyramid Brewing Co. is a leading brewer of specialty, full-flavored craft beers produced under the Pyramid family of ales and lagers since 1984. Pyramid beers continue to be honored by beer drinkers and judges having received 22 medals at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), including a gold medal awarded to Haywire Hefeweizen in 2009 as well as the honor of Mid-size Brewery of the Year in 2008. The brewery has also been awarded seven medals in international competition at the World Beer Cup.
With breweries in Seattle, WA, Portland, OR, and Berkeley, CA, the Company owns Alehouses at all three locations as well as two additional Pyramid Alehouses in Walnut Creek and Sacramento, CA.
Visit www.pyramidbrew.com for more information.
About Ales for Autism
Ales for Autism is a non-profit organization that has been founded on a principal love for beer with a cause of utmost importance during this generation. There has been a spike in autistic children that now reaches 1 out of every 110, with males about 4 times more likely to be diagnosed. Recent studies have estimated that the lifetime cost to care for an individual with ASD is $3.2 million. We are just trying to ease that cost for as many people as possible.
Visit www.Ales4Autism.org for more information.