Monday, July 28, 2014

Getting Back to Wharf to Wharf

It's been five long years since I've run the Wharf to Wharf race in Santa Cruz. This six mile race of 15,000 people winding through Santa Cruz serenaded by something like 20 bands along the way used to be one of my big "circle the calendar" races a bunch of my hard core training friends and I used to shoot for.  Unfortunately, all that hard training caused injuries to start piling up by the time I got to the starting line in both the 2008 and 2009 races, turning them into pretty big disappointments.

I can't remember much about the 2009 race.  My only real memory of it is hobbling through mile 3, feeling pretty fried with half of the race yet to go. There on the side of the road was this punk band, the heavily tattooed lead singer screaming a bunch of completely unintelligible lyrics into the microphone, finally punctuating it with a simple "Fuck it".  That pretty much summed up the race as far as I was concerned.

That was five years ago.  It was time to go back.  I've spent a few years correcting a hip and leg imbalance that was causing a lot of those injuries and modifying my training to get to the line healthy.  I still train with basically the same crew, but we've mellowed out a little over the years, getting slower as we've all gotten older.  Summer these days is a time to rest from my spring half-marathon before gearing up for the fall.  So while Wharf to Wharf still gets the adrenaline flowing, it's not what it used to be.

This year, I just wanted to put in a good effort, enjoy the bands along the course, and savor a post race beer or two.  The plan was to go out at 6:00 per mile pace and simply try to hold that.  I did a good job of hitting this goal pace and the first mile seemed pretty easy.  So did the second mile, which has a good sized hill in it, so that was pretty encouraging.  I get to the third mile and well, the six minute pace started to get difficult.  Then I started really laboring and over the last three miles were pretty I fell 10-20 seconds off six minute mile pace.  While it was encouraging that a six minute pace seemed pretty easy early on, I was equally surprised how quickly things felt apart.  It probably means I need to work on tempo runs to increase my lactate threshold pace as those first three miles filled my legs with muscle mucking lactic acid.

My official finish was 37:03, 6:10/mile pace which was good for 175th overall and 25th in the men's 40-49 age group which is still a pretty good showing if you ask me.  In a couple weeks I'll take on the Los Gatos Dammit Run before turning my attention the Big Sur Monterey Bay Half-Marathon in November.  I'm shooting for 1:22 at the Monterey Half-Marathon which is around 6:15 per mile pace, so this off-season race shows I have that in me.  Now it's time to put in the hard work to make that a reality.
GPS Data on this year's Wharf to Wharf displayed on

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Checking out the local brews in Fort Myers when I had the chance on the family vacation

The West Florida Beach at Florida's Sanibel Island
There's a certain irony with vacations in that you learn a lot about the place you live by going someplace else.   This past week on a family vacation visiting relatives in Fort Myers, I discovered the beaches of Florida's Gulf Coast make Northern California beaches seem like hostile environments.

On the Gulf Coast, warm, calm waves gently rock you as you float upon the buoyant waters of the shallow beaches.   It's just the relaxing, carefree experience one hopes to escape to while on vacation. Northern California beaches get a lot of glory, but are full of frigid waters, unpredictable waves and dangerous rip currents.   Unless you have a wet-suit and other specialized gear and are one of the few individuals adapt at things like surfing, open water swimming, or para sailing, you're basically left standing at the shore in ankle deep water gazing off watching other have a good time taming the fury of the ocean.

I also thank my lucky stars I don't run in Fort Myers.  Even at 7:00 in the morning, the air is hot and humid, heavily filling my lungs with each gasping inhalation. I might as well be running with a sock pulled over my head. Flat courses are nice, but I found myself longing for even the slightest little hill to break the total flatness monotony.  Most morning runs are a refreshing wake up to prepare me for the rest of the day but during this vacation, morning runs became a chore akin to cleaning the toilet.
Ft. Myers Brewing's Tap Room

Of course, I wanted to check out what the beer was like around there. Exploring local beer scenes and family vacations do not mix well, but one afternoon, my brother-in-law Jay and I sneaked away for an hour to grab a brew at Fort Myer's Brewing Company. On the way there, Jay conceded, "I've never been there before, I don't know if it's legit."   His cell phone directed us to a nondescript, modern looking industrial park and Jay's starts apologizing for leading me astray, thinking there's no way one can get a beer at an industrial park.  I see a food truck and a few cars concentrated in the otherwise empty parking lot off in the distance and sense we are on the right track.   Sure enough, as we continue forward the brewery and tap room emerges on our right.  America's brewing revolution is redefining places where people gather together as many local breweries and their tap rooms are transforming their industrial park environs into public meeting places.  In San Jose, Hermitage Brewing, Clandestine Brewing, and Strike Brewing are transforming the industrial section of south of downtown into a beer destination and its encouraging to see this in happening in Fort Myers, albeit on a smaller scale.

But enough about the geographical implications of the craft brewing revolution, you probably want to know what the beer at Fort Myers Brewing is like.  Pretty damn good if you ask me.  Too good, in fact, to be served in the plastic cups they use in the tap room.  Jay and I enjoyed their fine City of Palms Pale Ale, an interesting and novel balanced brew that surprisingly grabbed my attention.  There's a little toastiness, a little citrus fruitiness, and a nice subdued piney finish that's all comes together nicely in this Pale Ale.  The 20 something beer frau running the tap room allowed me to sample a few other of their brews, gratis.  They had a Imperial Black IPA called Incognito that won some award, and given its unusually sophisticated mix of malt, hops and boozyness, I can see why.  Their Tamiami Tan was an intriguingly complex Brown Ale.    I can't really give a beer justice reviewing it from a small, one ounce sip from a plastic cup, but let's just say plenty of their beers merited a further look. Unfortunately, on a family vacation, beer exploration is low on the agenda and I'll have to delve deeper into their beers another day.

Fort Myers a two hours drive south of Tampa, so I wanted to check out some of the brews from much heralded Cigar City Brewing.   Rather than hunt around for a high end bottle shop for their highly prized special releases, I picked up a few selections at a Publix supermarket, which is basically Florida's answer to Safeway.  Lots of people raved about Cigar City's Jai Alai IPA  so I made sure to secure a six pack of that first.  I can see myself enjoying 2-3 Jai Alai's during an afternoon at the beach, with its tropical mango and pineapple flavors, light sweetness and slight resiny finish making it an ideal thirst quenching IPA.  A good IPA to be sure, but I found it didn't quite live up to the considerable hype.  For my money, the better choices in Cigar City's regular line up are their Florida Cracker White Ale, with its great interplay between the tangy wheat malt and heavy use of coriander spice, and their Maduro Brown Ale in all its silky complexity.

Another day when heavy rains completely scuttled our beach plans, Jay took my son and I to World of Beer.  World of Beer is one of those chain restaurants boasting of numerous taps handles, sort of like the Yardhouse in the Western United States.  While my son sucked down a craft Cherry Cola, I slowly sipped through another City of Palms Pale Ale while will all chatted away watching the blowing rain ravage the World of Beer patio out the window.  Our day at the beach was ruined, but we didn't care.  Relaxed, comfortable moments with family, out of range of the storms from afar are why we take vacations.

My son and I at Ft. Myers's World of Beers

Friday, July 18, 2014

Running the Trails of Almaden Quicksilver to Get Ready for a Couple Races

Trail running is great on multiple levels. Running over uneven ground builds a strength, resiliency and balance that can't be developed on the roads. Working up and down the hills really gets the heart rate up without the pounding and monotony of running laps around the track.  No wonder hill running has long been considered "speed work in disguise".  Of course, the views our awesome, especially at the top of the hills where they've been earned.

So I've been hitting the trails of my favorite place for trail running, Almaden Quicksilver Park to get ready for a couple of races coming up.  In a little over a week, I'll be part of the mob surging through the streets of Santa Cruz for Wharf to Wharf, a six miler over a few rolling hills that starts at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and finishes at the Capitola Wharf.  Then in early August is the Dammit Run in Los Gatos.  The Dammit starts on the Los Gatos High School track before hitting the gravel Los Gatos Creek trail. Than the race gets even more interesting as runs up Lexington Dam diagonally before encountering the real hill of the course on the Los Gatos trail system.  It's then a mostly down hill roller coaster of a trail run before a short stint on the Los Gatos streets and a finish back on the Los Gatos High School Track.

I've taken the family on a number of walks in Quicksilver through the years, but it's been six years since I've been running its trails on a regular basis.  It feels good to be back.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Beer of the Month: Devil's Thumb from Rock Bottom Brewery in Campbell

I've enjoyed many a brew at my local Rock Bottom Brewery in Campbell that it's high time to bestow Beer of the Month honors to one of their finer creations, Devil's Thumb Belgian Strong Pale Ale.

It's one of those beers that sort of sneaks up on you.  It looks fairly unimposing at first, siting there all golden yellow in a glass. The first thing I notice when sipping this one is a  light pineapple, tropical fruit vibe coupled with a piney, slightly resiny hop finish.  The malt is dry and crisp, and there's a slight alcohol burn which accentuates the flavors.  It one of those beers where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts as they all come together to create something unique and memorable.  At 8.3% abv, it packs a bit of a wallop so watch out, as it's quite drinkable.

Rock Bottom Brewery is one of two breweries in my home town of Campbell, and I take the wife and kids there often.   We all like the food, and my wife and I like the beers.  The standard Rock Bottom line-up is pretty solid, and Brewmaster Russell Clements usually has three or four of his special concoctions on tap.  The beers are pretty accessible, well crafted and flavorful.  It's one of the many good things about living in Campbell.

One of my favorite places to take the family out for dinner
(Photo from Rock Bottom Brewery)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dan Gordon Talks About Dunkles Unfiltered Dark Lager 25 Years Ago and Today

Dan Gordon next to a computer console that controls his brewery
When Gordon Biersch first released Dunkles 25 years ago, it was as unique as it is now, but for different reasons.  Back then, Dunkles was a rich, roasty unfiltered black lager amidst a sea of pale, watery yellow ones. Despite 25 years of extraordinary brewing progress in the United States, Dunkles remains unique both here and in its homeland Germany.  "None of the larger German breweries make anything like Dunkles today," stated Dan Gordon, the day I visited him at his brewery in San Jose's Japantown to talk about Gordon Biersch's latest limited release of Dunkles.  "The caramelized malts are too expensive.  A lot of breweries use food coloring."

Gordon Biersch uses this little gadget
to regulate the pressure during fermentation.
While it's not unusual to see dark lagers from America's craft breweries, they tend to source malts that aren't evenly roasted.  As Gordon explained, "Take a look at the caramelized malt you get in the US and the grains are different colors. Some are dark, others are light.  It doesn't average out to what a caramelized malt should be." Gordon gets his highly uniform roasted malt from Germany from a former classmate of his at the Technical University of Munich's brewing program. Gordon spent five years in the brewing program, becoming its first American graduate in 40 years before teaming with restaurateur Dean Biersch to form Gordon-Biersch in 1988.

Dunkles is brewed using a double decoction technique, a time intensive process few American breweries use. Decoction refers to a process where a portion of the grain mash is removed and placed into boiling water before being added back to the original mash to raise the overall temperature of the mash.  As one might expect, in a double decoction, this process is done twice in the mash phase.  It's a technique still practiced by many German breweries, but rarely done in the United States.  Deeper malt flavors are created during the boiling portions of the decoction since the malt is subjected to higher temperatures.

Gordon recalls the time back when Dunkles was the first beer brewed and served at the Palo Alto brewpub back in 1988.  Legendary beer writer Michael Jackson happened to be passing through and after hearing what Gordon was up too, decided to stop by the brewpub and see for himself.  Jackson asked for a sample. Gordon explained that it needed another couple weeks in the fermenting tank before it would be ready but let Jackson have a taste anyway.  Gordon remembers seeing Jackson's face when he took a little swig, smiled, turned to him and said, "If it's this good now imagine what it will be like in a few weeks".

When Dunkles was finally ready, it turned out to be a big hit, much to Gordon's pleasant surprise.  "We thought we were doing something that was going over the edge, but a lot of people liked it.  We blew through it."  Back in 1988, dark beer to most people was either a completely foreign concept or meant something like Michelob Dark.

I probably don't have the palate to fully appreciate Dunkles, but can notice the difference in the taste from both the ingredients and the careful brewing process.  The toasty, caramel flavors are cleaner with a lot of depth and complexity.  There are other dark lagers out there, but often one picks up slightly harsh or muddled flavors within. Dunkles is not only a part of our region's brewing history, it's a study of how extra care in both the ingredients and the way a beer is brewed can make subtle, but significant differences.

I wasn't around 25 years ago when Gordon Biersch started but can imagine that back then, beers brewed with traditional German methods were pretty novel and eclectic.  Today in this era of extreme IPA's, wine barrel aging  and countless beers brewed with ingredients like pluots and hibiscus, Gordon Biersch comes across as a bit stodgy.   But if you've been doing things right for decades, stodginess is a good thing.  Dunkles is the proof.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Session #89: Democratic Presidents Have Been Far Better for Beer than Republican Ones

For this month's Session on Beer in History, I've decided to go to a place rarely explored on this blog: straight into the political arena.  I normally avoid politics on my blog since as I see it, the roads are open to everyone to run on and all walks of life are welcome to join me for a pint. However, looking over the history of Presidential politics and beer over the past 100 years, Democratic Presidents have been far kinder to the beverage than their Republican counterparts.  In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to being one of those damn liberals. So yes, you might say I'm a little biased on the subject. But any objective look at the facts over the past 100 years shows that Democratic Presidents have been far more supportive of beer than Republicans.   Let's start by going back to the year 1919.

Woodrow Wilson tried, but couldn't
stop Prohibition
That was the year Republican Representative Andrew Volstead introduced legislation which become known  the Volstead Act banning the sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. The Republican held House and Senate passed this legislation.  Democratic President Woodrow Wilson tried to veto the measure, but Congress overrode his veto, and this Republican-led Federal regulation ushered in the Prohibition era.  As we all know, Prohibition was a complete disaster.  People continued to drink flouting the law with black market booze and organized crime flourishing during this period of general lawlessness. Curiously enough, when Republicans today talk about all the failures of government regulation, they never bring up Prohibition.

Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the
Cullen-Harrison Act and Beer Flowed Again
Through Our Great Land
The next three Presidents of the United States, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover were all Republicans.  None of them did a thing to overturn Prohibition.

Which left things to our next President, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, who ran for office in 1932 with a campaign promise to overturn Prohibition.  True to his word, after becoming President, he signed the Cullen-Harrison Act named after the two Democratic Congressmen who introduced the measure, authorizing the sale of beer with up to 3.2% alcohol by weight.

After Roosevelt died in office  in 1945, he was succeeded by Vice-President Harry Truman.  Truman wasn't know for drinking much, and was said to favor wine and bourbon.

The Republicans retook the White House in 1952 when Dwight Eisenhower was elected President.  He wasn't much of a drinker either, but he once said, "Some people wanted champagne and caviar when they should have had beer and hot dogs."  Eisenhower said that to illustrate how America was losing its identity to foreign aspirations.  But reading it today, it sounds like somebody who doesn't respect beer all that much.

The next two US Presidents were John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.  Both liked to drink and have a good time, but mostly favored cocktails.

In 1968. Republican Richard Nixon was elected President.  Nixon fancied himself as a wine connoisseur.  That probably explains a lot.

President Jimmy Carter grabbing some lunch with
his brother Billy at a service station
When Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal, his Vice-President Gerald Ford became President.  Ford wasn't in the White House long, and he wasn't known to drink much either.

In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected President.  Booze rarely touched Jimmy Carter's lips, but the same thing couldn't be said about his brother Billy.  As indifferent as he was to beer in his personal life, as President, Jimmy Carter signed the second most important piece of Federal legislation after the repeal of Prohibition.  Of course, I'm talking about HR 1337, which he signed on October 14, 1978.  This bill was a fairly nondescript reform of the Federal tax code, but included an amendment to legalize home brewing for personal use up to 200 gallons per year.  The amendment to legalize home brewing was actually a collaboration between Republican Representative Barber Conable and Democratic Senator Alan Cranston, harking back to a quaint era where Republicans actually worked with Democrats to craft legislation.   Little did anyone realize this small act of deregulation would release a legion of home brewing entrepreneurs who's passion for beer inspired them to start their own businesses, launching a wave of capitalistic brewing frenzy across America that continues to this day.  Funny, when Republicans today talk about deregulation stimulating the economy, they never bring up Jimmy Carter legalizing home brewing.

Ronald Reagan Toasting the Faithful in 1983
at a New England Pub (photo credit)
Our next President, Ronald Reagan was unique in many ways.   I'm no fan of Reagan, but must admit that unlike previous Presidents, he often appeared in bars and pubs hoisting a brew during his two terms, bolstering his "man of the people" image.  Maybe he wasn't such a bad guy after all.

The next few Presidents, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were not often seen drinking beer in public or were involved in any meaningful Federal legislation affecting brewing.

If you're keeping score at this point between Democratic and Republic Presidents, here's where things stand on beer:

Democrats: Wilson's Attempted veto of the Volsted Act, Roosevelt's repeal of Prohibition,  and Jimmy Carter legalizating of home brewing

Republicans:  Questionable quote about beer from Eisenhower and a few Reagan photo-ops.

President Bill Clinton with US Soccer Star
Carlos Bocanegra (photo credit)

Which brings us to our current President, Barack Obama.  Has any President since FDR done more to elevate the status of beer than Obama?  Early in his Presidency, he tapped into the awesome social lubrication powers of to overcome racial discord. I'm talking about the Beer Summit involving African-American Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge Police Sargent James Crowley.

On July 16th, 2009,  Professor Gates returned from an overseas trip late at night to find himself locked out of his own house.   As he broke into his home, a neighbor placed a 911 thinking a crime was taking place, and Officer Crowley responded to the scene.  Things did not go well when Officer Crowley came on the scene and asked Gates for identification, who angrily responded, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?"  Things rapidly escalated from there and Crowley finally arrested Gates for disorderly conduct.

President Barack Obama at the Beer Summit
(photo credit)

The incident became national news and divided the country largely along racial lines.  When Barack Obama, America's first African-American President was asked about the incident and seemed critical of the Cambridge Police Department, sympathizing with Professor Gates plight as a black man in America, it sparked national outrage. Looking to quell the flames of the first major racial discord of his Presidency, Obama invited both Professor Gates and Officer Crowley over to the White House for a beer in hopes all parties would come to an understanding.

The meeting was a rousing success and the conflict was quickly patched over their beers.  Officer Crowley speaking afterwords, remarked that he and Professor Gates discussed the incident "like two gentlemen, instead of fighting it out either in the physical sensor or in the mental, in the court of public opinion."  Gates was enthusiastic after the meeting with Crowley and quipped, "We hit it off well from the very beginning....when he's not arresting you, Sargent Crowley is a very likable guy."

In addition to highlighting the power of beer to bring people together, in his first term Barack Obama initiated a home brewing operation in the White House, becoming the first President to do so. Obama's small operation produced a few bottles of beer for special White House events, as he described on the David Letterman Show.  Obama's second term has been more quiet on the subject of beer.  While one can only speculate what 2012 Republican Presidential challenger Mitt Romney would have accomplished if he defeated Obama, since Romney was a practicing Mormon, it's a safe bet "elevating the profile of beer" would be pretty low on his agenda.

As we look to the 2016 Presidential Election, the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton looks to face off against a yet to be determined Republican challenger.  As I speak, Republican strategists are feverishly hatching their plans to retake the White House.  I doubt Republican strategists look to Left Coast Liberals like myself for advice, but if they're willing to listen to me, I have a genuine suggestion for Republican success in 2016:  Embrace beer.

Will beer propel Hillary to the White House in 2016?
(photo credit)