Sunday, November 30, 2014

Brew Day! Brewing up Brandon's Maple Brown Ale

Rather than fight the crowds and chase bargains on Black Friday, I decided to stay home and brew beer.  I'm now on the third iteration of Brandon's Maple Brown Ale, a tribute to my 13-year old son. Brandon has autism, so he's a little different and I've always wanted this beer to be a little different, while still being tasty.  I've never felt like I've got this beer right and once, this brew has unfortunately reflected Brandon's autism all too accurately.  I'm optimistic the third time's a charm for this brew, since the wort had the caramel flavors I was shooting for to blend with the maple syrup added to the boil just before flameout. It'll be a few weeks before I learn how it turns out and I'll let you know here.  In the meantime, I'll leave you with a few pictures from the day of brewing.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks....Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

The starting line at this morning's Applied Materials
Silicon Valley Turkey Trot
As we spend today giving thanks for all the important things in our lives, let me share a few things I'm thankful for.  I'm thankful for great moments with my kids, like last evening's walk where I discussed plate tectonics with my 11-year old daughter who seemed genuinely interested as my autistic son gleefully swatted away flies that would have frightened him only a few months ago.  I'm thankful for Turkey Trots, like the Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot I ran this morning.  These are always great races since everyone is in a festive holiday mood.  After a bit of a downer half-marathon in Monterey, I bounced back to run a pretty good 10k if I say so myself.  I'm also thankful for my great wife who also ran a great 10k for herself wearing a tutu, reminding me not to take life so seriously.

Here's hoping you all have plenty to be thankful for, and I wish you all the best for Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Big Sur Half-Marathon at Monterey Bay: Not exactly what I had in mind

My running stuff ready to go Sunday morning
Well, it's over.  After twelve weeks of work directed towards this race, it came and went in just under and hour and a half.  I could give you a blow by blow of how the race went, but I doubt you'd want to read it, and I can remember too much about it anyway.  I vaguely remember something about going out in 6:15-6:20 per mile pace for the first few mile as planned.  Then, around mile 8 on the rolling hills and fighting the slight breeze off the ocean, I seem to recall slowing to 6:30 pace and then it started getting worse.  I dragged my butt through the last couple miles to finish 1:26:11 which isn't really that bad a time, since I finished 1:25:57 last year.  But obviously, I would have run a faster time with a slightly slower start and better pacing and

For the past couple years, I been training pretty seriously for a spring half-marathon and then a fall half-marathon and I'm ready for a break.  I'll still be running, but I'm looking forward to running a few shorter races rather than one big one.

No more big deep thoughts today, I'm still pretty tired.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Beer of the Month: Hops of Wrath from Dust Bowl Brewing

The Beer is of the Month is Hops of Wrath from Dust Bowl Brewing.   I've enjoyed a few over the past three years while visiting my kids since the time my ex-wife took the kids to Modesto.

When that happened, I wanted to hate Modesto. Before then, I lived on the San Francisco Peninsula and the kids were only a short five minute drive away. When I started seeking ways to spend additional time with my kids, my ex-wife resisted, so I started pursuing legal channels.   Shortly thereafter, my ex-wife announced her husband just got a job near Modesto and she was taking the kids with her.  That seemed too much of a coincidence to me.  It is not wise to discuss these things in great detail on blogs but let's just say things got pretty messy and some lawyers made good money over the deal.  In the end, an independent arbitrator allowed my ex-wife to take the kids to Modesto, but also allowed me to spend more time with them.

Part of that additional time was spending Wednesday evening in Modesto with my kids. Having never been there before, I figured Modesto was some dusty Central Valley town out in the middle of nowhere.  And indeed, I discovered Modesto to be this dusty Central Valley town out in the middle of nowhere.  But somehow, the place grew on me.  Modesto has this unassuming humbleness and unstated pride in its normalcy, an exotic ordinariness few places posses. Everyone seems to like being in Modesto a lot more than they have any reason to.

Or maybe Modesto simply represents an important time and place where festering family discord finally healed and the kids and I had some great times.   Helping my kids with their homework in Modesto's library, going on a stroll with them through Scenic Oaks Park, and taking the kids bowling at McHenry Bowl are some of the many great memories I'll take away from Modesto. Sometimes when we'd go out to dinner, I'd enjoy a Pint of Hops of Wrath.  A couple times we even made it to Dust Bowl Brewing's brew pub just down the road in Turlock.

When people talk about the great California IPA's, Hops of Wrath usually isn't in the discussion.  It ought to be, standing up to the best California IPA's from far sexier places like San Francisco, Santa Rosa or San Diego.  Its hop flavors are sharp, clear, and very directed with lots of pine and grapefruit peel character.   It's a pretty dry IPA with a little caramel malt to round out the flavors, resulting in a rather unbalanced IPA, which in this case is a very good thing.  More than a beer, Hops of Wrath represents the fact that good things happen in unlikely places.

My ex-wife and I get along a lot better these days and she just moved back into the Bay Area to San Rafael.  My kids are closer now so I'm pretty happy about this, but it means I won't be going to Modesto anymore.  I'm going to miss that place.

PS - I won't be going to Modesto but maybe I won't have to get Hops of Wrath.  Dust Bowl Brewing recently announced a major brewery expansion.  Here's hoping Hops of Wrath and some of the other excellent Dust Bowl brews start showing up in the Bay Area.

The Modesto Arch.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Six days to the Big Sur Monterey Bay Half-Marathon

"I've had as many doubts as everyone else.  Standing on the starting line, we're all cowards."

-Alberto Salazar, three-time New York City Marathon Champion

Every run I've done since August was motivated primarily for the race this coming Sunday, the Big Sur Half-Marathon in Monterey Bay. Despite eleven solid weeks of training with thankfully no injuries along the way, there will certainly be some doubt in my mind as I stand on the finish line.

However, doubt and confidence are not completely mutually exclusive.  I've put in a lot of work, and know I'm definitely ready to take on the 13.1 miles and run a faster pace than last year, when I ran 1:25:57.  Of course, in the final week before a half-marathon, there's nothing you can do to make you faster, you can only screw things up.  This is the week for "active rest", a tenuous balance between easy running to let the legs recover while avoiding taking so much rest that you lose your fitness.   Many weeks of hard training have been undermined by an ill-advised "one last hard workout" that saps all your energy just before the race when you need it most.  It's a also a good time to watch my food intake and yes, go easy on the beer, as it can be easy to quickly pick up five pounds of "dead weight" this week from the reduced activity.

Even if I find the perfect taper, twelve weeks of hard work can go right down the drain on race day by simply tripping over a rock, getting sick the night before, tangling up with another runner at the starting line or some other random event.    You can be diligent and careful to avoid this stuff, but sometimes bad luck still finds you.  There's no guarantees in running, just like with everything else. But most of the time, running rewards preparation.   Understanding this is the partial antidote to doubt.

The original goal when I started last August was to finish just under 1:22, which is 6:15 per mile pace.  I thought that would be possible thought pretty challenging when I first set this goal. Evaluating all my training since then, I still going to be pretty challenging, but possible.  So the plan is to go out the first four miles in 6:15-6:20 per mile per pace.  Faster than that and there becomes a real risk of crashing and burning, turning the last miles into a death march.  If everything comes together and that pace feels ridiculously easy, I can start pushing the pace in the middle miles. Otherwise, I'll just hang onto that pace.  Sub-6:20 pace (which equates to a sub-1:23 half-marathon) would still be a pretty good performance.

Who knows what will happen on race day?  Finding out is the fun part, even if it is a little scary.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Session #93: Why are we drawn to where beer is made?

Opening my refrigerator and looking around inside, I have no idea where most of the food come from. A gallon of milk most likely comes for California dairy farms from thousands of square miles from California's Central Valley. On the door rack are condiments, pickles, salad dressings and sauces from anonymous factories scattered all over the globe.  The lunch meat could be from, well anywhere.  The orange juice from someplace in Southern California or Mexico but it might have come all the way from Florida.  Even the fresh, locally grown organic strawberries come from a wide swatch of land covering thousands of acres.  But the Sierra Nevada Coffee Stout or the Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale?  I know where these beers came from to almost the exact foot.

So when Brian and Maria at the Roaming Pint ask why we are drawn to visit breweries for this month's Session, I'd have to say a big part of this attraction is because beer is one of the few things we ingest where we know almost exactly where it comes from.  Beer is rare, coming from somewhere rather being from "out there".  So given beer's unique attribute, it's not surprising we take advantage to connect with beer by visiting the exact location where it's from.  At the brewery, you can often see the beer being made right there, transforming you from a passive drinker to an actual participant in the entire brewing process.  At least that's the way I feel whenever I'm at a brewery, even though I'm not actually shoveling hops into the brew kettle.

I know where the stuff on the right comes from,
but not the stuff on the left
Are there other reasons we visit breweries?  I think so.  For the past forty years, beer has been the focus of a cultural war between deeply entrenched, corporate near-monopolies producing high volume mass market product and smaller, regional entrepreneurs forging their own unique brewing identities. While this war has been fought in the shelves of liquor and grocery stores, and in bars and restaurants, it's the breweries which has become the virtual battlefields of this struggle.

A trip to Sierra Nevada or Anchor Brewing has become a pilgrimage to a craft beer mecca, a place where key events occurred to launch the craft brewing revolution in the United States. Never mind that the current locations of both these breweries aren't the actual places where Fritz Maytag and Ken Grossman first transformed beer. These new brewery locations still somehow hold onto those symbolic distinctions from the past.

At least that's the way I see it.  Do we really know why we're drawn to breweries?  I suppose we can make some good guesses, but sooner or later we find ourselves again at a brewery, whether or not we understand why.