Monday, November 30, 2015

Dan Gordon talks about his new cider venture WILDCIDE

Craft beer is hot. Lately, cider has been even hotter. The Beer Institute reported US cider production more than tripled between 2011 and 2013, from 9.4 to 32 million gallons. In 2014, Nielsen reported off-premise cider sales grew by 71% in 2014. While cider sales among the nation's largest brands have slowed in 2015, cider has firmly established itself in our nation's beverage landscape with many new cideries both large and small getting into the action.

So perhaps it's no surprise the Gordon Biersch stepped into the cider area with their newly released WILDCIDE. Of course, most people aren't all that interested about a brewery diversifying its beverage portfolio, they just want something good to drink.

On that score, I found WILDCIDE successful. It's quite refreshingly dry, full of crisp apple flavors with a pleasant residual tartness. WILDCIDE takes fresh pressed juice of four different apples: Fuji, Granny Smith, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious.  Fuji and Golden Apples create aroma and sweetness, while Red Delicious apples create body.  Granny Smith apples provide the tart tang at the finish.

So exactly how did WILDCIDE come about and what else can we expect from Gordon Biersch's cider venture? I asked Dan Gordon, Gordon Biersch's Co-founder and Brewmaster about the genesis and his future plans for WILDCIDE in an e-mail. Here's what he had to say.

BR: Why did you decide to start producing cider?

DG: I made the decision when the laws changed a couple years ago allowing me to get a winery license. Also, after reading the back labels of the major producers and seeing there wasn’t a 100% all-natural hard cider I could find made from fresh pressed juice without additives.

BR:Take us through the process to blend the different apples to get the flavor you were looking for. How many test batches did it take?

GD:The most important element was using fresh pressed apple juice. That was the key to capturing the aromatic qualities of the apple. By using fresh pressed juice, we were able to achieve a very aromatic flavor profile and fruitiness while keeping it dry with a crisp body. Many of the large producers are using concentrate and nearly everyone uses sulfates. We don’t use either.  

The blend of apples was designed to have the right amount of fermentable sugars, acidity and aroma.It wasn’t rocket science. The magic comes in how we control the fermentation rate and dialing in the residual sugar to 1.15%. That’s the challenge. Selecting the apple formulation was the easiest part.  

BR: What's the biggest challenge in brewing a consistent high quality cider?  

DG: It is all about controlled fermentation to get it consistent. It is a different approach than beer but equally satisfying.  
BR: Cider doesn't exactly meet the Reinheitsgebot. Is brewing WILDCIDE a departure from your German traditional brewing roots?

DG: To the contrary, I think we’re applying the spirit of the Reinheitsgebot philospohy to cider. We use one ingredient: just fresh pressed apple juice. Making a great cider as pure as possible is exactly what the Reinheitsgebot is to brewing.  

BR: Did brewing something like WILDCIDE involve a lot of soul searching or was it more a "let's go for it" thing?

DG: No soul searching was necessary. We needed to broaden our horizons and it has been a blast. I really am a fan of our hard cider and have it on tap at home.

BR: Do you have plans for other cider versions (pear?) or other projects in the works you can talk about?  

DG: We will be doing some flavored ciders but not really flavors you would expect. The philosophy is to make it delicious and not try to make statement with esoteric flavors.  

BR: Anything further you'd like to add?

DG: I am drinking one as I answer all of these questions.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

21st Amendment helps build a San Leandro neighborhood....the story in Edible East Bay

It's the story of how 21st Amendment's new brewery in San Leandro, CA is revitalizing a tired, industrial neighborhood. I've written a lot of things I've been proud of, but this article ranks of one of the highest because this story is about how beer truly matters.  You can read it on the Edible East Bay website here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Rambling Reviews 11.17.2015: Sierra Nevada's Hop Harvest #3, Lucky Buddha, and Half Moon Bay's Calf-eine

One again, it's time to ramble on various beers I've had lately.

First up, none other than the 3rd batch of Sierra Nevada's Hop Harvest Series made with newly developed hops. In fact, they're so new, they're only known by the numbers 472, 05256, 431, and 06300. Hopefully someone will give these hops some sexy names, as they coalesce to create unique pear-like flavors, with some melon and pine for good measure. It's a wonderfully soft tasting IPA, which like others in this series, redefine what can be accomplished with hops.

This next review presents a serious challenge to maintaining my beer karma. It's Lucky Buddha, a beer from China (*) sold in cool looking green bottles shaped like the laughing Buddha. Only recently could you find this beer in the United States. The nice Lucky Buddha PR person offered me a sample for review and I said "yes". Without going into a long story, this remarkable persistent and determined PR person finally got a six-pack of Lucky Buddha delivered after weeks of effort and when anyone works that hard to get me some free beer, it would seriously damage my beer karma to say anything bad about the beer she represents.

But of course dear reader, it's also bad beer karma to going around saying great things about a beer just because someone gave me a free six-pack, hence the dilemma. Now it's a pretty safe bet the small segment of beer geekdom that reads this blog is probably not breathlessly awaiting the next lager from China sold in green bottles. And no, my expectations were not the greatest either. However, both my wife and I liked Lucky Buddha on it's own terms. Sneer all you want at the rice adjuncts, they gave the beer a clear freshness in between the initial light striked skunkiness and a slightly muddled grassy hop note at the finish. It's not one of those "nothing" lagers totally devoid of flavors, there's actually something going on in this brew. It's an easy drinking beer if I say so myself and works well with Asian food. OK, beer karma remains intact.

Finally, when it comes to beer karma, you can't go wrong drinking a beer that combats human trafficking. It's Calf-iene from Half Moon Bay Brewing, sales of which supports Not For Sale a charity fighting human trafficking. Calf-iene is a coffee, milk stout, that tastes like coffee and milk in a stout. Yes, that's the brilliant culinary commentary you've come to know and love from this blog. Seriously, the flavors really come together nicely, with a light sweetness and low level of carbonation. It's a little grainy going down with just a faint whisper of hops that stays out of the way of those wonderful roasty, creamy flavors. Packs a lot of flavors for just 6.3% abv. Just a really nifty sipping beer.

(*) OK, Lucky Buddha is actually brewed in Australia.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Scenes from last Saturday's Bacon and Beer Classic in San Jose's Municipal Stadium

Who's afraid of a little bacon? The Bacon and Beer Classic was a pretty fun festival this past March, and made an encore appearance at San Jose's Municipal Stadium. Like most festivals, the concept is rather simple. You roam around the stadium with a taster cup sampling beer and eating various things cooked with bacon in them, or in some cases, bacon all by itself. It's a great way to discover local eateries as well as some new breweries and the second edition had an even greater array of food and brews than the previous version.

A couple places pouring at the festival popped up on my radar screen. If you haven't heard of the San Francisco Mead Company or Oakland's Federation Brewing yet, you probably want to check them out. The San Francisco Mead Company had a some sweet apple cyser (that's fermented honey and apple juice) which when mixed with their dry mead, resulted in a wonderfully floral and complex sipper.  Federation Brewing's Brown IPA sounded little like a tired gimmick, but it's really more of a traditional British Bitter, with wonderfully soft, rounded hop flavors that made for an excellent brew. Federation's Chocolate Stout with noticeable vanilla additions was also a pretty strong effort.

I'll leave you with some photos of the evening.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Why are tap rooms popping up in Bay Area Whole Foods Markets?

The Tap Room at the Blossom Hill Whole Foods
Why is Whole Foods Market putting craft beer tap rooms at selected Bay Area locations?

A grocery store isn't exactly the first place that comes to mind for grabbing a pint or two. Especially since no other area grocery stores are opening up tap rooms. With the grand opening of the tap room at  the Blossom Hill Whole Foods in San Jose last October 30th, I stopped by to get a pint and talk with Nate Kaufman, the Marketing and Communications lead for Whole Foods in the South Bay to check the new place out and find out why Whole Foods is getting into the tap room game.

"The tap room part of a larger effort to foster a spirit of education," he explained.  "Whole Foods is known as a place to find the best quality food and a place to learn. The tap room creates a relaxing time where people can talk about beer in a laid back atmosphere."  Nate further explained that Whole Foods wants to create community hubs within their stores featuring local breweries and wineries. "Of course, we'll feature larger regional and even national breweries doing really cool things," he adds.

In addition to beer and wine, the tap room currently serves sushi platters and edamame. A full food menu including made-to-order burgers starts in 2016.

The Tap Room's Beer Specialist Brien
(Whole Foods photo)
It's part of an overall plan at Whole Foods to create tap rooms where ever possible and the local alcohol regulations allow. Last year, Whole Foods opened up the Mission Creek Brewery at their location on The Alameda in San Jose. Since Whole Foods is in the business of selling beer, the tap rooms provide obvious marketing opportunities. "The tap room gives local partners an opportunity to introduce themselves. Our shoppers are inclined to try new things and this place is where they can try new things in a place that isn’t intimidating."

I'll have to agree with that last part. As I sat at the bar, quietly sipping a lovely Almanac Citra Sour Ale, the couple next to me asked the bar tender for something "like Stella Artois". He fielded their inquiry far more patiently than I ever could. The tap list that evening had something for everyone, whether those looking for something eclectic, or those just looking to expand their horizons past Stella Artois

While we can all applaud the mission to create community hubs, let's not forget Whole Foods is a publicly traded company. While I believe hard core capitalism can peacefully coexist with grass roots community development, Whole Foods isn't opening up tap rooms out of the goodness of their hearts, but ultimately to strengthen their bottom line. It's an open question whether a large corporation like Whole Food can create authentic local meeting places, or even if people want grocery stores to be those meeting places, but give them credit for trying to pull it off.

As for me, I'm glad there's one more craft beer option in the South Bay. If big corporations are using locally brewed beer to bring people together, even if is to strengthen their bottom line, it's further proof the good guys are winning

Tap Room at Blossom Hill Whole Foods Vital Statistics

Address: 1146 Blossom Hill Road, San Jose, CA 95118
Regular Hours: 11a-10p daily
Happy Hour: M-F 4-6 p.m., $1 off all draft beers and wines on tap
Seats: 100+ total, with 60-70 on the outdoor patio
Things to do: The venue will be outfitted with Shuffleboard and Cornhole
Food: Artisan cheese and charcuterie, sushi, hot pretzels, gourmet mac and cheese. A full food menu including made to order burgers arrives in January.
Drink: Eight beer taps, two cask ales, and two wines on tap. 90% local beers including brews from Faction (Alameda) and Lagunitas (Petaluma), as well as limited edition craft brews from folks like Fort Point Beer Company (SF) and Santa Clara Valley Brewing (San Jose). Local wines represented as well.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Milestone Pod : Some good running data to be had from this little gizmo

It just sits there laced into my shoe, dormant and barely noticeable, until a few rapid shocks spring it into action. It's the Milestone Pod, one of these new wearable fitness gadgets the Milestone folks asked me to try out for review. You don't need to do a thing to get a good running data from it. That's exactly the way Milestone CEO Jason Kaplan wants it, who says "We're trying to create an experience for runners while doing nothing." It retails for about 25 bucks and doesn't require the hassle of carrying a smart phone around on your run, making it one of the better running gadget values out there.

Milestone Pod App Interface
Here's how the pod works. You simply lace it into your shoes, and the pod starts counting any small shocks as foot strikes and when it counts 100 or more foot strikes a minute for six minutes, it figures I've started my run and captures those last six minutes of accelerometer data. If my running cadence drops below 100, the pod thinks I must stuck at a traffic light, taking a quick drink, or otherwise stopped running for a spell and doesn't include that data into the run. Once my cadence falls below 100 strikes a minute for six minutes, the pod considers the run over.

Once all that run data is captured, I upload it wirelessly to my phone using the Milestone Pod app which crunches the numbers and displays various metrics related to running speed and form. The app displays running form metrics including cadence, stride length, how long my foot is in contact with the ground (stance time), rate of impact, and leg swing as a function of running pace. It also calculates the overall distance covered in the run.

I've found these results most useful as a reality check on recovery/maintenance runs as well as long runs. The pod tells me a lot about these slower paced runs like how fast I actually went and what my form was like. If I feel ragged the day after a hard workout, the pod usually picks that up by measuring longer stance time and reduced leg swing. There's a "Runficiency" metric the biomechanical engineers at Milestone cooked up to determine an overall level of running efficiency that seems to do a good job in telling me when I'm having a good day form wise, or when I need to be working on lifting my knee a little higher.
Towards the end of this run, my stance time went
down and my paced quickened

Having an all knowing pod on my foot has caused me to be more conscious about form, and have found myself thinking "Reduce that stance time"  or "Keep your knees up" during a run rather than simply thinking "Run faster".  Wouldn't you know, once I get home and download the data, I invariably find that when these form modifications results in running faster with little or no perceptible change in effort. Success!

The pod also generates good results for track workouts or tempo runs where my pace reaches or exceeds race pace, which for me is in the 6:00-7:00 per mile range. Of course for this kind of fast running, you really need real time feedback from a watch, so the pod is more of an additional, "after the fact" tool to see how the workout went. One thing I noticed on these workouts was the pod always calculated a shorter distance than I actually covered at these faster paces. A test with a couple runs at 6:10 / mile pace and 7:00 / mile pace on a track confirmed this.  While the pod's distance calculations when I ran at 8:00 / mile or slower pace were pretty accurate, at 7:00 / mile pace the pod calculates a distance about 8%  shorter than I actually ran, and at 6:10 / mile pace, it under counts distance by 15%.

I shared these results with Milestone Pod CEO Jason Kaplan, who acknowledged this could be a limitation of the pod.  As he explains, "Out of the box, the Milestone Pod is more accurate at moderate to lower speeds than high speeds. We offer calibration which makes the Pod accurate for runners at any speed. However, because we calculate distance based on footstrike and gait characteristics, if your form changes as you increase of decrease speed, then we may lose some accuracy. For some, the Pod will remain accurate at any speed if their gait characteristics remain relatively stable even thought their speed changes."

It should be noted my gait is not typical as I run almost exclusively on my toes. At any rate, this wasn't a deal breaker for me even though many important workouts are run at varying speeds, which the pod won't measure completely accurately, no matter how I calibrate it. Thus, it will require more interpretation of the data as I look over the graphs to see how my form was during these workouts.

As running gadgets go, I'm a lot like the Amish. I adapt pretty slowly to the latest running technology. Having run for 35 years, running success is mostly about hard work and effort, and you're not going to get that from any gadget. However, the right tools provide the information to expend that hard work in the right direction. I'm training for the Napa Valley Marathon this coming March and the Milestone Pod will undeniably help me get to the finish line.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Session #105 : First Foray into Cider Double Feature

Kudos to Mark Ciocco, not only for his efforts at reviving The Session but coming up with a great topic, Double Feature, where the basic idea is to compare and contrast two consecutively consumed beers. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for crystal ball gazing, thinking deeply on esoteric beer concepts, or waxing philosophical on beer culture. But I love his Session topic harks back to an earlier, simpler time of The Session, where the idea was let's all drink a beer and talk about it. Maybe too many topics only a hard core beer geek could possibly care about, let alone write about, was a big part of why The Session was almost no more.

OK, back to today's topic. Indeed, tasting two beers consecutively reveals the minute details otherwise lost on the brain through the fog of time. As a homebrewer, seeing how my brews measure up to the best examples the professional brewing world is both a great way to learn and often a deeply humbling experience.

Mark calls himself "a big tent guy" so I'll put that to the test for this session with a post about cider rather than beer. I've had a had a few ciders here and there, some I've enjoyed, others not so much. Ciders remain hot, growing in popularity to the point where it's time for me to figure out what all the fuss is about. I'll be exploring this new world over the next couple months and exploration is a big part of what craft beer is all about. I suppose that is a bit of tenuous connection to this month's topic, but hope you'll all work with me here.

San Jose's Gordon Biersch Brewing, sent me a couple bottles of their new cider line Wildcide to sample which seemed like a good place to start. I figured Gordon Biersch would be putting out a good product, but thought it would be good to compare Wildcide to Samuel Smith's Organic Cider, which won a few awards over its time.

I tried the Wildcide first, hoping it wouldn't taste like carbonated apple juice. It didn't. I liked that it was rather dry, giving the apple flavors crispness and had a nice residual tartness. Then I tried to the Samuel Smith's.  Compared to Wildcide, it was a little sweeter, a little more complex, heavier, and also had a slight tartness at the end. I found both refreshing and pleasantly sessionable. And yes, it's doubtful I'd have picked up the slightly noticeable, but significant differences without sampling these ciders consecutively. As for which one I preferred, I'd be fine with either of them, but I liked the dryness of the Wildcide, so that's my pick.

One thing learned from this exercise is that ciders are a study in subtleties, without the booming hop and roasted malt flavors you get with beer. But perhaps more importantly for the long term health of blogging, simply drinking a beer, cider, or whatever and telling the world from our own corners of cyberspace may be pretty simplistic, but still has its rewards.