Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Rambling Reviews 3.30.2016: Golden State's Heritage Honey Ale, New Belgium's Citradelic Tangerine IPA and Hermitage's Villa Street Red Ale

Time again to ramble about the new and interesting beers discovered in my various travels.

I'll start with Golden State Brewing's Heritage Honey Ale. Golden State Brewing recently opened up shop in a low key, industrial park in Santa Clara just west of San Jose Airport. Heritage Honey Ale is their flagship brew, and I understand why. This light ale has nice, subtle floral characteristics, presumably from the honey and earthy finish. The honey doesn't add any sweetness, but gives the malt a little backbone in this unique brew, which has more going on in it than you might expect. Beers like this are underrated, and I'm a fan of this one.

Next, we come to Citradelic Tangerine IPA from New Belgium.  My first glass of this was rather underwhelming. Oh, it was tangeriney to be sure with lots of nice citrus aromas but the hops in this brew seemed dialed down and I missed their bitter punch. Then a couple days later, I had another one and began to get the idea. The tangerine fruit works well with the Citra hops, the malt serving as a sufficient counter-balance but mostly staying out of the way, the emphasis being more on flavor than bitterness. The citrus flavors don't really pop, but maybe that's a good thing as this is a rather pleasant, unobtrusive, sessional type IPA's at 6.0% abv. Hop heads will likely search elsewhere for their lupulin fix, but I can see this being a really popular IPA for the other 98% of the population.

We'll end with Villa Street American Red Ale from San Jose's Hermitage Brewing. It's named after the street in downtown Mountain View where Hermitage's sister brewery, Tied House has been located since 1987. Now that we have that out of the way, this red ale has a rather thin malt base, checking in at only 5.0% abv. The caramel or toasty character from the roasted malts are simply blown away by all the piney, fruity (do I taste mango?) hop flavors, resulting in a rather unbalanced, one-dimensional brew. It's got some nice piney and citrus aromas from the dry hopping which I liked, and the hop flavors work at a certain level, but just completely overwhelm this brew. This didn't bother my wife, who loved this beer for the exact same reason.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Rambling Reviews 3.14.2016: Anchor Brewing's Go West!, Off Color Brewing's Le Wolf, and Almanac Farmer's Reserve Blueberry

Running a marathon, plus lots of work and family commitments have slowed down my beery explorations lately. However, I've still had time to sample some new brews to ramble about them in my little corner in the online world. So let's get to it!

We'll start with Anchor's new IPA foray, Go West!. Anchor has an interesting history with IPA's. Anchor arguably launched the whole IPA thing in America with their Liberty Ale.  Even though it was released in the 1970's, Liberty Ale still holds up today as a strong example of the style. A not so strong example of the IPA in my seldom humble opinion is Anchor's unnamed IPA, which I find rather timid  and underwhelming. There's no such problem here, Go West! hits all the classic West Coast IPA notes, full of punchy grapefruit and pine flavors, and a slightly resinous finish. Presumably, the marketing folks at Anchor hope an exclamation point does a lot more for this beer than it did for Jeb Bush.

Next up, Le Wolf Biere de Garde from Chicago's Off Color Brewing. I found this toasty, yeasty, estery concoction just a real pleasure to sip. It's a little on the sweet side, and at 7.3% abv, offers a real kick. Fruity esters dominate. I picked up some apricot and peach, but it was more one unique flavor not easily broken down into components.  A few folks on Beer Advocate noticed pear. It's one of those beers you can analyze for hours, or one you can enjoy without thinking about it at all.

Last, but hardly least is Almanac Farmer's Reserve Blueberry. Ho hum, Almanac put out another excellent barrel-aged brew. Almanac first brews their house sour ale, and then racks it to a secondary fermentation in wine barrels filled with Northern California blueberries. There it sits for a few months, picking up the blueberry flavors and a nice purply color. Sipping the result, the blueberries served as a light accent to the wine, oak and moderately strong sourness. It's balanced, all the flavors playing nicely together rather than popping out on their own. What else can I say, it's another example of the usual Almanac magic.

Monday, March 7, 2016

I Survived the Napa Valley Marathon

There are a few things I learned about the Napa Valley Marathon.  First, the scenery along the course as every bit as gorgeous as you would imagine on a country road winding through the iconic wine country. The race was impeccably organized, every last conceivable detail executed by some of the most enthusiastic volunteers you'll ever meet. And you have to love a marathon that features beer and wine tasting at the marathon expo.

As for running the marathon, I learned a few things from that, too.  For example, no matter how slow you think you are starting out in a marathon, go slower. I also learned stuff you never experienced training for the race can hit you unexpectedly. The marathon is a cruel and unforgiving endeavor and despite your best efforts to prepare for, a marathon will still throw the unexpected at you.  Which happened to me around mile 20, where I was feeling  optimistic about my finishing before the wheels fell totally off.

Just after the 18 mile mark, still feeling good, 1-2 miles
away from full blown melt-down
In many ways, simply getting to mile 20 was an accomplishment in itself. The last month of marathon training, I was hobbled by a pain in the left half of my butt. Sitting down for an hour as a time caused a dull ache, requiring me to get up and walk around to work off whatever was ailing me. Morning runs began to start off with me limping around for 10, 20 yards, before I'd loosen up and regain my form although dull aches in my hips often persisted throughout the run. My usual stretching routine and ice, old standbys for combating any injury, didn't seem to do much for it.

What was this mystery ailment? Believe it or not, I figured it out reading Facebook. The morning the day before the marathon, I noticed a post from Runner's World on Piriformis Syndrome. Piriformis Syndrome is caused by a hip muscle imbalance where the small Piriformis muscle in the hip tightens down on the Sciatic nerve, causing pain. The symptoms of this injury matched what I was experience perfectly. I even tried one of the specialized stretches from the article to relieve the tightness in the Piriformis muscle and the numbing ache immediately decreased in intensity. Better to learn late than never, but I do wish I had seen that article a month earlier. The last month before the marathon, I had some good runs, although it was becoming increasingly obvious my sore butt was really starting to compromise my training.

So while it was still looking good for me at mile 19, running mile 20 became a struggle and it all went downhill from there.  Staggering across the finish line after shuffling the last six miles, I still just made it within my time target range. Gasping and trudging through the finishing area, a medical person at the finish line singled me out from the crowd and started asking questions like "Are you all right?" and "How do you feel?". This was not a good sign. My insistences of "I'm OK" finally persuaded her to let me go.  Five minutes later after meeting up with my wife, I needed to lie down and sure enough, another medical volunteer comes right over and starts asking the same "Are you OK?" questions. This time, they take me the physical therapy room.

Yours truly finishing the Napa Valley Marathon
The problem was electrolytes, or the lack thereof. I avoided Gatorade at the aid stations, drinking water instead, worried Gatorade would upset my stomach. Problem was, I wasn't replenishing any of the electrolytes I was sweating out, which caught up with me at the end.  I had six runs of 20-22 miles prior to the marathon without these problems. But those runs were completed at temperatures 5-10 degrees F cooler than race day and covered at slower speeds, so I probably wasn't sweating as much.  These factors may have conspired to hide an electrolyte deficit issue that reared its ugly head on race day.

I sat in the physical therapy room, cold and shivering, not looking too good. Some Gatorade and salty broth later, I got to the point where I was coherent enough to walk slowly back to the car on my sore left hip so my wife could take me home.

Finishing a marathon is an accomplishment in itself. I entered this whole deal with both optimism and apprehension, both of which in hindsight seem totally warranted. Will I ever enter the marathon madness again? Perhaps. Before I'll even consider another one, I've got to get rid of this Piriformis thing, get my hip muscles into balance and figure out the best way to get electrolytes into my system. Then, I'll consider doing another marathon. Or not.

Running a marathon is like climbing Mount Everest. The human body was not meant to climb Mount Everest. It serves no essential purpose to the rest of civilization, the climb is full of real dangers, yet people do it anyway and we celebrate those that do. You learn a lot about yourself and look at the world in new ways pursuing dramatic, yet obsessively absurd quests. Which is why I'm glad I took this on in the first place. Three years ago while I was battling injury inducing form imbalances, the mere idea of running a marathon was totally inconceivable, but I've broken down those barriers and proven its possible. That's what runners do, break down barriers. Breaking down barriers in running has given me the skills and tenacity to take on challenges in my family and career, which have far greater consequences than a finishing place and time.

But you'll notice all the emphasis on the word "I" because running a marathon is undeniably a self-centered act, even if family and friends are cheering you on. Trying to achieve the family-work-running balance becomes exponentially harder when the running part of that triad involves long morning runs necessary to prepare for a marathon.  Something tells me I'll be on a marathon starting line again, but there's a lot more to running than marathons. I'll be doing non-marathon running stuff for a while.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Session #109: In search of Porter

The topic from Mark Lindner, the Bend Beer Librarian for this month's Session is simply Porters, one of my favorite styles.  Sipping the complex, sometimes intense, roasted malt flavors of a Porter is one of life's underrated pleasures.

Unfortunately, Porters are hard to find these days. I went to my local bottle shop last weekend in search of a few porters for this Session post. As you might expect, I had numerous of choices of different IPA's, Saisons, Stouts, Pale Ales, Belgian Ales, Farmhouse Ales, not to mention more than a few different Lagers and even Malt Liquors. I could only find three different Porters and took two of them home with me.

When I returned home, I searched for porters on the tap lists at some of my favorite local spots online. Out of approximately 80 taps to choose from, just three porters were to be found. Thankfully, one porter was no more than a block away at my neighborhood hangout, Little Lou's BBQ. So that night, I enjoyed a pint of Drake's Jolly Rodger Imperial Coffee Porter at Little Lou's. Rich, lightly sweet, and pleasantly coffee-lishious, slowly sipping away on this brew at the bar was a satisfying way to end a good weekend. By the way, what's the difference between an Imperial Porter and an Imperial Stout? I don't know, either.

Monday, I poured myself a Maui Brewing Coconut Porter I picked up at the bottle shop that weekend.  It's one of my all time favorite porters. Full of dark chocolate flavors accentuated by the toasted coconut, it tastes like a sophisticated version of a Mounds bar in a glass.

Tuesday was Super Tuesday, where Donald Trump took a commanding lead in the Republican Presidential Primaries.  A strong Porter seemed in order.  So I went with Heretic Chocolate Hazelnut Porter, which at 7.0% abv, provided the necessary numbing sensation required to remain calm while contemplating thoughts of Trump as President. What a remarkable porter it was. The nuanced roastiness balanced the buttery hazelnuts producing a restrained, sophisticated brew, with the different flavors harmonizing effortlessly. Call it the anti-Trump of Porters.

While I certainly enjoyed these Porters, all three were amped up in one way of another with coffee, nuts, or good old fashioned alcohol. Was there anyplace I could get "just" a Porter?
Well, my local Safeway always has Deschutes Black Butte Porter, one of my ten or so "go to" beers you'll often find in my fridge. It's the only porter they ever have at Safeway. Porters are definitely worth searching for. They're just too hard to find.