Tuesday, April 19, 2016

One of the more interesting beer stories I've written....now in the Spring issue of Edible Silicon Valley

Damien Fagen and Jesse Friedman of Almanac Beer
(Almanac Beer photo)
One of the best things about writing about brewing is that most beers have a story behind them. Thankfully, I got to write about a beer with one of the more interesting back stories. A San Jose non-profit called Garden to Table goes around to picking fruit from private property owners that would otherwise go to waste. Almanac Beer uses some of this local fruit for their Valley of the Heart's Delight sour ale. It's shows how a local, untapped food resource can be taking by forward thinking individuals and transformed into something special and unique.

I want to thank Zach Lewis of Garden to Table and Jesse Friedman of Almanac Beer for their time and assistance with the story, and of course, thank my editor Kerri Stenson of Edible Silicon Valley for her enthusiasm. I think it's one of the best article I've published, and you can read it now in the Spring issue of Edible Silicon Valley right here:  The Valley of the Heart's Delight is Still Bearing Fruit

Monday, April 18, 2016

How Does Jake McCluskey Do It?

Jake McCluskey, in the  middle in the green shirt,
about to start his 100 mile run.
(picture from Jake McCluskey's Facebook page)
I've always wanted to write about Jake McCluskey, just never could figure out how. Both of us like to drink beer and we both run a lot. There, the similarities end.

Jake McCluskey, an assistant brewer at Santa Clara Valley Brewing, has become something of a local folk-hero. Not too long ago, he was seriously overweight, depressed at how life was going as he approached middle age. Then one day, he started running. Not very far at first, a block or two down the street was all he could muster. Jake found inspiration from, of all things, a tape of enigmatic football player Marshawn Lynch declaring "I'm just about that action, boss" which Jake played over and over before heading out the door.

McCluskey kept running and lost 180 pounds. Last year on his 42nd birthday, he completed a 50 mile run from San Francisco to San Jose. raising nearly $20,000 for the Silicon Valley Children's Fund,  a non-profit that supports foster children. If that wasn't audacious enough, he doubled that distance the next year, covering 100 miles from Petaluma's Lagunitas Brewery to Original Gravity in Downtown San Jose last April 9th, earning over $20,000 for the Silicon Valley Children's Fund. During this time, his story made  Runner's World and the cover of the San Jose Mercury News. Marshawn Lynch who rarely comments on anything, simply declared "That's gangsta" upon learning of Jake's story from a sports writer.

As someone who's been running for 36 years, toiling away in anonymity, I find myself surprisingly struggling to relate to Jake's story. Maybe it's because my running story is so typical. I started running at twelve, enjoyed it, had success at it, and basically never stopped doing it.  Oh, I'd make the school newspaper when I ran in high school and college, but that was about it. No one ever found my story particularly inspirational for a very good reason. It's pretty boring.

Along those 36 years, I've read countless stories from the pages of magazines about someone turning their life around through running. Running has helped a lot of people overcome things like drugs, alcohol, or obesity. While McCluskey's story and others like it are indeed inspiring, they have also become almost a running cliche'. As for running 50 or 100 miles, it's undeniably a great accomplishment, but people do it all the time in various ultra-marathons held all over the United States. From my jaded running view, the big question isn't "how" someone can run 50 or 100 miles, but "why?".  For most runners running a few miles is a joy, running 20 miles or longer is self-imposed torture. A lot of people don't "get" runners. Well, a lot of runners don't "get" ultra-marathoners. I have no idea why anyone would run 50 miles, even if they could.

Jake running, with friends
(Gilbert Romayor photo)
So what I find most extraordinary about Jake is not his couch potato to runner transition or the tremendous distances he covers. It's the way his story resonates far stronger than it seemingly should. Maybe it's due to Jake's genuine "Aw shucks" attitude in response to all the accolades heaped upon him. Don't forget, Jake started running for reasons as basic as fitting into an airplane seat or getting a woman to say "yes" if he asked her out on a date. At some point in that effort, people started dumping praise a bunch of praise on him, which often unintentionally creates high expectations. It isn't what Jake signed up for when he started this, but he's handled it better than a lot of other people do.

There are those who lose a lot of weight with such contempt for their prior selves they end up coming off more than a little irritating. Their "you can do it" attitude is really thinly disguised "Look what I did!" boasting. There is little empathy to their message. Not Jake. There's no apparent hatred of his former self, just a realization he needed to take things in a different direction. He hasn't forgotten where he once was, and almost seems to embrace his past as he takes a new path.

Just take a look at what he posted on Facebook shortly after the San Jose Mercury News article ran:

"So it's been a couple of days since the Merc article ran. I'm not trying to sound like a dbag but one thing has become apparent to me. This run has become way bigger than just me. That is something im not taking lightly at all. The messages I have received from friends,family and total strangers are humbling to say the least. I still see my story way more as a cautionary tale than as an inspirational one. Just as most people do I struggle with my insecurities everyday. I'm just slowly learning to not let them paralyze me like I used to allow them to do. Some days it's easier to do this than others. To the people that are rooting for me on this run I'm not going to let you or myself down...."

The other thing about Jake, he does Superman things, but he's a very mortal Superman. His supplies get stolen. He gets lost. Yet, he continues to chug along in workman-like fashion, often apologetic to his Facebook faithful. During his recent 100 mile trek after missing a turn in his route, he posted to Facebook:

 "Just a quick update. I'm way behind.....I ended up getting lost in the mountains last night and ended up tacking an extra 9 hard miles and they are taking their toll. ...I'm guessing I won't make it to OG until around 830. I'm really sorry to anybody that made special arrangements to be there earlier. ....Again I apologize."  

We think we need super heroes to inspire us, but we're wrong.  We need super heroes that are human. Jake's a regular guy, trying to do amazing things, and struggling mightily to do them like we all would if we tried to do them too. I don't know how Jake does it, but he does it. And in Jake's unique, unassuming way, he shows us we all can do great things, too.

Jake, cooling his heels at Original Gravity
after his 100+ mile run
(photo from Jake's Facebook page)

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Rise of Craft Hard Cider in Adventure Sports Journal

The smiling faces at Red Branch's Tap Room in Sunnyvale
I've always wondered what the big deal was about cider. After expanding my horizons and exploring this world for this article in the current issue of Adventure Sports Journal, I see what the big deal is about. I enjoyed a few ciders along the way and discovered the Red Branch Tap room, a neat little Silicon Valley hang-out. Many thanks to Wildcide's Dan Gordon and Red Branch's Mike Faul for taking time out of their busy schedules for interviews. I think it turned out to be a good review article on the beverage and hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Blurring of Corporate and Craft Beer: Craft Gets Bigger

As we've witnessed the boundaries corporate and craft beer dissolve, most of the attention has been focussed on large corporate breweries buying up smaller craft breweries. But another development is happening more quietly: Craft breweries are getting bigger and more corporate.

For example, Deschutes announced plans to build a second brewery in Roanoke, VA. Long associated with central Oregon, it seems a rather dramatic step for Deschutes, despite the fact it already distributes into 28 states. Undoubtedly that number will grow substantially once their East Coast brewery is completed, which the press release estimates will happen in 2021, which seems an awful long way off, even by brewery construction standards. The fact remains, Deschutes joins a growing list of independent "craft" breweries like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Stone Brewing with multiple brewing locations either established or in the works. (And you could add Lagunitas to that list if you want to, even though they are 50% owned by Heineken.)

In another development last March, Boston-based Fireman Capital, which owns Colorado's Oscar Blues and the Utah Brewers' Collective (Utah's Squatters and Wasatch brands), announced it was acquiring a controlling interest in Tampa's Cigar City Brewing.  This deal had its share of drama as Cigar City spent 2015 seeking funding to expand its 60,000 barrel per year brewing operation from various suitors. Cigar City even signed a letter of intent to be acquired by A-B InBev in late 2015, but that deal ultimately fell through. With the addition of Cigar City into its brewing portfolio, Fireman Capital holds a controlling interest in five breweries which 325,000 barrels annually.

Whatever your thoughts of corporations buying up smaller independent breweries, it's undeniable that many craft breweries are beginning to resemble corporations, with multiple production facilities and private equity investments. The simple David vs. Goliath narrative that was much of the emotional driving force of America's brewing revolution is only getting increasingly muddled.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Anchor's New Brewmaster Scott Ungermann Talks about Brewing, Go West! IPA and other new Anchor Beers

The classic copper brew kettles at Anchor
Anchor Brewmaster Scott Ungermann has a tough act to follow. His predecessor, Mark Carpenter is a legend in American brewing, having been at Anchor's since the early 70's. Carpenter had been the longtime Assistant Brewmaster until Fritz Maytag sold the brewery in 2010.  Then, Carpenter was promoted to Brewmaster. While Carpenter was at Anchor, he was highly instrumental establishing beer styles like the American IPA, the American Barleywines, and the Winter Seasonal. And of course, there was always Anchor Steam.

The iconic brewery promoted Scott Ungermann to Brewmaster at the start of this year, with Carpenter becoming Brewmaster Emeritus. Ungermann arrived at Anchor in mid 2014, from of all places A-B InBev, and started as Anchor's Production Director. Ungermann's first major release is GoWest!, Anchor's version of the West Coast IPA. Anchor graciously provided an opportunity to interview Ungermann about his life in brewing, the development of Go West! and what else is in store at Anchor, which was conducted via e-mail.

Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you get into brewing?

I grew up in the Bay Area and always had a deep respect for Anchor Brewing. I first toured the brewery as a senior at Cal in 1987 and fell in love with the brewery and the beers – especially Anchor Steam. I was an English major at Cal, and just saw brewing as a hobby. My buddy Darryl and I bought our first home brew kit at The Oak Barrel in Berkeley in 1988, not long after we toured the brewery.  After graduation when I was teaching high school in Southern California, my Mom sent me an article on the Brewing program at UC Davis with a note that said “this might be interesting . . . “  My wife had recently graduated from UC Davis, and we quickly decided to move back up North to pursue this dream. I studied Brewing science and got an MS in Food Science from UC Davis in 1995. Shortly after graduating, we moved to New Jersey for her job and I took a job with Anheuser-Busch at the Newark Brewery as a Brewing Supervisor. This led to an 18 year career that took us from New Jersey to Columbus, Ohio and then St. Louis, ultimately leading to a position as Brewmaster at the Fairfield brewery back in Northern California. When I heard about an opening to come to Anchor in 2014, I jumped at the opportunity to come here and make great beers in the brewery that inspired me in the first place.

I see from your LinkedIn profile you've worked for a long time at different Anheuser-Busch facilities before coming to Anchor in 2014.  How has that transition been like?  What do you hope to accomplish at Anchor?

The transition has been amazing. This is a wonderful brewery to work at with a great group of people. I get to be a lot more involved in every aspect of innovation and new beer development. Although very challenging, it has also been a lot of fun.  Being appointed Brewmaster this year, I knew I had big shoes to fill. Having Mark Carpenter stay on board as Brewmaster Emeritus is definitely helping the transition and he will continue to be a valued resource. With Anchor,  I’m looking forward to bringing new and different beers to the growing portfolio and pushing the brewing boundaries a bit with new methods. We most recently did that by utilizing a completely new dry hopping technique that I helped design, used to create Go West! IPA. We will, of course, still continue to honor our traditional brewing methods by using our all copper Brewhouse, open fermentation vessels, and the hands-on attention that we give to each brew.
Scott Ungermann during his days at A-B InBev in
promotional photo during that period

OK, let's talk about Go West!  Why did Anchor decide to release this beer?

We knew that beer drinkers were craving a more hop-forward beer from Anchor, and we wanted to create something was a nod to our California roots.  IPAs were enjoyed as early as 1849 during the California Gold Rush. Anchor has a long history in the Golden State, and Go West! IPA is another way we honor that heritage. The end result is a complex brew with aromas of citrus, pine and the tropics with a crisp bitterness and clean finish.

Can you go through the process of developing the recipe and nailing down the brewing process.

Developing any new beer is a high-wire act. We try to balance the desired outcome with the practicalities of brewing in our very unique brewery.  The first thing to do is taste many other existing beers as well as all of our available ingredients.  In designing Go West! IPA we knew that we wanted a golden color, not too malt forward, a pleasant hop bitterness and a bold hoppy aroma with fresh notes of pine and citrus as well as some tropical fruit aroma. We brewed many single hop brews on our pilot system to evaluate different hop varieties, we varied our mashing schemes, and we tasted everything – as a panel. This can’t be done alone. It took months of brewing and re-brewing and tasting and re-tasting. The hops that we selected from these trials were Calypso, Citra, Equinox and Eureka. We also decided that we needed to try a different method of dry-hopping rather than the bags of hop cones that we have been using for years in Liberty Ale and our other dry-hopped beers. We worked with Mueller to design a tank that we could flow-through to get the freshest possible dry-hop aroma. We call this tank the Odeprot. We then began large scale brewing trials that we released down at our beer garden at The Yard. This gave us the practical experience of releasing our new IPA in a place where we could get direct feedback from our beer drinkers. Eventually we arrived at a final recipe and began brewing this new beer!

Were there any particular IPA's that inspired you for Go West!?  Any particular favorite IPA's from other breweries you're willing to share?

We tasted many IPAs as panel. We did this tasting blind so as not to skew any data based on bias. This is always tricky. We worked very hard to arrive at an original recipe without attempting to replicate any other beers – we wanted something that was fresh and new, but also that was true to Anchor roots. There are many excellent IPAs being made by many other breweries throughout California and across the country. It wouldn't be fair to single out one or two above the rest, but we have a deep respect for the many other Northern California breweries that are making excellent beers of all styles.

Any new beers in the works you can talk about?

We currently have an interesting series of beers called the Pacific Siren Series we are releasing. These are lighter sessionable beers flavored with natural fruits. Meyer Lemon Lager is a crisp refreshing Lager brewed with Meyer Lemon juice, lemon peels and lightly dry-hopped with a hop variety called Lemondrop.  This is a zesty, citrusy beer with a nice dry finish that is very drinkable and balanced. The second beer in this series is Mango Wheat.  It is a light refreshing wheat beer with a beautiful Mango aroma that comes from aging the beer on Mangos.  We are also releasing a new beer that is a collaboration with the SF Giants called Orange Splash Lager.  This is a very exciting beer for us as we are all huge Giants fans and have a great partnership with them.  The beer is a refreshing Orange Lager that is brewed with orange peels, Mandarin orange juice and a specialty malt that brings a nice orange hue to the beer. This beer has a zesty Orange aroma, but finishes crisp and is a very nice drinkable Lager for the ballpark. Last – we are continuing to release special “one-off” beers at the Anchor Beer Garden at the Yard that include full-size brews that will be available all season as well as some special Firkins that are available on a very limited basis.  The first Yard Series beer of this year is called Opening Day IPA and will be released prior to the beginning of the season. It is a sessionable IPA at 4.98% ABV and 45 IBUs, brewed with 100% pale 2-row for a bright, golden color.  We hopped it generously with Nelson Sauvin in the brewkettle and then dry-hopped with Cascade, El Dorado and the Haas experimental hop 431 in the Odeprot at nearly 2 lbs per barrel.  The result is a nice crisp IPA that is bursting with lush tropical and citrus hop aromas.  And of course there’s always the next big thing . . .

It still amazes me today that Anchor beers from the 70's like Liberty Ale, Old Foghorn Barleywine, Christmas Ale and Anchor Steam still remain highly relevant forty years later, coming from a totally different era of American brewing. Yet, despite this history, the brewery never seems tired or out of date. We look forward to Anchor's next big things.

Anchor Brewmaster Emeritus Mark Carpenter

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Session #110: Why tweet?

For this month's Session, Sean Inman of Beer Search Party asks us "to take one last crack at "original" Twitter." Why does he suggest reducing The Session to a bunch of tweets? Something to do with it being April Fool's Day, I think.

While I have a Twitter account, I debated whether or not to participate in this Session. I'm not a big fan of Twitter. It's so terse and technical looking. Call me old fashioned, but it's virtually impossible to have a real conversation on Twitter. I've tried a couple times, and basically gave up, as 140 characters never seemed anywhere near enough to capture what I wanted to say. In one case, we moved the stilted discussion to e-mail and things went swimmingly thereafter. Twitter works well for sharing links of content, clever one liners, and delivering electronic "pats on the back" in the form of retweets and "likes". Beyond that, I've found Twitter pretty hopeless. If Twitter went away, my life wouldn't change much, although I'd probably be a bit more productive with my time.

Yes, blogging is in a slow decline, but let's hope it never goes away. I enjoy writing about beer in long form posts and reading like-minded people on their blogs. Quiet mornings spent writing and reading about beer is a great way to start the day. Twitter is noisy distraction.

Ray Daniels may have used thirteen tweets to discuss the future of beer, but that's hardly the longest series of tweets anyone's broadcasted. Entire novels have been written on Twitter over a long series of consecutive tweets. While some may find these endeavors an interesting linguistic exercise, I don't see the point. Who would mow their lawn with a nail clipper?

Yes, the internet has changed writing as we once knew it. Today, we live in a short attention span world and blogging has been part of that transformation. I've learned if I don't keep blog posts brief and to the point, they are less likely to be read. The same holds true for the few articles I've written for print publications. While you see fewer comments on blog posts these days, Facebook pages have become places for spirited discussions on beer in ways that aren't possible on Twitter. And at least with Instagram, I can look at pretty pictures. Will things change if Twitter relaxes its 140 character limit and allows tweets as long as 10,000 characters? At this point, I don't care.

Why tweet when you can actually say something in a blog post?  (That last sentence was under 140 characters by the way.)