Sunday, October 30, 2016

Healdsburg Wine Country Half-Marathon: (sigh)

This beer at Beer Republic's Brewpub was badly needed
after the Healdsburg Wine Country Half-Marathon
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Running is a cruel mistress. That opening line is probably all you need to know how the Healdsburg Wine Country Half-Marathon went yesterday. Things were looking up 10 weeks into my training. I was shaking things up a bit, trying some new workouts, going for more medium efforts 3-4 times a week rather than a couple of killer workouts twice a week. That seemed to be working, and I was staying healthy and really enjoying the new approach. Then, a week before the half-marathon, my right hip started acting up and despite a lot of rest, never fully recovered by race day.

Still, I thought I had a chance to run a decent race, and I have this runner's ethic thingy about finishing was I start, come hell, high water, or a sore right hip. Sometimes, that instinct has served me well as soreness sometimes mysteriously goes away on race day and I go on to run well. So with as much cautious optimism as I could muster, I took off with about 1,000 other runners on a cool, drizzly Saturday morning in Healdsburg.  A lot of thoughts went through my mind as I clicked through the miles during half-marathon, let me share some of them with you.

Mile 1: Hey, that first hill didn't seem so bad, and my hip feels OK.
Mile 2: Still feeling good, hey things might turn out well, just keep moving!
Mile 3: Um....right hip starting to tighten up, maybe back off a bit.
Mile 4: Things not going too well, just try to finish.
Mile 5: When is this damn race over?
Mile 6: When is this damn race over?
Mile 7: When is this damn race over?

I think you're getting the idea.

My goal evolved to just getting back to the finish line with enough energy left to taste some fine Sonoma wines at the finish line and enjoy a beer or two at Beer Republic's brewpub in Healdsburg. My more modest mission accomplished.

That's enough about that.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Rambling Reviews 10.25.2016: Deschutes's Hopzeit, Mammoth Brewings Double Nut Brown Porter and Gordon-Biersch's Chum

Time again to ramble on about a three brews I've tried lately.

We'll start with Hopzeit from Deschutes, which they describe as an Autumn IPA as it's basically a cross between a Marzen and an IPA.  I first tried this at the original Deschutes brewpub in Bend, OR and was a bit underwhelmed. It came across more as an interesting and not entirely successful brewing experiment. The hops seemed a little harsh, overwhelming the restrained, underlying Marzen, with the flavors clashing more than harmonizing. But I decided to give this one a second chance when I saw a six-pack of it at my local grocery store and that turned out to be a wise decision. Maybe the extra time in the bottle allowed the hops to mellow down to the right level, as the light sweet caramel maltyness and the citrussy orange hops with a touch of resin were far better balanced and harmonizing than the brewpub version. Kudos to Deschutes for crafting an IPA which truly tastes like fall, at least when it's in the bottle.

Next up, Mammoth Brewing Company Double Nut Brown Porter. The annual family trip to Yosemite National Park is a time when we can all appreciate the surreal beauty John Muir popularized over a century ago and it's also the time to snag my annual fix of Mammoth brews. Porter is one of my favorite styles that's becoming an endangered species in the beer world. This one quickly jumped towards the top of my porter list with its complex coffee flavors which yield to more pecan nuttiness as the brew warms.  It's very roasty, almost but not quite to the point of near ashyness, with virtually no sweetness to let all its great complexity shine through.

Finally, we get a beer with one of the most unappetizing names ever.  I'm talking about CHUM Dry Hopped Red Ale from Gordon Biersch, a tribute of sorts to the San Jose Sharks with which Gordon-Biersch has maintained a long partnership. Thankfully, it tastes a lot better than its name. There's plenty of the toffee thing going on, with juicy, fruity esters suggesting apricot, and a soft earthy finish. It's really well done, one of those beers that's either very drinkable if that's all you want, or one to ponder deeply into all of it's flavor complexity if that's what you in the mood for. A lot more than you'd normally expect from a sports tie-in beer.

But be careful, chum has led people into perilous situations.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Session #116 Round-up

Despite only five participants in this month's Session on the Gose style, the discussion was lively. I led things off with a critique of sorts of what American brewers are doing to the Gose. While I've enjoyed a few modern examples of the style, I'm just not a fan of most of the untraditional fruit additions and extra hopping American brewers are injecting into their Goses.

It seems I've found a kindred spirit with Alan McCleod, who isn't a big fan of what brewers are doing with the Gose these days, either. With his typical biting wit, he decries the worst examples of the style as "Gatorade alcopop" or "salty SunnyD" and notes that what's called a "Gose" these days has little resemblance to the original examples of the style. But it's not all bad, as Alan states, "In the hands of a thoughtful brewer with a sense of tradition there is a memorable play of wheat, salt and herb that satisfies."

On the other side of the pond, Boak and Bailey largely disagree. While conceding "a few more straight Goses without fruit and other sprinkles would be nice", they prefer having a few non-traditional Goses to none at all. They particularly like "Salty Kiss" from UK Brewer Magic Rock, brewed with sea buckthorn, rosehips and English gooseberries.  Describing the contemporary Gose style, they declare, " general, what German Gose isn't in the 21st Century is a deeply profound, complex, challenging beer: it's a fun refresher, no more tangy than a can of Fanta, no saltier than a Jacob's cream cracker, and with coriander present but hardly obtrusive."

Josh Hubner over at Lost Lagers muses on the style's history and how modern brewers are experimenting with the Gose without taking any sides. He notes, "...there is something about a gose that makes it the perfect summer beer, and maybe that's why it's found a foothold here in the U.S. It is simultaneously tart, refreshing, light, and - hopefully - just a tad bit salty. Add some fruit to the mix, as is common among craft brewers, and also traditionally (mit schuss, as is also common with Berliner Weisse), and you have the perfect beer for a hot, sunny day."

Finally, the Beer Nut will have none of this debate.  He's just enjoying a "This Gose" brewed with lemongrass from Fyne Ales, which sent him a sample of along with a smoked salmon as a food pairing. The heavily smoked salad overpowered the Gose, so he found the pairing didn't work, though the Beer Nut seems to have enjoyed lemon grass addition, which created " out-of -character lemon flavour, like lemon meringue pie.....It sits rather oddly next to the other savoury elements of the flavour, but not at all unpleasantly."

That's a wrap. At this point, I'd normally direct everyone to the next host for the upcoming Session, but I don't find one listed. A year ago, Alan McCleod rescued the Session off life support, but with only five contributors this month and no host for next month, it looks like The Session is back in the emergency room. The Session's had great run, stimulating all sorts of great beer discussion and ideas for years from some of the best beer writers on the planet for years. If this is the end, it was a collective thing of beauty while it lasted.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Session #116: What happened to the Gose?

When I first discovered the Gose style three years ago, its sour/salty yin-yang balance was a refreshing antidote to the glut of so many IPAs. I knocked back quite a few Anderson Valley's  "The Kimmie, The Yink, & the Holy Gose" and also became a pretty big fan of the slightly soapy tasting Golden Gate Gose from Almanac Beer. From near extinction in the last century, this quirky sour, salty wheat beer brewed often spiced with coriander, traditionally brewed in and around the German city of Leipzig quickly became an unexpected American brewing success story.

But then, American brewers started doing what they do, fiddling around with other country's styles. Anderson Valley added blood orange to their Gose.  "It gives the beer a cool name!", enthused Anderson Valley Brewmaster Fal Allen when I interviewed him about it. Sure enough, blood orange gives Anderson Valley's Gose an extra dimension, but I'm not sure it was needed or improves upon the original version.  Anderson Valley tried a number of other spice and fruit additions to their Gose. They rejected tamerind, as sour on sour is just too much sour, but in the past year released Briny Melon Gose. I can't say I'm a fan of it. There's not much sour, there's not much salt, with the slightest hint of melon. It's basically a very light fruit wheat beer.

Sierra Nevada made a big splash this year adding Otra Vez Gose to their year around line-up. Sierra Nevada takes the sour salty mix and adds cactus and then grapefruit, and I taste.....confusion.

Recently, I was talking to Calicraft's Blaine Landberg about his Citra Gose, brewed with significant and highly untraditional Citra hop additions. Landberg explained his thought process this way: "I asked myself “How do you make a great Margarita?” rather than “How do you make a great Gose?"" As much as I'm a fan of most of Calicraft's beers, I wish Landberg had simply tried to brew a Gose rather than a Margarita. The Citra hops just clash with everything else in his version.

Now Saint Archer released a Blackberry Gose which I wanted to hate, but couldn't. Saint Archer always seemed more like a marketing construct than an actual brewery, with their acquisition by MillerCoors not particularly surprising. This unfortunately overshadows the fact that Saint Archer makes some first rate brews. Their Blackberry Gose is one of them, the tartness of the blackberry effortlessly harmonizing with the underlying Gose.

I could go on, but I think you're getting the idea. Breweries used to brew light wheat beers with fruit additions, often as "gateway" beers for those more comfortable with mass market lagers.  Now, they seem to be brewing the same beers with a whisper of salt, some sourness, a pinch of coriander and viola', a tired wheat fruit beer becomes a hip and happening Gose. Instead of embracing the sour-salty balance of the Gose, brewing seem to be running away from it. Dead German brewmasters have every right to be spinning in their graves.

Is it too much to ask for breweries to make a good Gose and stop right there?

Monday, October 3, 2016

A Running Lesson Relearned with the Milestone Pod

Twenty five years ago, I was running a 400 meter interval workout on the track, huffing and puffing through the one-lap intervals at 72-74 seconds. An older man watching me struggle through the work-out walked over and told me, "On this next interval, pretend there're iron bars attached to the insides of your ankles and if you don't lift your foot over them, you'll trip and fall."  Just concentrating on getting my foot over these imaginary bars implanted in my ankles, my next interval felt a lot easier. Looking down at my stop watch, I was shocked to see I completed this lap in 68 seconds. Turns out this stranger had once coached an Olympic hurdler, and this was a mental trick he used to improve knee lift. I never forgot that advice and how important getting good knee lift is to good running form. To this day, I still tell myself "Step over the bar" when I feel myself struggling at the latter stages of a race or workout.

I haven't stumbled upon an Olympic coach since, but in the past year, I started using the Milestone pod, a small accelerometer strapped to my shoe to capture stride metrics like stride length, foot impact, running cadence and ground contact time. It actually captures my running pace through the course and the run and Milestone phone app plots my running pace versus the various captured form metrics.

Graph from the Milestone Pod
App showing pace increasing
with Stride Length
Within minutes after finishing my morning runs, I find myself downloading the data from my Milestone pod to check out out how my run went. Stride length has turned out to be the best predictor of running pace. Stride length is a good function of knee lift and earlier this year when I was battling a hip issue, I could feel myself not getting good knee lift, and could see that problem in the Milestone pod data. Training for the Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon has been going well this fall, and the Milestone pod has definitely helped maintain the form I need to help meet my goals for this race at the end of the month.

If this sounds like an endorsement for the Milestone pod, that's because it is.  The Milestone folks approached me last year about testing out their device, and they've have been great to work with, being very patient and understanding with my feedback on the pod. Even if I had paid for both of the pods I've trialed for them, the $25 cost for the pods would amount to a few pennies per run, a bargain for all the great data the pod aqcquires from each run. So yeah, I'm glad to tell others about the Milestone pod because their little gadget has really helped my running and I hope they continue to be successful at it.