Still not too old for this shit at the Monterey Bay Half-Marathon

Let’s face it, 2016 was a bummer for me as far as running was concerned. I showed up to the starting lines at the Napa Valley Marathon and Healdsburg Wine Country Half-Marathon with nagging injuries which led to both disappointing results in both races and bad hip injuries, which took a few months to fully recover from. Hobbling into 2017 at age 49, I began to hear the whispers of self-doubt that maybe I was just starting to get too old to be running races and handling all the day-to-day training grind.

Well, screw that! This year turned out to be a fun year for running. Starting from last March, every 4-6 weeks I raced a series of shorter 4 mile to 10k events as I gradually shook off the injuries and slowly upped the weekly mileage. By the end of the summer, I decided I was ready to give the Monterey Bay Half-Marathon a go.

I’ll do my best not to bore you with how the half-marathon training went. I opted for the tried and true “hard-day/easy-day” routine, but made the hard-days a little less intense than past years and also mixed in a greater variety of work-outs. Most hard days were some new challenge and it took away from the “if it’s Wednesday, I must be doing a six-mile tempo run” rut. Not only was this a more enjoyable way to train from previous years, this routine kept both my legs and mind fresh so I got the starting line last Sunday ready to go for 13.1 miles.

As for the race itself, my plan to start the early miles no faster than 6:45 per mile pace worked to my advantage as I maintained almost exact pacing throughout the whole race. I crossed the finish line in 1:29:00, a 6:47 per mile pace, good enough for 4th in the 50-54 age group. Without going into a tedious play by play of the whole half-marathon, let’s just say the musicians along the course and enthusiastic crowd gave me a lift for the first few miles, while the beautiful scenery along the ocean-side miles of 5 through 10 was inspiring, even if I could’ve done without the wind and rolling hills of those middle miles. I’m grateful a large pace group shooting for a final 1:30 time, which was actually running about 1:28:30 pace, caught me just before the 11 mile mark just as I really started struggling.  Holding on to this small pack for dear life the next couple miles provided a badly needed lift and I actually slightly picked up speed the last couple miles.

That concludes my last race for 2017. What’s in store for 2018? Haven’t decided what races to do yet, but where ever running takes me in 2018, I’m looking forward to it.

Finishing 2017
Yours truly in bib 441, looking at my watch at the finish, looking unimpressed.

 

Post race beers 11-12-2017
Post-race beers enjoyed at Spread in Campbell

Rambling Reviews 11.6.2017: Beers from Headlands Brewing, Hop Dogma and Strike Brewing

Time again to ramble on about a three new brews. We’ll start with Cloudview, a holiday ale from Headlands Brewing in collaboration with Whole Foods Markets.  I don’t know about you, but when I think “holiday ale”, a dry-hopped Belgian-style Wit doesn’t immediately come to mind. But the few twists on the Wit-style, from the citrus aromas from the dry-hopping, the light sweetness with a stronger than usual Wit (6.5% abv), and the airy, pillow-like mouth feel work well with the traditional orange peel and coriander create a unique beer, that says “holidays” in a fresh, harmonious way . It’s another impressive effort for Headlands Brewer Phil Cutti, fresh off his second GABF medal, which he won this year with Wolfpack Ridge IPA.  Cloudview is only available at Bay Area Whole Foods Markets, which provided a sample for this review.

Next up,  Alpha Dankopotamus, an IPA from Hop Dogma Brewing. With a name like Alpha Dankopotamus, you know this isn’t going to be a study in subtlety. And it isn’t, especially when its says “Exquisitely Unbalanced” on the side of the can. I nervously knew I was about to sip a serious monstrosity when I opened this can, and it ended up leaving a big smile on my face. It’s just dank. Really dank. You know that herbal cannabis-like hop character no one can quite describe, so they call it dank? It’s a whole lot of that. The beer works because the underlying malt base is pretty clear and dry, supporting but otherwise getting out of the way of the fresh hop blitzkrieg. Lots a hop bombs fall short due to off-flavors, chalky tastes, or just too much astringency. Hop Dogma finds a way to avoid this. Impressive in its cleans execution of over-the-topness.

Hop Dogma Speaking of hop bombs, we’ll end with Triple Play Triple IPA from Strike Brewing. I found it to be a throw-back to the big, sweet, sticky citrus hop bombs that were all the rage nearly 7-8 years ago. Pine and orange notes emerge from the strong, fresh hop flavors, with everything in balance and no off-flavors. Again, if nuance and subtlety is what you are looking for, you’ll want to go elsewhere. But if you’re looking for an invigorating hop blast, this is your ticket.

 

 

 

Triple Play IPA Strike
Triple Play IPA after a particularly foamy pour at the Strike Brewing taproom

Scenes from Freewheel Brewing

A bit of personal good news is that I have a number of writing assignments in the works this fall for publication. The downside is these projects don’t leave much time for blogging, so my loyal readers (Hi Mom!) will notice a lot less activity here. I recently visited Redwood City’s Freewheel Brewing for one of those projects.

Freewheel is a brewery that doesn’t attract a lot of attention in the Bay Area. Well executed, sessionable English-style Cask ales hitting all the right notes to complement the food and conversation of a pub just aren’t as sexy as the aggressively flavored alcohol bombs dominating Northern California’s tap lists. I’ll admit it took me awhile to appreciate what Freewheel was doing, but I find their restrained yet flavorful beers just a pleasure to drink. While dry-hopped guava Imperial Saissons come and go, a good English bitter is something which endures.

Freewheel is also one of the few breweries in the United States that has an exclusively female head brewer, which might give you some idea what the article I’m working on is about. I’d like to take moment to thank Freewheel’s Head Brewer Alisha Blue and Sales and Marketing Director Devin Roberts for their time and assistance last Thursday and leave you from a few pictures I took at the brewery.

 

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Scenes from Brewery Twenty Five

In this era of crowd funding, corporate investment in craft breweries and ready-made brewing equipment, it’s refreshing to find a brewery like Brewery Twenty Five down in San Juan Bautista, CA.  The small brewery is a bit of a throw-back to the earliest days of craft beer, when people like Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman used their own money to patch together breweries from discarded junk and used dairy equipment.  The brewery itself is located in a large shed on a steep hill top behind the home of owners Fran and Sean Fitzharris on the outskirts of town.

I spent an afternoon with Fran and Sean checking out their brewery and tasting a few of their creations. We ended the day at Bear’s Hideaway in downtown San Juan Bautista, just chatting away about beer and enjoying their fresh, vibrant Fuzzy Jules Apricot Wheat Beer. The next big step for Brewery Twenty Five? They’ll be opening up a tasting room in downtown San Juan Bautista later this year as their small brewery continues to  expand its roots. I’ll leave you with a few pictures from the afternoon.

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Estate hops will be grown on the brewery property with those ladders serving as trellises
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On the left is a sour-ale aging in a Chardonnay barrel, a Bourbon barrel-aged stout in on the right
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Another brewery scene
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Twin fermenters, names after the Fitzharris’s Australian shepherds Thelma and Louis who passed away, but still live in spirit in the brewery
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Sean Fitzharris explains a sparging system he built out of copper piping.
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The Brewery Twenty Five taproom will be inside this small plaza
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Sean and Fran on their hill top property

The Session #128 : Why Royal Liquors is one of the best damn bottle shops around

Jack Perdue asking us to weigh in our opinions on bottle shops for this month’s Beer Blogger Session, a good opportunity to give a shout out to my neighborhood bottle shop, Royal Liquors in San Jose, CA.  It may not have a big time reputation as other places in the San Francisco Bay Area and since it’s just a couple miles from my home, you could say I’m a little biased. It’s still one of the best damn bottle shops around, so let me tell you why.

Local ownership

OK, we’ve already gone through the “what’s makes it local” conundrum with breweries, so this potentially opens up another can of worms. Suffice to say, huge big box beverage stores like BevMo are driven by a lot of corporate interests and mass market forces. Smaller bottle shops driven by more local and niche’ preferences tend to have a more eclectic wide ranging selections, which is on full display at Royal Liquors,

Good selection of local, national and imported beers

Walk into Royal Liquors and you’ll find plenty of beers from top breweries all over the country as well as a lot of small breweries only a short drive away with a small distribution footprint. You’ll also find plenty of strong imports. A good mix of beers from both near and far is a sign of a good bottle shop.

Reasonable prices

If I shopped on price alone, I would never set foot in Royal Liquors. They can’t compete solely on price with grocery stores and big box liquor stores selling in much higher volume. That said, pricing at Royal Liquors is typically only a dollar more per six-pack and they always have something good on sale. I don’t mind paying a little extra at places like Royal Liquors to keep them in business. I’ve been to more than a few bottle shops with excellent selections, but with pricing that is just way out of bounds. I usually don’t go back.

Organized, well maintained inventory

A few well regarded bottle shops keep their beer stocked in a manner that could be charitably described as “semi-random”. This may seem charming, but suggests a certainly carelessness with merchandise and does not entirely respect the customer who is left to sift through disorder on the shelves. And sorry, I’m just not going to plunk down ten bucks on some IPA if there’s plenty of dust on the bottle because its been on sitting shelf, unrefridgerated for who knows how long.

I am not a patient man, so greatly appreciate it when the beer is laid out so I can find what I’m looking for with a minimum of effort. Royal Liquors organizes things for me and at least 80% of their inventory is kept refrigerated, so I’m confident whatever I spend my hard earned money on, it’s pretty fresh.

Specials for those “in the know”

There’s a lot of good stuff at Royal Liquors, some of it kept “hidden” in the back. Just ask the guy at the counter if you can go to the back and he’ll say “Sure”. I call this place the “inner sanctum” and you can to find some prize bottles there with a few other selections on sale. I hear you can sometimes find Pliny the Elder back there if you’re lucky.

Royal Liquors Inner Sanctum
The inner sanctum at Royal Liquors

Decent wine selection

In moments of weakness, I will drink wine.

Enthusiastic staff open to everyone’s opinion

There’s fine line between being knowledgeable and being a know-it-all beer snob. While the staff at Royal Liquors know a great deal about beer and are eager to tel you about the beers they like, they seem far more interested in learning from their customers than telling you what to drink. I suspect if I ever walked in and asked “Where can I find Natural Light?” they would kindly guide me over to the right spot in the cooler with the same demeanor as if I asked for Rochefort Trappistes 10 . If I ask for something from a new brewery they’ve never heard of it, they write it down with solemn urgency and look out for it. There’s a decent chance you’ll see it on the shelves next time.

And that my friends, is why Royal Liquors is one of the best damn bottle shops there is.

Royal Liquors Team
The fine folks at Royal Liquors. (This and the cover photo was swiped from their social media.)

 

Rambling Reviews 9.27.2017: Brews from Lagunitas, Allagash, and Dust Bowl

It’s been three months since I last rambled on about various beers encountered in my travels and after literally millions of letters, e-mails, phone calls and tweets from readers demanding I revive the series, here’s a couple rambles on recent releases.Sakitumi

We’ll start with Sakitumi from Lagunitas. Lagunitas made news recently when international mega-brewery Heineken acquired the remaining 50% stake in Lagunitas it didn’t already own. For those worried a fully corporate owned Lagunitas would start playing it safe, this ale brewed with Sake yeast and rice malt shoots that theory down. A curious balance of lightly sweetness and complex-earthiness, that’s sort of half-way between beer and sake, it’s one of those beers that’s hard to describe that isn’t easily deconstructed in the typical tasting notes. While it might not be for everyone I found it a pretty mind-expanding combination of beer and sake with a novel mix of flavors and at 9.0% abv, rather potent.

Next up, Brett IPA, a limited release from Allagash Brewing brewed with Brettanomyces yeast. It’s a beer of Asian-style balance of sweet, sour, and bitterness. Just below the surface is a mustiness, with strong citrus and tropical fruit flavors bringing the whole brew together. A study of composition and balance in a bottle. One of those beers you can get lost concentrating to seriously on what’s glass, rather than just enjoying it.

For those not interested in subtle flavor balances and just want to be socked in the mouth with some hops, I give you Son of Wrath from Dust Bowl Brewing. It hits all the West Coast flavor markers, and looking back over my notes, I described it as a well controlled hop explosion. That ought be good enough for most people.

Dust Bowl Son of Wrath

The Session #67 Prediction Contest: Declaring the Winners

Five years ago I hosted The Beer Blogger Session  and held a prediction contest to see who could best pick the number of breweries would exist in the United States in September 2017.  Well, it’s September 2017 so the time has come to declare Brian Yaeger  and David Bascombe the winners fortheir predictions that over 5,000 breweries would be in operation in the United States at present day. Yaeger predicted 5,001 breweries and Bascombe predicted “over 5,000” and while I haven’t checked the latest numbers from the Brewers Association, well over 5,000 breweries are in operation in the United States and the next closest prediction was 4,252.  So they both win going away.

For the reward, I promised to buy the winners a beer. Brian Yaeger now lives in Santa Barbara and I’ll be sending him two beers from my hometown of San Jose from two breweries that didn’t exist when he made his winning prediction: New Almaden Imperial Red Ale from Santa Clara Valley Brewing  and Lumber Buster Brown from Strike Brewing. Both Strike and Santa Clara Valley Brewing started up in 2013. Judging from his blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed, David Bascombe’s interest in beer has waned somewhat in the past five years and sending him beer to the United Kingdom seems a bit fraught with logistical difficulties.  But if he’s ever in the San Francisco Bay Area or if I ever make it to the UK, I’ll be happy to buy him a pint or two.

Looking back on all the predictions, it’s surprising to read a whole bunch of tepid growth predictions from a bunch people otherwise pretty enthusiastic about the future of beer. I was certainly guilty of that as back then, I had plenty of concerns about whether all the growth of new breweries was sustainable. But if you ask me today how many breweries will exist in the United States five years from now in 2022, I’d confidently predict a number well over 8,000, maybe even 10,000 simply because there now seems plenty of room for small breweries.

What I think has happened over the past five years is that the concept of “brewery” has changed from a factory involved in the mass production of beers to more of a restaurant or tavern brewing their own beers on site. Most of the new breweries in America are fairly small 500-5,000 barrel per year operation which a beer market of over 100 million barrels can easily absorb.

And laugh all you want at the 2012 contest predictions of only two or one breweries existing in 2017, these somewhat tongue-in-cheek predictions anticipated the wave of major corporate breweries acquiring smaller local “craft” breweries. As more and more breweries enter the market, the forces corporate consolidation produce their own pressures in the industry.

But enough about that, let’s congratulate the Brian Yaeger and David Blascombe for the most clear headed crystal ball gazing five years ago.

Update (9/19/2017): After posting this, I’ve learned David Bascombe currently lives in Arizona so I will mail him the same beers as well.

 

Beers to BY