If you hike to Berry Creek Falls slowly, you’ll miss things

Last week, I hiked to Berry Creek Falls with my girlfriend Linda. Berry Creek Falls is located in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, in the middle of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s about a five mile hike to Berry Creek Falls, and then you can hike up another trail to Silver Falls, and finally a little further to the Golden Cascades, another series of falls. Then, it’s another five miles back through the redwood forest to the trail head.

Linda and I stopped many times along the way to capture it all in. We’d stop and gaze up at the massive redwood trees, or look at various hidden wildflowers along the way. When we got the the falls, we’d stop, take a seat on one of the benches provided, and take in the view. We set up a little picnic at the foot of Silver Creek and had lunch before making our way back.

I had actually run a half marathon race on these very trails once before. Then, these scenic waterfalls were a basically a blip in a sea of redwoods as I motored on by. Instead of the looking around the scenery, my eyes were fixed along the ground, searching for each spot to plant my foot for the next step. A meandering, down hill trail with a rocks and roots sticking out isn’t a pleasure stroll in a trail race, but a face-plant waiting to happen.

At one point in the trail, the terrain becomes very barren, rocky, and highly exposed to sunlight on a mountain ridge. On our hike, we took off our jackets to enjoy the sunlight and get out of the cool forest air, and enjoy the diversion from the redwood forests. I remembered this spot on the half marathon. The sun beating down on me here was a dehydration concern on a trail run where there are no water stops, and I was relieved during the race when the trail dipped back down into the monotonous line of redwoods and brought back the cool air.

Some might say I missed a lot running a race on these trails. But aren’t the waterfalls simply an anomaly in the middle of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and by lingering about them, we distort their significance in the forest? If we focus on the tall trees and pretty flowers, do we ignore the ground and topography which is very much a part of the forest as well? I’m not suggesting people run through the forest instead of hiking at their own pace. But our speed and purpose in the forest creates a unique lens that creates our experience. And each lens has its own focus and distortions.

When we finished our hike, we drove through the nearby town of Boulder Creek. It’s a small town of about 4,000, rather isolated in the middle of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I’ve never stopped their before, having passed through a few times on my way to Santa Cruz. This time, Linda and I stopped at the Boulder Creek Brewing Company at the edge of town.

It’s in an old, rustic looking building that indeed looks like in belongs in the middle of the mountains somewhere. Like any good brewpub, it has a great neighborhood vibe, where everyone seems to know each other and is there to relax and have a good time. The bar was full of maybe ten locals who all seemed to be on a first name basis, but Linda and I never really felt like outsiders.

If you can imagine a cross between a hunting lodge, a brewpub, and a vegan co-op, that would describe the atmosphere and the menu. It seems as if the hippie culture of Santa Cruz has splashed 15 miles northward into the mountains here. We asked about the various beers and the dread-locked bartender seemed happy to explain them to us. There was only one house beer available, their Big Basin Brown Ale, since the brewing equipment was being renovated. I generally like nut brown ales, and this was a solid one, with a decent amount of nutty malt and a little grassy hops underneath.

I couldn’t tell much about Boulder Creek looking through the car window on my previous trips through, but I now have a lot better feel for the place now that I’ve stopped here. I hope to drop by Boulder Creek Brewing again the next time my travels take me this way. I wouldn’t want to miss it.

What’s a runner doing homebrewing?

I’m not quite sure myself.

For thirty years, I’ve had pretty much one hobby, running. A good run is enjoyable in its own right, but training for a race is actually an elaborate game of managing fatigue and discomfort in pursuit of running further and faster. The moment you break free of the tedious workouts, over come the limitations your body and mind put on you, and cross the finish line at a time or place you were shooting for, is priceless. It happens only 2-3 times a year for most runners, and that is why these moments are so precious.

I’ve always enjoyed a good beer, and a good beer buzz after a hard run is a wonderful thing. Over the last couple years, I’ve found craft beer to be like a set of new set of running trails to explore. You never know what’s going to be around the corner, and you always run across something a little different. In a addition to being satisfying and tasty, beer as the people’s beverage, is a reflection of economics, politics, and geography, all subjects of interest to me.

I didn’t really appreciate food until I started making it for myself, and so if I’m really going to understand beer, I’m going to have to brew it. A long time friend of mine, with a great deal of homebrewing experience, has agreed to work with me and start me down the homebrewing road. He hasn’t homebrewed in seven years, and was thinking about starting again. We realized we had been drifting apart, and homebrewing seemed like a good way to reconnect.

Homebrewing is a whole new world for me. “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew” is the mantra of homebrew author Chuck Papazian, at total odds with the “Pain is temporary, pride is forever”running ethic I grew up with. If things go horribly wrong with a homebrew, you can just pour it down the drain. If things go horribly wrong running, I’m usually limping around for at least a couple weeks. Perhaps it says something that plenty of runners are in to beer, but not a lot of homebrewers seem into running.

Success in running is satisfying due to the rewards that come from the discomfort and committment that comes with the territory. My friend warns that homebrewing involves a lot of cleaning glass and stainless steel gadgets. Even thought I’m not much into cleaning, that doesn’t seem so bad. I’m sure there are some pretty driven home brewers, and homebrewing can be a lot of hard work. But if all I have to do is clean some things to brew beer, will I care about success or failure of the taste of the final brew? Have I been missing the point all along?

This is not Obama’s Beer: Obama Ale from Half Moon Bay Brewing

What can we do to support our President to heal our battered nation? We can go into the forests and rescue endangered species. We can volunteer to distribute medical supplies and care for those who have no health insurance. We can mentor orphan children. I have taken it upon myself to support the President in his quest, by doing something I do well. I will drink his beer.

It’s an OK brew, but a nagging question tugs at me as I drink it. Does this brew resemble our President?

It’s odd the first African-American President would be honored with such a pale looking beer. Well, our President looks good, and this brew looks good in my tulip. A golden yellow with a thick, foamy white head and plenty of lacing action on the glass.

I have never smelled the President. I suspect he does not smell of faint malt and a little grassy hops. As for how our President tastes, I’m not going to go there. This beer has a flavor has a flavor of light malt with slightly fruity and grassy hops. Well balanced, for sure, but the flavor was rather light. There was a little sweetness as the brew warmed. Does Obama gets sweeter as he warms up? Only the First Lady knows for sure.

Obama is a pretty smooth talker and operator, and this is a pretty smooth tasting brew. But for all the sweeping change Obama is calling for, and must make, this was one of the most straightforward, safe, and unoffensive brews I’ve ever had. Wouldn’t a beer befitting of our President take some risks? Shake things up a bit? Challenge us in some way? This beer falls way short in that department. I’ll be happy to toast our President, but I plan to do it with a beer more representative of his character, which this brew is not.

Beers Wars: A War Worth Winning You Probably Didn’t See

“Beer Wars Live” is Michaell Moore-esque movie documentary on the beer industry in the US, where the huge industrial brewers you all know, Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller goliaths takes on hundreds of much smaller craft brewers. It’s one of those event films, that only plays for one night all over the country. There were only about 10-15 people in the theater, and I suspect attendance all over the country was similar.

To no one’s surprise, the big corporate brewers flex their economic and political muscles to keep the craft brewers small. It’s also an interesting tale of Sam Calagione, a craft brewer who happily chases his passion, and Rhonda, a former Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) executive, who appears to lose her soul and her family trying to create the next big thing with a slightly weird sounding Craft Beer/Energy Drink hybid me-too knock-off product.

I enjoyed the movie, and Linda and I talked all about on the way home, which is a sign of a good movie. But in some ways, it was a bit of a disappointment. There were a lot of tired cliche’s about big corporate power and money funding the three-tiered system of distribution, a relic of prohibition that gives the larger industrial brewers and unfair advantage over craft breweries but zip, zilch, nada about what alternative system would be fair. And I have no problem finding small California craft beers in the Midwest, or even the East Coast. Somehow, the little guys are finding some way to get some good distribution, but the film has nothing to say about how that’s been accomplished.

It’s really a business movie, and so the “war” comes across as a fight for the almighty buck, but I view this battle as more than that.

It’s a war about American Entrepreneurship being stifled by pointless regulation and near monopoly power. I love that fact that the craft beer industry was set into motion by Jimmy Carter signing a bill legalizing home brewing. Imagine, good ol’ Democrat Jimmy Carter eliminating government regulation to create free market economic growth. Entrepreneurship makes this country great, but in the beer world, it is suffering under the current system in America.

It’s also a war about what we decide to taste and put in our bodies. We can choose to drink industrial beers which basically all taste the same, and are made from cheap ingredients. (There’s a great scene in the movie where loyal Coors Light, Bud Light, and Miller Light drinkers cannot tell which is their favorite of the three, in blind taste tests.) Or we can choose to drink a variety of distinctve beers, that are skillfully made, and while do cost more, are intended to be appreciated, instead of something just to fill you up or get you buzzed or drunk.

You can probably get this on Netflix soon. If these things matter to you, this movie will definitely get you thinking. I also ask you to vote with your pocket books the next time you buy a beer.