Knishes, Kung Fu Tacos and Beer at the Eat Real Festival

The Eat Real Festival, in it’s third year, seems to be hitting its stride. It’s a great concept, a celebration of locally produced street food, with a beer shed featuring a good selection of Bay Areas breweries, held every year at Oakland’s Jack London Square. Last year, the festival seemed a bit sparse with few seemingly authentic street food vendors, and a few decidedly non-street food vendors selling things like frilly cupcakes and creme’ brule. This year, the crowds were decidedly bigger, and street food definitely ruled.

It’s was a great opportunity for Linda and I to try some local beers, then go out and try a little of this, a little of that from the bite size servings the various street vendors were serving, before going back and trying another beer. Repeat as desired.

Of course, any taco truck advertising “Kung Fu Tacos”, described as containing the spirit of Bruce Lee, is going to get my attention. While they didn’t cause me to exclaim “waaaaaaaaAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH” and deliver a flying kick, the Asian marinated chicken and Mu Shu vegatables worked pretty well in a taco. And then there were those Philippine pork sliders Linda and I enjoyed. Somehow, this melting pot cuisine where Asian foods are served in Latin and American methods of tacos and sliders seemed natural and unforced.

But let’s talk about the beer. Plenty of Bay Area breweries could be found at the beer shed, which supported no fewer than 40 taps. Every hour, a different Bay Area brewer was on hand to pour their beer and talk about it. I wasn’t able to uncover any profound secrets from any of the brewers, but there’s something about talking directly with the person responsible for the brew. So here’s a few notes of some of the more notable, at least to us, beers we tried.

Rye’d Piper from Ale Industries
This somewhat rich tasting, dark brown colored ale has a strong rye presence. The rye blends well with the roasted malt, and there’s this slightly herbal and astringent finish. Not a lot complexity here, but with a name like “Rye’d Piper”, you would expect big rye flavors, and this beer delivers. Mission accomplished.

L’Enfant Terrible from Social Kitchen
Social Kitchen Brewmaster Rich Higgens describes this as a table Belgian Ale. This was has a light roasted chocolate a fig character, with a little spicy character from the Belgian yeast, and yet this flavorful, complex brew checks in at 4.5% abv. Nothing like finding another nifty session beer.

Saisson from Ondonata
Ondoonata is a Sacremento area brewery that opened last year, and after tasting this effort, it looks like they are going to be around a while. Their Saisson is a little lemony, slightly bready, and a little spicy peppery finish, all adds up to a great, refreshing summer beer.

Bigger isn’t better at The Breast Fest

For over thirty years, I’ve been in favor of women’s breasts. And so when Linda, my wife to be, spent the weekend camping with her girlfriends on a big sisterhood extravaganza, I headed over to Ft. Mason in San Francisco to The Breast Fest. It’s a beer festival raising money for The Charlotte Maxwell Clinic to provide breast cancer services for low income women. In its 10th year, over 40 Northern California brewers poured from both their standard offerings with a few specials mixed in.

But if you ask me, the surprise hit of the afternoon was Metal Shop, a cover band having way too much fun wearing wigs, spandex, and leather pants while playing 80’s hair metal covers. Any band that can make the insipid, minor throwaway hit “Lick It Up” by Kiss actually sound good must be doing something right. There’s just a simple exhilaration in pumping your fist to absurdly lightweight lyrics like “We’re not going to take it / No, we ain’t going to take it!” or “Here I am / rock you like a hurricane”. Can someone tell me why I was listening to those whiny, weepy, and downright depressing bands like The Cure, Echo and the Bunnyman, and The Smiths back then?

But let’s not get distracted from the important issue at hand, women’s breasts. On a few occasions, Linda and I have had conversations about large breasts displayed by women we’ve noticed. Now guys, I hope I don’t need to tell you that if you going to talk about large breasted women with your better half, make sure she’s the one who brings it up. Of course, Linda starts talking about women with large breasts because she enjoys watching me tip-toeing around the land mines of that particular topic. After discreetly analyzing the plastic surgery performed on a few women, I would have to say on a strictly primal urge basis, bigger is not better. In fact, out of proportion, over stuffed and simply irregular looking breasts inspire the exact opposite of the male mating instinct, no matter how big they are. As for Linda, I love her for her mind and respect her whole body. But I’ve got to say I’m more into her breasts than say, her ankles.

And so in the spirit of bigger is not better, let me praise a few beers I sampled at The Breast Fest which were not the big beers typically served at festivals as breweries try to out do each other. Instead, let me review four beers I enjoyed that instead of going big, were supple, perky and a little bouncy.

“Bliss” by Ale Industries
Checking in at a mere 3.5% abv, I won’t forget this nifty little session beer from Ale Industries anytime soon. It’s got this great nutty flavor with a slight little caramel note to go with it. Since I prefer malt forward beers, had to love a session beer that gets its flavor from primarily from the malt, instead of hops or yeast you find in most session brews.

“Brendan’s and Jessica’s Bridal Ale” by Moylan’s Brewery
Brewery owner Brendan Moylan is getting married this year, and produced this to celebrate. It’s a golden ale with a little extra hop kick that’s creates a really fresh, crisp, and refreshing beer. That’s it. Not twelve different flavor notes, just something simple, crisp, and refreshing. Trust me, you don’t want complications in your marriage.

“Uncle Svenson” by Moonlight Brewing
The Moonlight Brewing server explained the beer was made without any hops, with pine needles instead. As I continued to ask pesky questions about this beer served from a tap marked “Special”, the friendly Moonlight server grew less and less friendly. After doing a little post-festival research, I believe I was having Moonlight’s “Uncle Svenson”. This Scottish Gruit had smooth, dark, and smokey malt character much like a light Scottish Ale, with the pine needles giving a little piney and juniper character, with a slight menthol finish. It’s not for everyone, but I found this change of pace beer intriguing and enjoyable.

“Black Prince Porter” by English Ales
Porters are one of my favorite styles, and this one just seemed to hit all the right porter notes. Plenty of black patent malt in this one, giving it a slightly astringent character with a nice roasted coffee flavor to it. A porter done well in the classic English tradition is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Back on the Track Again, and the First Annual Brewing Network Winter Brews Festival

Recovering from some hip and knee injuries, it’s been months since I hit the Los Gatos High School track for the Saturday morning tempo runs with my usual training group. (Tempo runs are typically 20-25 minute run at comfortably hard pace and are designed to train the body to produce less rubber-leg inducing lactic acid.) It was great to be back, working hard at the track. Everyone was talking about the races they planned to run this year, as Winter is often a time of long term preparation and running optimism, where running plans are laid down for the year. And it felt great to reconnect with the small community of runners I’ve known for years, which I feel proud to be a part of.

Later that day, I trekked up with my girlfriend Linda to Oakland for the Brewing Network Winter Brews Festival held at the Linden Street Brewery. What was the most memorable about it? Well, despite most of the beers and food running out, plenty of long lines, and porta-potties that made everyone nostalgic for waste management practices of 17th century London, I can’t recall a single negative comment, or even the slightest amount of obnoxious drunken behavior from anyone. Everyone was there to have a great time, and no matter what happened, they were bound determined to do so. We were in the company of complete strangers, and yet everyone seemed like old friends. One guy even whipped out a fat joint and seriously offered it to me after overhearing me talk about my lack of marijuana experience. Of course I declined, but you gotta love the gesture. I’ve been running for 30 years, and my craft beer epiphany occurred less than three years ago, but it’s festivals like this that make me proud to be a part of the craft beer community.

Oh yes, what did we think about the beer? Well, my favorite of the evening was “Shorty’s Vendetta” by E.J. Phair brewing. Rich, malty session beers are always a favorite of mine, I appreciated its caramel and slightly sweet character, with a slightly astringent bitter hop finish. I don’t know why Shorty’s on a vendetta, but maybe Shorty just ought to relax and have a couple of these beers.

Linda’s favorite was Ninkasi Brewing’s Believer Double Red. She let me try it, and by that time, my palate was pretty worn out, so could barely taste it, and didn’t take any notes on it. I’ve learned it’s wise to trust her judgement. Also notable was Iron Springs Coffee Porter, which had a strong espresso-like flavors on top of the roasty malt goodness, and that works pretty well for me. Since my next homebrew will be a coffee porter, I had a particular interest in this.

Finally, I eagerly lined up for some Uncommon Brewers Bacon Brown, since they have some top secret process to introduce bacon into the brew. Bacon usually makes things better, but not here. There’s a greasy smokiness to this murky tan and muddled brew, and it simply didn’t work by any stretch of the imagination. I love Uncommon Brewers Siamese Twin and appreciate pushing the envelope and getting creative, but sorry guys, we just didn’t like it.

We’re already looking forward to the 2nd Annual Winter Brews Festival.

Brewing Network Hosts First Annual Winter Brews Festival

As sort of a warm up to San Francisco Beer Week, the Brewing Network is hosting it’s First Annual Winter Brews Festival this January 30th at the Linden Street Brewery.

From the online press release the event:

will feature a wide variety of winter warmers and unique innovations from some of the best brewers in the Bay Area and beyond.

Partnering with Linden St. Brewery in Oakland, this festival combines the love of seasonal beers with the enthusiasm of the local craft beer scene. With barrels from breweries such as Russian River, Firestone Walker, the 21st Amendment, Speakeasy, Linden St., Moonlight Brewing, Magnolia, and many more, this Winter Brews Fest promises to provide big, malty beers to ignite the taste buds of beer lovers, new and experienced.

Hot food and live music will round out the festival, which will run from 1pm to 8pm. Tickets will be sold at the door.

Where: Linden St. Brewery, 95 Linden St. Suite 7/8, Oakland CA. 94607

When: Saturday, January 30th, 1 – 8pm

Looks pretty interesting, and there’s a decent chance Linda and I can make it. Hope to meet all four of you there!

Lots of good beers, and one lame autism joke: 6th Annual Brews on the Bay

The 6th Annual Brews on the Bay was held on the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien, a World World II era merchant ship docked on Pier 45 at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. The seven members of the San Francisco Brewers Guild were spaced around the deck of the restored ship, pouring their beers. I suppose I could write about the festive atmosphere aboard the ship, or the U2 cover band that playing. Or I could just start writing about the beer. But instead, I’m going to write about a subject one of the pourers at the festival was joking about. It’s something many people aren’t familiar with, and often people aren’t comfortable about. The subject is autism.

Linda and I were at Thirsty Bear, and one of the pourers was loudly apologizing for having Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. My eight year old son Brandon has autism, so I turned to him and told him, “It’s OK, my son has autism. Having Asperger’s is OK”. He looked stunned, and I suddenly realized at that moment he probably didn’t have Asperger’s, and his affliction probably involved sampling way too much of Thirsty Bear’s product. I’ve said enough stupid stuff stone cold sober to cut the guy some slack, so shrugged off the lame joke, and Linda and I walked away with our Thirsty Bear brews.

Five minutes later, Linda and I are somewhere inside the ship, sipping our beers and looking at various rooms restored to their World War II era appearance, when a woman from Thirsty Bear came up to us and said “I’ve been looking all over the ship for you. I want to apologize for that guy who told you he has Asperger’s Syndrome.” Now it was my turn to be surprised. We told her not to worry, that we still liked Thirsty Bear, and it wasn’t a problem, and thanked her for her concern. My son Brandon was diagnosed 5 1/2 years ago, and I’ve more or less come to terms with his condition, so I pretty much shrugged this off.

Most people rarely if ever deal with autism, and often when confronted with it, are confused and uncomfortable as to what to do. Brandon’s autistic behaviors are erratic, confusing, nonsensical, and yes, at times, funny. So I can actually understand why some guy might think it’s pretty funny to say “I have Aspergers”. But I find that 99.9% of the people who meet Brandon for the first time deal are confronted with this awkward situation, respond with a great deal of patience and understanding, which is huge for Brandon overcoming his behaviors. Who ever tracked us down inside the ship from Thirsty Bear to apologize, thanks so much for going the extra mile. It’s people like you who give Brandon a fighting chance.

OK, let’s talk about beer. Here’s what Linda and I liked that evening, starting with a couple from our friends at Thirsty Bear.

Thirst Bear Valencia Wheat
We both enjoyed this clear, refreshing wheat beer, brewed with a little coriander and orange peel in the Witbier style. It poured a clear yellow, so perhaps it was filtered. The noticeable orange flavor gives this one a nice twist.

Thirsty Bear Irish Coffee
I didn’t note what style this was, but appeared to be a barrel aged, Imperial Stout with lot of bitter coffee goodness, and we noticed some whisky in the background. Seemed a little light on the malt for the Imperial Stout style, which I found to be a good thing that evening, as it made for an easy drinking barrel aged Imperial Stout. I don’t know if you’re into something like that, but it worked for us.

Speakeasy Mickey Finn Imperial Red Ale
I’ve found many excellent brewers turn this style into something really aggressive, with a double punch of bitter roasted malt and heavy hops, and the result is often barely drinkable. That’s not the case here, as this Imperial Red from Speakeasy has a flavorful caramel malt, with some raisin like character, and a mellow resiny aftertaste.

Magnolia Dark Star Mild
Magnolia seems to focus a lot on their malt, and it seems to be reflected in their beers, which have an artisan bread character to them. Mild is almost a forgotten style in the United States, but this drinkable session beer with lots of roasty malt and a slightly grainy character made me wonder why.

San Francisco Brewing Hugh Hefnerweizen
When it comes to beer, variety is the spice of life. I cannot, and will not simply settle down with one beer. But this Hefeweizen from San Francisco Brewing is luscious, yet slightly muscular, and has a slightly sweet, alluring aroma. It tastes a little rich and fruity with seductive banana notes. If forced to be faithful to one beer, I just might shack up with this one.

Maybe someday, Brandon and I can talk about our favorite beers.

Time to Eat Real: The Eat Real Festival Is Coming This August 28-30

I’m pleased to tell you all about the Eat Real Festival that’s being held in Jack London Square in Oakland the weekend of August 28-30.

What is it about? Well, from the festival website, the Eat Real Festival was “founded in 2008, as a social venture created to inspire eaters to choose tasty, healthy, good food. Through a vibrant, local festival in Oakland, CA, and a focus on delicious and sustainable “street food,” Eat Real puts eaters in contact with the real people — the farmers, chefs, and producers — who make our food. Eat Real Festival will donate a percentage of its profit to several California organizations promoting access to healthy and affordable food, entrepreneurship and economic development.”

And since beer goes well with most street food, they’ve included a Beer Shed with a great list of over 15 local breweries already scheduled to participate, and the website promises more.

To me, this is what food is all about. It’s about eating something good, simple, and accessible produced in a sustainable way. Anything that puts the producers of what we eat and drink closer to the consumers is definitely something I support. If you agree, I look foreword to seeing you there.