The Session #37: Homicide Investigations and Wedding Engagements

For this month’s Session on we’re asked by The Ferm about when to open up the really good stuff from our beer cellars.

Writing on this subject was a bit of a struggle at first. My beer “cellar” is whatever room I can find in the refrigerator and right now, only two beers are being aged. Many nights, my girlfriend Linda and I will select something like Deschutes Brewing’s Hop Henge IPA or Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Imperial Stout before curling up on the couch to watch TV for the remainder of the evening, usually watching one of those homicide investigation shows like Forensic Files or The First 48. We don’t think too hard about what to have, just peering into the fridge and picking one that just seems right for the mood we’re in. So it didn’t seem I could really contribute much to a session topic about the decision making process of choosing beer for special occasions.

But a funny thing happened on the way to this month’s Session. I decided to give married life one more shot. I mean after all, Linda’s smart, attractive, good for my kids, and my life started turning around after I met her four years ago. She doesn’t complain about all my sweaty running clothes, and she thought going to the Celebrator Beer Festival was a great way to spend Valentine’s Day. (I did make her dinner the next evening, sort of as an insurance policy.) If I screw this one up, just put me in the “Shouldn’t Get Married” category for good.

We recently invited some friends over for dinner who brought Champagne to celebrate the engagement, and so it seemed right to bring out the Malheur Dark Brut from the fridge. It’s a dark Belgian Ale made with the same technique as Champagne, where the bottle is rotated over time so the active yeast is at top end of the bottle, and then the yeast plug is frozen and removed. Our guests really appreciated how the toasty yeastiness melded with the dark, complex roasted malts, the tingly carbonation keeping it all light and airy. Of course, a great way to show people how well important occasions can be celebrated with beer is to let them experience this for themselves.

If you came looking for a detailed calculus about how beers are paired to food and the moment, I’m afraid you came to the wrong place. But the best thing about being with good friends and family is that you don’t have to think very hard about things, and it all just flows.

The Session #36: One Lonely Night, Away from Home

For this month’s Session on Cask Ales, Tom Cizauskus of Yours for Good Fermentables gives us many suggestions and passionately encourages us to “Make it a sad story. Make it a love story. But … make it!”

I look back on my first cask ale rather wistfully. I was all alone, away from home, in a San Diego beer bar called The Neighborhood. Peering at me from behind the bar, its tap hiding only slightly so I would notice without it seeming obvious, was the lone cask ale selection, a special release of Stone Brewing’s Pale Ale with coriander. Feeling awkward, but intrigued, I signaled my interest to the bar tender. When the beer came over, I didn’t quite know where to begin or what to say, but understood this beer had been in this situation many times before, and knew exactly what to do.

I knew of Stone’s careful balance of aggressive flavors in their beers, so was expecting it to be assertive and aggressive. So was taken by surprise how the cask conditioning created a lightness and subtly to its caress, of how willing it was to please. With its slight floral nature and savory character, it performed tirelessly in so many different ways, never losing its balance or place. After what seemed like hours, the hops finally kicked in, bringing the taste to an amazing climax well beyond what I ever imagined possible.

I’ve picked up a few other cask ales on lonely nights since then, but for some reason, none has equaled the first one. I’ve tried in vain to look up my first cask ale, but alas, it is nowhere to be found.

The Session #35 : The First Annual Bay Area Beer Runner Awards for 2009

The year kicks off with The Session hosted by Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune of Beer for Chicks who ask “So we want to know what was your best and worst of beer for 2009? What beer mistakes did you make? What beer resolutions do you have for 2010? What are your beer regrets and embarrassing moments? What are you hoping to change about your beer experience in 2010?”

2009 is the year I started both blogging and homebrewing, becoming less of a beer spectator and more of a participant. Both were great journeys, bringing me to plenty of interesting people and places, with a few frustrating and awkward moments any new activity invariably brings. But besides a bottle of beer popping open in my luggage, no real disasters. I’ll continue down that path in 2010 con mucho gusto.

Having enjoyed so many great beers in 2009, I simply cannot limit myself to picking just one as the best, so I’ll mention a few memorable ones. And yes, there were some bad beers out there, and while I normally don’t pick on a small craft brewer who had a bad day, or go after the obvious targets from the big, inter-galactic mega-breweries, I do have a couple dishonorable mentions. So without further ado, here’s the First Annual Bay Area Beer Runner Awards for 2009.

The Award Winners

Best Zen-like Beer Drinking Experience: “Hitachano Nest Red Rice Ale” by Kuichi Brewery
It’s pink and fizzy like Budweiser Chelada. It has strong notes of strawberry, an odd flavor for beer. Rice used in the brewing process is typically not a good sign. There’s a sourness to the brew that suggests a Belgian, or at least European origin, but it’s from Japan. Yet, all these unlikely elements add up together for an amazingly pleasurable and memorable beer drinking experience. Give it a one-handed round of applause.

Best Inaccurately Named Beer: “Terrible” by Unibrou
It comes in a big, black bottle with only the word “Terrible” on it in big, bold letters, daring you to drink it. Go ahead, and you’ll be rewarded with flavors of raisin, dried fruits, anise, along with a nice toasty and slightly spicy yeast character. Despite all that subtle complexity, you won’t notice the 10.5% abv. It’s fantastic.

Best Chick Beer: “Raspberry Wheat” by El Toro Brewing
This category was chosen in honor of our hosts. I hope they see it that way. Plenty of brewers cannot resist the temptation to release “chick beers”, light beers flavored with fruit. They’re often either cloyingly sweet, or highly disjointed with fruit flavors sitting clumsily on top of the underlying beer. El Toro uses a fine touch to harmonize and blend raspberry into the slight tartness of their wheat beer creating something special. I’m not secure enough in my manhood to order this when I’m at El Toro, but have found stealing a sip or two from my girlfriend’s glass to be a guilty pleasure. And if you’re OK with the concept of fruit in beer, El Toro’s aromatic and complex Peach and Blackberry Ales will open you to possibilities of fruit in beer you may thought had never existed.

Best Beer for Dessert: “Creme Brulee” by Southern Tier Brewing
An amazing and faithful reconstruction of Creme Brulee in an Imperial Stout. It starts out with a strong vanilla flavor with lactose sugar providing a custard-like character, roasted malt playing the role of the caramelized sugar, and just a whisper of Columbus and Horizon hops giving it balance. You know it’s going to be good just from the aroma, and it just goes down silky smooth. This could have been easily been sickening sweet, but hits all the right notes for just an excellent beer drinking experience. And just behind Creme Brulee in the Beer for Dessert category is Southern Tier’s “Mokah”.

Best Beer That Makes Me Damn Proud to be Raised in the Midwest: “Blue Sky Rye” by Free State Brewing
I lived in the Midwest between the ages of three and thirty-three before moving to the California Bay Area ten years ago, so I have an affinity for great Midwestern beers. As you might expect from a brewery located in Kansas, Free State Brewing shows great respect for grain in their beers, and their Blue Sky Rye is my favorite example. Free State combines two types of rye with English Pale Ale malt and dark crystal malt, and balance it out with Styrian Golding and Crystal hops. The subtle rye flavors really add dimension to this brew, and it has a wonderful honey like sweetness to go with all those great fresh malty flavors.

Best Beer Tribute: “Bill Brand Brown” by Triple Rock Brewing
I enjoyed this special release at the Eat Real Festival in Oakland this year. Triple Rock used cocoa nibs to add an extra layer of bitter flavor to the rich, roasty, and slightly nutty malt goodness in this brew, elevating a humble brown ale into something very unique and memorable. I’m all for big flavors in a session beer, and have to think Bill would have heartily approved of this one. It’s a great tribute.

Best Beer That Renewed My Faith in Lagers: “Premium Lager” from Creemore Springs Brewery
I don’t know why people are so dismissive of the lager style simply because there are so many horrible ones. During a trip to Ottawa, Canada last May, I was fortunate to have a couple pints of this lager from Creemore Springs. Nothing complex here, just sharp, fresh, simple flavors of slightly toasty malt with a crisp, bitter hop finish. Great lagers are one of life’s simple and overlooked pleasures.

Best Weird Beer : “Siamese Twin” by Uncommon Brewers
If a Belgian Double with coriander, Kafir Lime, and lemongrass sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. I picked up a four pack of this last summer, and after finishing the first can, didn’t like it. I appreciate being creative and unorthodox, but that does not always equate to being tasty. But by the third can, I’m thinking, “You know, this whole combination works really well”. I still don’t know how Thai spices take a Belgian Ale to a higher level, but they do. Uncommon Brewers is located in Santa Cruz, CA, where weirdness is a matter of civic pride.

Dishonorable Mentions

Most Ironic Tribute Beer: “Obama Presidential Ale” by Half Moon Bay Brewing
Does it make any sense to commemorate the first African-American President with an extremely light, straw colored ale that produces such a lacy, lily white head? Is a very timid tasting ale, dialed way down in flavor seemingly so as not to offend, really the right beer to honor a President who’s called for sweeping, difficult, and uncomfortable change? There’s a fine line between celebrating our new President and a desperate attempt to boost sales by simply slapping the popular President’s face on a beer label, and I’m afraid if the beer doesn’t remotely resemble anything about Obama, you’re on the wrong side of that line. (This beer is normally sold as “Harbor Light Ale” by Half Moon Bay Brewing.)

Worst Beer from a Highly Respected Brewery That Beer Geeks Swooned Over, But I Did Not Like Very Much: “Thirteenth Anniversary Ale” by Stone Brewing
Plenty of beer reviewers and beer geeks raved about this one, which I found to be an out-of-control, harsh tasting monstrosity. I just didn’t get this beer, where strong flavors of dried fruit, heavily roasted malt, alcohol, and shovels full of hops were kicking and screaming for my attention. It would seem this brew would age well, allowing the flavors to find a way to get along, but the bottle advised to drink it fresh, just another thing I just couldn’t figure out about the brew. (Stone’s 12th Anniversary aged beautifully after 6-9 months.) I’ve always thought Stone’s strength was not because they use strong, aggressive flavors, but the finesse and balance they use with these flavors. They seemed to have lost their way with this one.

It’s been a great year for beer. Look forward to doing it all over again in 2010!

The Session #34: Recovering from Family Stumbles at the Sonoma Chicken Coup

The month’s Session, “Stumbling Home” by Two Parts Rye, we’re asked to write about our experiences at a brew pub or bar within a short distance from our homes.

Learning something the hard way is the often best way to really understand it. Unfortunately, I’ve learned the hard way that families are fragile things. I went through a divorce five years ago, and now see my six-year daughter Verona and eight-year old son Brandon only about 20% of the time. During these moments, I do what I can to put a few of the pieces of a broken family back together. And while families are often torn apart by unforeseen events and complex psychological forces hardly anyone really understands, it is often the simple things that keep families together. And for this reason, I value the weekends walks my girlfriend Linda and I take with Brandon and Verona to Almaden Lake Park, before we all go to lunch at the Sonoma Chicken Coop. The Sonoma Chicken Coop seems to be best described casual restaurant that brews its own beers than simply a brewpub, and we started frequenting one of its locations near the southwestern edge of the Almaden Lake Park over the past year.

This journey involves a few rituals. Once we walk out the front door, Verona starts keeping a meticulous running tally of dead snails she finds on the side walks of our condominium complex, proudly announcing “There’s another one!” soon as she make yet another of these important finds. Brandon will sometimes say, “Tag, you’re it!” and run away for a few yards in hopes that we’ll chase him, and sometimes we do. After covering making our about 400 yards to the park entrance, we follow the bike trail running along its eastern edge. When we get to the “balance beam”, actually a small barrier fence built out of old telephone pole, the kids will always takes their turns walking down it, refusing to go any further until this is completed. Verona always goes turn first, and then Brandon quietly follows.

We take the bridge over Los Alamitos Creek, which feeds into Almaden Lake in the center of the park, and work our way along the trail along the western edge of the lake until we reach the playground at the park’s Northwest corner. It sometimes takes Verona as long as five seconds to meet a new friend once she gets to the playground. She also enjoys testing her climbing skills on the rope jungle gym, and or playing pirate on one of the playground structures designed to look like a ship.

I know Verona enjoys these times, because we about them, and she tells me about the friends she makes. When Brandon hears we’re going to the playground and Sonoma Chicken Coop, he’ll smile and sometimes bang his wrists together rapidly in excitement, so I know he’s excited about going, but otherwise, he hardly talks to me going to the playground besides a simple “yes playground” or “yes Sonoma Chicken Coop”. Brandon hardly talks about anything to anyone. You see, Brandon has autism.

Autism is a psychological condition which makes it very difficult for Brandon to organize sensory inputs, and restricted his social and language skills. There is actually a broad spectrum of autistic behaviors, from children who may spend all day silently rocking back and forth, to the high functioning people with Asperger’s Syndrome, who may be highly successful in society despite odd, somewhat anti-social and eccentric behaviors. Brandon’s pretty much smack dab in the middle of the autistic spectrum of behaviors. The best estimates are that 1 in 150 children are born with autism, so there’s a reasonably good chance someone you know is has a family member with autism.

When I first took Brandon to this playground two years ago, he would aimlessly walk around the edges of it, muttering quiet gibberish, often banging his wrists together. Sometimes when highly overstimulated, he would slam his chin with the top of his right wrist over and over again with enough force to producing an audible thud-thud-thud, a slightly mutilating self-stimulating behavior. (When this happens, we divert Brandon to a less dangerous self-stimulating behavior by asking him to “clap hands”, which he obediently follows.) After maybe ten or twenty minutes of this, he would develop a comfort level to the sensory overload that a playground full of children would creates, and could be prompted to go over to the swing or go down the slide. On the swing, I would push him a few times on the swing and then stop. As gravity brought Brandon to a stop, we would ask, “Do you want a push, yes or no?” If he said “yes”, he got a push. Later, once his language skills improves, we’d require him to use longer sentences like “More swinging” or “Can you push me, please?” in order to get us to give him the desired pushes on the swing. Inducing to use language in this manner involves principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), and Brandon has responded quite well to this type of therapy, which has proven to very successful helping many overcome their autistic silence.

Brandon’s ABA therapists have worked with him to act more appropriately at play, and he now needs little or no prompting to play on the playground equipment on his own, simply blending in with all the other kids. It is a quiet, reassuring small victory when for a just a few moments, we’re no longer battling Brandon’s autism and he’s simply acting like a normal kid. Verona tells me she hopes Brandon will talk normally when he’s ten. Verona is arguably Brandon’s best therapist, as she understands him well, and has picked up many speech therapy and ABA strategies and uses them often with Brandon. Linda, who is a professional speech therapist, has been great using her professional training and experience to help Brandon develop his language skills.

Once the kids have worn themselves out on the playground, we all head over to the Sonoma Chicken Coop. Many brew pubs have children’s menus, which is reassuring for the future of craft beer. I cannot think of a better way to encourage the next generation to “respect beer” or “support their local brewer” than giving them as many opportunities as possible to watch their parents do just that. Linda and I enjoy the Sonoma Chicken Coop’s Kolsch, which is light and refreshing and has a bit of a lemon-pepper zip to it. Their IPA is more balanced than most brewed in Northern California, and has sharp grassy bitterness to it. And they’ve recently released a Scotch Ale, which has a light smokey flavor and in their with all the caramel malt. The beers are nothing to rave about, but they’re solid.

But going to the Sonoma Chicken Coop isn’t about the beer. It’s about Linda and I enjoying a beer while Verona tells us all about her new friends at school and boasting “I know minuses!”. It’s about Brandon no longer meekly saying “ketchup” when he wants us to pass him the ketchup for his fries, but know spontaneously asking “Do you have ketchup, please?” when there’s no ketchup on the table. These are moments that at one point in my life, I could have totally lost. Knowing too well how families fall apart, I realize it’s these times that keep us together.

The Session #33: Framed by 33

This month’s Session, by Andrew Couch, of I’ll Have a Beer is on framing beers, with the topic loosely summed up as “write about how the context the beer is presented affects the drinking experience”.

Psychologists have long known that our choices are biased by the way each choice is framed. To illustrate this, suppose you are the head of a disease control agency, and are presented with two options to combat a disease which is expected to kill six hundred people unless something is done to stop it. A team of doctors have determined the outcomes of two possible options.

Option A: 200 people will be saved.

Option B: There is a one-third probability that 600 people will be saved, and a two-thirds probability that no one will be saved.

What do you do?

In a psychological experiment where subjects were presented with these options, 72% choose Option A. In the same experiment, subjects were also presented with the same options, simply worded differently.

Option C: 400 people will die.

Option D: There is a one-third probability that nobody will die, and a two-thirds probability that 600 people will die.

When presented with the same options framed differently, the same participants who picked Option A 72% of the time, instead choose Option D 78% of the time. Of course, we would rather save people than let them die, and so the options framed positively are favored over those framed negatively, known as positive frame bias. (1)

Psychologists have found numerous other framing effects, which I won’t go into here. But clearly, the beer we chose and our experience drinking it is framed by things like the beer label, word of mouth, the advertising, the reputation of the brewer, and numerous other sensory inputs that are quite difficult to separate from the actual liquid in the glass. Beer judges have known this for years as most beer competitions are judged blind, where beer is presented to judges in unmarked glasses, and judges are not allowed to influence each other.

I find myself struggling with framing effects explaining craft beer to family and friends who are not craft beer drinkers. Often, they actually would like to drink something from their local brewer, but their perception of craft beer is that it is “too strong”, overly bitter, hops run amok, and simply not enjoyable to them to drink. Beer names like “Arrogant Bastard”, “Damnation” or “Hop Stoopid” tend to reinforce this notion. I’ve responded telling them that many craft brewers release lighter styles they might find more enjoyable. More than once, I been told, “Well, I really enjoy Blue Moon, from some small brewery in Colorado”. They are usually pretty disappointed to learn that Blue Moon is actually made by Coors, a massive industrial brewery. Coors sells Blue Moon by framing it as a product of some quaint Colorado brewery, and the fact that once people get past the deception, they often lose interest in the beer seems to validate this strategy.

One brewery it took a while to warm up to was Flying Dog Brewery. So many times in a bottle shop, gazing at a wide array of beers in from of me, I simply moved past the frenzied, graffiti-style art Flying Dog uses on their label, and picked up something from a different brewery. In this Session, we’ve been asked to try beers we wouldn’t normally drink, so I decided to try a couple Flying Dog brews, just to see what the beer is like.

As is often the case, stretching my beer horizons was rewarded, as I found the beer to be excellent. The Flying Dog Kerberos Triple had a light toasty yeast flavors with a little apricot, and a clean, clear character to it. Flying Dog’s Double Dog Imperial Pale hooked with a great creamy mouth feel, toffee-like malty flavors coupled with a little tangerine and an orange peel bitterness. I can’t help wondering why was the beer label art, designed to attract me to the beer, was actually pushing me away.

I think the answer to this question originates in the way beer was initially framed to me. I spent my childhood during the 70’s in the small Midwestern college town of Bowling Green, OH, located about 15 miles south of Toledo. My dad exclusively drank “33”, Rolling Rock, and would carefully allow me a sip of his Saturday afternoon beer. My father later told me he did this to prevent me from abusing alcohol, to demystify beer at an early age. These were also early lessons to respect beer, that it wasn’t a beverage to be carelessly guzzled, but to be savored and enjoyed at special times. I also remember Dad proudly informing me Rolling Rock was brewed “in the glass-lined tanks of Old Latrobe” in Western Pennsylvania. Latrobe is about 300 miles from Bowling Green, but in those days, drinking exclusively Rolling Rock was supporting your local brewer, and from this I learned the place the beer was brewed was just as important as the beer itself. These experiences, burned into the neurons of my young brain, still guide me today.

I find it sad and ironic that InBev bought Rolling Rock, shut down the Latrobe brewery, and moved production to Newark, NJ in a cost cutting move, priming the pump of their plans for world wide beer domination. Yet, InBev still has the audacity to market Rolling Rock with the grammatically deficient slogan “Born Small Town”, trying to sell the beer by framing it as from a tradition bound, small town brewery. I guess the corporate folks at InBev figured out a more accurate grammatically deficient slogan like “Born small town, multi-national corporation bought brewery, laid off workers, bean-counters rule day” would not be a good way to frame Rolling Rock if they wanted to sell lots of it.

But going back to my earliest framing of beer, I believe my earliest experiences of beer explains my initial aversion to Flying Dog beers, framed in chaotic, modern artwork. I’ve come to realize my favorite breweries like Anderson Valley, El Toro, and Deschutes are favorites of mine in part because these breweries evoke their unique local geography into their marketing, and are relatively close to where I live. This new understanding about how my beer preferences are shaped will allow me to make more informed decisions on the beer I choose to drink. There’s nothing wrong with psychological warm fuzziness guiding what we drink. But of course, craft beer drinking is a lot about exploration and expanding beyond your comfort zone. And if you’re going to expand beyond your comfort zone, it’s helpful to know where the discomfort is coming from.

(1) Positive framing example from The Mind of the Market, Micheal Shermer, Henry Holt and Company, copyright 2008, pages 84-85.

The Session #32: I cannot run like a Kenyan, but at least I can drink like one

For this months Session, Girl Likes Beer asks everyone to “..pick your favorite beer made east from your hometown but east enough that it is already in a different country. It can be from the closest country or from the furthest. Explain why do you like this beer. What is the coolest stereotype associated with the country the beer comes from (of course according to you)?”

For runners, “Kenyan” is an adjective to describe how distance running performances relate to world class levels. For example, “John Smith’s 10,000 meter time was so fast, it was almost Kenyan.” This started happening in the 80’s, when Kenya started regularly sending distance runners to international track meets. The rest of the world, except for Ethiopia, didn’t have a chance, and Kenyan distance runners quickly dominated the world scene. Major marathons like the Boston and New York marathon often resemble Kenyan inter-squad competitions, rather than the the international marathons that they are.

While Kenya is known for great distance running, it is barely known for beer. However, Kenya does have is a brewing history I recently learned about. Kenya Breweries was founded in the early 1920’s by two brothers, and by the 50’s, Tusker Golden Lager became their flagship beer using Kenyan grown barley. I discovered Tusker this summer, and upon learning it was from Kenya, was intrigued enough to give it a try.

And I’m here to say, Tusker satisfies this Mzungo. (Mzungo is Swahili for “white man”.) It’s a bit of a change of pace for the lagers I’m used to, very clear tasting with a light hoppy bitter crispness. Yes, there’s a little skunkiness in there, that somehow adds to the flavor complexity, rather than detracting from it. It has this tingly fizziness to it, like mineral water, and the beer has a refreshing palate cleansing mouth feel to it.

Back in the day, I dreamt about running as fast as the Kenyans, blazing across the rolling African countryside. Today, I’m content to plod around my suburban neighborhood, and knock back a couple Tuskers after a run.

The Session #31: Summer Beers

This month’s Session, Summer Beers is hosted by Peter Estaniel over at the BetterBeerBlog.

This month’s Session, Summer Beers, is a great topic, since I have little interest in jumping on another bandwagon of beer geeks raving about the latest hyper-malty, barrel aged, hop bomb where the brewer actually did throw in the kitchen sink. The lighter beer styles we normally associate with summer require much skill and talent to brew, with no places to hide off flavors. Having had so many great summer beers, it’s hard to pick a favorite. For me, a “favorite beer” is largely determined in the context of which it is consumed, as well as how and where the beer is produced. That’s why my favorite beer this summer is from a brewer you never heard of, and I haven’t even swallowed a drop of it yet. I’ll get to my favorite summer beer at the end of this post, so allow me to celebrate a number of my summer favorites before then.

Favorite Summer Beer with Lime In It
Summer beers with lime in them are typically some hideous product from big industrial breweries that are barely recognizable as beer. That wasn’t the case with Coronado Brewing’s Lime Wit that I enjoyed this summer at my favorite beer bar in San Diego, Downtown Johnny Brown’s. Sour lime dominates the slight yeasty flavors of this Wit beer, and there’s a bitter lime peel finish to it. I’ve enjoyed other wits more than this one, but this unique San Diego-inspired beer deserves a mention.

Favorite Summer Beer to Drink After a Summer Run
It’s only natural to expect the writer of blog called Bay Area Beer Runner to cite a favorite summer beer for drinking after a run. The problem is that during summer, my runs are exclusively in the early morning when the air is coolest, which is when many runners train. Knocking down a couple pints of beer after a morning run before heading off to work is a pretty risky career strategy. Not being a fan of those foul-tasting, over priced sports drinks, I just have water after a run.

Favorite Summer Beer to Witness Another Disappointing Chicago Cubs Baseball Season
I’ve been a Cub fan for thirty years, and each year, the Cubs find a new and creative way to build up expectations and then deflate them over the course of a baseball season. The other constant over that time is that Heileman’s Old Style has been strongly associated with Cubs’ baseball. If you’ve ever had this light lager, you’ll begin to understand why Cub fans have such a high tolerance for pain and misery.

Favorite Summer Beer to Get Ready for The Ohio State University’s Football Season
Keeping on the topic of sports, as a graduate of The Ohio State University, I’ve spent many a summer chatting away with other Buckeye fans in anticipation of the upcoming fall football season. And there’s no better beer for this than Buckeye Beer from Maumee Bay Brewing in Toledo, OH. It’s a beer with a long history that ceased production in 1972, only to be recently revived with a retro-marketing campaign. But it’s no weak, gimmicky pilsner. This refreshing beer’s malt is a little biscuit-like, and the hops crisp and grassy. It’s also good in winter time for Buckeye fans recovering from a crushing Bowl game defeat.

Favorite Summer Beer to Experience a 60’s Flashback
Last month, my girlfriend and I checked out Magnolia Pub and Brewery, merely a block away from the storied Haight-Ashbury intersection in San Francisco. We were both really impressed with their Kalifornia Kolsch. It’s a hazy yellow brew, with a strong peppery flavor and we also noted some notes of lemon. Despite the strong flavors, there was a feathery lightness to it. It’s so good, it actually caused me to admit The Grateful Dead had some redeeming qualities.

Favorite Summer Beer That I Couldn’t Come Up with a Category For, But Wanted to Mention Anyway
I’ve long been a fan of Victory Brewing in Downing, PA, but it’s hard to find their beers in the Bay Area. In San Diego last month, I found Victory Brewing’s Prima Pils on tap. Like any good pilsner, it’s got a crisp grassy hops finish, but I also picked up some savory herbal character with all that hoppy goodness, giving it a rare complexity and dimension for a pilsner.

Before revealing my Favorite Beer of the Summer, I should start by saying why I think running is a great activity and for those of a competitive nature, a great sport. All you need is a good pair of shoes, lace ’em up, and go out the front door. The equipment is very affordable, and the best places to run are public areas available to all. There are road races held all over the United States where for a reasonable fee, anyone can enter to run with the best runners in the nation, or even the world. The stop watch does not discriminate on the basis of race, income, sex, religion, origin, good looks, or anything else.

The same egalitarian qualities that makes running great, makes beer great. It is most commonly consumed in informal public gatherings. Even the finest beers are affordable to most. And with a small investment, anyone can start brewing beer for themselves. That now includes me, as I’ve home brewed up my first batch of beer of what I expect to be the first of many home brews. Perhaps someday, my brewing skills will progress to the point where I’ll compete in home brewing competitions, but for now, I’ll settle for brewing up something that just tastes good.

I didn’t muck around in the kitchen that badly brewing it up, so fingers crossed, it will taste OK. Since it was bottled a week ago and needs two weeks of bottle conditioning, I haven’t even tasted the final product. But sampling the brew as it went into the bottles didn’t reveal any obvious off-flavors, and it tasted like a decent beer to me. Having only the slightest idea of how to brew beer, but with plans to keep at it, I call it Blind Ambition Amber Ale, and it’s my favorite summer beer.