Checking out The Cider Junction in San Jose

You’ll often find craft cider at most beer bars, but mostly as an afterthought, with a cider selection or two tacked at the end of the beer list. At The Cider Junction, which recently opened in San Jose’s Willow Glen, the roles are reversed. Fruit rules over grain with a wide variety of ciders and other fermented fruit beverages dominating a row of roughly thirty taps, with a few beers selections at the end. They also serve up a selection of small plates, in the form of sliders and flat breads, in addition to cheese and charcuterie boards. A few bottles and can of various cider are available for take home sale.

My wife and I biked to the place last weekend to check it out. One thing that’s apparent from over 25 different ciders to choose from is, well there’s a lot of different ciders out there. Some are made with heirloom apples, some are made with a blend of different fruits, like cranberries, cherries, passion fruit or plums. Hops have made their way into a couple ciders, but frankly, I find hops work better in beer than in cider. But if hoppy ciders are your thing, you’ll find at least a couple different ones at The Cider Junction. Not going to bore you with a lot of tasting notes, especially since I was too engrossed battling my wife in a few games of Connect Four to write things down, but let me just say we enjoyed a number of fresh, interesting, and flavorful fruit concoctions.

They sell ciders either by the pint or 10 ounce pour, or you can tasting flight of four 4-ounce samples. I recommend going for the tasting flight, since they always have something new rotating into the tap list and plenty of the selections appear to be limited releases. As for the small plates, we split a jackfruit slider, which came disguised as a pulled pork sandwich. I’m not a fan of non-meat masquerading as meat, but this was delicious. The chopped up fruit slaw, bathed in a tangy sauce was a wonderful riff on traditional barbecue. That was the only plate we tried, so I can’t vouch for the others, but I’d have to think there’s plenty of good stuff on the menu based on the strength of this effort.

Now for the bad news. The Cider Junction has this weird, counter-productive “no sampling” policy. You can order a four glass tasting flight, but you can’t order a single tasting glass, or add a couple extra samples to your tasting flight. Most places will let you do that  Told I couldn’t add a couple extra samples to my flight, I asked to taste a plum Jerkum before ordering a 10-ounce glass of it, to see if I liked it. (A jerkum is a plum wine.). They wouldn’t do that either.  It’s pretty standard in the industry to provide small, 1/2 ounce samples to customers so they can order a pint with confidence they’ll enjoy it.  Heck, they’ll even do that in hotel bars. For a place that you would think would want to reward trying new things, The Cider Junction seems to stifle it with an inflexible policy.  Not only do I find it frustrating as a customer, they’re leaving money on the table. People are more willing to spend money if they know what they’re getting ahead of time.

Without the benefit of a taste, took the risk after working through my flight and ordered the Plum Lovin Criminals Jerkum from Mission Trail Cider. As the waitress brought over the glass filled with cloudy beige liquid, it looked like one of those hideous hazy IPA’s I can barely stand and my expectations sank. But lo and behold, I loved the fresh tart plum flavors in this little number. So while The Cider Junction won’t let you taste anything before you order it, whatever you order, it’s probably going to be pretty good.

This “no tasting” policy gets under my skin, it’s really a minor quibble. The Cider Junction seems to be emerging as a neat little hangout in the middle of Willow Glen and already our friends are asking us to take them there. We’ll certainly be back.

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Is this one of those hideous hazy IPA’s? No, it’s a delicious plum Jerkum!

 

The Session #130: It’s my beer festival and I can make up crazy rules for it if I want to

The Session #122: Imported HazardsThis month’s Beer Blogging Session, Bryan Yaeger asks us to create our own beerfest. (What’s a Beer Blogging Session you ask?  Find out here.)  I must admit I don’t go to beer festivals as much as I used to. I might go to one or two a year these days.  Back around 2010, I probably peaked out at around five annually. With the growing pervasiveness of growing beer selections in every nook and cranny of society, there’s less of a need to seek out beers and breweries at beer festivals as the become more accessible. But I still think beer festivals play a crucial role of bringing breweries and people together, so in that spirit, here’s the low-down and how I would set up my beer festival in the spirit of bringing together two tribes that don’t talk with each other all that much. Whether or not this festival would be logistically possible or even if anyone actually would actually want to attend it are minor details I won’t trifle with.

The Location: We’d host it in my hometown at Campbell Park,  in my hometown of Campbell, which sits on the west border of San Jose, CA. In addition to hosting the festival in this small outdoor setting, the park is within short walking distance to public transportation.

The Breweries: Without further ado, here’s the brewery list, organized into three categories.

Local independents: Strike Brewing (San Jose), Santa Clara Valley Brewing (San Jose), Hermitage Brewing (San Jose), Clandestine Brewing (San Jose), Freewheel Brewing (Redwood City, CA), Fieldwork (Berkeley, CA), Discretion Brewing (Soquel, CA), Sante Adairius (Capitola, CA), Brewery Twenty Five (San Juan Bautista, CA), El Toro (Morgan Hill, CA), Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing (Santa Cruz, CA), Crux Fermantation Project (Bend, OR), Hopworks Urban Project (Portland, OR), Cleophus Quealy (San Leandro, CA), Headlands Brewing (Marin. CA), Dust Bowl Brewing (Turlock, CA), Anderson Valley Brewing (Boonville, CA), Calicraft (Walnut Creek, CA), Cellar Maker (San Francisco)

So-called crafty breweries: Boulevard Brewing (Kansas City), 10 Barrel Brewing (Bend, OR), Lagunitas (Petaluma, CA). Anchor Brewing (San Francisco), Saint Archer (San Diego)

Overseas breweries: Brasserie de Rochefort (Belgium), Samuel Smiths (UK)

There is a method to this madness. The first group are hometown favorites, or otherwise small breweries I have a personal affinity for that do great stuff that I want everyone to try.  The next group are breweries I also like, but aren’t considered independent by the Brewers Association.  Brasserie de Rochefort and Samuel Smiths are there because they’re great breweries giving the festival an international flair.

It all adds up to 26 breweries. I think that’s a good number for a beer festival.

Attendees: OK, here’s where it starts to get a little weird. I’m limiting the attendees to 500 people.  In addition, these 500 are split into two groups of 250 people: Hard core beer-geeks and people with a passing interest in beer. (People self identify themselves into either group.)  Each group wears different colored wrist-bands to identify themselves.

Activities: Also attendees are required to have two 3-minute conversations about the last beer they had with a member in the opposite category before they can have another pour.  Each conversation has to be with someone different.  Yes, I do want hard-core beer geeks to understand how the other 99% of the population view beer, and expose those with a passing interest in beer that there’s a whole great big  beery world out there.

In addition, all attendees are required to drink two beers from the “so-called crafty” breweries. That means any hard-core beer geeks pontificating about why independence matters and why the brewers at, say 10 Barrel are evil sell-outs to those with a just passing interest in beer will mostly likely get confused stares and inconvenient questions. Those with a passing interest in beer will learn there’s a lot more to beer than just what’s in the glass. Hopefully, those in both groups will learn a little more about what matters, and what might not matter as much as they think it matters, in beer.

Internet jamming: In the spirit of having people talk with people around them instead of having their heads glued to their phones, the festival will employ a fancy electronic device that will jam internet communications.  This device will be turned off for five minutes on the hour for quick internet breaks, because as much as I decry it, I’m a slave to the internet as much as anyone else is.

Food: For me, food at a beer festival serves to clear the palate, sop up some alcohol in the my belly, and keep me from going hungry.  So there will be plenty of light crackers, cheeses and healthy vegetable options.  Food trucks are welcome, but I’ll mention when my taste buds are reeling after tasting five IPA’s, a barbecue sandwich or spicy taco pretty much kills whatever sense of taste I have left.

Pour size: This seems to be a slightly controversial point. No I don’t think 2 ounces of a beers is enough to fully appreciate it. Yes, it often takes a pint or two fully appreciate a beer. But given the goal of everyone trying a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and talking to other people about it, this festival serves 4 ounce pours so people can do that without falling down drunk half-way through.

Booth personnel: As much as I appreciate all the hard working volunteers at beer festivals, they’re usually at a loss to say much about whatever beer they’ve been assigned to pour. That’s why each booth must have at least one brewery representative who can speak knowledgeably about the beers they pour.

Yes, this festival would take me and a lot of other people out of their comfort zones, and being taking out of one’s comfort zone is often the opposite of what people look for in a beer festival. I get that forcing people to talk to with one another comes across as some sort of high school orientation exercise or some dreaded corporate “team building” activity. That said, when it was over, I think I would take away a lot from the festival and I believe others would, too.  Of course, there’s no way to actually prove this, because I can’t imagine in anyone’s wildest dreams this beer festival ever happening.

I’m thankful my cider didn’t suck

One benefit from writing this blog is that I learn a lot of useful things from leaders in their field. OK, maybe that’s just a charitable way to say I steal people’s ideas, but the fact is, I probably would’ve never make a decent cider unless I talked to Mike Faul of Red Branch Cidery. About a month before I interviewed him for an article, I tried to make cider for the first time, but the result tasted like apple flavored cleaning fluid. As I explained how things went wrong, all of sudden Mike exclaimed, “I bet it got really hot overnight when the fermentation got going. The temperature could’ve risen up to 90 degrees F, and at those temperatures yeasts start creating all sorts of volatile alcohols that create those kind of off-flavors.”  Red Branch keeps their cider at controlled temperatures to prevent the very problems plaguing my cider.  I filed that fact to the back of my brain for future use.

Nearly two years later, I decided to make a holiday cider for all my relatives visiting for Thanksgiving.  This time, I kept it cool by pitching the yeast in the late evening and then putting it in my garage where the 50 degree night time temperatures would keep the temperature down as the yeasts did their thing. After about 24 hours in 50-60 degree weather, I brought the two 1-gallon jugs inside to the pantry finish out the fermentation as forecasts called for warmer temperatures. (This is Northern California, after all.)  I also used Belgian Saison yeast instead of the Champagne yeast I used the first time. I like a dry cider and while Champagne yeast is very attenuative, I feared it was creating a little too “hot” a cider. In addition, the Saison yeast added some light additional light fruity esters to the underlying apple juice.  The carbonation level was on the tingly side as I like it for cider. And everyone else seemed to like it too.

Maybe the start of a new holiday tradition.  And my mind is already thinking about brewing a winter California Common letting the yeast do their thing cool spaces on my garage next month.

The Recipe: 2 gallons of organic apple juice and pitch Belgian Saison Yeast.   After 10 days of fermentation, take 2/3 cups of water and dissolve six table spoons of honey. Bring to a boil and then let cool. Add to the cider and bottle.

IMG-4582bottling ciderCider in wine glass

 

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

The ham and a few local brews are in the fridge. A cider I made for the holidays doesn’t suck.  Lots of family members are coming to our house tomorrow. So I’ll be signing out for a while but want to send you best wishes for the holiday and look forward to getting back with you soon. I have plenty to be thankful for, and hope you do too. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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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