Smoke Eaters in Santa Clara: Further evidence the good guys have more work to do

I finally got a chance to check out Smoke Eaters, which recently opened a location in Santa Clara near where I work.  Located pretty much at ground zero of Silicon Valley tech industry, it’s a place seemingly designed to capture the busy tech lunch crowd as well as being strategically located near the new San Francisco 49’ers Stadium to be completed next year.

Inside, it’s a pretty typical sports bar with lots of flatscreen TV’s and sports memorabilia on the walls with a pretty standard menu of wings, burgers and sandwiches.  But wow, there’s got to be over 20 taps running across the back wall, with great local selections like Santa Clara Valley Brewing’s Peralta Porter, some hard to find Stone Brewing selections, and lot’s of other good brews from places like Ballast Point and Port Brewing.
There’s just one problem.  The beer menu on a chalk board over the bar has, shall I say, some rather curious mistakes.  Now I can forgive Calicraft’s Oaktown Brown Ale listed under the “Stouts/Porters” column.  But Redd’s Apple Ale listed as a “Sour Ale”?  Ballast Point Longfin Lager listed under the generic heading of “Ales”?   I won’t bore you with 2-3 other questionable menu listings I noticed.

Should I be thrilled that yet another establishment is bringing more great beer to the masses and simply overlook these grievous errors on the beer menu?  Well, perhaps.  But to this beer geek, these laughable misclassifications on the chalk board menu were as irritating as someone dragging their fingernails across it.    Maybe it’s because not too many years ago, places with a tap list as extensive as Smoke Eaters were pretty dedicated to craft beer and a big part of their mission was educating the masses to look beyond light lagers.  Now Smoke Eaters could have simply listed their beers without any mention of style, and I’d be fine with that.  But calling a mass market cider a “Sour Ale” and other glaring mistakes shows all when it comes to beer, they really don’t get it despite the impressive array of tap handles.

Beer deserves more respect than being a simple gimmick to bring in the crowds.   Here, beer seems  like window dressing like the framed autographed uniform of Howie Long hanging on the wall.  Perhaps there’s someone in the Smoke Eaters organization who has a vision of what a good beer bar is supposed to be, but that vision isn’t being executed very well on the restaurant floor.  I spoke to the bartender about the Redd’s Apple Ale listed as a “Sour Ale”, and he was pretty good natured about my admittedly snarky comments, but clearly didn’t know what I was talking about.  The food was good, the staff was friendly, but no one seemed to know much about beer there.

Don’t worry Smoke Eaters, someday I’ll be back.  But is it possible you can fix the beer menu and get the staff up to speed on what beer is all about before then?

This probably isn’t the article the makers of "Boobzies" had in mind

Amanda Boobzie in her
“Just Hang Out” shirt.

As a beer blogger, I get maybe 10-15 e-mails a day from breweries and marketing firms promoting beers, beer events, and beer related products hoping I’ll write about them.  Usually, I can tell just from the subject line if I’ll have any interest.  So the other day, when an e-mail landed in my inbox with the subject line “BEER ACCESSORY PITCH: Boobzie: Man’s Perfect Coozie!”, I did not have high expectations for its contents, but of course had to take a look.

The message cheerfully opened with  “Hi!  For your upcoming stories, please consider Boobzie, a line of voluptuous coozies for canned and bottled beverages. Boobzie is the perfect accessory for any guy’s hand looking to keep their drink cold and fun!”  As you can see from the picture to the right, the product really has to be seen to be believed.  That’s right, they’re selling beer coozies shaped as busty female torsos adorned with supposedly clever breast related puns.
Go to the company’s website and you’ll find no fewer than 24 different Boobzies, an astonishing level of creativity for what seems like a highly one note product.  I should warn if you mistakenly add an “s” to “Boobzie” and go to “”, you’ll end up at a completely different website also featuring women’s breasts but leaving a lot less to the imagination.  
All the Boobzies even have names.  There’s a Boobzie called Wanda, wearing a shirt saying “U Can’t Touch This”, while Amanda Boobzie displays “Just Hang Out”.  Then there’s the athletic soccer playing Samira Boobzie sporting a shirt saying “World Cups”, while Becky Boobzie displays the simple and direct message “Boobalicious“. 
Now as a heterosexual male, I’ve been a fan of voluptuous female breasts ever since the day my hormones kicked in at the age of twelve.   But fondling synthetic breasts made of insulating material while I hold onto a beer seems to take this appreciation a bit too far.  A Boobzie just doesn’t seem like the accessory that’s going help make me appear more “classy”.  And of course, there will be those outraged by the concept, complaining these “women” certainly have breasts but lack both a brain and a face.  
But let be said that each Boobzie is more than just a pair of big breasts. Each one has an actual personality.  As the e-mail goes on to explain, “Each Boobzie girl comes with an entertaining back story and fun facts such as:
· Hobbies
· Likes
· Dislikes
· Education
· Favorite Color
· Favorite Food
· Relationship Status
One can only imagine what a Boozie personality is actually like, but it’s a safe bet the target audience of Boobzies won’t find these personalities particularly challenging or complex.
As anyone would easily predict, the female publicist of Boobzies had no interest engaging in a discussion of gender issues raised by this product.  When I responded to her e-mail asking, “As a woman, how do you honestly think and feel about this product?” she gamely wrote back, “I think it’s a fun little accessory that lightens up my day and my mood! I have never seen anything like it and think it’s unique.” 
Fair enough.  I just hope she believes there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

See you in about 10 days!

I’m off to the White Sands of New Mexico starting tomorrow for a few days.  Family vacations, beer and running are always a difficult mix so you’ll probably won’t hear from me for a while.  So look forward to getting back with you in about 10 days.  I might even have an adventure or two in New Meixco to talk about.  Until then, run hard, and may all your beers be good ones!

The Session #65: Where Nobody Knows Your Name

Nate Southwood of Booze, Bites and Beats asks us to explore going out and drinking alone for this month’s Session.

During those troubled, disorienting times I was going through during my divorce, I found solace in the company of strangers.   When you’ve been fighting constantly with someone close, and end up angry and lost, brief superficial conservations with people you don’t know can have an unexpected restorative effect.  Maybe it’s because contact, even sparse contact like this, with other humans is something we need to feel alive, and these small interactions always end painlessly. and often on a good note.  Sure, family and friends are important at a time like this, but there comes a point, more quickly than people realize, when you don’t want to keep rehashing all the bad news.   When strangers ask you “How are you doing?” during these times, it isn’t in concerned worried tones.  Besides, responding with “I’m fine” to a stranger was a courtesy, to friends and family, it was a blatant lie.

I hadn’t discovered craft beer back then, so coffee was my usual drink of choice.  Many an evening was spent in a coffee shop, reading a book, and occasionally  engaging in chit chat with the person sitting next to me or the baristas who came to know me as a regular.   Going out and drinking booze alone during a time where I was dealing with depression seemed a little dangerous, and I could easily see the evening degenerating into drunken blabbering to a bunch of strangers things I didn’t want to talk about.

Things have changed a lot since then, mostly for the better.  I’ve gotten remarried, and usually glad to respond to the “How are you?” questions.  But there are times when the wife is off somewhere and the kids aren’t around, or I’m travelling on business.   It doesn’t take long before I’m fighting restlessness and feeling disconnected  in my quiet apartment or unfamiliar hotel room, and going out for a pint or two of a good beer amidst the background buzz of a bar becomes a necessity.

 You can casually ask the guy next to you “What are you drinking?” and have a brief, simple conversation about the brew’s flavor without venturing into off-putting elitism.  There’s usually a random sporting event on TV you can talk about, or just watch.  Sure, beer and sports elicit passions, but they rarely involve the value judgments and emotional baggage that end up dividing people.  It’s just beer we drink while watching young men play games.  And when you’re done, you can turn to the person next to you, say “Nice meeting you,” and simply leave.

There’s a lot to be said about beer cementing strong bonds of friends and family for lifetimes.  But overlooked is that beer also serves as Post-It note adhesive, a critical utilitarian bond that serves its purpose for a brief time before being broken effortlessly and painlessly as it vanishes.

Guest Posting on the Groucho Sports Blog

I’m am proud and thankful Groucho Sports invited me to be a guest poster on their blog. Amber Carter of Groucho Sports asked me write something aligned to their company, “which is mostly how to balance the love of endurance sports with other things you’ve got going on in your life”. Since I’m all for that, I was glad to contribute. You can read it here.

A Slightly Encouraging Sign at Mayfield Brewing

There’s a slightly encouraging sign at Mayfield Brewing since my post ten days ago where I suggested things were not looking good for Mayfield’s future. During my morning run through the Belmont, CA industrial park that’s home to Devils’ Canyon and Mayfield’s breweries, I noticed an official sign posted at Mayfield’s location by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control that was not there two weeks ago. The notice, dated October 29, indicates the owner has applied for a premises to premises transfer of their Category 23 – Small Brewery License. This could mean a lot of things, but it’s encouraging there’s some small sign of life there.

Still, it makes no sense that if this was an orderly and planned move by Mayfield, why they wouldn’t simply announce they were moving. Their website still says “Under Construction”. What ever’s going on, I hope they are successful.