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.

Recent Study on the Co-existence of Drinking and Excercise

First brought to my attention on Tim Cigelske’s Beer Runner, is this study showing that those who drink actually tend to exercise more than those who don’t. Given that plenty of runners drink, not to mention football players, cyclists, and even bowlers regularly knock back a few pints, the study seems a little like proving the sun rises in the east. But it shows what many people have known all along. Responsible drinking and exercise easily co-exist.

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.

Sights, Sounds, and Tastes of the Eat Real Festival

The Eat Real Festival is the place you might expect to see things like a large, red beet tattooed on some guy’s muscular arm. I’d describe it as a street festival trying to get you to think locally about your street food. And while you might quibble if that includes a stand selling creme’ brulee, they seemed to do a pretty good job pulling off the concept. And for pictures of the weekend festivities in better focus than the one on the right, head on over to Beer and Nosh.

Held the past weekend in Jack London Square, the Eat Real Festival certainly seemed to be a logistical success on the hot Saturday afternoon I was there. Despite the large crowds, there were reasonable enough lines to get food, beer, and the all important trip to the porta-potties. In the center of it all was the Beer Shed. If I have one recommendation for next year’s Eat Real Fest, it’s that they call it something else. I had visions of having to enter some rickety, dimly lit, poorly ventilated structure simply to get a beer. Imagine my pleasant surprise when instead, the “Beer Shed” consisted of a refrigerated trailer with 40 taps built into it sitting in the open air. And at the front of this trailer a “Meet the Brewer” table was set up, with an hourly schedule of brewers there to pour and talk about their beers.

Of course, it’s one thing to meet the brewer, it’s another to have an actual conversation with him in this set-up. One brewer, who possibly was as buzzed as I was, glided back and forth behind the table, talking in a volume barely above a whisper about his beer. When I asked “Would you be willing to share what hops you used in this?”, he replied “Sure”, and then there was a long pause. Then he said, “I need to help this couple over here”, and then he moved a few feet sideways, poured them a beer, and started chatting with them. Figuring he wouldn’t answer my question, my attention turned elsewhere, and all of a sudden, he glided over and rattled off a couple names of hops I wasn’t familiar with, and almost instantly forgot. And with that, he was back over with the other couple. Note to self: Learn your all your hop varieties, and be alert when trying to gather more insight from the brewer about how he made the beer. And being a little more clear headed wouldn’t hurt, either.

There was no such problem speaking learning about how Triple Rock made their Bill Brand Brown. They use cocoa nibs in a process similar to dry hopping to give the brew extra roasty, chocolaty dimensions. The Bill Brand Brown was one of many excellent beers Linda and I tried last Saturday, and here are the notes of those I was paying close enough attention to write something down about.

Triple Rock Bill Brand Brown
We enjoyed this rich, highly roasted brown session ale, with bitter chocolate flavors imparted from the cocoa nibs. Lots of chocolate aromas going on.

Magnolia Best Bitter

Linda and I detected a raspberry character to this bitter, which had a dry crisp finish. There’s something about Magnolia’s beer that have this subtle, unique twist on the style you don’t find anywhere else.

Linden Street Brewing’s People’s Common

A surprisingly dry, astringent brew with an acidic, pineapple-like flavor that is far more enjoyable than it sounds like it would be.

Beach Chalet Riptide Red
Has a little toastiness, a little strawberry or raspberry fruitiness to it, and a little hop bitterness in the aftertaste. It’s one of those beers that has a little of this, a little of that, and pretty soon, it all adds up to a lot.

Tacos anyone?