On August 16th, Fleet Feet Sacramento is putting on Blood, Sweat and Beers. It’s a trail race starting and finishing at Railhead Park in Auburn, CA along the picturesque American Canyon trails. There are two courses for this race, the short course measuring 5.5 miles, while the long course consists of 9.3 trail miles. Finisher of either race course over the age of 21 earn two complimentary beers, courtesy of Sierra Nevada Brewing. The field is limited to 750 entries, which the organizers expect to fill before race day. More information and online registration can be found on the race website.
I’ve been to Napa Valley a couple times, and actually enjoyed the time spent there. The whole place does seem like a giant foodie amusement park full of elitist snob appeal. But believe it or not, you can actually find some places among all the glitzy wineries that aren’t about extracting lots of money from free spending tourists, but are about the wine. You can even find wine in Napa Valley which is actually worth what you pay for. The place does have some redeeming qualities.
More good news about Napa Valley is that a brewery recently opened up at the south end of the valley, in Napa. Since it’s own by the Smith family, they decided to call it Napa Smith. Who is this mysterious Smith family? Their website doesn’t say. But whoever they are, they hired legendary Don Barkley as their brew master, who has 30 years craft brewing experience, which is a long time considering many craft breweries haven’t even been in business half as long.
Last fall when in Napa, I picked up a bottle of their Pale Ale. Sorry to say, it was rather underwhelming. It seemed rather weak and watery, and just not that interesting. I was surprised, and after seeing some positive reviews of their beers, figured maybe I got a bad batch or a bad bottle. Seemed like Napa Smith was worth giving another try.
I’m glad I did. I opened up a bottle of Napa Smith Lost Dog Ale that hit me right away with a strong fruity aroma dominated by grapefruit. The flavor with more of the same, rather fruity dominated by grapefruit, although I was picking up a little apricot. It’s rather malty, but for all the malt and fruitiness, very little sweetness. There’s a little hop bitterness and a slight astringency at the end. I found this one rather smooth and fresh tasting.
I also tried Napa Smith Amber Ale, which seemed very rich and malty for the style. The malt had a slightly roasted character, without any real sweetness, and the brew had a dry finish, with very little hop presence.
Maybe I need to get to Napa more often. And they do have this nifty little marathon
Last March, I went with Linda to visit her home town of Las Cruces, New Mexico for a few days. Las Cruces is not far from the border towns of El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. It lies at the northern end of the large Chihuahuan Desert, which extends far south across the border deep into Mexico, and westward into Texas. I had never been to this part of the country before, but was well acquainted with recent news stories about violent drug wars, and gruesome discoveries of mass graves full of victims of these wars.
This is nothing new for this region of the country, which has a rich history of outlaws, marauding bandits, and violent clashes for well over a century. The reason for this perpetual state of violent struggle becomes apparent simply looking over the landscape. There’s almost nothing to fight for. Food, water, and good land are in precious little supply in the high desert. With the vast distances between towns and historically high levels of government corruption, guns were often used to settle disputes and keep order. Dying of natural causes was no small accomplishment in this region, where many died trying to protect what little they had, or were killed in an unsuccessful attempt to steal from someone else. Perhaps the most infamous person in these struggles was Henry McCarty.
Henry McCarty is better known as William Bonney, and even better known as Billy the Kid. He was born in an Irish slum on Manhattan Island, and his somewhat dysfunctional family continued to move westward across the country looking for better places to live until they arrived in New Mexico in 1874 when he was in his early teens. Like many young men in this time and place, he turned to a life of crime, and later joined a gang of horse thieves. Around the age of 20, he was recruited into an armed conflict between rival ranching interests, known as the Lincoln County War. Since McCarty’s side lost, the winners vilified him in sensationalistic stories, describing him as sadistic killer of over twenty innocent victims. From all personal accounts, he was actually quite literate, articulate, highly sociable, and a good dancer, who most historians believe was only responsible for a more modest number of about five killings. To the local Mexican population, he was a folk hero who fought a ranching syndicate which actively kept Mexicans near the bottom of the pecking order, and one of few whites in the region who adapted the language, customs, and dress of the local Mexican population. Eventually captured, Billy the Kid was tried and convicted of murder in a small courthouse in the New Mexico town of Mesilla, which is adjacent to Las Cruces. The court house still stands today, but is now a souvenir shop, where you can buy a postcard, T-shirt, or other trinkets with Billy the Kid’s picture on it.
About a half mile from this courthouse turned souvenir shop is the High Desert Brewery, which Linda and I visited one afternoon. Pulling into the dusty parking lot, full of beat up pick-up trucks parked on the hot asphalt, I was a little leery of what sort of clientele we might find inside. The whole low-slung adobe building looked a bit worse for wear, with the small High Desert Brewing sign a bit faded. Most small brewpubs like this one are full of locals, and I was not sure how well two out-of-towners would be received moseying into some strange brew pub.
Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Like most brewpubs all over the country, everyone was there to relax and have a good time over a good pint of beer. The bartender and a customer were chatting about the news story CNN was reporting on the small TV near the bar. Linda and I took a seat and soon our waitress appeared, who looked and acted more like a librarian than a bar waitress. She told us they don’t offer a tasting flight when we asked for one, so we opted for a “super-sized” tasting flight by sharing a few eight-once glasses of the various house beers.
As one might expect from a desert brewpub, the strongest offerings were of the lighter, thirst quenching beer styles. My favorites were their crisp Bohemian Pilsner, and an excellent Amber Lager, which had a slightly nutty and sweet malt taste and crisp grassy hops finish. All of the beers were on the light tasting side of each particular style, and the hop level was dialed down compared to typical breweries in the western United States. But despite this, the beer seemed flavorful and vibrant, not thin and watery, and I never found any of their offerings worse than “good”. As for the food, let’s just say if you like New Mexico Green Chile’s sprinkled liberally into your bar food, you’re going to be pretty happy here.
One cannot discuss High Desert Brewing without mentioning all the postcards, beer paraphernalia, and other artifacts covering the walls and ceiling. It’s all sent in and donated by various visitors and patrons, and creates a unique and organic connection between the brewpub and its customers. So many places try to manufacture this type of environment, but when you see it here, it’s very genuine. Back by the restrooms is one of the finest collections of Elvis paintings on black velvet you can find West of the Mississippi. It makes waiting your turn a great cultural experience.
The last day, Linda and I went with her parents to White Sands National Monument. On the way there, we drove past White Sands National Missile Range, a US Army base full of people who specialize and train in the art of blowing up things. White Sands National Monument is basically a vast series of white sand dunes composed of powdered gypsum. We took a couple snow disks with us, and sledded down the dunes as if they were hills covered with snow.
Let’s face it, injuries are often a part of running, and plantar fasciitis is particularly nasty. If you’ve had it, you know what I’m talking about. That intense pain under the heel caused by damage and inflammation of the plantar fascia ligament, a common overuse injury runners face. It’s tormented many runners, including yours truly. Because the plantar fascia ligament receives so little blood flow, the ligament takes a long time to heal, often weeks, or even months. It’s stopped or slowed many a runner in their tracks.
The good news, fellow beer runners, is that relief is no further than your fridge. Just gingerly hobble over to your refrigerator and pull out a cold bottle of beer. Sit down on a chair and slowly roll the cold bottle with your foot using gentle pressure to stretch the plantar fascia ligament, encourage blood flow, and reduce swelling. This technique also works for pains in your arches, too. It’s really a proven and recommended technique, but if you insist on consulting medical professionals, you can go here.
Bay Area Beer Runner highly recommends that you seek post-therapy refreshment with a different beer than the one you just rolled around on the floor.
This coming Tuesday, June 23rd, BJ’s Brewhouse in Cupertino will be hosting a Belgian Beer Dinner starting at 7:00 pm. BJ’s in Cupertino is located at 10690 De Anza Boulevard, close to Apple’s headquarters. Cost is $30.
BJ’s Brewhouse is a decent sized chain of beer-themed restaurants usually located in malls or large retail locations. I’ve been to a couple locations, and like most mall and big box retail establishments, the place gives off a corporate feeling and just don’t have that neighborhood vibe like a good local brewpub. But thankfully, this doesn’t carry over to the beer, which is solid. For example, I’m a fan of their Piranha Pale Ale, which has a snappy, hoppy bite to it. It isn’t the timid, safe, and afraid to offend type of brew you might expect coming from a business with roots in shopping malls. I like to support local businesses and brewers rather than the big chain stores, but BJ’s is doing a great job bringing good beer to the masses, so have to applaud them.
Here’s what they have on the menu:
Brugse Zot (Brouwerij de Halve Maan)
BJs Nit Wit with Thai Shrimp Lettuce Wraps
Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale (Brouwerij Van Steenberge) with Sesame Chicken Salad
Petrus Aged Pale (Brouwerij Bavik)
Popperings Hommel (Brouwerij Van Eecke) with Southwestern Pizza
Gulden Drak (Brouwerij van Steenberge) with Old-Fashioned Pot Roast
Troubadour Obscura (Brouwerij de Musketiers) with White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Pizookie.
Peter Estaniel made good impression with me when I first met him, since he was handing me a beer. He was serving up some of his homebrew to start off a beer and dessert pairing event he was hosting at Wine Affairs that Linda and I attended. Peter writes the Better Beer Blog, his effort to “raise the status of beer” and I was looking forward to what he had in store for us. Peter looked a little uncomfortable in front of roughly thirty people attending that night explaining what he had in store for us. Beer and dessert are not obvious pairings, and Peter raised the degree of difficulty for himself by serving up unlikely pairings like pineapple flan with the aggressively bitter Green Flash West Coast IPA. It was pretty impressive that with all the risks he took that night, every beer and dessert pairing worked quite well.
One pairing that didn’t work out that night was the couple sharing a table with us who were quietly feuding all night. Linda and I never quite figured out what the problem was, but it appeared that it was early in the couple’s relationship, and things were burning up on the launch pad. They tried gamely to explain their points of view on things, but the “when you do X, I feel Y” statements didn’t seem to be getting the points across. I considered providing this young couple helpful pointers on how to more effectively argue in public learned from my divorce, but Linda firmly quashed this idea, and politely suggested I pay attention to Peter instead. As intrigued as I was with beer and dessert pairings, with this tense psychological drama playing out right in front of me, I didn’t think a discussion of the harmonizing elements of a wheat beer paired with fruit filled crepe’s would hold my interest. But the fact that Peter held most of my attention that night is a credit to his considerable skills and enthusiasm as a beer ambassador.
Four months later, there’s a smaller tasting event at Wine Affairs and have a chance to strike up a conversation with him. I reach for an organic Hefeweizen, and Peter quickly rattles off the flavor profile of this beer and how it contrasts with another Hefeweizen on the tasting list before I even realize what he just said. The whole evening, I’m struggling to find words to describe each beer, and Peter quickly comes up with a succinct and accessible description. There are plenty of people with a suspicious talent of describing any beer, even warm Budweiser, with eleven different flavor components of odd fruits and spices, but thankfully, Peter isn’t one of them. But if you read his Better Beer Blog or have met him at a beer event, you probably know all this.
What you may not know is that Peter recently started biking. He’ll ride routes around his neighborhood each day, and aims to find a way to bike to his job about thirty miles away. For Peter, biking is “…a disconnect. I don’t feel my legs on fire, I don’t feel my lungs straining or the dryness in my mouth and throat. It’s like the world goes quiet and I can hear all the little things going on around me, like the wind rustling through the trees, the cows mooing and my wheels on the pavement.” Interesting for a guy who is pretty plugged in, he enjoys an outlet to unplug.
Peter cites a lot of good memories growing up with family and friends growing up associated with bike riding. In high school, he would race the school bus to see if he could beat it to school. I find a lot of people’s choice of recreation is often shaped by early childhood memories burned into our brains that we carry around for the rest of our lives, and it looks like Peter may be another example of that.
Almost as soon as Peter told me he was starting biking, he told me he hated running. I’ve met plenty of people who hate running, and usually it’s because it’s something like it hurts their knees, or they find the activity boring and tedious. Peter gave me a reason I’ve never heard before. He doesn’t like running because when he runs, he doesn’t think he is running fast enough. That actually makes sense. You do not attend an exhaustive schedule of beer events, become a certified beer judge, post articles almost daily on a blog, and regularly homebrew by leisurely going from point A to point B.
Does Peter find biking to be like homebrewing or beer judging? Not really. For Peter, homebrewing “..while very peaceful and relaxing, doesn’t give me that disconnect. I am very much in the moment because if you don’t pay attention to certain things, you’ll miss key things in the process” while beer judging is “…a very cerebral endeavor, it’s mentally tiring at times.”
My last day in Baltimore, and I’m in a thoughtful, contemplative mood. I’ve spent the week representing my company at a trade show. Talking to industry colleagues, customers, and potential customers always gives me plenty to think about. In addition, sluggish economies often force companies into periods of self examination, and this is certainly happening where I work. The morning run takes me along routes established earlier this week, and I spend it reflecting on the past week.
In this contemplative mood, it makes sense that my last night in Baltimore is spent in one of the intellectual hubs of the city, the Mount Vernon Cultural District, located just north of downtown. It’s home to several theaters, art museums, music and art schools, not to mention the classic looking Washington Monument in the neighborhood center. It is also home of a small brewpub called The Brewers Art, where I’m headed for the evening.
After walking up the outside stairs through Roman columns and entering the establishment, there are two choices. Either find a place in the crowded bars in either the first floor or basement for bar food, or go to the back where it’s much quieter for various beer inspired dishes at $25-$35 a plate. All by myself, I prefer to be among all the ruckus in the basement bar than the solitude of a quiet restaurant, and eventually find a place down there.
The whole place seems to be full of twenty-somethings enjoying each others company over various Brewer’s Art beers. It’s a re-assuring scene for the future of beer. There’s a chalk board behind the basement bar where the various house beers are listed. For a brewpub with seemingly artistic pretensions, many beers have cartoonish names like Sluggo, Ozzy, and Tiny Tim. I get the bartender’s attention and start with the Beacon Pale Ale.
It’s an interesting one. A bit on the strong side, it’s reasonably balanced with toasty malt and a good amount of earthy hops. It has a bit of a fruity, yeasty character, almost like there’s a Belgian beer struggling to get out of this quintessential British style ale. I also order a sausage platter with a side order of rosemary garlic fries.
Polishing the off the Beacon Pale Ale, I next try the Monument Ale, a seasonal Belgian Ale they’ve recently brewed up. It’s pretty smooth for the style, a decent amount of malt, some light fruity notes and a similar earthy hop character found in the Beacon Pale Ale. The sausage platter and rosemary garlic fries arrive. They’ve created a nice medley of different sausages, from spicy to highly savory, with some tangy sauerkraut and pickles on the side as a good counterpoint. The fries are a little limp, but otherwise, very flavorful.
Pssst…..are you starting to get a little bored reading this as I am starting to writing it? I mean, nothing is spectacular here, it’s all just very well executed. At some point, all this “goodness” starts to get a bit tedious. Couldn’t they serve up a clunker brew here, just to change things up a little bit? I’m also straining to gracefully insert a dated, 70’s pop culture reference to “tip toeing through the tulips” into this post, having concluded the evening with a pint of their Tiny Tim Ale. Can I just say this was an interesting, slightly sweet and spicy Belgian Ale and wrap things up? Thanks.
On the way back to my hotel, I stopped at a store front liquor store in Mount Vernon. By luck, they happened to have bottles of The Brewer’s Art Ozzy Ale, which was sold out back at the brewpub, so I pick up a bottle to take home. Browsing the refrigerators, I saw plenty of local craft brews I hadn’t had a chance to sample, and unfortunately, there was no further room in my luggage to take any of them home. I expect to be back in Baltimore someday, and looks like they’ll be lots more beer to explore when that time comes.
(Washington Monument photo from Wikimedia Commons)