2018 Wharf to Wharf is in the books

wharft to wharf start 2018
Wharf to Wharf start photo from race Facebook page

Warming up for this morning’s Wharf to Wharf race, I took note how little nervous or pumped up I was for the race. It’s not like I was just going through the motions, but well I found myself struck how nonchalant my approach was minutes away from start time. Not knowing if that was a good thing or a bad thing, I just reminded myself of the game plan: Go out in 6:25-6:30 per mile pace for the first few miles and go from there.

Last year, I ran the six mile run smart and well paced and completed it in about 39:30.  This year, I figured I could do a minute faster so the goal was sub-39 minutes. The plan looked good from the opening gun. First, I had to negotiate the usually crowded, chaotic start, dodging around a couple runners who crashed to the ground. Looking at my GPS watch after what I felt was a pretty relaxed half mile and saw I was around 6:10 pace.  I slowed it down slightly, coming across the first mile around 6:20.

From there, I felt reasonably comfortable covering the next few miles in 6:25-ish miles until I started running out of gas around mile four.  But I held on, and while I didn’t have that much left on the 600 meter downhill finish where I usually catch a bunch of people, I came through in 38:26, good for 6:24 per mile pace, which is a sub-40 minute 10k pace if you think the Wharf to Wharf course is accurate.  (I think it’s a little short.)  Any how, another nice finish for me and the moral of the story is, if you don’t feel all that inspired at the start of the race, make sure you have a plan and stick to it at the beginning.  The heat of the battle will often give you the motivation you need.

Judging by Google searches, Brut IPA is becoming a thing

You hear a lot about Brut IPAs these days. The wonderfully clear, bone dry brews that let  all those great hop flavors shine with little of the bitterness. Pioneered by Kim Sturdavant of San Francisco’s Social Kitchen Brewing late last year, they’ve attracted a lot of attention. If Google searches are any indication, it isn’t just your imagination that the Brut IPA has taken off.

Using the Google Trends website, which tracks the frequency of Google search terms, we can graph searches for Brut IPA over the past year.

Brut IPA-last twelve months
Frequency of Google searches for “Brut IPA” over the past twelve months

After a few blips during it’s inception, then some more small blips the beginning of this year, Brut IPAs started to take off in April.

geographical breakdown of searches for “Brut IPA” from different metro regions shows it’s popular in many parts of the country outside its San Francisco homeland. The top five leading metro areas for “Brut IPA” searches are, in descending order, Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, Portland, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Denver, and Los Angeles. That’s good news for Brut IPA fans, suggesting this riff on the IPA style has staying power with more and more brewing communities adopting them. However, there isn’t much appreciable interest on the East Coast so far.  Only the Chicago area shows any significant interest in Brut IPAs east of the Mississippi.

Brut IPA metro areas
“Brut IPA” Google search frequency by metro area over the past twelve months


Speaking of Hazy IPAs, let’s compare the Google search popularity of “Brut IPA” to searches for “Hazy IPA”, “New England IPA”, and “NEIPA” and graph the result.

Brut vs Hazy New England NEIPA
Google search frequency of “Brut IPA” compared with “Hazy IPA” (red line), “New England IPA” (yellow line), and “NEIPA” (green line) over the past twelve months


Brut IPAs still lag well behind the combined searches for all the hazy stuff, although they have grown to become on par with searches for “NEIPA”.  Notice that while combined searches for “Hazy IPA”, “New England IPA”,  and “NEIPA” have increased over the past twelve months, lately they have flattened out from a slight peak that occurred early spring of this year. I think it’s too early to say searches for these IPAs have peaked yet, but it does look like they are losing momentum.

Finally, let’s compare Brut IPA to another big hit in 2018, Glitter Beer! (Remember that?).  Glitter Beer came out nowhere last February to become a controversial craft beer hit and lots of people were searching for it on Google back then. Barely six weeks later, Google searches for “glitter beer” mostly died out:

glitter beer last 12 months
Google searches for “glitter beer” over the past twelve months.

Glitter Beer hasn’t totally died, still being released at tap rooms here and there across the country. This most likely explains the small peaks and valleys over the past couple months in the data.

Plotting Google searches for “Brut IPA” with “glitter beer”, we see that currently they have about equal Google popularity.

glitter beer vs brut ipa
Comparison of Google searches for “glitter beer” (blue line) vs. “Brut IPA” (red line) over the past twelve months.

Time will tell if 2018 is known as the year of the Brut IPA, the year of Glitter Beer, or something else still over the horizon. The good news for Brut IPA fans is that these beers look like they’re going to be with us at least for a while.

Google searches for “craft beer” supplanted “microbrew” starting in 2010

I’m old enough to remember when beer brewed by small local breweries was called microbrew. Pretty much everyone calls it “craft beer” these days, in large part to branding efforts by the Brewers Association that started over ten years ago.

If you check out the Google search trends data comparing the frequency of searches for “microbrew” and “craft beer” searches, you’ll find “microbrew” was slightly more prevalent starting in 2004 when Google first compiled this data. But in early 2010, “craft beer” became more common in Google searches by early 2010.  Sharp eyed readers will note spikes in the frequency for “craft beer” searches in May of each year.  I suspect this is due to the Brewers Association Celebration of Craft Beer Week which has occurred each May since 2006.


microbrew vs craft beer from 2004
Relative frequency of Google searches for “microbrew” (blue line) vs. “craft beer” (red line) from January 1, 2004 to present.

It’s worth noting the Brewers Association changed their definition of “craft brewer” in late 2010 and the Brewers Association notorious craft vs. crafty declaration was issued a couple years later. You would have to think these actions at least reinforced this trend that was already set in motion in the late “aughts”. Whatever you want to say about the Brewers Association strategy to label their member breweries “craft breweries” that produce “craft beer”, you have to say they were very successful at creating this linguistic shift.

The Session #137: Where I try to figure out what happened to German Wheat Beers in Northern California

For this month’s Beer Blogging Session, Roger Mueller of Roger’s Beers…and Other Drinks asks us to write about German Wheat Beers in some way or another.  (Don’t know what the Beer Blogging Session is?  Then check out this.) I have to confess not knowing a lot about German Wheat Beers. The last time I was in Germany was in Munich in 2005, where I was travelling on business to the Laser Munich Trade Show, as the Germans are every bit as talented at building lasers as they are brewing beer. That was a couple years before I had any real appreciation for beer, German or otherwise.

I rarely drink German imports, but spent the last couple weeks sampling a limited selection of a few German Hefeweizens found in my local grocery store as “research” for this post. I found it interesting how each different brewery had their own small, but significant riff on the style. Other than that, I really don’t think I can say a lot about authentic German Wheat Beers. While ignorance on a subject is hardly a reason for a blogger not to write about it, I’m going to go in a slightly direction. Since plenty of Northern California brewers release Wheat Beers which they claim are brewed in the German-style, I can drink those Northern California variants and write about them.

SCVB HefeHefeweizens are hard to find around here, and sometimes are a bit underwhelming.  One I like is Alviso Mills Hefeweizen from San Jose’s Santa Clara Valley Brewing (SCVB). On the can, SCVB states it’s brewed in the Bavarian-style. It’s got a tingly carbonation, a dry but substantial malt heft, a little wheat tang, and noticeable banana and clove esters to round out the flavor, hitting the usual Hefeweizen notes. Nice beer.

Of course, if I’m going to talk about German Wheat beers brewed in Northern California, Gordon Biersch Hefeweizen has to be in the conversation.  Gordon Biersch Brewmaster Dan Gordon studied brewing at the Technical University of Munich in Weihenstephan, Germany, so you have to figure he knows a thing or two about German Wheat Beer. As for Gordon’s Hefeweizen, it’s got a light pillow-like mouthfeel with a noticeable tartness from the wheat. It’s medium dry and I found the spicy clove character dominant over the banana. One of those beers that is pretty refreshing if that’s all you’re looking for, but interesting enough if you want to pay closer attention.

Dan Gordon, the Gordon of Gordon Biersch

Briney Melon GoseLet’s move to the Gose style. When Northern California brewers discovered this style a few years ago, each had their delightful play on the yin-yang balance of salt and sourness, with each brewery offering up their interpretation of the style.  But after maybe six months of that, brewers around here grew impatient and couldn’t resist the temptation to “innovate”, breaking out the guava paste or the blood orange concentrate and dumping that in the brew.  The Goses in Northern California no longer became interesting studies of balance, but tired fruit-infused Wheat Beers. A notable exception, in my opinion, is Briny Melon Gose from Anderson Valley Brewing.  I like the deep, pucking sourness matched with a light funk, a little saltiness and coriander spice, with the melon adding depth and bringing everything together.

Finally, there’s North Coast Tart Cherry Berliner Wiesse. It’s more sweet than sour, with a fizzy carbonation and the cherries just take over everything. Frankly, it tastes like a sophisticated alcopop. I get that the Berline Wiesse is usually served with sweet syrup in its homeland and this is an attempt at replicating that. Maybe this beer is true to the way a Berliner Wiesse is served in its homeland. I just don’t think it worked particularly well.NC BW

After sampling these and many other German-style Wheat Beers in Northern California, I’m struck with how poorly the German styles have translated here compared to English-styles (Stouts, Pale Ales, and of course, IPAs). Northern California brewers also seem much more comfortable looking to Belgium for inspiration. German brewing, with it’s focus on tradition and strict technique, just doesn’t seem to fit with the more freewheeling Northern California culture. It’s our loss.



A lack of preparation pays off in the Los Gatos One Mile Bang

One Mile Bang Start
The Open Women’s Race in the One Mile Bang

When I decided to run the One Mile Bang, a road mile race in Los Gatos, it was with a fair amount of trepidation. I hadn’t run a one mile race since my high school and college running days in the 80’s.  Even though I ran a bunch of mile races, about the only thing I can remember about them is being in heavy oxygen debt the whole way and getting out kicked by a bunch of guys at the finish. So while a one mile road mile seemed like a fun challenge and welcome change to the usual distances I race these days, all I could think about how soon oxygen debt would kick in and how many people would pass me at the finish.

It also didn’t help that I was just recovering from the Across the Bay 12k a couple weeks ago and haven’t been doing any track work, tempo runs, fartlek, or anything else to prepare myself to run fast over a shorter distance. So it was with an attitude of “whatever” that I entered this thing this Sunday morning, my “pizza and beer” socks summing up my general attitude.

Of course, when I get to the line and there’s a bunch of old guys just like myself in the over 50 division race, trying to relive the lost glory or their youth, all revved up ready to blow off the line….well, I started to get pretty serious, too.  The gun goes off and a pick off maybe 75 of us charge down University Drive along the western border Vasona Park in Los Gatos.

My plan was to go no faster than 80 seconds for the first quarter, preferably something like 83-84.  I look up and see the quarter-mile clock displaying 1:15 and pass the 1st quarter in 77. Too fast! But it didn’t feel that uncomfortable. “Just hold pace,” I told myself, afraid of falling into oxygen debt too early in the race.

I come through the half way point in 2:40, and think, “You know, this really doesn’t all feel that bad,” and started to reel in the runners in front of me.  It certainly helped the course was downhill and by the time I got to the 3/4 mile mark, I started picking off a few people crossing the finish line in 5:12, which at least 30 seconds faster than I ever thought I would run.  A couple of my training buddies finished ahead of me, but I didn’t expect to get anywhere near them considering they’ve been in a lot better shape than me all year and actually did some track work to prepare.  What happened?

Most likely my indifference and lack of preparation played to my advantage. I didn’t get caught up with the pack charging off the starting line. Not saying you shouldn’t train for specific type of races, but I’ve fallen into to traps where I’ve trained hard to meet a certain time and then get carried away at the start, go out too fast, and pay for it.  Quite frankly, I think a was a little too scared of the bear jumping on my back that never came and if I had to do it all over again, would have pushed a little harder from the first quarter.

At any rate, I’ll easily take a 5:12 mile, even if it is downhill.  Next race up is the Wharf to Wharf next month in Santa Cruz.

Rambling Review 6.12.2018: BFD (Beer for Drinking) from Sierra Nevada

We’re coming full circle.  Multinational Brewing Corporations like AB-InBev are at trying to transition away from being completely dependent on largely tasteless light lagers, mostly by buying up smaller breweries to expand their portfolio.  On the other hand highly respective brewing pioneers like Sierra Nevada are now “innovating” by releasing fairly tasteless brews. That’s my conclusion after drinking BFD, which Sierra Nevada helpfully informs us stands for “Beer for Drinking”.

They say it’s a hoppy Blonde Ale, but I didn’t perceive much hops. Or anything else. There’s nothing really wrong with BFD, just nothing really right with it. It’s just sort of…well, beer. Sierra Nevada can do the “light stuff” well. Kellerweis and Nooner Pilsner  are mighty fine brews.

One suspects BFD was largely concocted in a meeting room rather than on a brewery floor. It’s packaging is suspiciously similar to Firestone Walker’s 805, a break-out hit I find equally underwhelming.  I guess Sierra Nevada decided to put three big letters on their cans, to differentiate their product from Firestone Walker’s, which has three big numbers. How creative.

Is releasing minimal tasting beer to capture more market share the new thing for breweries like Sierra Nevada? If so, that’s a big fucking deal.

The Best Laid Plans Sort of Worked at The Across the Bay 12k

The Across the Bay 12k I ran this morning is a race of two distinct halves.  The first half starts on a winding road in Sausalito, takes a series of switchbacks to climb up the Golden Gate Bridge, crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, and then takes a bike trail down hill to Fort Point.  That’s about four miles of hills and turns. Then, it’s about a 3.5 mile straight shot to the finish in San Francisco’s Aquatic Park.

My plan was to get to the mid-point of the Golden Gate Bridge feeling pretty good to take advantage of the down hills. And that seemed to be working, as the hill climbing 2nd mile didn’t seem so bad, and as I crested the Golden Gate Bridge a third of the way into the race, I was feeling all right. Time wise, I had no idea how I was doing since my GPS watch was having trouble finding the satellites until I got onto the Golden Gate Bridge.  So far, so good with a little bit of a timing hiccup.

The bad news was that by the time I got down to Fort Point, I was still hanging in there but couldn’t find another gear. From Fort Point to the finish, I passed a women in front of me and was gaining on a pack of 2-3 at the finish, but never could quite catch up with them despite pressing hard the whole way on the flat section. Of course, that’s a lot better than falling apart over those 3 1/2 miles and getting passed by a bunch of people

I crossed the finish line is 50:04, good for 6:40 pace. Next up, in two weeks I’ll run my first mile race since my high school and college days at the One Mile Bang, a point-to-point road mile in Los Gatos. Given most of my training has been distance runs with some tempo work thrown in, I ought to be suitably unprepared for it.