Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bear Republic Brewing Co. - Racer 5 IPA

A few weeks back, a coworker, Beau, and I were talking about beer. The subject of IPAs came up and he asked me if I had ever tried Bear Republic's Racer 5. While I had seen this beer in nearly every beer bar I've ever been to, I had yet to give it a taste. Beau told me it was worth a try so I vowed to give it a go the next time I saw it. That happened to be today.

While at a restaurant in North Park with my girlfriend today, I saw that Racer 5 was on tap and decided to go for it. And in the end- good call. The beer was a nice slightly murky golden color with a frothy white head that reduced pretty quickly. The beer just smelled like an IPA should. It had some nice floral hops to it that were really inviting. The taste was full of crisp hop flavors but was really well balanced by a smooth and almost buttery finish. It kept the hops from being overwhelming and made the beer incredibly drinkable.

In the end, while there are still a few IPAs I would say I like more, this one is excellent. I'm definitely not passing this one up the next time I see it.

Final Grade: A

The Bruery - Saison de Lente

Whoa, was that 2 running posts in a row? That's a first. Let's get this back on track.

For a while, I've been hearing about a Southern California berwery called The Bruery. They're based out of a town called Placentia, which is located close to Anaheim. After hearing that their beer was really good, I decided to try it. Thanks to my friend Brian (who is also running Hood to Coast), I got the chance.

I got both the Saison Dupont and this Saison de Lente as graduation presents. Having only had Stone's Saison du Buff, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I didn't know anything about the characteristics of a saison- what they looked like, what they tasted like, etc. Now, I'm starting to get a much more definite picture of what a saison is, and it's looking like it's a beer I'm going to be drinking a lot more of in the future.

Saison de Lente comes in a huge bottle and is advertised as being a great Spring beer. As I poured it, I could see why. The smell had a touch of that earthy funk to it that I experienced with the Dupont. The smell didn't blow me away like the Dupont. This was crisp and clean, with a slight citrus hop smell and kind of just smelled like spring.

This beer had something I've never seen before. When I poured it, the head ballooned up in the glass. For at least 30 seconds, the entire glass was foam. It was crazy. As the foam settled, it left a beautiful golden and very murky color. The murkiness is due both to the yeast in the beer and to the fact that it's an unfiltered beer. In looks, it was similar to a hefeweizen, just maybe a tad lighter in color. As the head dissipated, it began to take on a rocky appearance like the Dupont. However, as it settled more and more, it began to look more like the webbing of a tunnel spider than the head of a beer. In all my experience with beer, never have I seen one settle like this.

About five minutes later when the beer settled, I had my first sip. While this beer definitely didn't have as much funkiness in the flavor as the Dupont, it caught some. It also had come sweeter citrus notes that came out and then faded away into a dry and bitter (but not jarring) finish. There's also a huge peppery taste at the finish that goes well with the bitterness. I love hops, but for some beer, there's such a thing as too much. Often times, the finish is so bitter on a hoppy beer that it kills all other flavor. The Bruery has done a nice job of balancing the flavors in this saison and made it a very solid beer. While I don't know if I would recommend drinking an entire bottle by yourself (after a while, the bitter finish becomes all you taste), I would definitely recommend trying this. It's a good representation of the saison style and a good output by The Bruery. I'm definitely looking for more of their beer.

Final Grade: B+

Friday, June 25, 2010

Run 8

Earlier this week, I made up my mind to run three times this week. The problem was (since I wouldn't be able to run on Friday or the weekend) that it was going to interfere with my usual run a day/wait a day/run a day routine. Still, at some point, this routine was going to have to go. For a race where I'm going to be running 3 times in 24 hours, training once every two days isn't going to be quite as intense as I need. So yesterday, I went for another run.

This run was different in a lot of ways. For one- no ipod. This was really helped by the fact that I had a good friend, Cesar, running with me. Despite not having any music to run to, having a buddy there with you makes you completely forget about running. It was a really nice break for me and, if nothing else, it gave me a lot of confidence that running without my ipod during the race won't be quite as terrible as I have been dreading. I didn't even notice that the ipod wasn't there until way after the run was over. I think the key to running without the ipod is going to be having a distraction, and while having a buddy there with you has to be the best possible distraction, having something to look at is second.

Today, there was definitely a lot to look at. We decided to run along the boardwalk at Pacific Beach which, if you've never seen it, is a lot like the Venice Boardwalk up in LA. Well, minus the guy with the guitar on roller skates. While Pacific Beach may not have the weirdness that Venice does, it has plenty of character and is a pretty good place to run. The run begins at the heavily populated Pacific Beach Pier and then moves to the far less populated Mission Beach Pier. Along the way, there are tons of people everywhere. Whether it's people walking their dogs, surfing, playing volleyball, etc., every step you take, there's a distraction. This means that it's the perfect place to run for me.

I know I've been a little preoccupied with the ipod thing since I got the news, but here's why I'm now convinced it won't be a problem. While the run around my house may not have the most breathtaking scenery, Oregon has it everywhere. So while it might be really boring running around here for the simple fact that you never see anything new (well, maybe besides the pissed off cat on a leash), every turn in Oregon is going to bring something new. In a way, I think it could be a good thing. Last year, I tended to tune out the scenery and use my music as my distraction. When the running got tough, I would put my head down and gut it out. This year, I'm going to be forced to look around me and really soak in every part of the experience. For better or for worse, I'm running without an ipod to distract me this year. And something tells me it's for the better.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Run 7

Roadkill Count: 1

I went into the day planning on doing a longer run. However, as the day wore on at work (when the first thing you do is drop a box of canned black beans right on your foot, you know it's not gonna be a good day) I slowly lowered my expectations. Finally, I decided that running at all would be a huge victory, so I did the short lap (2.75 miles) around my house again. My plan is to do a much longer run today. We'll see how this one goes.

During the Hood to Coast last year, I learned some new running terminology, one of these words being "roadkill." Basically, if you're running and someone runs by you, you have become their roadkill. Some vans had entire back panels devoted to a roadkill count and some of the better teams had roadkill counts that seemed to be in the hundreds towards the end of the race. As badly as I wanted to contribute to Twisted Blister's roadkill count, the sad reality that I probably should have done crazy things like "train" before the race soon set in and I think my final roadkill was a staggering 1 or 2. Ouch. This year will be different.

For whatever reason, all the runners in the area around my apartment seem to know exactly when I'm thinking about running, so my roadkill count has been stuck at 0 because (until today) I literally had not seen one other runner on the road while I was running. Today, I was waiting to cross an intersection when I noticed a lady running on the other side of the crosswalk. My eyes must have lit up the way a lion's would after seeing an obese gazelle rolling around in a tub of butter and garlic. I was pumped. My first chance at roadkill was finally here. As soon as the light had changed, I practically sprinted off towards my prey. As I rounded the corner and headed up the hill, I noticed that the lady had stopped running and was walking the last stretch of the hill. In a way, this was sort of a buzzkill. After all, surely it would have been more fun if she had heard me coming behind her and decided there was no way she was going to let me pass. She would go full steam ahead in a full fledged attempt to save her dignity only to have a vicious cramp derail her efforts as I passed her and muttered something degrading like "BOOYAH!" as I sprinted by. Obviously, what actually happened was a far cry from this fantasy. The lady didn't even seem to notice me pass her and as I passed her, I realized that I had used all of my energy trying to catch her. Now, somehow, I had to make it through the rest of the run with my tank on empty.

In the end, I managed to beat my previous best time by 10 seconds. Whether or not this has anything to do with my quest for roadkill won't be seen until the next time I do the loop. Still, overall, it was a satisfying run and I was pleased with the overall result. I'm finally on the board. Roadkill Count: 1 and counting...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lagunitas Brewing Co. - WIlco Tango Foxtrot

Most beers fall into a certain category. Whether it's an IPA, lager, stout, etc., usually you can taste a beer and immediately classify it in some way. Then there are some that you try and wonder, "What the heck was that?" Lagunitas' Wilco Tango Foxtrot is one of those beers.

First of all, what a great name. I don't know where they got it from, but I dig it. My friend Ryan picked this beer up for me for graduation and I'm pretty glad he did. On the label, it lists the beer as being "not quite a red, not quite a brown." Interesting. When the brewery that makes a beer can't classify it, it's definitely intriguing. When I poured and smelled the beer, I knew what they meant.

Wilco Tango Foxtrot looks exactly like Lagunitas advertises it- not quite red and not quite brown. It's a deep reddish brown hue with a nice fluffy and "rocky" (two in a week now!) head. The head stuck around for a while, which was a nice surprise and gave the beer a nice appearance in the glass. While this beer may look like a cross between a red and a brown, it smells like neither. The smell actually reminded me a lot of a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale with bright hop notes being the majority of the smell. The body of the beer was a little thin, but the taste was pretty full. I definitely tasted some roasted malt and a little caramel sweetness before a hard piney hop finish. With a finish as bitter as the one Wilco Tango Foxtrot presents, it's hard to see it as being classified as either a brown ale or a red. To me, it really tasted more like a strong pale ale or possibly even an IPA. Strange, but I have a feeling that that's what Lagunitas was going for. I like beers that aren't easy to figure out and this one is anything but that. I don't know if I like this better than Lagunitas' Maximus IPA, but this is still a pretty good beer from them.

Final Grade: B+

Run 6

Recently, I realized something. Despite not training almost at all last year for the Hood to Coast, my overall conditioning was way better than it is this year. I attribute this to all the basketball I was playing last year. So while I may not have been going out and running a lot, overall I wasn't in terrible shape. This year, things are different. While I'm still far from being a toad, I'm noticing that it has been taking me way longer to get my body back to normal after runs. Even after my short runs, I've been getting winded like a fat kid who just got chased around the block by the neighbor's doberman. Obviously, if I'm going to survive this year's Hood to Coast, all this is going to have to change. And after today's run, I think it's getting there.

Yesterday was the first time I've run right after work. I'll admit it, running was the absolute last thing I wanted to do after working for 8 hours. Making things worse was the fact that my girlfriend and I visited the fair on Sunday and filled up on fair food. If you haven't experienced fair food lately, here's a sampler of the menu: Deep fried twinkies, deep fried pop tarts, deep fried klondike bars, a chicken sandwich with a Krispy Kreme jelly donut as a bun and deep fried butter (you read that right-butter). Regrettably, I had the Krispy Kreme sandwich and, while it wasn't as bad as I expected, let's just say I didn't really feel like running when I woke up in the morning. However, I'm trying something new this year- running when I don't feel like running. I feel like the more I run when I don't feel like running, maybe my body will get sick of not feeling like running and just feel like it more often. Actually, I don't think that makes any sense. Whatever, moving on...

Even after a long day at work, today's run felt really good. I don't know if it was because my muscles were already awake or because my ipod was on fire today with song choices (who knew "Billie Jean" was good for running?) but I finished the loop a minute and a half faster than my previous fastest time. For a loop that's less than three miles long, a minute and a half is a lot of time. Either I was just smoking today or I've been an absolute sloth in my previous runs. We'll see the next time I run the loop.

If I had to pinpoint one spot where the time was made up on the run, it had to be at the end. As I crested the last hill, I was pretty much toast. My legs felt pretty dead and my lungs were ready to explode. To add to my anguish, there seemed to be an old lady walking a mean looking dog every ten feet. Every time they would see me, they would choke up on the leash and try to steer the dog away from me. Most of these dogs were smaller and looked like they wouldn't be able to do too much damage, but a few were decent size and looked like they could run me down in three bounds. I turned the corner to go down the last straightaway and was relieved to see a single lady with an animal on a leash. At first, I assumed it was a dog, but as I got closer, something looked wrong. This animal was way too fluffy to be a dog but it's head was turned away from me, so I couldn't be sure what it was. Then it turned to look at me as I ran by and my suspicions were confirmed- it was a Persian cat. For being on a leash in an area with a ton of dogs, this cat looked surprisingly calm. Still, it did not look happy and the image of this pissed off cat stayed in my head. Soon, I was back to full speed again and in much better spirits.

After I had showered, I sat down and instantly realized that I was completely recovered. It was probably the best I have ever felt after a run. I think my body's finally coming around and it feels good. I'm definitely getting closer.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Deschutes Brewery - The Abyss

For a long time now, I've been without a favorite beer. I've had a lot of beers that I liked a lot and a few that I absolutely loved (the Saison Dupont that I recently reviewed being one of them), but not one that I could pick out of a lineup and say that it was without a doubt my favorite. Then I tried The Abyss.

I first heard about The Abyss a few weeks ago from Kenny. He didn't really tell me much about how good it was, he just told me the name, which was more than enough to intrigue me. Soon after, I looked it up on beeradvocate and found that it had an A+ rating from reviewers. Not only that, but a lot of reviewers were judging every dark beer they tasted against The Abyss. I knew I had to try it, I just didn't know if I would get the chance. The main obstacle to me trying this beer was finding it. The Abyss is made by a great brewery in Bend, Oregon called Deschutes. While some of their other beers (in particular, their Mirror Pond beers) are widely released and year-round, The Abyss is only released in the winter and isn't as easy to find. After finding out that it was a winter beer, I resigned myself to waiting a few months and then going to BevMo every week in the winter until I was able to find it. Then I got some good news: Kenny had a few bottles that he was aging and he was going to bring one over for us to try. A few days later, it was time.

I had a pretty good feeling that I was going to like this beer from the minute I saw it. The Abyss comes in a dark bottle with a dark brown label and a black wax seal over the cap. The wax is dripping down the neck of the bottle Maker's Mark style and lets you know that it's a serious beer before you take the first sip. The beer pours a deep deep brown that lives up to its name as far as letting any light through. A nice foamy mocha colored head tops it off.

For a long time, I kind of thought all stouts were the same- dark with lots of coffee flavors and super heavy. As I tried more and more, I realized this wasn't entirely true. True, a lot of stouts do taste the same, but there are a few that deserve to be separated from the pack. In a word, here's why The Abyss deserves to be separated- complexity.

When I smelled the beer for the first time, I got a whiff of something I've never smelled in a stout (or any kind of beer) before- persimmon. However, as the beer warmed a bit and as the level got lower, the smell changed like crazy. Soon after the persimmon came dark chocolate, then plums, then coffee, and at the very end, a smoky almost charcoal smell. It's like the everlasting gobstopper of beer.

On to the taste. I think I really just need one word to sum this one up- Wow. The taste is full, smooth and sweet. There is definitely a lot of dark chocolate and coffee flavors, but these are blended with some kind of dark fruit flavor that round it out really nicely. On the bottle, it says that 33% of The Abyss is aged in bourbon barrels which gives the beer a nice warming sensation on the way down. This beer is 11%, but it hides the alcohol really well. Towards the end of the beer, the smell of the bourbon was a little more present and the beer developed a nice smoky flavor. Finally, it was done, but there was little doubt left in my mind that I had a new favorite beer. Major thanks to Kenny and major props to Deschutes.

Final Grade: A+

Friday, June 18, 2010

Run 5

It just seemed like the right day to do it. After watching Kobe win his 5th title last night and after realizing this was my fifth recorded run, it seemed the stars were aligning for me to do something special. So today, I took off for my first 5 mile run in a long time.

The last time I ran more than three and a half miles was during the ill-fated Turkey Trot 10K in Santa Monica. In the last ten years (without taking into account the third run of the Hood to Coast last year), I don't think I've ever felt worse during a run than I did during the Turkey Trot. Cramps and a total lack of training absolutely destroyed me.

I tend to have the bad habit of assuming I can just go out and do anything. While sometimes this works, usually it tends not to go so well. This trend is what I'm trying to break in these short weeks before the Hood to Coast. So far, training is going much better (and much more consistently) than last year.

Running on the road can be both a blessing and a curse. While stoplights are rarely a problem on the short loop I normally run, they're all over the place on the long loop I did today. The problem with this is that you're constantly having to stop and wait for lights to change. While this can be nice because it gives you a chance to recover for a minute, it also totally kills any momentum you have. As anyone who runs can tell you, stopping and starting just isn't a good technique for running. When you have to wait for a few minutes to run, the next minute or so of running always feels like someone just switched your legs with Gumby's. The bigger problem with roadrunning is that by the time you get back into a groove, sometimes you have to stop again and the cycle continues.

I don't know if this is true for everyone (or anyone) else, but I've noticed that the soreness I feel after running on the road is significantly less than the soreness I feel after running on a treadmill. Now, this could just be due to me pushing myself too hard on a treadmill. Still, I'm not sure that's all there is too it. For a long time, I was noticing that my right knee was hurting during and after treadmill runs. I thought this was either due to my body getting older or due to some kind of error in my running form. But since I've stopped running on the treadmill, I've had absolutely no pain in my knee. Nothing.

Overall, the run felt really good. If nothing else, it was a huge confidence boost. It feels really good knowing that I can still go out and run 5 miles if I want to. Not only that, but I finished the 5 miles in 38:45, which isn't going to break any land speed records, but puts me in range of my projected 10k time which, at this stage of training, is a huge moral victory for me. We're getting there.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brasserie Dupont sprl - Saison Dupont

The saison is a very overlooked style of beer. In fact, I didn't even know it existed until a few days ago when I tried Stone's Saison du Buff. After trying that, I made up my mind to try some more and, thanks to a graduation present from a good friend, ended up with a Saison Dupont.

When you look at the bottle of a Saison Dupont, it just looks like a fantastic beer. It's corked and caged like a champagne and the label looks very classic. It's also from Belgium which, in my experience with beer, is never a bad thing. I definitely had a feeling I was in for something good. I just didn't know how good. On the label, it describes the beer as an unfiltered Belgian farmhouse ale with a rocky head. Honestly, I have never seen a beer with a head I would have described as "rocky", but after seeing the head on this one, I really don't know what else you'd call it. As soon as I started pouring the beer, the head welled up massively in the glass and took a long time to settle. When it did, it slowly dissipated in fluffy chunks that gave the beer a, well, rocky appearance. It was less like a beer and more like a bubble bath settling. As far as heads go, I've never seen anything like the Saison Dupont. I couldn't wait to take a sip.

So what is a saison? And what does being a farmhouse ale entail? A saison (or "season" in French) is a beer that was traditionally brewed in the late autumn or winter months and then stored in farmhouses for use in the late summer. The regular consumers of this beer were fieldworkers on the farms. Interestingly enough, because of a lack of clean water, many owners on farms used saisons instead of water to hydrate their workers. Up to 5 liters a day were given out to workers. Talk about a dream job!

On to the tasting. Once the head settled, it was time for a taste. The aroma of the beer was huge. I really don't know how to describe the smell because I've never smelled a beer like this in my life. When I looked up some reviews of a the beer on, a lot of the users described the smell as being "funky." While I don't necessarily associate the word "funky" with words like "good," in this case, I think the two work together. There's something funky about this beer, but in a way that smells like it's been aged perfectly rather than smelling bad in any way. The first sip caught a lot of that funkiness as well and it was wonderful. Saison Dupont has a huge flavor hidden behind its light body. There is a definitely sweetness and lemon flavor that gradually fades into a sour finish. The beer also has some really nice spiciness going on that creates a beautiful full flavor. This beer is definitely a hot weather beer. It's refreshing, smooth drinking and light without tasting "light." The Belgians really know how to do it.

Final Grade: A+

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Run 4

This morning, after posting my third straight beer entry, I decided that this blog was getting dangerously one sided. So even though I woke up this morning feeling like the last thing I wanted to do this morning was run, I did anyways.

This morning's run was pretty brutal, but that's probably more due to the fact that it's been a little while since my last run than anything else. This was probably the first run since I started this blog in which I didn't really get a runner's high until the run was over. Still, a few things happened that kept me running.

The first came right off the bat. As I was running down the first hill, I noticed a guy wearing a hat walking down the sidewalk. His back was to me, but as I came up behind him, he turned and looked at me like he was making sure I wasn't about to stab him. I almost stopped dead in my tracks because the guy looked exactly like Stephen King. It was creepy as hell. I almost wanted to stop and stay behind the guy just because you really don't want to be running knowing that a guy who looks like Stephen King is behind you. Finally, I decided to just go for it, but to run faster than I thought this guy could possibly go if he decided to try anything shady. I sprinted by him without looking back and didn't slow down until I was sure he was nowhere near me.

The second thing that happened came about half a mile later. And really, if nothing else, this made it really clear to me that I may have been focusing on beer a little too much the last few days. I was coming up the hill next to UTC (the mall near our place) when I smelled it- hops. I don't know where the smell came from (and I don't even think it was hops), but I was convinced that there were hops nearby. Suddenly, I was thinking about IPAs instead of cramps. While this ultimately took my mind off of the running, which is a good thing, I think if nothing else, it showed me that I need to get running more.

The run wasn't pretty but somehow, I finished it 20 seconds faster than I did last week. Really, I think there's only one thing I can say after a run like this: Thank you Stephen King.

Steinhaus Brewing Co. - Mission Street Hefeweizen

I stand corrected.

Not only was Mission Street's Hefeweizen NOT the train wreck I was expecting it to be after trying their Brown Ale, it was actually pretty good. I think if anything, this beer is proof that no matter what anyone else says, it's always a good idea to try things and decide for yourself.

Before we get to the actual review, let's learn a little about the Hefeweizen- one of the most popular beer styles in the world. Hefeweizen comes from two different German words: Hefe- meaning "with yeast" and Weizen- meaning "with wheat." The end result is a typically sweeter and fruity tasting beer that is usually a light cloudy brown. The "wheat" in the name comes from the wheat malts that are used to make the beer rather than the barley malts present in many other beers. Typically, hefeweizens have a lot of banana flavor to them. This sounds weird to a lot of people who may not think the words "banana" and "beer" should go together. When I was in Germany, they even had a stronger version called a "bananenweizen." This is a specialty beer made to really emphasize the banana flavors in the hefeweizen. Hefeweizens are one of the most popular beers, mainly because they just taste so good. They're not offensively bitter like many IPAs and they are light and smooth, some even taking on characteristics that seem more like a soda than a beer. For this reason, a Hef is a really great style to start on if you're trying to get into beer. It's an easy beer to drink and usually an easy beer to drink a lot of. What more could you ask for?

Mission Street's Hef is a very good representation of the style. It poured a nice cloudy and sandy color with some pretty strong fruity aromas right off the bat. The banana flavor was definitely there, but not as potent as a hef like a Fransiskaner (Note: if you want to see what I was talking about as far as banana flavors in beer go, try a Fransiskaner). There was a hint of spiciness behind the fruitiness, which was really nice and added a little complexity to the taste. There was also a surprising amount of carbonation, which brought out the flavors nicely. Frankly, I couldn't believe that a beer this full could possibly be made by the same brewery as the brown ale. That's more like it, Mission Street. This isn't the best hef I've ever tried, but it's still a good representation of the style.

Final Grade: B+

Monday, June 14, 2010

Stone Brewing Co. - Saison du Buff

This weekend was the final weekend that Beer Yoda (Kenny) will be in San Diego. Sadly, he's moving back up home in a week to attend pharmacy school at USC in the fall. To send him off right, on Saturday night we went to one of the best beer bars in San Diego- Toronados. If you've never been to a beer bar, it's absolutely worth checking out. They're usually not too crazy- just a good mix of people who really like their beer.

I've been to Toronados a few times and they usually come up with a pretty good mix of beers on tap. This time, I finally got to try an Allagash beer for the first time (their white- delicious). However, the beer I'd like to talk about is one that I was even more excited about when I saw it on their list- Stone's Saison du Buff.

The Saison du Buff that Stone makes is a collaboration with two other really solid breweries- Dogfish Head and Victory. I had heard a lot about Stone's collaborations and I had even looked for this one at a local BevMo (sadly, to no avail), but this was the first one I had actually tried.

This beer poured a clean light brown and the smell was, well, different. Kenny had told me ahead of time that this beer had rosemary in it, and you could really smell the rosemary coming through the hops. Later, I found out that not only was there rosemary in this, but there was also parsley, sage and thyme (ala Simon and Garfunkel). The taste was nice and full, with definite herbal flavors throughout. These mostly came on the finish and, while I was a little skeptical about how well something like rosemary would work in a beer, the herbs were nicely balanced and weren't too over the top.

Despite everything going on in this beer (and there's a lot), the balance is nearly perfect and it creates a beer that really is special. Nice work, Stone.

Final Grade: A

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Steinhaus Brewing Co. - Mission Street Brown Ale

A few days ago, we got two new beers into Trader Joes- Mission Street Brown Ale and Mission Street Hefeweizen. I got both of them and after hearing that the brown was better, decided to go for that one first. I'm gonna admit, after trying the brown, I'm a little scared to try the hef.

Mission Street's Brown Ale didn't look half bad after I poured it. It was a rich and deep amber color that you could only see through when holding it directly up to the light. The head was about a half inch of light cream colored foam. In the looks department, this beer really wasn't half bad. The smell wasn't terrible, it just didn't seem to have a lot going on. If you smell a Sierra Nevada or even something like a Blue Moon, you can tell that there are things going on in the beer that you can't wait to taste. Whether it's the bright hop smells of the Sierra Nevada or the citrus smells of a Blue Moon, the smells are intriguing and make you want to taste the beer. The smell of the brown ale, frankly, really didn't leave a lot to the imagination. Actually, there wasn't much of a smell at all.

Before I go on to the taste, I think it's only fair to say that it's highly possible that this brown ale was at a huge disadvantage going in. I went to the Ballast Point brewery on Thursday, and was absolutely blown away by everything going on in their beers. Their beers are anything but one-dimensional. Everything you taste there has so much going on that you can't wait to take another sip to try and figure it out. My favorite was one I was trying for the first time- their Fathom IPL. This beer was a mix of an IPA and a lager in which the beer is brewed like an IPA but uses lager yeast to create a smoother taste. The end result was something that smelled fresh and hoppy like a good IPA, but was smooth to drink like a lager. After having this, I'd say it would be tough for any beer to follow that up. Well, except for one beer I'll be reviewing soon. Anyways, I'm sorry Mission Street, but that's the way the dominoes fell.

After one taste of Mission Street's Brown Ale, I could pretty much tell exactly what was going on. There was a pretty one dimensional darker malt flavor with a tiny hint of caramel sweetness. And that was about it. Many beers progress in flavor as you drink them. The first taste can be sweet and then progress to something else in your mouth and then the flavor can change again to something totally different when you swallow it. This beer stayed exactly the same from initial taste to finish. I let the beer warm, hoping to bring a fuller flavor out, but it stayed exactly the same. In all fairness to this ale, I will admit that I haven't had a ton of browns before. Maybe this is more a case of me not liking brown ales than me not liking this one. And while I liked this one more than some of the others I've tried, this was still a little too one-dimensional for my liking. What can this brown do for me? Apparently not much.

Final Grade: C+

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Run 3

Yesterday I got some pretty bad news. My cousin, the captain of our Hood to Coast team, sent an email out to the group informing us that this year under a new rule, ipods are not going to be allowed while running. Last year, the race officials said that ipods were "discouraged," but there was no rule in effect that would actually keep you from running with one and nearly everyone I saw while running was using one. This year (apparently in the name of safety), things are different. If you're caught running with an ipod, your team is instantly disqualified. Ouch.

I discovered ipod running right before the Hood to Coast race last year. Once I started running with one, I became hooked and (up till now) couldn't imagine running without one. Like I said in my post about my first run, for me, the greatest thing to have while I'm running is some kind of distraction. This is especially important on a treadmill, but I feel it's just as important on any other kind of run. There are times when you just really need to get your mind off running, whether it's facing a huge hill that seems insurmountable or a long open stretch that you can't see the end of. These are where the ipod comes in handy. If the running gets tough, you can find a song you like and instantly, your mind is off the running. This has been my method for the past year or more. So when the race tells us that we can't use ipods on the race, it's pretty much the equivalent of them telling me something like "Hey, Walker, so you can still run the race, but you're going to have to run without that right shoe of yours."

Alright, positives, positives. Here's one: At least I'm finding out about this new rule now. I can't imagine what would happen to me if I found out about this the day before the race. It's likely I would have gone into convulsions. Knowing this now, I can slowly wean myself off of the ipod in the weeks before the race to the point where I'm comfortable (or at least as comfortable as I can possible get) without it.

Moving on. Today, I decided to up my mileage. It was nothing too drastic. My two previous runs had been on a loop around my house that stretched around 2.75 miles. Today, I added an extra block to the loop, making it 3.5 miles. While my speed still needs a little work (I finished the run in just over 8 minute per mile pace), I felt really good during the run and I didn't feel any worse from the added distance. I've been using the site a lot lately, and I found out that if I was to add a few more blocks to my run and make a loop that went right past my work, it would be right around 5 miles. That's definitely a pretty good distance to be comfortable with, so I'm thinking that by the end of the month, I'm going to make that loop a regular part of my training.

I try to notice something different on every run I go on. During Run 1, it was how out of shape I felt. During Run 2, if was how much of a buzzkill dog shit can be. Today, it was snails. While this probably isn't a totally normal thing to take note of during a run, it was hard not to today.

About half a mile down the road from my house, the road bends around a corner and begins to climb upwards for about a quarter mile. Right before the uphill, there is a stretch where the sidewalk is surrounded by ankle-high plants which, apparently, are a breeding ground for snails. For a solid hundred yards through that stretch today, every step I took, I was dodging a snail. Some were huge, some tiny, some already smashed into tiny piles, some trailing long lines of ooze. There must have been 40 snails just on that straightaway, and for an area where I've literally seen ten snails in the 9 months I have lived here, that's a lot.

For some reason, I've always been really interested by snails. I don't really know what it is about them, but I've always thought they were kind of underrated. It's not like snails do anything cooler than anything else in the animal kingdom. They can't glide like a flying squirrel or blind you with venom like a spitting cobra or do, well, much. Snails are one of those animals that just are. Whether we notice them or not, they're around us all the time, patiently going about their business. I'm pretty sure that if there is such a thing as reincarnation, anyone who is ridiculously impatient in this life is going to get reincarnated as a snail in the next. If you're a snail and you want to go anywhere that involved crossing a man made path, there's a pretty good chance you're not going to make it. Snails may see a foot or a dog's paw or a stroller wheel coming, but it's not like they can just put it into fifth gear and scoot out of the way. Basically, if you're a snail and you see something coming, it's going to go a little something like this.

So in the end, maybe there's something to be learned from snails. Those snails I saw today were attempting to cross that path at the risk of almost certain death. And for what? To me, it looked like whatever was on the other side of that path was exactly the same as the side they were coming from. But there must have been something over there. Something special. Something worth dying for. And compared to death, maybe running without an ipod isn't so bad after all.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ballast Point Brewing Co. - Black Marlin Porter

A couple weeks ago, my friend Dan and I went out to the Ballast Point Brewery for the first time. A lot of our coworkers go on a regular basis, so we decided it was time to check it out. The trip was a major success and I was really impressed with all of the beer. By far, my favorite was a special Black Marlin Porter that was aged in bourbon barrels. The smell of the bourbon really came out and brought out a ton of flavors in the beer. On the way out of the brewery, I decided to pick up a bottle of their standard Black Marlin Porter which had been sitting in my fridge. Until last night.

First of all, let's learn about one of the most overlooked kinds of beer- the porter. The porter style was born in England in the 1700s and was a heavily popular style during the time. The name comes from its popularity among the transportation workers. Interestingly enough, before Guinness was known as Guinness Stout, it was known as Guinness Extra Stout Porter. Porters at the time Guinness was first produced were classified as being either an "X" or as being the stronger "XX." Originally, Guinness was of the "XX" variety until the name was officially changed to Guinness Extra Stout. So what's the difference between a Porter and a Stout? A Porter is historically not as "heavy" as a stout and usually slightly lighter in color. However, Stouts and Porters have been intertwined since they both became recognized types of beer and to this day, people debate whether there is really a difference between the two.

On to the Black Marlin Porter. While drinking this beer, I learned something very important firsthand: Beer isn't always better when it's ice cold. Certainly, some beers (like Coors Light and beers of this quality) are way better if you don't let them get warm. However, Black Marlin Porter is not one of those beers. When I took the first sip, I was a little underwhelmed by the flavor. However, I remembered reading on that for many beers, it's better to let the beer warm a little to really bring out the flavors and aromas. So I gave it a few minutes and tried again. Total difference. I enjoyed it so much more than the first sip. Not only that, but the smell was full and rich. The taste is full of roasted malts and coffee. There's also a little sweetness behind it that held up the flavor nicely and kept it from falling off into the bitterness of the coffee and dark chocolate flavors. This was a really solid Porter, and while I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the bourbon barrel aged variety, it is a really solid porter. I always kind of had a perception of porters and stouts as being very heavy beers; beers you had to really work through and take deep breaths in between sips. This didn't feel that way at all though. It was surprisingly easy to drink for it's heaviness. Just a solid solid beer.

Final Grade: A-

Monday, June 7, 2010

Run 2

There's nothing like dog shit to take the wind out of your sails on a good run. Total momentum killer. I'll explain in a second.

For me, running is a series of highs and lows. Throughout the course of the run, this can take a lot of different forms. The highs can be incredible. When you're in the middle of the run, you can find that perfect pace for your body and feel like you could run forever. Some people refer to this as runner's high. For me, that's the best possible feeling during a run. When you hit this point, you start telling yourself things like "I know I said I was only going to run 3 miles today, but hell, I feel like I could run a marathon." Of course if you're only used to running three miles, you're not going to actually be able to come close to a marathon, and your body is usually quick to remind you of this fact. Let's say you found your groove and you're "jamming" (as my friend from the team, Jeff, would say). Your head is telling you that you can run forever, but your body knows better. The process goes a little something like this: "I'm jamming, I'm jamming, I'm jamming"...cramp! And just like that, you've gone from an incredible high to a major low. Suddenly, you're struggling to make it the three miles you said you were going to run originally. If you are lucky enough to work out the cramp, then you're on your way back to another high, but it's never quite as high as the first, because you're constantly weary. Cramps are usually the biggest culprit when it comes to having my momentum killed. However, sometimes something much more sinister comes along.

I started the run today with the expectation that it wasn't going to be a very good run. Whether it was fueled by the guilt of not running for a few days or actually genuine, I woke up this morning really feeling like I wanted to run. However, faced with the grim fact that I made the mistake of eating Taco Bell last night, I was not expecting good things from my body today. At the beginning of the run, things were pretty much just as I expected. My muscles felt sluggish and I found myself practically waddling up the first hill near my apartment. I couldn't stop thinking that I probably looked like one of those ladies that run while lifting three pound weights. In the world of awkward runners, these women are the queen bees. They almost always wear visors and spandex and wear a plumage of colors that should have died in the 80s. If you've never seen them before, just know this: You really really really don't want to look like them if you're trying to be taken seriously during your runs.

I crested the hill in what I was sure was about 25 minute per mile pace and it was right about then that I hit my first high. Suddenly, my muscles woke up and I found myself "jamming." It felt really good, and while I expected it to die when I turned the corner to run up the next hill, I was shocked when it didn't. My body felt as in sync during a run as I can ever remember it feeling. I made it up the second hill and made the turn for the long straightaway before the last turn that would take me to the home stretch. Right after I started on the straightaway down La Jolla Village Drive, I hit my second low. Usually a low comes at the hands of one assailant, but this time, two things hit me at once: I got my first cramp (Curse you, Taco Bell!) and the sun decided to come out from behind the clouds. Double whammy. Despite the forces working against me, I made it through the straightaway and turned the corner down Town Center Drive at what I felt was pretty good pace. Then, magically, two things went right that led to another high: My cramp went away and two broken sprinklers sprayed my legs with water. Even though it felt much hotter out then when I started, I was feeling good again. I powered through the last hill with ease and was in full jamming mode when I reached the final stretch. I was so close to the end I could taste it. Right on cue, the Thrice song "Red Sky" came on my ipod. If you haven't heard this song, you should. If I ever choose the music for a movie one day and I need a song for a final scene in which the main character (who the audience assumed was dead) bursts through a curtain of flames in slow motion and kisses his romantic interest while she sobs and tells him that she knew he wasn't dead, "Red Sky" would be the song. It's nothing short of triumphant, and that's exactly how I felt coming down the home stretch.

And then, cruelly (some would even say completely unfairly), it hit me- Eau de dog shit. It smelled like the gardeners of the area had used mastiff dung to fertilize the area around me. And just like like, jamming mode was over. Instantly, my legs felt like lead, my stomach felt like it had been hit by a truck, and my lungs felt like curling up and dying.

This is not a completely unfamiliar phenomenon to me while running. A while back, right after the Hood to Coast last year, I was near the end of a run and completely oblivious to the fact that I was nearing a Carls Jr. at breakfast time. Eerily, the smell of breakfast at CJ's is nearly identical to what I smelled today. Coincidence? I leave you to reach your own conclusions.

Whether it's CJ's or a dog who possibly ate too much CJs, it doesn't take much to sabotage a good run. I don't know if I realized this until today, but I think that I don't really take note of smells at all when I'm running until a bad one comes along.

That all said, I think in the end I can take way more positives from the run today than negatives. While I wasn't exactly a speed demon on the road today, I felt infinitely better and more comfortable than in Run 1. I can already tell that I'm not going to need as much time to recover from this run, and I think that's a huge plus. As long as I don't feel too bad tomorrow, I'm planning on running again on Wednesday. Gradually, my goal is to up my mileage until I'm running a respectable distance on a regular basis. I'm going to get there before the race. I'm just hoping there aren't too many more surprises waiting in ambush for me like today.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Stone Brewing Co. - Sublimely Self Righteous Ale

Last night while watching a very satisfying Game 1 of the NBA Finals, I finally got around to trying a bottle of Stone's "Sublimely Self Righteous Ale." It's been lurking in the depths of my fridge for a few weeks, so last night, in the name of doing my part to help clear out the fridge, I decided to drink it.

I'll admit it- I used to hate Stone beers. My only experience with them was the few that they gave away for free at UCSD during a student appreciation event called Bear Garden. At every Bear Garden, Stone supplies kegs of their Pale Ale and their standard IPA and every student gets two samples. I was really underwhelmed. Coincidentally, my work, Trader Joes, finally started carrying Stone beer and the only two we carry (besides bombers of Arrogant Bastard) are the very same Pale Ale and IPA. Needless to say, at $9.49 a six pack, I will be passing.

Then, about a month ago, my perception of Stone completely changed. It started when a friend from work posted a picture on his Facebook wall of a bomber (a 22 oz. bottle) of Stone's newest release, a Russian Imperial Stout. Interesting, I thought. Up to seeing the picture, I was completely unaware that Stone made anything in the way of seasonal beers. The next day, I picked up a bottle at Bristol Farms and gave it a try. I couldn't believe it was the same brewery that I had tasted at Bear Garden. The Russian Imperial Stout quickly became one of the best beers I have ever tasted. Absolutely delicious. I tried it with Kenny, a buddy of mine who knows way more about beer than I do and who is quickly becoming my Beer Yoda. Kenny happened to have some more Stone at home, so the next time he came over, we tried Stone's Old Guardian Barleywine and another seasonal beer they make called Double Bastard. Again, I was blown away by both of them. After trying one more of Stone's beers a week later, their Ruination IPA, I decided to revise my opinion of Stone. They are quickly becoming one of my favorite breweries.

On to the tasting. Stone's Sublimely Self Righteous Ale may not have been as mindblowing as their Russian Imperial, but it was pretty damn good. It poured a very dark and almost black brown color with a nice mocha colored head. For some reason, I wasn't expecting this. The ales I'm used to just don't look as dark as a Guinness. The darkness wasn't a bad thing at all, just surprising. The beer tasted like a good ale should, slightly sweet at the first sip and then giving way to a very hoppy (but not dry, which was nice) finish. I'm definitely used to my ales having a decent amount of hops and this one has that going for it for sure.

For anyone who doesn't know, hops are a funny little flower used in brewing that gives the beer a lot of its body. They're that slightly bitter aftertaste that you get when you're drinking a lot of different beers. You're going to taste hops in a pale ale. You may be blown away by the hops in an IPA. For me, I haven't always enjoyed hops. When I started drinking beer, I liked beers like Heineken, beers in which the hops weren't really that noticeable. Slowly, I have come to appreciate the hop to the point where IPAs are some of my favorite beers. I actually have a very special IPA in the fridge right now that I'll be reviewing soon. I'm not giving away what it is just yet, but let's just say I can't wait to review this one. Anyways, back to hops. Some people really hate hops. These people are way more likely to like a beer like Pyramid Hefeweizen or a Blue Moon than a Sierra Nevada. Then there are people who can't get enough hops. These people are known (mostly to themselves) as hop heads. I wouldn't say I'm a hop head, but my hop tolerance has definitely gone way up. The hops in the Sublimely Self Righteous Ale were pretty much just how I like them. They were right between having a floral and a citrus character to them, so they didn't weigh down the beer at all. This beer was strongly hopped, so the flavor lasted way beyond the finish and I could still taste the bitterness an hour later.

While this may not have been the best I've had from Stone, it certainly upheld their reputation in my book. It's a really solid ale, and at 8.7% (percent alcohol that is, most beers range from 4-12% or so and most are way below 8%), it will keep you happy no matter what your taste in beer is.

Final Grade: A-

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Run 1

Today was my first "official" run, that is the first to be recorded in this journal. Coincidentally, this was also my first run off of a treadmill in around 6 months. Up to this point, every run I've done in the last 6 months (all 4 of them) has been on a treadmill in our complex. When I was training for the Hood to Coast the first time, I did a lot of my training on a treadmill in the complex of one of my friends. His treadmill was infinitely better than the one here. Before assuming (like I did before I started running on the one here) that all treadmill running is the same, think about the difference between running on a treadmill while looking out of a window versus running on a treadmill while looking at a mirror. I think you can probably guess what I have at the complex here.

When you're running on a treadmill, the best thing you can possibly have to keep you sane is any kind of distraction. Treadmill running sucks, we all know it. But if it's the only kind of running you have time for, you need something to keep you from remembering what you're actually doing for the 15 minutes to an hour or more that you're running. With a window in front of you, you have an instant distraction. No matter what you're watching, even if it's the gardener weedwhacking outside, you're in a constant state of distraction. You can look at your mileage or your calories burned, but it's all at your discretion.

Now think about running on a treadmill while looking at a mirror. If you've never done this before, I'll give you a short transcript of my thought processes while I'm running on the treadmill here:

"This sucks...Why am I sweating so much? I just started running two minutes ago. Why are my arms jiggling like Kelly Clarkson's? What kind of straight guy compares his arms to Kelly Clarkson's? What kind of straight guy compares any part of his body to Kelly Clarkson? Why am I thinking about Kelly Clarkson?..."

Two words- BAD NEWS. It's on the same level as waterboarding- torture or not, it's a nasty way to punish someone.

The only possible escape from watching yourself slowly perspire and degrade is to look at the mileage. But this is even worse! Try running a mile on a treadmill while doing nothing but watching your mileage slowly creep up. I guarantee it will seem like the slowest mile you've ever run.

Fast forward to last night. My girlfriend and I had dinner with our friend Brian, who I recently recruited to become the twelfth member of the Hood to Coast team. I asked Brian how his training was going and he basically told me that he felt he would be ready to run the race today if he had to. Instantly, I decided that I would take the first real step to getting ready for the race in the morning. What I forgot was that this decision was made right before eating pounds (literally) of spicy shrimp, crayfish, and sausages. So when I took the first step this morning, I was instantly reminded of my poor eating choices.

That said, the run could have gone worse. I think that the most important thing after a run is to pull a positive from it. I know, I know. Cheesy. Still, I think it's true. Without any kind of positive, what's your incentive to ever lace up your running shoes again? It doesn't always have to be something huge like "I just broke 5 minute mile pace for 3 miles" or "I just beat that Kenyan guy next door who won the Dallas Marathon last week." Pulling the smallest positive can be all you need to do it again the next time, even if it's as bleak as "Well, I got hit by a bus and broke my hip, but at least I got out there!"

So here's my positive: I finished. I may have felt like I was running uphill the entire run. I may have had a bus downshift right as it passed me and fill my lungs with exhaust. The high point of the actual run may have been seeing an ad on a bus bench on which someone had blacked out a realtor's teeth so he looked like a pirate. The low point may have been having a 50+ year old Mexican woman clutching a huge purse pass me with no effort in an attempt to catch a bus. But I finished. Run 1 is complete.