How a beer geek becomes a BJCP judge

It starts out innocently enough. A new home-brew supplies store opens up in your town. You stroll in there a few times. You think about how you used to home brew, long ago, in the late ’70s. That was right after home brewing became legal, when the easiest way to enjoy the hard-to-find English-style ales that you’d come to love while living in Europe was to brew your own. So you buy some equipment and you start to brew again…

Home brewing has come a long way since those early days. Back then I brewed with liquid extract that came in a can. I did use whole hops; I can’t recall which variety but there was probably only one choice, and it was probably Cascade. The beer I brewed was very drinkable, but I’d only brewed a few batches before good imported beers became easier to find and brewing no longer seemed worth my time. I gave away my equipment and didn’t think about it again for many years.

But then the home brew store opened, and CFL and I were intrigued. We joined the local home brew club, but it took us a couple more months to plunge in, buy the equipment, and actually brew. That was a little more than two years ago. From that point it was another ten months (and 20 batches) before we plunged again, bought some more equipment, and became all-grain brewers.

At first all I wanted to brew was English ales (mostly ESBs and porters) and all CFL wanted to brew was American Amber Ales. Neither of us cared for IPAs — they were just too bitter! But then the club decided to have a competition, and we were all asked to brew an IPA.

We tasted a few IPAs to try and get an idea of what they were supposed to taste like and why anyone would want to drink anything so bitter. We learned that they do have a refreshing “zing” that began to grow on us. We brewed an IPA, but it didn’t come out hoppy enough. So we brewed another. And another. Then Stone came out with their “Enjoy By” series and then somebody told us about an amazing beer called Pliny the Elder. Then we brewed a rye IPA and an imperial IPA and a black IPA. And then some more IPAs. Dang, these IPAs are addictive!

I found myself critically evaluating beers, discussing their relative merits with other home brewers, small craft brewers, and anyone else who would listen. Gradually I crossed the invisible line between beer drinker and beer enthusiast, and then I embraced my new identity as beer geek. PhD-holding, marathon-running, left-handed, vegetarian beer geek. Yeah, that’s me.

We heard about Hop and Brew School put on by Hop Union, the hop-processing cooperative that is the primary hop supplier to the craft brewing industry. We went to hop school in Yakima where we saw mountains of hops and our senses were overwhelmed by lupulins.

We came home with fresh Citra hops and we brewed a fresh-hop IPA.

Throughout this process I was using an app called Untappd to record, rate, and comment on every commercial beer I drank (you can find me on Untappd — I’m Slow Happy, of course). After a few hundred checkins I couldn’t help but develop a vocabulary to describe what I was tasting. CFL started to say that I had a great palate and I really should think about becoming a beer judge.

The American Homebrewers Association has a formal judge certification program called, you guessed it, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). I first learned about the BJCP because, in addition to certifying judges, they maintain the style guide which describes over 70 distinct styles of beer (not to mention a bunch of meads and ciders). Each beer style description specifies a given beer’s aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, history, ingredients, and “vital statistics” (ABV, gravity, and so on). As a home brewer, I prefer to brew specific styles and try to produce authentic, recognizable beers — as opposed to just tossing whatever I want into the kettle and calling it “beer.”

So CFL was urging me to become a judge, and I was reading and learning and thinking about all aspects of beer anyway. I’m always up for a challenge — why not study for the BJCP exam?

The BJCP program is structured and rigorous — it is NOT just about drinking lots of beer for fun! First I had to secure a seat in a judging exam. I sent some emails to exam administrators and was told, several times, that seats were usually reserved for the local club. Months went by before an administrator replied that he could fit me into an exam this past July. But I was getting ready for a three-week vacation in June and I knew I wouldn’t have time to study. So I asked to be wait-listed for a future exam.

I was offered another seat for October 25. I grabbed it! But to be eligible for the judging exam, I first had to pass the online entrance exam. This is a test of beer style knowledge. I spent weeks reading and rereading and rereading the BJCP style guide. The exam consists of 200 true/false, multiple-choice, and multi-choice-multi-answer questions that must be completed in 60 minutes. It was an intense, humbling 60 minutes, but on September 23 I passed it on my first attempt.

That left me a month to prepare for the judging exam. I got my hands on as many commercial beers representing as many styles as possible. This included styles I don’t enjoy like hefeweizens, Belgian ales, and (ugh!!) smoked beers. To find the more obscure styles, we made a few 150-mile round trips to a nearby city with a large bottle shop. CFL and I would come home with our goodies, sit down together, and open a bottle of beer. He’d happily quaff his half while I swirled, sniffed, sipped, savored, and filled out the judging sheet on my half.

Well, sometimes I just drank beer out of my shoe. We were camping and my hands got cold! Yes, that’s Fremont Interurban IPA — yum!

But mostly I was a serious student.

On October 25 we departed very early to drive 125 miles to the exam location for the 9:00 AM exam. I tasted six beers representing six styles and scribbled frantically for the 90-minute duration. I think I did fine for the first four beers, but my taste buds got a bit confused for the last two.

I won’t know whether I passed for three months or more! Because judging is, in some respects, a subjective exercise, the exams go through a rigorous review process by a panel of nationally-ranked judges to ensure that all judges nationally are doing things as similarly as possible.  This process takes time.

I seized an opportunity to sit again for the next exam, on January 25. Most people actually do pass, but this way if I didn’t pass I’ll have another chance. If I did pass and I can improve my score in January, that will help me advance more quickly up the beer judging hierarchy.

As a new “rank pending” BJCP judge, I was encouraged to volunteer to judge at an upcoming local competition. I did just that this past Saturday! I judged stouts and strong ales — and had fun and learned a lot. There were 29 judges, most of whom were bearded males, many no more than half my age. Yeah, these are my people. CFL came along and worked as a steward, bringing fresh glasses and crackers, and whisking away our discarded bottles. He enjoyed it too.

So that’s how a home brewer becomes a beer geek and then somehow goes all the way down the rabbit hole and becomes a judge. Or so I hope. I’ll let you know as soon as I get the email that says I passed!

P.S. While I was writing this today, I received the email giving me my official BJCP judge ID. I haven’t yet passed the exam, but I’m officially a member of the organization. Say hello to BJCP member D1404!

 

On being a mediocre middle-aged athlete

The other day CFL and I were looking at the calendar and thinking about what else we’d like to accomplish this year before the rainy season begins in earnest. He mentioned a couple of hikes that he still wanted to do. I reminded him that at the beginning of the year we’d agreed to do a metric century (100 kilometers or 62 miles) bike ride in honor of CFL’s 60+ years of age.

We’d picked out a group bike ride that we wanted to do: the Chuckanut Century in Bellingham on September 14. But then I had to go and break my arm, which put a serious crimp in my cycling and running plans for this year. After I was finally cleared to ride again in July, we thought long and hard about that century, but by then we had a date conflict with another event.

It was looking like the metric century just wasn’t going to happen this year. Autumn arrived quite dramatically; high temperatures dropped precipitously exactly at the time of the equinox. We’ve had nearly half an inch of misty rain over the past week. Still, I watched the weather forecast and found a small window of opportunity. On Friday morning I casually suggested to CFL that we go for a bike ride on Saturday. What would you think, I smoothly added, if we were to get up early, take our time, and ride to the end of the Olympic Discovery Trail and back? How about if we throw in an extra three miles somewhere along the way and make it a 62 mile day?

Our longest ride to date had been 43 miles. We were talking about going almost 50% further than that! Yet I was reasonably confident that we could do it, assuming that we’d take our time and take breaks along the way.

It was a perfect day for a bike ride. It was sunny but cool, about 50 degrees, when we started out at 9:00 AM. It never got warmer than about 65. There was no wind — hence no annoying head wind all the way home. The trees were beginning to turn colors in earnest. In many places there were leaves already down on the pavement, which made giant swishy sounds as we rode through them.

At the end of the trail my GPS watch read 29.25 miles. We continued on a quiet road until that road ended at the busy highway at exactly 30 miles. We turned around at that point and stopped soon after to eat our lunch of mixed nuts, dried apricots, and Clif Bars.

On the way back we stopped at a local diner for milkshakes. We figured we’d burned at least a thousand calories by then and the shakes tasted really good.

We picked up the pace in the final few miles because we’d promised ourselves dinner out at our local gastropub. I was smelling and tasting the beer in my mind as I pedaled! I didn’t even mind the extra 2+ miles we rode along the downtown waterfront just to get our total mileage to the right number.

At the end we were tired but we mostly felt elated. We’d done it! 62.3 miles. Our total elapsed time was a leisurely just over eight hours. Actual riding time was 6:11:52 — we’d managed to average ten miles per hour.

After dinner, at our second pub stop to be precise, we ran into some friends. They asked us what we’d done that day. We told them, and they were dumbfounded.

Later I posted a quick status on Facebook: Just finished a 62 mile bike ride. My first metric century!  Friends commented: Wow! Impressive! Congrats! I could never do that!

Wait a minute. What?

Well yes, you could. It’s not like I just got on my bike for the first time and rode it 62 miles. You have to work up to these things.

If I can do it, so can you. I look at photos of myself from six years ago. I was never fat, but I was quite flabby. I carried myself awkwardly. I looked old and world-weary.

Want proof?

Here I am on one of the happiest days of my life: on graduation morning from my PhD program.

I felt old. And I didn’t like that.

When I started running, I wasn’t merely slow. Most of the time I wasn’t even running! It took me months to work up to running a quarter of a mile without stopping to walk. I used to tell myself, Just run to that tree, to that shadow, okay now you can walk — and now run to that rock!

My feet hurt. My knees hurt. My hips hurt. But somehow, my brain liked it and was happy about doing it. So I kept going.

One step at a time.

I like myself much better this way!

I was 53 years old when I started to run. I was really, really slow. I’m still slow, but I’m not as slow as I used to be — and as I complete my sixth year as a runner I now have 3,456 miles of running experience behind me.

I have a daily activity streak (walking, running, cycling, and/or hiking some distance) that now stands at 636 days and 4,538 total miles.

If I keep running, I might have a shot at qualifying for Boston. The older I get, the slower the qualifying standard becomes. There is still a chance that those lines might someday cross for me. 4:40:00 at age 65? Yeah, that sounds doable.

As for cycling? I don’t know where I’m going with that, but I hope I’ll still be able to ride my bike for many years to come. CFL and I have talked about doing a multi-day ride someday. I’d love to tour around Scotland by bike.

I’m a mediocre middle-aged athlete and I feel healthier and more vibrantly alive than I ever have in my life.

I don’t mean to imply that I’m fearless or invincible. I’ve said those “I can’t” things just like you have:

  • I could never hike up that hill.
  • Run a whole mile? No way!
  • Break a 10 minute mile? Impossible!
  • Break a 9 minute mile? In my wildest dreams.
  • I’ll never run a marathon, no way not ever.
  • A bike? I’ll crash!!!!

But what I’ve learned is that a lot of seemingly impossible things become not merely possible but fun if you simply practice and tackle them one step at a time.

Now I’m going to step away from this computer and go for a walk. It’s sunny and brisk outside.

Won’t you join me? We’ll start out slowly. :-)

 

We hiked the PCT! Well, a tiny bit of it…

Recently CFL and I made yet another trip to southern Oregon. It was bittersweet in a sense. We’d made so many trips down that way to see my dad over the past two years, and now we were returning less than two weeks after he’d passed away. But we’d planned this trip nearly a year ago as a fun vacation, and we were determined to enjoy it.

Our first stop was at the other end of the state, in Portland, where we again rode the Providence Bridge Pedal. This year more than 18,000 cyclists participated in the various events. We did the 32-mile 10-bridge ride, which followed the exact same route as last year. Although the Bridge Pedal is a RIDE, not a RACE, I was pleased to complete the ride almost an hour sooner than last year! My new road bike is such a joy to ride compared to my heavy first bike. Of course, we still took time to stop and enjoy the view from atop the bridges.

 

In the background of the photo above you can see the new “Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People” now under construction. Given that CFL is a bridge-loving architect, we have studied and admired the progress of construction on each of our recent travels through Portland. Scheduled to open late next year, the bridge will carry light rail, streetcars, buses, bicycles, pedestrians, and emergency vehicles — but no private cars or trucks. Next year’s Bridge Pedal, the 20th annual ride, will feature a sneak preview crossing of this bridge. Eleven bridges! We’ll be there.

But what about the PCT, you ask?

After Portland we headed south for a quick visit with my stepmom. From there we went to Crater Lake where we camped for three nights.

As I’ve mentioned here before, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) runs for nearly 2,700 miles from Mexico to Canada. Each year several hundred people “thru-hike” the entire trail. CFL has dreamed of doing this for many years, and he and his daughter are talking seriously about it for 2016. I haven’t yet caught the bug, but I was entirely game for day-hiking a small section of it this summer.

The 33-mile section of the PCT that passes through Crater Lake National Park is one of the highlights of the entire trail. Although the main PCT skirts around the caldera rim, most PCT hikers take an alternate trail that travels up to and along the rim.

On our first afternoon we walked out from the campground to the trailhead, which crosses the highway within Park boundaries but just before the west entrance gate. From there, we hiked to the junction with the alternate trail, and back. That was an 8-mile warmup that got us very excited about going further!

We got back to camp just in time to cook dinner — in the midst of a dramatic thunderstorm! I went to bed that night wet, cold, and unhappy, but still looking forward to hiking the next day.

Morning was beautiful!

We got an early start and again hiked north from camp. This time we hiked all the way up to the rim. It’s a climb of 1,100 feet in a bit over four miles.

As we continued to hike along the rim, the clouds increased and thunder began to rumble across the lake.

We kept a close eye on the sky. All the action seemed to be well south of us, so we hiked on. Our goal for the day was Watchman, a former fire lookout about six miles past and several hundred feet higher than the point where we’d reached the rim.

The climb up to Watchman was worth it. We could look down into Wizard Island’s mini-caldera.

It was cold up there! I was wearing several layers. I felt as lumpy as I looked!

As we were leaving Watchman I took note of the time and realized that we had a long ways still to hike! We walked part of the way back by road, which saved a bit of time.

We decided we’d try to catch the free shuttle from Rim Village back down to the campground. But when we got to the lodge at Rim Village, we were chagrined to learn that the last shuttle of the day had left more than two hours earlier. I was a a bit freaked out, but CFL proceeded to chat with other visitors at the lodge. It didn’t take long for him to meet a nice young man wearing a T shirt from a craft brewery in San Diego! CFL and “B” swapped growing-up-in-SD stories and we bought a couple rounds of beer. Soon we were all driving back to a restaurant near our campground for dinner. Mission accomplished! That was a 15-mile hiking day (not including the 7-mile return in “B’s” car).

On our third day we hiked the PCT south from the campground. While we’d seen a few thru-hikers traveling north with us on day two, this time we were hiking toward the thru-hikers. We met about 20 of them, and chatted with as many as we could. Everyone was excited to be approaching Crater Lake, with its campground, showers, laundry, store, post office, and BEER!

Although we didn’t have a view of the lake, this section of the trail was gorgeous. Lots of boulders and interesting trees!

 

We hiked all the way south to the Park boundary and back.

Including a few side trips, we hiked a total of 19.5 miles — our longest hike ever! We were the only day-hikers out there. We impressed some of the thru-hikers who hadn’t expected to see day-hikers so far from a trailhead.

So that was a total of nearly 43 miles of hiking over three days at Crater Lake. Looking at the map, we noticed that the entire Park is only about 25 miles from south to north. We’d hiked considerably further than that distance total, and our out-and-backs had encompassed the entire southern half of the Park. Not bad for a couple of middle-aged day-hikers.

But wait — there’s more to our PCT story! A couple of days later, on our way home, we stopped off at Mt. Hood to admire Timberline Lodge and hike a bit of that section of the trail.

We only had time to do a couple of miles, but it was great to see “our” trail again — and to share it with another thru-hiker or two.

Of course we did other things on this trip (beer tourism, anyone?) but that will have to wait for another post. Now, however, it’s time for me to go for a walk! Our activity streak is at 602 days and counting.

So many wonderful moments, such a grand life!

I usually focus on the upbeat in this blog. With a title like Slow Happy Living, that’s to be expected. But life is lived in moments, and not all moments are happy ones.

My father passed away last week, one week after his 87th birthday. Per his wishes, there will be no service. I would like to write something by way of a eulogy but the task may be too big for me, at least for now. So I’ll just reflect a bit on his life.

His passing was not unexpected. He’d had a stroke several years ago from which he’d largely recovered. A second stroke this February was more debilitating, but he had come home and was adjusting to the use of a walker or wheelchair. He insisted that he surely would drive again soon and that he and my step-mom would take one more vacation together. Yet he worried constantly about the next stroke that he was sure would come.

The third stroke in late March was massive. He could still speak, but he was confused. He could do almost nothing without assistance. There would be no coming home from the nursing home this time. Although doctors said he might live for several more years, he never talked again about his plans for the future.

Last week he suddenly developed complications from that stroke. CFL, my daughter, and I made a quick trip south to see him. He recognized and acknowledged us. The next day he slipped into a sleep that took him away peacefully early the following morning.

My father was a proud yet humble man, a Depression-era stoic with a sometimes-difficult childhood home life. Although he attended school sporadically through the first year of high school, he told me late in his life that he’d really only had a 4th grade education.

Despite his lack of formal education, he became a scientific glassblower, a man so highly skilled in his craft that engineers struggled to design a bulb-blowing machine that could approximate the intricacy and precision of the work he did by hand. Among other accomplishments, he made a glass sensor that went into the lunar astronauts’ backpacks. Those packs were left behind when the astronauts returned to Earth. My dad’s glass sensors are still up there on the Moon.

The Moon is an appropriate home for my dad’s glasswork. He was fascinated by astronomy and used to talk to my brothers and me about the vastness of the universe. He, who had no use for institutional spirituality, made the scientific idea of infinity meaningful for me. When I contemplate the stars I hear his voice.

He had an abundant curiosity and an amazing memory for facts and data, places and times. He did long division in his head. He pored over maps. He kept records of every gallon of gasoline he put into every one of our cars.

My dad loved to travel; we took regular Sunday drives to the mountains and deserts of southern California. We hiked. We camped. We collected interesting rocks. We climbed Mt. San Antonio (Mt. Baldy), the highest peak of the San Gabriel Mountains at 10,068 feet, when I was about 9 years old. While my friends’ vacations consisted of holiday visits to grandparents, we took epic summer vacations to National Parks. He took movies, which always seemed to start with a shot of his nose as he peered into the camera lens — if they had been sound movies, you would have heard, “Is this thing on?” Why he never figured that out, I have no idea.

He was active well into middle age. He used to get us up early for Sunday morning bike rides before breakfast. There were no bike paths in those days; we’d whizz around on empty boulevards while others were still sleeping. He rode 40 miles on his 40th birthday and vowed he’d continue that tradition through the years. He rode regularly until his early 60s when my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer; then he put the bike away and stayed close by her side. My mom and he took one or two more short vacations before she became too sick to travel. After she died he tried to start riding again, but found it difficult. He was in his mid-60s, and he was no longer comfortable out on his road bike.

When he met my step-mom, he became young and energized again. It was so good to see him smiling! They traveled all over the world together, up until just a few years ago. I am so grateful that she came into his life and made his last 21 years such happy ones.

Every family has its dynamics, and my dad was not perfect. But he taught me to love learning, to see beauty in nature, and to enjoy experiences more than things.

With my dad’s passing, I suddenly find myself on the cusp. My generation is next in line to go. I have reached that moment when I suddenly look around, see myself in a mirror, and finally, fully understand that I am no longer young.

CFL and I vow to stay active for as many years as we can, while knowing that someday we too will decline and fade. What we have now are moments, and we can only strive to make the most of each of them.

Yesterday I went out for a long run along the waterfront trail. As it happened, I was out there just as 250 cyclists from the Cascade Bike Club’s annual Ride Around Washington (RAW) were coming through on their tour. I was proud to share “my” trail with these riders. I thought about how thrilled my dad would have been to ride with them.

Just as long runs did for me after Kurt died, yesterday’s long run invited and created a safe place for cleansing, healing tears.

Dad, I’ll miss you. You were the best!

Now I’m going for a bike ride.

A week of beer tourism (part 2)

I left off my tale of our week of beer tourism with a big sigh, sadly bidding farewell to Russian River Brewery. It seemed that the rest of our trip would be anticlimactic, but there were still more treats in store!

Our next day’s travel took us 62 miles from Santa Rosa to Ukiah. We got a late, lazy start, which allowed us to have lunch just a few miles up the road at Bear Republic in Healdsburg. We ate on the shady patio, from which we could see the river-side trail that we would walk after lunch. Bear Republic is a large craft brewery with wide distribution, so we mostly tasted beers that we couldn’t get easily elsewhere. The standout beers for me were the Hallertau Blanc Rebellion (an IPA) and Cafe Racer 15 (a double IPA). Are you noticing a pattern here? I did actually quite enjoy their Maibock as well — it was delicate and not overly malty with a crisp peppery finish.

After our walk we continued north to Ukiah. We checked into our motel we set off on foot to Mendocino Brewing. The brewery has a great history, having first opened in 1983 as the Hopland Brewery. It was the first brewpub opened in California (second in the US) after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. The original brewing equipment (and the brewers themselves) came from the then-recently closed New Albion Brewery. New Albion was a craft beer beacon in the darkness when the rest of the country was drinking nothing but light lagers.

Hopland Brewery’s name was soon changed to Mendocino Brewing. Their flagship Red Tail Ale brought them fame and attention from investors. In 1997 they were 75% bought out by United Breweries Group, a global brewery holding company. While they continue to brew Mendocino’s original recipes in Ukiah, they have essentially become a “crafty” brewery — one that is corporate-owned while masquerading as a genuine craft brewery.

Crafty or not, we wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt so we stopped by their taproom. Well, I wasn’t impressed. We and the lone bartender were the only people in the place. Their beers were all too malty, too bland, or in one case inappropriately sour. I have to say that the lack of passion and personal attention to their products definitely showed.

The bartender was kind enough to tell us about the other local brewery, so we tipped her well and moved on to Ukiah Brewing Company. What a difference! The place was busy and lively, and the beer and food were generally good. My favorite among the beers was the Coops Stout, which tasted appropriately of coffee and dark chocolate. The Pilsner Ukiah was another winner: unfiltered yet very pretty, crisp, and clean. Their IPA had a hint of sourness, but overall our experience at this brewpub was positive.

Our next day was another short driving day, which took us over some beautiful roads. We first went over the hills from Ukiah to Boonville for a stop at Anderson Valley Brewery. This is another well-known brewery with readily-available beers. They pride themselves on being located in a quaint small town (with its own alleged dialect!) in the middle of nowhere.

We were put off immediately by the brewery buildings, which were winery-cute. As an architect, CFL was offended by their unnecessary and too-fussy design details. We walked into the taproom, which wasn’t very busy, and it took us nearly five minutes to get the attention of the three sullen-looking employees behind the bar. Then while we were tasting we were bothered by a couple of ill-behaved dogs. When we complained, we were rather haughtily informed that this was a “dog-friendly” establishment. I guess we were supposed to enjoy our dog encounters there.

We took the brewery tour, but it was very brief and the tour guide was neither well-informed nor enthusiastic. However, we did appreciate the retro good looks of their copper equipment.

As for the Anderson Valley beers, we did enjoy all three of their IPAs (Hop Ottin IPA, Nettied Madge Black IPA, and Heelch o’ Hops), and their Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout is justly famous. But we couldn’t wait to get our of there, as our next stop was the seaside village of Mendocino.

CFL actually lived in Mendocino for a couple of years, almost 30 years ago. There are no breweries in Mendocino, but we spent the afternoon there walking along the headlands. My words can’t do it justice, so I’ll show you some photos.

Wasn’t that a nice break from drinking beer? We thought so.

Still, the road ahead promised more beer, so we carried on!

North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg is famous for Old Rasputin, a Russian Imperial Stout. I knew from my vast internet research that their brewpub menu was almost exclusively steak and seafood, so we chose to eat dinner beforehand at a Mexican restaurant across the street. With our tummies well-primed we then settled down to our evening’s tasting.

We sat in the bar, which was very busy but well-attended by a couple of entertaining bartenders. It was a Friday night and the mostly-local crowd was lively and friendly. The beers started out so-so with a couple of mild and unassertive beers. Things got a whole lot better with Old Stock Ale, which tasted of port, vanilla beans, berries, and saddle leather. Really nice. The star of the show was absolutely the Old Rasputin. I got a bit rhapsodic over the idea of drinking it there at the source, on nitro, most expertly served by the bartender who explained to me exactly how the nitro serving process works. A world-class tasting experience at a small but world-class brewery. Well done you guys — cheers!

Our motel in Fort Bragg was directly across from the beach, with a view that was so fetching I got up early the next morning to go for a run.

Once in the car we continued northward through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We took our time, driving along the Avenue of the Giants and stopping several times for short hikes through the trees. We have big trees where we live, but we still think the coast redwoods are very special.

Now back to the beer! We greatly enjoyed Eel River Brewing in Fortuna. Perhaps we enjoyed their beers so much because by this time we’d pretty much decided to limit our tasting to IPAs, double IPAs, and Imperial Stouts. “Amber? Meh. Blonde? Forget it.” Eel River’s Organic IPA, Citra IPA, and Emerald Triangle were all rather wonderful.

After a post-beer walk we moved on to our night’s destination in Eureka. We’d been to Lost Coast Brewery on a previous trip and eagerly anticipated a return visit. The brewpub is in a funky old downtown building. It was very busy on this Saturday night — we had to wait for a table. We tried their 20th Anniversary Ale, which utterly did not work for us. It tasted of bubblegum and watermelon — yuck! Fortunately their Double Trouble (a double IPA) was wonderful. Great big piny bitterness, resiny mouthfeel, assertive bitter orange finish. Mighty fine!

We did a lot of driving the next day, all the way back to Portland for our final night on the road. We were delayed nearly two hours by miles of road  construction. As a result, we had no time for pub crawling. We took the light rail into downtown and headed straight to the Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House for dinner and beer.

The date was June 29. I was tingly with anticipation because I knew that Black Butte XXVI had been released only two days prior. Deschutes does an annual release of a barrel-aged, augmented version of its famous Black Butte Porter, and it’s always well worth the hype.

We ordered a flight with our meal and I teased myself with Inversion IPA, Fresh Squeezed IPA and Hop in the Dark CDA (a black IPA), all of which were perfectly wonderful,  before moving on to the star of the evening.

I have to tell you that Black Butte XXVI brought tears — literally it brought tears! — to my eyes. It’s barrel-aged with added Theo Chocolate cocoa nibs, pomegranate molasses, and cranberries. I usually turn up my nose at added ingredients in beer, but Deschutes does it with perfect restraint. It’s lovely, both to drink and to look at.

I intended to leave the restaurant with several bottles of it, but alas, they had already sold out of bottles and were awaiting a delivery from the brewery in Bend two days later.

Three weeks later I still haven’t found it around home, but I’m hopeful that I’ll still be able to obtain some when we go to Bend later this summer.

We came home with a few remaining bottles of Pliny the Elder, a couple of  other  lesser beers, and some great memories. We visited 18 breweries and tasted (or in some cases drank a few pints of) something in the neighborhood of 130 to 140 distinct beers. We only had a few really bad ones.

There were three clear standouts, highlights of the whole trip: Pliny the Elder (because it’s Pliny!), Old Rasputin (perfect at the source) and Black Butte XXVI.

We’re already planning our next beer trip (did I say something about… BEND???). But for the time being, it’s good to be home.

Cheers!

 

A week of beer tourism (part 1)

When I last left off the tale, we were leaving Monterey after a week’s worth of car-club activities. We could have taken two days to drive home, but we opted instead for a slow, steady week’s worth of short drives, long walks, and serious beer tourism.

Central and northern California are home to some world-class craft breweries, and we made it our mission to visit as many of them as possible.

When we visit a brewery, we usually share a flight. This gives each of us about a 2-ounce taste of several beers. That way we get to sample lots of beers without actually drinking all that much. Then we always follow a tasting with a walk. In an hour or so we can tour a downtown and see it in a way that most tourists don’t, while adding up our daily mileage as well.

We’d actually incorporated beer tourism throughout our trip, beginning with a tour of the Firestone Walker brewery in Paso Robles. They did a nice tour, almost 40 minutes worth of walking around the brewery before returning to the taproom for tastes. The guide was both knowledgeable and passionate; he enjoyed our nerdy nit-picky home brewer questions about the details of their brewing process. I bought a bottle of Parabola, a barrel-aged imperial stout, to take home.

In Santa Cruz we visited Seabright Brewery. We enjoyed the beachy vibe on their pink and turquoise patio. Their beers were all good but there were no standouts.

During our week in Monterey we made a few visits to Peter B’s brewpub in the Portola Hotel. Their Legend of Laguna IPA was quite nice. We also tasted several good beers from English Ales Brewery in nearby Marina, although we never made it to their taproom. We dashed into Alvarado Street Brewery just before closing time one night for a quick half pint of Duane’s World IPA.

Upon leaving Monterey we stayed a couple of nights with a niece of Chuck’s in the bay area. This allowed us to spend several hours in San Francisco walking to breweries. We couldn’t get into Anchor (their tours are booked six months in advance, and there is no other way to taste at the brewery), but we visited 21st Amendment (home of Brew Free! or Die IPA), Thirsty Bear, and Cellarmaker. The beers at Thirsty Bear were pretty good, but the food was awesome — it was an outstanding choice for our late lunch. Then at tiny Cellarmaker we encountered a beer called Coffee and Cigarettes. I don’t care for smoked beers, but this smoked porter was rather wonderful, and very aptly named.

The next day we began ever-so-slowly making our way northward. On a friend’s recommendation, we stopped in Fairfax to visit Iron Springs Brewery. Their Sless’ Stimulating Stout won a gold medal in the Oatmeal Stout category at the 2104 World Beer Cup. It was very nice, but my favorite was the Casey Jones Imperial IPA. We had to take an extra long walk after that one, but downtown Fairfax was absolutely charming.

From there  we drove just a few miles north to Petaluma, for Lagunitas Brewing. This is one of the big ones, with national distribution of their core beers. We sat in their shady patio enjoying laid-back live music and limited our tasting to small-batch beers that we can’t get at home. Night Time (a black IPA) and Fusion 22 (an IPA) were the standouts for me. It’s pretty clear that hops are an acquired taste, and we’ve turned into major hopheads. We love IPAs! Unfortunately Lagunitas is in the middle of an industrial park so we didn’t much enjoy our walk afterwards, but we soldiered on and got it done.

Then it was on to beer Mecca! We spent a night in Santa Rosa with a college friend of Chuck’s, which allowed us to visit a small local brewpub called Russian River Brewery. Their Pliny the Elder (a double IPA, natch!) has been voted the best beer in America by the members of the American Homebrewing Association for the last six years in a row. Their Pliny the Younger (a triple IPA), released each year in February, provokes 12-hour lines at the brewery and sells out in days. We’ve never tasted the Younger. We’d only had the Elder once before, in San Diego. Russian River’s distribution is extremely limited — it goes to select counties in California, a few places in Oregon and Colorado, and oddly to Philadelphia. For us, drinking Pliny at the source was a huge thrill that we believe every craft drinker must experience!

Russian River served up the largest flight I have ever seen. Despite their fame in the IPA realm, most of their beers are Belgian style (not our favorite) but it was Russian River so we had to sample everything. In this photo, however, you’ll notice that I’m hoisting a pint glass. I was taking microscopic sips of the Belgians but devoting most of my attention to that pint of Pliny.

Russian River was the one stop on our brewery tour where we actually bought beer apparel. We also bought a treasured six-pack of Pliny to go. A few of the bottles actually made it all the way home with us.

Gosh, I’ve only got partway through the week and I’m pushing 900 words already. I have more wonderful breweries to tell you about, but after Russian River I need to exhale!

Why am I still inside on this perfect summer day, anyway? I think I’ll stop writing for today and go for a bike ride.

Cheers!

 

A return to Monterey

Monterey, California was my late husband’s favorite place in the world. We would have moved there years ago if we could have found suitable employment to manage the high cost of housing. Alas, that never happened, so we chose Port Angeles, WA — a decision I never regretted — but his heart always longed for Monterey. Beginning in 1988 (I think?) we went there nearly every August for the Historic Races. We also attended several Porsche Club events in Monterey. The Monterey Porsche Parade in 1990 was always his favorite of the ten Parades we attended together. A few months after he died, I drove solo down to southern California and burst into tears when I saw highway signs pointing toward Monterey. I wrote about that moment here. Three years seems so long ago now, but at the time I didn’t know when I’d ever be able to return to Monterey without feeling that pain.

So I felt a mixture of delight and trepidation when it was announced that the 2014 Porsche Parade would be held in Monterey. I knew that I would go, but I didn’t know how I’d feel about being there.

As it turned out, CFL is now an important part of my life… and Monterey is a special place for him also. He actually lived there for a few years as a very young child while his father was stationed at the Naval Postgraduate School.

The Porsche Club of America is, I believe, the largest single-marque car club in the world, with over 100,000 members in 139 regions across the US and Canada. I’ve been a member since 1986, and yes I have owned a few Porsches over the years. The Parade is an annual national gathering held in a different city each year. During the week-long event, participants can choose from car-related competitive (concours, time/speed/distance rally, gimmick rally, autocross, technical quiz), other competitive (art show, golf tournament, 5K run, radio-controlled car races) and social (driving tours, banquets, receptions, beer tasting, wine tasting) events. It’s a busy week!

This year’s Parade was the largest ever, with more than 1,200 entrants (representing approximately 2,500 people and 1,000+ cars in attendance). As it was my 11th Parade and CFL’s first, I was delighted to “show him the ropes” and introduce him to many old friends from all over the country.

We started the week by working at the Concours. We were assigned to a team of judges who judged a whole bunch of 356s (the Porsche 356 was the original production Porsche, produced through 1965). CFL was a timer (each car is examined for a period of 5 minutes) and I was a runner (I took the score sheets for each car back to the scoring room). Of the dozen or more judging teams, my team had the only runner who actually RAN — I logged over 8 miles that day, one car at a time. :-)

Here is our team in action, as each judge was filling out his/her scoring sheet (as lowly workers, we didn’t get into this photo).

Our debut as competitors was the time/speed/distance (TSD) rally. The object of a TSD rally is to (1) stay on course and (2) arrive at each checkpoint at the right time. My late husband and I had gotten rather good at this over the years; our best finish was a 2nd in class (against 200+ others) in San Diego in 2007.

As rally driver, CFL rose to the challenge and did a great job of sustaining the prescribed average speeds through many speed changes. As navigator, I misinterpreted a few instructions and got us lost twice (argh!). We ended up finishing 19th in our class of 54 — but we passed the most important rally test with flying colors, as we were still speaking to each other at the end!

Here you see our car at a checkpoint where we were getting our timing slip.

A couple of days later we ran the gimmick rally. At this event we were given “you-won’t-get-lost” route instructions and a list of questions about places along the way. The rally route took us through 17 Mile Drive. We spent more time gaping at the scenery than we did looking for answers, so we finished well back in the pack.

A rally highlight for us was stopping to admire a Frank Lloyd Wright house. My late husband had fallen in love with this house years ago, which led to his interest in modern architecture, then led to my interest, then led to my doing to a lot of research on architectural theory that found its way into my dissertation — and finally brought me to meeting an architect (CFL) and answering his question about my architectural preferences with the statement “mid-century modern architecture.” Apparently that was the right answer! Hence this house (which CFL also knows well) was a big deal for us to see together. You just never know where the road of life will take you!

Of course we got the obligatory photo of ourselves at the Lone Cypress.

The rally banquet was held at the beautiful Carmel Mission. I enjoyed photographing the mission in the changing evening light. Check out the shadow that this contrail left on the clouds just before sunset!

At the banquet I won a large, bulky door prize (a car wash bucket with what looks like a lifetime supply of various cleaning supplies and equipment), which meant that we’d have to ship some things home to make room in the car for the beer that we planned to buy on the way home. But I’ll save the beer stories for another post.

On the last morning, we were up very early to run (me) and walk (CFL) the 5K. The route took us out and back along the waterfront. I ran a 29:12 and finished 2nd in my age group.

CFL was much more laid back and finished in something like 46 minutes. We both enjoyed the event.

The last thing before the final banquet was the actual Parade of Porsches. As Monterey is home to the Laguna Seca race track, this year’s parade consisted of two parade laps on the track. I consider my high-speed track days to be far behind me, but CFL had never driven on a racetrack, so I let him drive. With over 500 Porsches on the track (in 4-5 run groups) the speed was restrained, but we still managed to feel some G-forces and the unique thrill of the Corkscrew.

My photos are blurry, but they’ll give you an idea. Staging:

 

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On the track:

CFL was a happy guy afterwards.

The Parade concluded with the final banquet and many fond goodbyes. The next morning we scurried around and shoehorned everything into the car just well enough to make our way to a UPS store.

We’d take another week to make our way home, but I’ve done enough writing for now.

Until next time!

When a blogger doesn’t blog…

When a blogger doesn’t blog, it probably means one of two possible things:

  1. The blogger’s life is so utterly boring or depressing that there’s nothing worth blogging about
  2. The blogger has been too busy and happy to find time to write!

I’m happy to report that in my case, option 2 is the correct answer.

CFL and I hit the road for 20 days in June, driving a (mostly) leisurely 3,000 miles through Washington, Oregon, and California. Our adventures included  attending my granddaughter’s high school graduation, participating in a week of car-related events with nearly 2,500 other Porsche people and their cars in Monterey, California, spending time with several of CFL’s family members and friends (all new introductions for me), and visiting 18 (count ‘em!) craft breweries. Along the way we also fit in two visits with my dad (who is in a nursing home following a stroke in March) and stepmom in southern Oregon.

We were so busy that we didn’t take as many photos as we should have, but I’ll try to share some highlights from our trip over the next few days.

A big highlight for CFL was that we spent some time in two places where I-5 crosses the Pacific Crest Trail. We can now actually say that we’ve hiked the PCT, albeit only for a few yards!

My “Halfmile PCT” app on my phone captured the first moment that we stood on the trail, in southern Oregon.

Then we took the obligatory selfie at a trail marker.

And I shot the first photo of CFL actually setting foot on the trail. At this moment he had stopped to examine a note left by someone for a hiker who will come through this spot in August.

At the second trail crossing in northern California, we admired this directional sign.

For those who don’t know, the Pacific Crest Trail runs nearly 2,700 miles from Mexico to Canada. The California and Oregon sections were described by Cheryl Strayed in her best-selling book Wild (soon to be a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon). CFL has dreamed of through-hiking the PCT for at least 30 years now. I haven’t yet caught the fever for a through-hike, but I am considering hiking one or more sections of it. We plan to give ourselves a small taste of it later this summer when we’ll day-hike three short sections of it near and in Crater Lake National Park.

Our PCT adventure took place on day 2 of 20, so we were just getting underway. I’ll share more from our trip over the next several days… unless life in this moment gets too busy and happy for me to take the time to write.

Until next time…. Slowly and happily!

More than the numbers at the finish line

Sometimes a race report becomes a litany of facts and figures, pacing strategies and splits. When I write a race report, I’m usually still caught up in my race day mental state. I actually do math problems in my head as I run, especially in the later miles when I’m trying to figure out when I’ll finish and wondering whether I can push a little harder and achieve a goal… or if I can’t do that, then how little can I miss it by?

The numbers are important to me, I won’t deny that. But a few days after a race, when I’ve had some time to reflect on it and form lasting memories of it, other things come to the fore. Richer, less quantifiable, more embodied impressions of the event and its meaning.

About two weeks before the race, the mile markers went down on the pavement. On one of my daily walks I stopped to photograph several of them. Of course it was this one that I most looked forward to seeing on race day.

That’s mile marker 13 of the half marathon (and incidentally mile 3 of the 5K that would finish at the same location). Only one-tenth of a mile to go from here! Those markers will linger on the pavement for months ahead, and I’ll smile each time I see one.

At walking speed I’ve seen some wonderful things on the trail over the past two months. Sometimes I just have to stop at Morse Creek to look for eagles in the trees. I’ve seen as many as four at a time in this one location, one of several places along the trail where eagles are a frequent sight. Do you see him/her?

This has been a wonderful year for our local wild rose species, the Nootka rose. On race day some parts of the trail were lined on both sides with 10-foot tall rose bushes. Their fragrance was intoxicating. I was happy to back off the race pace just a bit here to enjoy them!

Of course, at the end there is a finish line. This year the finish line looked a little different to me, however. This time there was no special someone waiting for me there. I have no finish line photos of myself. Instead, I ran with a good friend, received my medal from her mom, and accepted cool drinks, food, and congratulations from other familiar faces.

Then it was time for me to hurry back to the finish line and wait for CFL to arrive! This time I got to be the one cheering and shooting photos of his arrival. He was a very happy guy.

 

I was thrilled to pose with him for the iconic medal shot!

Afterwards, of course, there was beer. There was putting our feet up and enjoying the sunshine. We spoke with runners from faraway places. One young couple had come from Munich! There were others from Indiana, Colorado, and Alaska, and other places. We relished their compliments about our beautiful corner of the world, and we shared a few tips about special places they should see before leaving.

In the end, it’s about much more than the numbers at the finish line. It’s about loving the journey, every step of the way.

Cheers!

NODM half marathon 2014 race report

Slow Happy Living:

CFL and I had a great day yesterday!

Originally posted on Slow Happy Runner:

As I stood at the starting line for the North Olympic Discovery half marathon yesterday, I truly had no idea how the race would go for me. My doctor had only cleared me to run nine days earlier, after seven weeks of recovery from my broken arm. I’d run/walked four times in the week prior to the race, with a “long” run of 7 miles and total mileage of just under 19 miles. I was slow and my legs felt a little shaky, but I was running again — and I was determined to run as much as possible on race day!

Back when I was still thinking I’d have to walk the whole race, one of my running friends (who hasn’t run much over the past few months) decided that she’d walk it with me. A few days before the race I asked her if she was up to run/walking with me. I told her…

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