Tuesday, December 29, 2015

This is the first time I've posted a review of running gear, and this post is specifically a review of Saucony Xodus 6 running shoes. I bought a pair of these shoes on the last day of September, 2015, and made my first run in them on October 1st. Over the course of the last three months I've put about 400 miles on these shoes, and absolutely worn them out. I was pretty happy with the shoes and decided to replace them with another pair just like them. This picture shows the pair I've been using on the left, and my brand new replacement pair on the right. You can click the pictures in this post to see larger versions with more detail.

I got these shoes at a regional running store, and the sales clerk told me that I could expect to put 300 or so miles on them. Although the tread wear over the course of the last three months was intense, the shoes themselves held up well. There are no holes or tears in the bodies of the shoes, and the laces held up fine, too.

When I run, I land heavily on the outside of my heel, and I eventually completely ground the outer heels off of this pair of shoes. I run on multiple surfaces; pavement, trail, grass and gravel, but I would say I'm on pavement about 75% of the time. Except for the very noticeable lack of outer heel tread (which I could really feel in my hips), these shoes remained comfortable right up until the end. It's probably obvious that the older shoe is on the left in this picture of the tread.

The tread is also worn on the toes of these shoes, although not as badly, so it isn't obvious in the pictures. Over the course of three months I ground the outsole so badly that it is entirely gone half-way up through the Vibrum logo.

Other runners have different strides, so your millage may vary.

This is the first pair of running shoes I've owned that involved a real investment of over a hundred dollars, but my running was generally improved during the time I had these shoes. Obviously, the shoes aren't the only factor in that improvement.

I bought the second pair from Amazon; I prefer to buy locally, but took advantage of a gift card I received for Christmas. So I payed a little more for the first pair. Nonetheless, I think they were worth the money, and I look forward to wearing out this second pair. When I get the pair that follows this pair, I will probably return to the local running store and I may decided to try a new brand.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Around Christmastime I start feeling very little motivation to try new beers because all of my favorite annual releases are on the shelves. Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale alone is reason enough to keep my fridge stocked with one specific brew for a couple of months. Throw in Brown Shugga, Founder's Breakfast, Double Bastard, Mad Elf ... hell, even Samuel Adams Winter Lager is something I look forward to every year. So there is more beer around than I need just among the known entities.

Nonetheless, I did manage to veer from the course for a few bottles of new stuff over the past couple of weeks, so here is the Christmas 2015 version of my semi-regular six-packs of beer reviews.

Troeg's Blizzard Hops is a solid beer, as is generally the case from Troegs. This IPA pours bright, clear yellow with a lot of carbonation and foam. floral and citrus hops in the aroma and on the tongue, and the finish is buttery and mild. Not amazing, but not at all bad.

New Belgium's Ben & Jerry's Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale isn’t horrible. It isn’t very good, either. It’s just far too sweet. This beer pours amber brown with average head and carbonation. The aroma is malt, a little honey. The flavor is like candy with artificial sweetener. Mild chocolate, a little nutmeg. I didn’t pick up on any caramel or salt, just sugary sugar.

Greenbrier Valley Brewing's Wild And Wonderful Series Weizenbock is a fairly standard wheat bock; a lot like a wheat ale with that cool, crisp finish of a lager. It pours a hazy copper color, the foam fades to an average head. The aroma is mid bananas and that somewhat peppery, boiled cabbage note I associate with the style. The flavor is rich and a little stronger than the aroma implies.

Stone's Depth Charged Double Bastard is their annual double version of Arrogant Bastard, but this variant is brewed with espresso. It's very strong, rich beer. Delicious for the first half of a twenty-two ounce bottle, but by the end it’s maybe a little heavy-handed. Pours a deep copper color with minimal head. The aroma is very much like regular Double Bastard, with the caramel and raisins and nuts and apples present, and a little coffee there, too. The coffee-espresso notes are far stronger on the tongue than in the nose. Primarily on the back of the tongue and in the exhale. I liked this a lot, although I don’t like it as much as regular Double Bastard. The strong, rich coffee notes in the finish began to get a little old toward the end, but not enough to keep me from enjoying the beer.

Sorry Not Sorry is a peach double IPA, and it's a collaboration between Stone, 4 Hands, and Bale Breaker Brewing. These collaborations aren't always to my liking, but they're always worth trying, and a great way to find out about tiny breweries I might never know anything of at all. This double IPA is an example of what Stone does really well, either on their own or working with other brewers. Sorry Not Sorry pours bright amber with a good bit of foamy head. The aroma is similar to Stone’s Delicious IPA; citrus hops, buttery malt, grassy notes, with a little bit of peaches in the background. The flavor is the same, with the peaches more an insinuation than an overwhelming presence. There’s a slightly rich, peach aftertaste that never gets strong enough to get old. Just one more outstanding IPA on the market courtesy of Stone Brewing.

Stone's Coffee Milk Stout isn't even 5% ABV. Maybe it's supposed to be a session stout. If so, it’s still a pretty good one. This beer pours a dark brown with very little head. The aroma is salty chocolate malt and coffee. The flavor is clean and crisp and fairly light. Not bad.

Monday, November 23, 2015

My Year As A Runner, 2015

I haven't written much about exercise here at the blog over the second half of this year. And, here's the thing: I have no desire to write about it. I have nothing to prove anymore. I just want to do it. I just want to run.

Having said that, I realize that the mere fact that I am a runner is a huge step forward. It's progress, at least in terms of where I was when I first started trying to lose weight in 2014. At that time I'd never had dreamed that I'd get to where I am today. Especially not this soon.

At my worst I weighted 330 pounds. That's hard for me to believe now, because my day-to-day life is so different from how it was back then. Today I weigh about 170, and I don't even think about my weight anymore. Weight loss isn't my goal anymore, because my weight is healthy and stable. These days, when it comes to diet and activity, it's all about improving my performance. This is where I am today:

I ran nine races this year. I was the fastest adult in one 5K. I also won my age division in a couple of other races. I've learned this about running, and I think it applies to any kind of sport or active lifestyle: If you want to get good at it, you have to do it a lot. If you want to do it a lot, you have to love it. And if you want to love it, you have to get good at it. It's a three-stage cycle that repeats over and over again. And there is exactly one point of access to that cycle: Do it. Just get out there and do it. Now.

Next spring I will be running my first half-marathon. At this point, my longest formal race is a 10K. My longest solo run is eleven miles. Tomorrow I will do my weekly long run, and I hope to finally get my twelfth mile tomorrow. If not, I'll get it next week. Or the next.* I'll get it at some point, I can tell you that... because I'm in that three-stage cycle. Love it, do it, get good at it, repeat.

And I don't have a lot more to say about it.

But if a picture is worth a thousand words, here's nine-thousand words worth of pictures. Here is one picture from each of my races in 2015. What you are seeing in these pictures is a 46 year old dork who's happier than he's ever been.

Just get out there. It really is that simple. Do it and you'll get good at it. Get good at it and you'll come to love it. Love it and you'll want to do it. Repeat.

*11/24/2015 ... as it turned out, I did get that twelfth mile today, and then some.

Another mixed six-pack of beer reviews, this set (I suppose) is the Thanksgiving set.

Great Divide's Hibernation Ale is delicious. It's one of the best old-style ale’s I’ve had. It pours dark brown with a little splotchy head. The aroma is sweet spices, nutmeg, pears, pecans, other winter notes. The flavor is wonderful. Big caramel and tea qualities, with some citrus on the finish, and a boozy blast of vapor in the nose. Damn good beer.

Great Divide is two-for-two in this set of reviews. Fresh Hop IPA is outstanding. It pours bright amber in color with a fair amount of foam and carbonation. The aroma is big, grassy hops and cereal malt. The flavor is wet, pungent hops through and through. Lemon and buttery sweetness on the finish. Really nice beer. This is now on my look-for list.

Stone's Stochasticity Project - Your Father Smelt Of Elderberries - American Strong Ale is (as the name implies) a high concept beer. It grew on me as I drank it. It pours a bright brown with burgundy highlights, The head is average. The aroma is strong and sweet, and maybe a little medicinal. The taste is like a cross between a barley wine and Arrogant Bastard with cherry notes. I am not overly familiar with elderberries, so I'm not qualified to comment on the elderberry quality. It just reminds me of cherries. By the end of the bottle I was enjoying it, but I nave no real desire to get another bottle.

New Holland's Carhartt Woodsman Brown Ale is, I guess, not awful. But it's nothing special. It's really kinda meh, and among the lesser New Holland beers I've had. It pours brown/orange, with a lot of foam. The aroma is more like a Belgian than an American pale ale. The Slightly fruity, bananas and some vanilla. There isn’t really any oak to mention in the flavor. Just a basic, mildly Belgian tasting ale.

Great Lakes Ohio City Oatmeal Stout is really just one more oatmeal stout. It’s rich and smooth, but not overly sweet. It pours dark brown with average head, the aroma is coffee and cereal malt, a little chocolate. The flavor is big on coffee and roasted malt. The finish is clean.

As sweet ales go, Great Lakes Christmas Ale is one of the better ones. This ale pours deep copper color, the head fades quickly. The aroma is ginger, spice, winter squash, malt, and a little citrus. The flavor adds honey and a little lemon on the close. I actually like this quite a lot.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Another mixed six-pack of beer reviews, Halloween edition.

Little Sumpin' Extra is Lagunitas Brewery's variation on their popular imperial IPA. And it's as good as Lil’ Sumpin’ Sumpin’, maybe better. This one pours a paler yellow than the year-round release, with average head. The aroma is sweeter and cleaner than Sumpin’ Sumpin’. So is the flavor. The wheat malt is discernibly milder and more buttery, but the beer certainly doesn’t lose any of the original recipe’s bitter edge. I love it when Lagunitas releases these variants. Another slight but brilliant departure from a reliable brewery.

Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan brown ale is not awful, but it’s not very good. Pours a hazy, golden brown with an average head. The aroma is malt and molasses and a little brown sugar. The flavor is slightly sweet and synthetic tasting. No pecans on the aroma or flavor, really. Nothing special. Not absolutely awful. But not something I’ll have again.

Chaos Mountain's Cheeky Monkey Belgian ale is an aggressive tasting Belgian that breaks decidedly toward the tart notes that are usually subdued in other Belgian ales. This one isn’t mild, doesn’t have sweet, banana quality. This hybrid pours yellow, there is a lot of foam, and the aroma is grassy. The flavor is a bit medicinal. Some fruit/citrus flavors, but the finish is acerbic.

I love it when Stone does out-of-left-field collaborations with other breweries. You never know what you'll get, and some of them are wonderful. But 24 Carrot Golden Ale is a collaboration with Juli Goldenberg and Monkey Paw, and this time the beer is a big swing and a wide miss. In fact, it's one of the least enjoyable beers I’ve ever had on a bottle with the Stone Brewing label. Pours an orange/blonde color, very little head. The aroma is like a sweet, overly spiced pumpkin ale. The flavor is the same, but with an artificially sweet, flat, cough-syrup like finish. I didn’t dump the bottle half way through. I finished it. I’m not sure why.

Sixpoint's Sensi IPA pours dark orange, average head and lace. The aroma is lemon and pine hops, and the aroma is HUGE, strong pine hops. Smooth across the front, taste wise, and then a very bitter finish. Nothing spectacular, just one more solid beer from a solid brewery, and a fine IPA. Nice.

Long Trail's Brush And Barrel Imperial Pumpkin Ale is OK, as pumpkin ales go. Pours deep copper/bronze in color, average head and lace. The aroma is spice, malt, honey, a little booze. The mouthfeel is heavy, close to a barleywine. Lots of spice and a blast of alcohol vapor on the swallow, then a caramel apple finish. It isn’t bad. It isn't wonderful. It's one more pumpkin ale, and we really don't need one more pumpkin ale. What we need is one more amazing Baltic porter, because their are too few of them. Get on it, Long Trail.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Six more beer reviews.

Duclaw's 31 pumpkin spiced lager is a decent pumpkin beer, with vanilla and apple notes on top of the usual nutmeg, cinnamon, vegetables and caramel. It pours a cloudy brown with very little head. The aroma is sweet and malty but mild, and the standard spices come through at the end. Nothing special but not bad.

Samuel Adams Pumpkin Batch pumpkin ale is probably exactly as good as a reasonable person should expect a Samuel Adams pumpkin beer to be; not very. Pours hazy orange, lots of foam, medium carbonation. The aroma is vegetables and pumpkin spices. Cabbage, nutmeg, soap. The taste is about the same. This is a good reminder of the reasons I usually avoid pumpkin beer. Samuel Adams beers are usually decent, as macro-brews go. This one is pretty bad.

Sierra Nevada's Vienna Lager is nothing earth-shattering, but it's smooth and rich and drinkable. Pours bright orange, no real head to speak of, medium carbonation. The aroma is butter and mild vanilla, the flavor is creamy, mildly sweet, and clean. Sierra Nevada doesn’t make bad beer, but this is among their least.

Clown Shoes Galactica IPA is OK, but a little medicinal in the finish. It pours bright yellow/orange with average head, the aroma is citrus and grass. The flavor is bitter all the way around, and especially on the back-end. Huge rush of grapefruit and pine.

Green Flash Hop Odyssey 30th Street Pale Ale is not bad, but the hoppiness isn't all that the label implies. This beer pours amber/orange with average head and carbonation. Malt and mild citrus on the nose, with just a little more citrus and grass in the finish of the taste.

Brother's Brewing's Fairground Pale Ale is a very mild, even understated pumpkin spice ale. The spice is more an afterthought than a dominant quality. Pours golden color, not much foam, average carbonation. Mild spice on the aroma, and a mild pale ale flavor that concludes with a little bit of pumpkin spice.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Six Reviews:

Ballast Point's Dead Ringer Octoberfest pours deep brown color, the head fades away quickly. The aroma is caramel, apple butter, some spice. The flavor is rich and a little too sweet for me. Molasses, scotch notes, clean finish. It isn’t bad, but it's not my style.

Sierra Nevada's Oktoberfest is a collaboration with German Brauhaus Riegele, and it's very good. This beer pours a bright amber, with average head and carbonation. The aroma is malty and rich, with a little lemon zest, hoppy punch. The flavor is buttery and warm and really tasty. Mild banana/fruit notes atop that rich malt, with a hoppy tingle at the end. I just said in the previous review that Octoberfest beers aren't my style, but I liked this a lot.

Great Lakes Nosferatu Imperial Red is a fine beer. It pours dark copper/red, the head is creamy and hangs on for a while. The aroma is rich, if slightly muted. A little oak, some brown sugar. The flavor is bigger thant he smell. It's smooth up front, slightly sweet, and then finishes with a wash of hops, caramel, nuts and cereal malt. Nice.

Harvest Ale, by Southern Tier, pours amber/brown, average head, average carbonation. The aroma is mild apples and spice, and a little bit of hoppy tingle. The flavor isn’t strong upfront, but the back of the tongue is a smooth flood of warm malt. Orange pekoe tea and caramel round it out. Nothing special, but pretty good.

There is a lot going on in South Street's Twisted Gourd pumpkin ale, and I was sure I wouldn’t like it, but I do like it. In fact, I enjoyed this bottle quite a bit. The color is brown/orange, the head is average. The aroma is chai tea, black pepper and pumpkin. The flavor is rich and spicy. There is hot pepper all over the taste, but it works well with the squash/pumpkin notes. Most pumpkin beers are either bland or too sweet. This one is neither of those things. I’d buy it again.

Macro-brewery or not, The Boston Beer Company continues to turn out beer that is more drinkable than not. Samuel Adams Rebel Rouser Double IPA is pretty good; and there aren't many DIPA alternatives in this price range that are better, or even as good. This beer pours a hazy orange color with average head. The aroma is slightly sweet citrus with a little bit of a vegetable/pepper thing going on. The flavor starts out bitter and gets more bitter. It's aggressive, a legit DIPA aimed at DIPA fans. The finish is musty and strong. I enjoyed every sip.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Here's another mixed six.

Stone's 19th Anniversary Double IPA is called Thunderstruck, and it's made with Australian hops and malts. It's outstanding. I haven't enjoyed a Stone Anniversary release this much since the 16th. Thunderstruck pours bright, lemon yellow. Clean and clear, lots of carbonation, medium head. The aroma is pungent hops and something like white grape must. Grapes aren't mentioned on the label, but I detected that grape character in all three bottles of this that I have been able to get so far. The flavor is bright, dry, very strong. The hops are very bitter, the grape quality is still there, along with citrus and honey over a warm, clean malt. This beer is really good. I'd love to see it become a regular release.

Ballast Point's Calico is a tasty amber ale. It's not as good as other Ballast Point brews, but not bad. Calico pours bronze color, with medium carbonation and head. The aroma is citrus and honey, and the flavor is more of the same. It never plays any surprising cards, but then again, it never wore out it’s welcome.

Commodore Perry is an IPA by Great Lakes Brewing. This is a mild, indistinct IPA. Not bad, not special. It pours bright orange with an average head. The aroma is pine hops and vegetable notes. The flavor has a floral/citrus hop quality, the malt is slightly rich, but the finish is a little watery.

Ballast Point's Grunion Pale Ale pours bright, lemon yellow with a fair amount of sticky head. This beer smells great. There is a really rich, bready, malt background and citrus hops. Tangerine, vanilla, butter. The flavor is distinct from other pale ales, and delicious. There is a strong, almost rye quality mid-tongue. It finishes warm and smooth. One of the best basic pale ales I’ve had in a long time.

Troeg's Hop Back Amer Ale pours amber in color with average carbonation and a faint head. The aroma is rich, there are brown sugar notes and some citrus. The flavor adds apples, coriander, and a faint, grassy burn from the hops. Not bad.

I don't think of myself as a lager fan, but beers like Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold could change that. This is the best lager I've had since last year's Hoppy Lager by Sierra Nevada. Dortmunder Gold pours orange/yellow with an average head. The aroma is really nice; the malt is bright and buttery, and the hops add some floral tingle. But the flavor especially pops. This beer tastes great. That rich, sweet malt lays a foundation for some surprisingly strong hops. It's just a satisfying beer. I will buy it again.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Six more beer reviews.

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter pours dark brown with a little more than average head at first. But it fades quickly. The aroma is anise, baker’s chocolate, coffee. That’s all present in the flavor, too. The finish is a strong, roasted malt and a little hop tingle. This is an affordable porter, and it’s low price and high quality make it one worth picking up.

I’m not wild about pumpkin beer, but Ballast Point's Pumpkin Down is pretty good. It’s clearly a scotch ale with pumpkin added. It pours a dark copper color, there isn’t much foam. The pumpkin is there on the aroma, but mostly this beer smells like a scotch ale, with warm caramel malt, liquor and citrus notes. The flavor is where the pumpkin and pumpkin spices come through most clearly on the finish of the flavor, but not so strongly that they dominate the scotch ale character.

Small Town Not Your Father's Root Beer pours dark brown and highly carbonated, like regular root beer. No head to speak of. The aroma is just like regular root beer, and strong. I could smell it distinctly while pouring it. And the taste is just like regular root beer, too. I pick up on no alcohol, no hops, just the usual root beer combination of sassafras, spices, sugar, and cherry. This isn’t something I’d get when I’m craving a beer, but I’m surprised at how identical it is to the root beer I drank as a kid.

Ballast Point's Calm Before The Storm is a Cream Ale with vanilla and coffee. It's billed as sort of a companion to the outstanding Victory at Sea porter. This ale is a clear lemon/orange color with a lot of carbonation and average head. Autumn vegetables in the aroma; squash, pumpkin, a little bit of vanilla and butterscotch. The flavor is a little muted. There is some malt up front, a little bit of citrus, and a classic, cream ale finish. I neither tasted, nor smelled, the coffee promised on the label. This is nowhere near as good as the porter.

Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale is not a shockingly original pale ale, but it's a a pretty good one. Pours bright orange with a lot of carbonation and average head. The aroma is citrus and malt. The flavor is citrus and malt, too, with slightly herbal/grassy notes. The finish is a little too sweet, but not enough to ruin it.

Ballast Point's Habanero Sculpin is different, that’s for sure. It pours orange with a little head, like other versions of Sculpin. The aroma is more or less like regular Sculpin, with the addition of spices, black pepper. The flavor is big on hot habanero. That’s really all I can taste. It's actually pretty hot. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t what I really want in a beer.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Another post with a mixed six-pack of beer reviews.

AleSmith's Speedway Stout is an outstanding, satisfying beer. It pours jet black from the bottle, the head is average. The aroma is strong coffee, anise, some baker’s chocolate, and very dark, roasted malt, figs, raisins. The flavor is very strong, very rich. Not overly sweet. Creamy and rich without being a sugar overload. Just a hair shy of burnt tasting. Wonderful.

Great Divide's Showdown Rye IPA is milder than my favorite rye IPAs, but pretty good. Pours a hazy brown/amber, not much head. The aroma is caramel, rye, and apples. Very smooth up front on the tongue, fairy rich and sweet. A little more aggressive in the finish. There is some bitter vapor in the nose on the exhale. Decent.

Anchor IPA is another solid beer from Anchor, and one of the best offerings in the price range. It pours cloudy brown with average head and lace. The aroma is musty and malty, with pepper, grass, and lemon notes. The flavor is rich and buttery and strong. A little burn and pine vapor from the hops in the finish. I liked this.

SixPoint's 4 Beans Imperial Porter is the surprising new version of their delicious, popular, lamented 3 Beans porter (which I loved). This version adds vanilla, and the presence of vanilla is there. It's real. But it doesn't significantly change what I remember about 3 Beans, and doesn't re-invent the wheel. This porter still pours as brown as you'd expect, with a tan head. There is still that big, warm rush of chocolate in the aroma and in the flavor. Coffee is a presence, again, and warm malt, and hops on the finish. This is a fine, delicious beer. It's too expensive to buy it often, so I hope it's around for a while.

Ommegang's Hop House is a heavily hopped Belgian/IPA hybrid. It's as sweet as a Belgian and as hoppy as an IPA, and there are many beers like it. Which is fine, because it's a good style, and this is a good example of it. It pours pale orange, the head is average, the aroma is floral hops. The flavor has a mildly fruity, dry white wine kind of quality. There is a rush of hoppy burn at the end.

I can't pass up an opportunity to make some notes about the 2015 release of my favorite beer ever, Stone's RuinTen Triple IPA. This is the annual release version of their tenth anniversary, limited edition of the brewery's popular Ruination Double IPA. I like Ruination in it's year-round release version, but this hoppier, heavier, meaner special release always takes the game up several notches. As always, this IPA is very bitter, very strong, with citrus and rich malt. This year's addition has a thicker, almost barley-wine like quality that I don't remember noticing from previous iterations. It may have been there, it may just be that I didn't get it as much. The close is a big, aggressive blast of alcohol vapor and hops. I've managed to round up a total of seven bottles this year. Even with slight differences in texture this year, I love it as much as ever.