Saturday, May 23, 2015

2015 Brewvet Challenge

Not your ordinary randonneur brevet series, the Brewvet Challenge combines cycling with beer in a manner requiring little planning, not much endurance and actually not much cycling either. I'm also a big fan of chocolate, so any opportunity to combine all three is welcome.

I got a late start on the month of May and needed to really push myself to conquer this challenge. Fortunately, I like to ride and I've got a surprising number of friends willing to support me in this endeavor.

Herewith, I present the requisite eight rides.

MAY 15, 2015, Ride #1
Ride: Collingwood, TN, to Nashville, TN, 97 miles.
Brew Location: Jonathan's Grille, Nashville/Bellevue, TN
Beer: Yazoo Dos Perros (3, just to be safe)
Wiki Yazoo: Linus Hall started with a homebrewing kit in 1993. He kept brewing with his wife Lila when he moved home to Mississippi after college, and then moved to Nashville in 1996.
In October 2003, he opened Yazoo Brewing, offering Yazoo Pale Ale, Dos Perros, Spring Wheat, and Onward Stout. In 2010, they moved their new brewery in the Gulch (whatever that is), at 910 Division Street. 
The website says, "Many Mexican beer styles today are descendants of old Austrian styles, from when Austria ruled Mexico..." Apparently, in some deal with the French, Austria controlled Mexico - briefly - during our Civil War. The U.S. never acknowledged it, but somehow it influenced the beer. Anyway, it says, "Dos Perros is made with German Munich malt, English Pale malt, and Chocolate malt, and hopped with Perle and Saaz hops."
It was hard to judge the color in the dimly lit bar, but it appeared dark with reddish tone. It was smooth and rich. I've come to expect chocolate beer to not taste like chocolate, but nevertheless give me the same satisfaction I get from eating dark chocolate. The balance was perfect, the aftertaste minimal.
The waitress let me taste-test this and Jakelope Maple Brown, another Nashville brewer. The Maple was thinner and had a little tang to it. I'm a big fan of maple and take packets of Untapped Maple on my bike rides, so I was optimistic. But Yazoo won, immediately.
The ride itself was also a randonneur permanent, owned by Michelle Williams of Crooked Letter Cycling. On the previous day, I rode a 222k permanent also owned by said same Michelle. As expected, that made this ride even more painful. However, the Natchez Trace Parkway is a gorgeous road. A week-long trek of 470 miles ended at this sports bar in Nashville, Tennessee.

NOTE: I expect special consideration for the greatest distance between brewvet rides.

MAY 17, 2015, Ride #2
Ride: Pleasanton, CA, over Palomares to Pleasanton, CA, 31 miles.
Brew Location: The Hop Yard American Alehouse and Grill, Pleasanton, CA
Beer: North Coast Red Seal Ale
North Coast Brewing Company is in Fort Bragg, CA ...up on the Mendocino Coast.  I've been there on a kayaking trip with my son and tried their Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. Everything they make is good.  This time, I went with a red ale. It was full and a little spicy. At first, I wasn't sure since I'm more of a stout/porter/dark-beer guy.  But I had the Ahi Tuna for lunch and they paired very well.
The ride was a familiar one for me, full of climbing and descending. Having ridden 470 miles this week, I foolishly sought the next milestone, 500 miles, as the goal for the week ending on this particular Sunday. To be safe, a little detour to gain an extra mile was in order, which took me by another familiar place - affectionately called "the Hop".

MAY 22, 2015, Ride #3
Ride: Pleasanton, CA, train station to Raley's and then home, 1.7 miles.
Brew Location: home, purchase beer from Raley's, both in Pleasanton, CA
Beer: Hangar 24 Chocolate Porter
Hangar 24 started next to the airport in Redlands, CA. Ben Cook started Hangar 24 after completing the Master Brewer Program at UC Davis. This porter is intended for pairing with full-bodied food, which I read after the fact. The 22 oz bottle gave me the opportunity to have two full glasses. The first didn't sit right with me. It was full of flavor but had an unpleasant aftertaste, dry, acidic. But the second glass was smoother, richer and a soft, slightly chocolaty finish (in that way I've come to expect with chocolate beer - but not quite like chocolate). At 8%, 22 ounces was plenty for me. But overall, I felt it was a good choice - even if it was an uneducated, spontaneous decision in a grocery store.
This ride was purely tactical. The Altamont Commuter Express serves as my commute occasionally, and my bike serves to connect work and home to the train stations. On the way home, I stopped by the store to grab a brew that I'd never tasted before.

MAY 23, 2015, Ride #4
Ride: Pleasanton, CA, over Palomares to San Ramon, CA, 44 miles.
Brew Location: The Hop Yard American Alehouse and Grill, San Ramon, CA (their second location)
Beer: Russian River Porter
The Russian River Brewing Company is up in Santa Rosa, about two hours from here in wine country.  The description of the porter on their website says "Full-bodied, dry, clove spice, chocolate and roasted malts. Tasty on a breezy Autumn day!" Even though it's May in California, it was rather like a breezy autumn day today. And honestly, I didn't know it was yet another chocolate beer.  But who's complaining?
I was fresh off the bike after two hours, so the first sip was awesome! I had a black bean burger with fries for lunch and it went very well with this porter. It was very full and smooth with barely any aftertaste. It may have been my level of thirst or the burger, but it didn't seem bitter at all. The beer was full and soon enough, so was I.
The ride was cool and damp and never really warmed up until after lunch. The original plan was to climb Palomares, then swing through Castro Valley and climb Norris Canyon which would end up near "the Hop" in San Ramon. But we opted to skip Norris and take Dublin Canyon instead and then take the relatively flat San Ramon Valley Boulevard up to lunch. The ride home was as easy as it gets (Iron Horse Trail) and we were happy to have the sun poke out.

MAY 24, 2015, Ride #5
Ride: Pleasanton, CA, to Livermore, CA, 36 miles.
Brew Location: BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, Dublin, CA
Beer: Nutty Brewnette
BJ's is a chain that started with pizza in southern California and added their own beer along the way. Now they have locations from coast to coast. They offer the full spectrum of beers with seasonal specials, too.  I went with the brown instead of a porter just to bust out of my habit. Also, since this is a brewvet, I liked the "brew" in brewnette. The description claims four different malts and a healthy dose of hops. We didn't eat and it was warm and sunny outside where we were sitting, so the overall impression was a bit dry. But that's probably me. A cooler day and something to eat (anything, probably) would have made this beer quite satisfying. The flavor was balanced and complex which is my way of saying that I don't really know what it tasted like but it wasn't bad. Special thanks to Dedi for switching glasses with me (we both ordered the same, but mine came in a glass with some other label).
BJ's was not the original destination as this ride came together. There are three breweries in Livermore but they all open at noon. We had picked at 9am start time and it certainly doesn't take three hours to get to any of them.  BJ's opened at 10am, and had the added incentive of being a restaurant with big screen TVs instead of just tasting rooms. As we rode towards the increasingly warm sun, a struggle emerged between the ambitious riders and the social riders. A truce was reached with regroupings at predictable locations. The next conflict occurred because of the rerouting: we needed directions. Actually, a leader. Well, we had a leader (usually me) without directions, and someone with directions hovering near the back. Traffic was patient with us as we made course corrections. Of the nine that started, two diverted home leaving seven at the table ordering a variety of beers - photographic evidence notwithstanding. No riders had much ambition for the rest of the ride.

MAY 28, 2015, Ride #6
Ride: Milpitas, CA, to Pleasanton, CA, 30 miles.
Brew Location: Main Street Brewery, Pleasanton, CA
Beer: Pyrat Porter
Main Street Brewery occupies the building that was built in 1916 for the Parnassus Cheese Company, then the Standard Cheese Corporation (owned by Greek relative, Spiliotopoulos …Greeks in Pleasanton?) and is still called the Cheese Factory. Incidentally, it had an underground tunnel to the Pleasanton Hotel. In the 1970s, it was the largest local cheese processing plant around. Since 1995 they've been brewing excellent beer. As I’m apt to do, I looked for the porter – Pyrat Porter. It stood out on the waitress’s tray because it was very dark compared to the ambers and reds my buddies ordered. The foam was creamy and a deep, tan color that lasted for half the glass. From the first sip, it was a pleasure – smooth, rich and full with a quickly dissipating, lightly bitter aftertaste. What’s that? Oh yes, chocolate tones! This Brewvet Challenge has given me so many chocolate beers. For years I kept stumbling across porters that tasted like Peet’s Coffee (not my favorite). I couldn’t find the Brewery’s description but other online tasting reports claim that rum is used to make this, hence the pirate allusion. I didn't notice.

The riding prior to Main Street is my typical twice-weekly commute home from work. Often, Calaveras Road back by the reservoir will get traffic especially later in the week. But today there was a traffic accident at Calaveras and Felter that dammed up most of the cars during our ride. That made the rollers and switch-backs much more enjoyable. The weather had finally warmed up so it was a most excellent afternoon. As we entered town, my trio was joined by another commuter simply because of the impending beer stop. Another stopped on his way home from the train. And yet another joined during round two from his office in Pleasanton. It’s amazing how many friends want to hang with you when you’re enjoying a brewvet!

MAY 29, 2015, Ride #7
Ride: My house in Pleasanton, CA, to New Leaf Community Markets and back, 3 miles.
Brew Location: Heretic Brewing, Pittsburg, CA
Beer: Chocolate Hazelnut Porter
Heretic Brewing is not too far away in Pittsburg, California. I have fond memories of Heretic "Shallow Grave" during a 200km ride last fall, so I was happy to see several options on the shelf at the healthy, organic store down the road. Actually, I had to climb some steep hills with my single-speed to get there. No surprise, I chose the Chocolate Hazelnut Porter and also grabbed a package of brownies - having learned the importance of pairing foods.
I took a selfie then took a big sip of the porter. Umm, not quite right. Thin, dry and confusing. Oh wait, I'm dry from the minor sweat I created riding home. Small bite of the brownie and miraculously, it tasted perfectly balanced, rich and - you guessed it - chocolately! The foam upon refilling from the 1 pint 6 oz bottle was dark but thin and faded quickly. But the taste was a great match for the brownies.
The label says this was the very first beer he entered in competition (3rd). After feedback, tastings and improvements, he took Best in Show. Jamil Zainasheff (aren't you glad he called his brewery Heretic?) calls it "desert in a glass". That's what I wanted.

The ride itself was not planned. I needed two more brewvet rides in three days so Saturday and Sunday seemed okay. But I have a higher priority engagement on Sunday, and so I hatched this quick plan. My wife said "go". I had already ridden and changed into civies, so I kitted back up and took my Soma single-speed (Gates belt drive) off the rack. Rather than take the long way and avoid the big hills, I just powered over them.  According to Strava, I climbed 12% going there and 19% coming back, however briefly, in the 3-mile out-and-back. That's enough to make you crave chocolate.

MAY 30, 2015, Ride #8
Ride: Pleasanton, CA, to Hayward, CA, 32 miles.
Brew Location: Buffalo Bill's Brewery, Hayward, CA
Beer: Alimony IPA
I have no idea why this place is called "Buffalo Bill's" since Hayward has no significant connection to the wild west's Mr. Cody or any other combination of names I can find.
If I believe Wikipedia, a "brewpub" is a abbreviation of brewery and public place. I never new "pub" meant "public place." Such combinations were not legal in the United States until about 1980. 
The first five brewpubs in the U.S. were:

  1. Yakima Brewing & Malting, Yakima, WA (late 1982)
  2. Mendocino Brewing Co., Hopland, CA (Aug. 1983)
  3. Buffalo Bill's Brewery, Hayward, CA (Sept. 1984)
  4. Manhattan Brewing Co., New York, NY (late 1984)
  5. Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse, Berekeley, CA (Mar. 1986)
Yes, Buffalo Bill's in Hayward. The original owner sold it to the brewer, who couldn't get a loan so he took $70,000 in cash advances on his credit card to buy it. But that's not why we went there today. A friend of ours works there. And they open at 11am which works out well, logistically.
I had me heart set on Black Pumpkin Oatmeal Stout, but it's a seasonal beer and it's not the time of the season for pumpkin. Unbeknownst to me, after settling for Alimony IPA on the recommendation of the waitress, everyone else chose the same beer. It was either a classic case of group-think or simply a good choice; we'll never know. Alimony Ale was first produced in 1987 for a customer going through a divorce. "It's irreconcilably different." Unlike most of the other beers on this list, I could see through this one. I was a nice, amber color and as the foam subsided it clung to the glass. An ever so tiny hint of citrus was detectable, barely bitter at all. Light by my standards, I'd admit that it was medium-full and that made it quite nice as the gloomy, cool, overcast morning gave way to hot sunshine. We were outside with the portable heaters warming up, but by half-glass (about noon, straight up) the heaters were unnecessary. The group of seven ordered appetizers ranging from jalapeno poppers to kobe sliders, but I would say the best pairing was the sweet potato fries.
The ride was coordinated through the Cycleholics group; fitting, I think. "Drinkers with a cycling problem." Typically, we meet at 9am or 9:30am at Tully's Coffee on the south end of town. But since Hayward requires us to go west and slightly north, I posted instructions to meet at Peet's on the other side of town. There's always one who doesn't quite read everything. That left us a well-appreciated excuse to soft-pedal over the hill. The hill was keeping the fog bank at bay (even though "at bay" derived from baying or howling dogs, the fog was hanging over San Francisco Bay), so the descent into the Hayward side of the hill cooled us off. And my remedial navigation skills were evident. The return trip was slightly more direct, slightly more speedy thanks to a tail wind and in spite of the spirits, and slightly less focused as people went their separate ways home.

And that completes my 2015 Brevet Challenge.
Six breweries, two grocery stores, eight different beers, two states, two bikes, 278 miles.

I must admit that this challenge was harder than I thought it would be. Spotting myself 15 days before starting made it more interesting. Riding almost 250 more miles than necessary is just showing off, but hey. Half of the brewvets were multi-beer events, commensurate with my exaggerated mileage. This, I feel, speaks to the excellent beers that were chosen. This may be the golden age of Craft Beers but probably not the golden age of cycling, yet this challenge simply spoke to me ...and apparently my friends, too. 

And for that, I raise a glass in salute.


  1. Nice read Todd. I also liked the wishful thinking typo " I was a nice, amber color." That will be the day!

    1. Ha! Yep, very true. Unless I resort to spray tan, I'll never even get to amber shade of pale.