Monday, September 26, 2016

Choklat Imperial Stout

Beer Review #155

I don't re-review many beers, but as I've recently been on a romp through the Blackwater Series, reviewing the ones I had yet to taste, and shooting youtube videos (watch them here) for the ones I'd already tried, I thought I'd take another crack at writing about Choklat Imperial Stout. If you are interested in my original review of this beer you can find it here (review #57). For the purpose of objectivity, I have not re-read my original review prior to writing this one.

In recent weeks I've tasted WarlockCreme Brulee, Salted Caramel and Choklat Oranj. Creme Brulee, Salted Caramel and Choklat Oranj seem to be cut from the same cloth, with only Warlock as the out liar. Choklat falls into the same camp as Creme Brulee, Salted Caramel and Choklat Oranj, as all four of these beers seem to be built upon the same bones.

Of this quartet, my impression (now) is that Choklat is the smoothest and most 'easy drinking' of the bunch, though all involved claim a hefty 10%ABV. Choklat  sits a bit lighter on the tongue, although given the 'light test' its no less opaquely black than the others.

Look for a sweet hot-coco aroma. As expected, the taste is big on chocolate, but this beer is far from one dimensional. Hints of licorice, caramel, and a light smokiness are also detectable if you take the time to look for them.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Choklat Oranj Imperial Stout

Beer Review #154

I'm continuing my tour of the Southern Tier Brewing Company Blackwater Series (WarlockCreme BruleeChoklat, Salted Caramel) with Choklat Oranj Imperial Stout.

According to the brewerChoklat Oranj is the fifth beer currently in our highly regarded Blackwater series. Warlock, Creme Brulee, Mokah and Choklat have RateBeer scores of 97, 98, 99 and 100, respectively. Choklat Oranj is a stout brewed with chocolate and orange peels, opaque black in color, 10.0% abv, and a delicious dessert beer. Perfect alone, or enjoyed as a float. Scoop organic vanilla bean ice cream into a snifter or pint glass and top with Choklat Oranj. It’s impossible to be disappointed.

As with all the other entries in the series, Choklat Oranj is strong, black, filling Imperial Stout, perfect for a chilly fall or frigid winter day. The orange factor features heavily in the name and label, but to my delight plays a more dignified, nuanced roll in both.

This 10%ABV, pitch black stout yields only a small head when poured just below room temp, but what you'll see of it is a very promising coffee brown.

The aroma is sweet, with a strong presence of dark chocolate softened by hints of orange peel, and perhaps a touch of alcohol. The flavor follows suit, but with plenty of bitterness to keep things appetizing. There is a creaminess also, almost like an Oatmeal Stout, revealing itself over time...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Salted Caramel Imperial Stout

Beer Review #153

Southern Tier Brewing Company has become something of a big player in the American craft beer market. For a craft beer company, they command a surprisingly large presence on local beer racks, a presence rivaled perhaps only by Sierra Nevada. To date, I've reviewed perhaps two dozen of their beers. Of particular note is their Blackwater Series: Warlock, Creme Brulee, Choklat, Choklat Oranj, and now Salted Caramel Imperial Stout. The three that I previously tasted were superb and I was happy to wrap my lips around this one.

If you were stranded in a winter wilderness without food and only beer, you could easily survive on these brews. Creme Brulee, Choklat and Salted Caramel are all huge, dark, rich beers. Some would call them 'dessert beers,' but each could easily pass for a main course. Salted Caramel is no exception.

Weighing in at a hefty 10%ABV,  Salted Caramel is no damsel. She's the Femme Fatale in the black dress, who will knock you on you ass if your not careful. The Salted Caramel moniker is no boast, as both play prominent roles in the flavor. Himalayan pink sea salt is a wise addition that cuts through the sweetness of caramel, toffee, and brown sugar, as well as hints of crackers or flaky pie crust.

The nose is creamier than the taste. Werthers candies, or cowtails come to mind, as well as hints of chocolate and coffee.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Post Ultra-Depression

In mainstream running they talk about 'the runner's high. In Ultra Running its the epiphany - the idea that the Ultra journey is life affirming, that you come through the other side of the pain cave changed for the better, ready to take on anything the world throws at you. 

A decade into my adult-running journey I've toed maybe a hundred start lines and a handful of ultras including two 100k's (Race Reports). 

That first 50k is tough, but leaves you relatively unchanged. The 100k though- it does something (hormonal maybe?). 

Both of my 62 mile finishes have come with a momentary high and a corresponding crash. 

Beware the post Ultra-Depression.....  

You've completed your goal race..... so 'sign up for something else,' they say. I'm already registered for a trail half marathon and 50k on successive weeks less than a month from now, and two other trail races for next spring. I wish I could tell you that it it helps. But its tough to take your next 50k quite as seriously as you should in the aftermath of a 100k, even if one is mountainous and the other is not.

So what is the solution? What is the cure? Were you looking for a quick fix? Five easy steps to happiness in two weeks or less? I don't run a self help blog. I don't know. Time maybe? Friends? Your guess is as good as mine. When I figure it out I'll be the first to tell you....

Even so... one way or another, I'm running 100 next year...... 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

RACE REPORT: Pine Creek Challenge 100k (2016)

- New Balance Accelerate Short Sleeve Tee
- New Balance Accelerate 5 inch shorts
- Darn Tuff Vermont Socks
- S-Caps

Aid is more than sufficient on the course to travel light and fast. This year I left
the backpack home.


The news media, literature, music and books love to talk about 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,' They tout running as an 'individual' sport, a solitary venture wherein you succeed or fail completely on your own. In some sectors of the running world there may be some truth to this. But in the small corner of the running community that we (those likely to be reading this) occupy, success seldom occur without the tireless support of countless others.

I've written around 40 of these race-reports. Most of the time the words come easy. A race-report for a 5k is a breeze - slap a few pictures of yourself up and you're good to go. For a technical mountain trail race - 10k  to 25k for instance the course itself becomes a second character with boulder fields and stunning vistas fighting for some of the spotlight. But where things get tricky (for me) is the ultra marathon race report. 50k? Tough but doable, i can usually spit one of those out within a day or two of the race. But 100k? It took me an entire week to wrap my head around the 2014 Pine Creek Challenge 100k (race report), and as I finally begin to pull together the text you are currently reading four days have passed since I crossed the finish line at the 2016 Pine Creek Challenge 100k.

So why the trouble with 100k race-reports? The issue I've found myself grappling with the last few days is that the 'race-report' is, by its very nature a self-centered format. Read any of mine. They're all about my training, my ups and downs during the race, how I failed or succeed, and how I felt after. The entire concept is at odds with what I experienced for 15 hours out on the trail this Saturday.

So this time I'd like to do things a little differently by focusing on the personal encounters of my day on the trail.....

One Saturday, less than a month before the race I spent a completely random (and totally overkill) 28 miles on the Pine Creek Rail Trail with my friend Andrew. Two years earlier we had trained for the race together, raced it together and finished together (12 hours, 28 mins).

At the end of the run I cruised up 'The Turkey Path' feeling better than I had any right to at my current level of training. I already had plans to spend the weekend volunteering with my friends at the Tiadaghton Aid Station, but a nagging question had begun to take root in my mind. 'Could I run the race instead?'

Tiadaghton Aid Station Crew

When I 'pulled the trigger' and registered about two weeks before the race I immediately began to plan my race strategy around these people. On this year's modified 100k course, Tiadaghton represents the 33.6 and 52.4 mile mark. I realize how ludicrous it sounds - but I knew that if I could run 33.6 miles I could  run the full 62 because if I could reach Tiadaghton my friends would not let me stop there, and if I could leave them at Tiadaghton at mile 33.6, shame and the knowledge that my pacer Jeff Russell would be waiting to drag me across the final miles would be enough impetus to bring me back to them from the turnaround at Blackwell.

Months of training (if you bothered to train, I kind of skipped that part), an anxious drive (if you get nervous), and hour wait for the start.... culminating in an almost laughable anti-climax. There is nothing quite like heeding a race director's order to 'go,' only to trot out of race headquarters at around 10 minutes per mile. If all of your experience is in shorter races, or you've never witnessed the start of a long ultra you might think 'what the fuck is this?' But in a few hours that 10 minute pace will start to feel all too fast, the miles and the hurt gradually piling up. If you are the runner there is nothing left to do but enjoy the scenery, and enjoy the companionship until the inevitable suffer fest begins.....

This year's 100k course begins with a double-out and back between Asaph and Wellsboro Junction, seeing runners through their first 23 miles. What I mostly remember is dozens of red newts on the trail surface in the early morning dew. Then there was Pine Creek Rail Trail Guidebook author Linda Stager on a bridge snapping pictures in her favorite section of the trail. Also the funny moment at the aid station on my second trip out to Wellsboro junction when I took a dill pickle from a jar, thinking it part of the aid station, only to find it belonged to a runner being crewed by his wife. Upon our return to Asaph she offered me another, and we had a good chuckle.

The double out-and-back, though through beautiful terrain, was never the less a bit monotonous. The monotony was broken up, somewhat, by the fact that for the first hour or so every single 100k and 100 miler runner was in this section of the course. But I was glad to reach Asaph for the second time and begin heading south toward the canyon.

I ran out of Asaph south toward Marsh Creek and Darling Run with nobody in sight directly ahead of me. A trio of ladies who I had overtaken at the last aid station, soon caught me just North of Darling Run (mile 25.8). I overtook them again in the aid station. We played yo-yo for a while between Darling Run and Turkey Path. I even stopped to take a picture for them. But I would not see them again after that.

Its an 8 mile gap from Darling Run to Tiadaghton. Though the first marathon of the day I was able to maintain a pace somewhere just over 5 miles an hour, but I began to weaken near the end of the run into Tiadaghton, and by the time my friends where cheered my arrival I was ready to flop myself down in a chair and reconsider my decision to run 100k with fewer than 600 training miles in the past 9 months.

34 miles in 6 and a half hours on limited training. It was nothing to be ashamed of as far as I was concerned, and if nothing else a damn good training run ahead of The Green Monster Trail Challenge 50k on October 9th. I was tempted to stay, and hangout with my VRC compatriots.

The good news was that, without a finish-time goal in mind, I didn't need to decide just then. Where I had breezed through all of the earlier aid stations, it was finally time to sit down, pull of my shoes, and replenish.

In a few short years the Tiadaghton aid station has achieved near legend status on the Pine Creek Challenge course. Every year it gets a little bigger, a little better, and the praise is certainly warranted. Eve, Mary, Jeff, Alan, Chris and their families - in addition to being a well oiled aid station machine they're also my friends and frequent running companions.

Ice cold fresh fruit slushies, Coca Cola over ice, hot ham and cheese.... or purposely overate during my extended stay, and as my blood sugar spiked I became more positive ....

Twenty minutes after entering Tiadaghton I walked out of it, headed south 9 more miles to Blackwell. My companions for the next few miles were a couple of guys named John and Pete, which I only remember because I told them I was bad with names and sure to forget. We discussed all things 'Pa Trail Races' and yo-yoed  down to the turn around.

I was greeted at Blackwell by a small group of spectators in lawn chairs. Somewhat cruelly, the course passes the aid station, continuing for about a half mile before the turnaround. I passed John, Pete, and two other runners coming back toward me (so really just ahead of me) on my way out to the turnaround. All four were still hanging out in the aid station when I arrived.

After sitting down for a few minutes and refueling on ice cold coke, ginger ale and potato chips, the long slog back up to Tiadaghton began. The four runners I just mentioned were the only 100k runners (headed in my direction) I would see for the rest of the race, and after a mile or two they pulled (permanently) ahead of me.

Does that sound lonely to you? Not in the least. There were still plenty of 100k runners, and the first of the 100 mile contingent out on the course and heading toward me.

On one hand an out and back course can be a bit tedious, on the other -it keeps you in constant contact with the rest of the field. One of the main appeals of the ultra running community is the camaraderie between runners. Its easy enough to say 'runners are supportive,' but to see it, and really feel it, you have to be there, run the long miles, and feel the hurt. Its one runner offering another s-caps, gels, or the last of their water, when they see them cramped up on the side of the trail. Its still having the good will to smile and say 'good job' to every single runner you pass even after 50 miles or more. Its the aid station volunteer who throws on a pair of wet shorts from his race earlier in the day and runs off into the night with a runner who needs a pacer. Its somebody offering you their spare batteries or flashlight when the sun goes down. Its the race leader, in their own world of hurt, telling you 'good job.' This is the stuff that got me across the long gap from Blackwell back to Tiadaghton.

After 50 miles and 12 and a half hours (my 100k finish time in 2014) I ran back into Tiadaghton, lifted up by cheers and a high-five from volunteer Chris VanDruff - the mirror image of when I greeted Chris the same way during his race a year earlier.

At Tiadaghton I sat again, pulled my shoes off, popped a couple excedrin and refueled for the final 12 mile push back up to Asaph.

My Pacer: Jeff Russell
When I hit the trail again a few minutes later it was with Jeff Russell. I've never used a pacer in a race before, but I was very happy to have Jeff with me for the final stretch. Jeff and I have run/hiked together dozens of times in the last year (including Darling Run to the top of Turkey Path and back a couple weeks earlier).

If you had to sum up our runs together it would be - epic conversation meets attention to minute details of nature. This night was no exception.

The sun dropped below the horizon as we hoofed it out of the aid station. It was soon dark, but with a great big moon at our backs casting long straight shadows from a mostly clear sky above Pine Creek, the light was sufficient to forgo our headlamps.

Its not often that you get to see the moon and stars in the sky, but also lightening. Occasional, distant flashes punctuated the night as we broke the miles up in sections. Turkey Path, the outhouses just past turkey path, the cold mountain spring dripping from a pipe out of the hillside, the blinding light and little cheering girls that suddenly cut through the dark as we hit reached Darling Run - 3.4 miles to go.

We didn't stay long at Darling Run - just long enough to chat with Jean and Travis before moving on.

By daylight, the miles between Darling Run and Asaph - with their numerous road crossings and houses - are my least favorite of the trail. By night, and moonlight, they take on a kind of beauty. We noted the long dark silhouette of the mountains on our left, the little lights of small hamlets, the constant humming and chirping of summer insects that will soon go silent for the winter.

When I ran the race in 2014 I found a 'second' wind in the final miles and felt that could have gone on and on after the finish. Not this year. This year my feet, ankles, knees, and hips ached. Every once in awhile I would stop, resting my palms on my knees to momentarily relieve the pressure before moving on.

At last, after 15 hours and 22 minutes, the day ended much as it had started - a quiet finish on a quiet little back road. The outside world oblivious to what we had done...


The problem (and blessing) of running long is that you have to stop. As bad as you may feel during the low points of a run, it always hurts worse once you've been off of your feet for a couple of hours, and have had the time to cool down. When Jeff and I reached the finished line we took a few minutes to chat with the race director, picked up my prize (a homemade clay mug), and then immediately hopped in my truck and headed back down the trail to the Tiadaghton aid station to hang out with our friends and watch the 100 mile badasses come through for the rest of the night.

Somebody once told me 'everybody should spend a night at an aid station during a 100 miler' and having done it a couple times now i wholeheartedly agree. Although I had just run my second 100k, I was still in awe of every single 100 miler - from the front of the pack to the very back at 8:00 the next morning. The determination is mind blowing.

The guy in the sombrero and Vibrams. The Marine who carried a full sized American flag on a poll the entire race. The young woman who ran in sandals. The man in his 70's or 80's power walking  as long and hard as he could against the cutoffs. You won't see see those folks on ESPN. Their stories won't even be told in their local newspapers. But those of us who were there know what they did, and it inspires us.

My own story is just a small part of the 2016 Pine Creek Challenge.

See you September 9th and 10th 2017......


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale

Beer Review #152

It might be a 90 degree early September afternoon, but I'm drinking a Pumpkin beer (my 4th in the last 8 days). Gotta get them while they're fresh, and before my mood moves on to the next thing. This time around I'm pouring Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale, As far as I'm concerned, Weyerbacher is perhaps Pennsylvania's best brewer, and their Imperial Pumpkin Ale does not disappoint. I'll even give them bonus points for comprehending that intentionally misspelling 'pumpkin' is not clever.

To bring you up to speed, my most recent pumpkin beer was Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (review #151). Prior to that I critiqued Warlock (review #149), the Pumpkin Stout from Southern Tier Brewing Company. At that time I also recorded an episode "The Pour" (watch it here)  for STBC's Imperial Pumpking (review #45) which I first reviewed a year ago.

Of these 4 beers, Weyerbacher's Imperial Pumpkin Ale is the most bitter, but perhaps spicy would be a better description. Cinnamon and Allspice are big players here, as are nutmeg, and according to the brewer cardamon.

The aroma is primarily cinnamon and nutmeg with perhaps a hint of brown sugar.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (review)

Beer Review #151

150 different brews down the hatch. Where does the time go? This afternoon, for review #151, I'm checking out my third pumpkin beer of the season (Warlock, Pumking) in the form of Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale. I haven't reviewed a Dogfish Head brew since Sixty-One (review #113), which i found to be a rare underwhelming beer in Dogfish Head's otherwise consistently impressive lineup.

Weighing it a 7%ABV, Punkin Ale compares well with Southern Tier Brewing Company's Pumking Imperial pumpkin ale, as both put the list of ingredients in your typical pumpkin pie on display - pumpkin, vanilla, nutmeg, the breadiness of a flaky crust. But where the two beers differ is in that Punkin Ale is slightly darker and less creamy, which allows the spices to cut through the noise more sharply at the back of the mouth.

How does the beer look? Check out my video below....

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Imperial Cherry Gose

Beer Review #150

I've been drinking a lot of  "sour beer" recently. Given my gluten sensitivity this is perhaps a bad thing, but this class of tart, salty, predominantly-wheat brews are hard to resist. Today I'm checking out Cherry Gose, the 'Imperial Sour Ale Brewed with Tart Cherry Juice" from Southern Tier Brewing Company. While this style of beer goes back to 16th century Germany, it is only now just beginning to make a splash in the thriving American craft beer market, but given its tart, light, refreshing characteristics, it could very well become a summertime party favorite on this side of the Atlantic. I am quite happy to see another large craft brewer like STBC enter the Gose market. Sierra Nevada put their neck out by releasing Otra Vez a year or two ago. For more on the interesting history of this style which nearly went extinct, this wikipeida article is a good place to begin.

Where most sour beers seem to be low on alcohol, I was happy to see that Cherry Gose weighs in at a dangerously drinkable 8.3%ABV.

The beer pours transparent, heavily red leaning, amber - a characteristic no doubt coming from the cherry juice used during the brewing process.

The flavor is intensely tart, courtesy of our mighty little friend lactobacillus, but with ample amounts of cherry fruitiness, and enticing lemon-pepper notes. An aftertaste very much like that of red wine follows down the throat.

The aroma begins with the tartness of the cherries and ends with the dry, breadiness of saltine crackers.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Warlock Imperial Stout (review)

Beer Review #149

Today is September 3rd. Fall seasonal beers have begun to magically appear on local racks over the last month but I've managed to resist their temptation until now. Somehow it just feels 'wrong' to drink a Pumpkin Beer in August. And while the thermometer is expected to crest 90 degrees again later this week - Labor Day (USA) weekend and the start of September have always felt somehow like the official-unofficial start of autumn. School is back in session, the mornings are getting cooler, and if you spend much time in the woods you will have noticed the very slightest hints of change in the foliage. Change isn't coming. Its already here.

My experience with Pumpkin Beer is limited, and yet goes all the way back to Ithaca Beer Company's Country Pumpkin (review #2) Pumpkin Ale on September 10th, 2014. My next, and until now only other Pumpkin Beer review came just under a year later when I dove into a bottle of Southern Tier Brewing Company's Imperial Pumking (review #45). Around that same time many of my beer-loving friends mentioned that they liked Southern Tier's Warlock better. I've seen this beer on shelves many times, but for one reason or another I'm only just now giving it a try.

Warlock is an Imperial Stout brewed with pumpkins, and as such is the darkest Pumpkin Beer I've tried yet. It has been a year since my last bottle of Pumpking , but just from memory my description of that earlier beer - " pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, allspice, or any of the ingredients we typically associate with pumpkin pie and autumn." - seems to fit Warlock perfectly. 

Warlock pours a touch lighter than a typical imperial stout, but does not lack for aroma and flavor. Its a little more bitter on the pallet than Pumpking, with hints of dark roasted coffee complimenting the pumpkin pie nicely. 


Monday, August 29, 2016

Kirsch Gose (review)

Beer Review #148

August is coming to a close, and while the mornings are beginning to feel a bit cooler the days remain hot - and perfect for drinking your favorite sour beers. Today I'm checking out Kirsch Gose, the sour cherry infused beer from Victory Beer.

To see what this tangy concoction looks like in the glass check out the video below. As for how she tastes - tart, salty, hints of cherry and just enough malt breadiness lingering in the background to keep things nice and 'beer like.'

In the aroma department its call cherry.