AJW’s 2011 Year-In-Beer Recap

AJWs TaproomWelcome to the New Year’s edition of AJW’s Taproom. As I mentioned at the end of last week’s column, today we’ll look back at the Year in Beer. But, before we do that, I wanted to mention a few other things about the column as it has evolved:

First, I want to thank all of you for participating in the dialogue here over the past few months. When Bryon and I first hatched this idea we were hoping to provide a place where like-minded folks could come together to discuss ultramarathon running in ways that were both community-oriented, constructive, and timely. We also wanted to provide a forum for a bit more “Big Picture” thinking than has become the norm in many areas of the commentary on the sport as of late and to allow people, in a completely open forum, to weigh in on the issues important to them in our ever-evolving sport.

Second, over the past few months, we have welcomed your constructive criticism. I understand that the initial columns here in the Taproom had a decidedly male bias and after several conversations with several female readers and runners, and a particularly heated discussion with my wife, I have pledged to be more even-handed in the year ahead. Additionally, we know that there is a concern among our readership of a possible Western States bias, a Trail Ultra bias, and even, horror of horrors, an India Pale Ale bias. We will work, in the months ahead, to maintain a level playing field and we welcome and encourage your feedback. Which brings me to #3.

Starting with today’s column and with every column moving forward we are opening “AJW’s Taproom Suggestion Box.” This is, essentially, an email address devoted exclusively to AJW’s Taproom. Bryon and I will regularly manage the email traffic and we encourage you, the readers, to write us notes with your thoughts and suggestions about the column. If there is a topic you’d like to see discussed, drop us a note. If something said in the Taproom was offensive to you, let us know. The idea here is to provide a private forum to discuss the content of the Taproom in ways that readers might not be comfortable doing publicly in the comments section of the website. As for comments, we continue to encourage you to participate actively and constructively in the dialogue here at AJW’s Taproom as it is the commentary that ultimately provides the most stimulating discourse.

Now, as readers of this column undoubtedly have realized, I love beer. As a result, I wanted to have an opportunity, after the first few columns, to offer up a beer of the week to accompany each week’s column. So, below, is a summary of the first eight beers we introduced this fall/winter, and then a ninth, for this week:

For my first beer, to accompany the “Laying it All Out There” commentary I went with my favorite (although it is significantly out of my price range), West Coast IPA from the Green Flash Brewery in Southern California.

This smooth IPA features just the right blend of hops and spice providing the perfect recovery drink after a crisp autumnal trail run.

The next week, to run parallel with our discussion of “Supply and Demand at the Western States 100”, I chose to offer up, appropriately, Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest.

This smooth drinking ale is the original “harvest” ale from one of the finest breweries in the land. Perfect after a tempo or fartlek workout and best in a chilled glass.

In Week 3, I couldn’t help but suggest a robust brew to go along with the somewhat more esoteric discussion of “Temperament and Disposition”, Boneyard RPM IPA from a great craft brewery in Bend, OR.

A great brew for HopHeads like me and better when you have a rest day scheduled, Boneyard is a new-school brewery with an old-school attitude. As of this writing they only have a tasting room and growler fills but this stuff is the real deal and I’ll bet they’ll expand in the next year or so. Next time you’re in Bend, stop by (look for the BatMobile). It just might alter your disposition. :)

Since Course Records are typically as much about what’s inside as what’s outside I thought our discussion of “Course Records and Their Relative Difficulties” should be accompanied by a plug for  Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale from Bell’s Brewery in Michigan.

This week’s beer of the week comes from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and pays tribute to Ernest Hemingway’s timeless classic, “Big Two-Hearted River.” Bell Beer’s Two Hearted Ale sports a nice crisp hoppy aroma with just the right amount of spice. In contrast to other IPA’s, the touch of sweetness in Two Hearted Ale softens the alcohol and brings out the beer flavor. Definitely a cool weather beer to have after a long run.

For our prize money discussion, coinciding with the North Face 50 Mile race in San Francisco, I gave a nod to a great, cozy Santa Cruz brewery and suggested India Pale Ale from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing in coastal California.

This beer of the week comes from a great little brewery in Santa Cruz, CA about 40 miles south of the Marin Headlands. Perhaps some of the athletes at The North Face race on Saturday will find their way down there after the event. It will be well worth the trip. Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing makes an excellent IPA that has just the right hoppiness if you’re having more than one.

With the Hardrock lottery lighting up the entire ultrarunning landscape I couldn’t help but commend to the readers a brew from Silverton Brewery.

Their Ice Pick Ale is simply extraordinary. Simple, harsh, complex, and unpredictable it is, indeed, like the mountains that surround the brewery. Not available outside of the immediate area, this is a beer that is worth the trip.

I deliberately chose the Week 7 beer for intensely personal reasons. You see, for the past five years I have enjoyed a wonderfully heated (and friendly) rivalry with my good friend Scott Jaime. Knowing that we’d be meeting again Silverton in 2012 I couldn’t help but recommend his favorite beer – Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits. And, I gotta say, it’s one of the best I’ve ever had (even if it is from Southern California :) ).

Go out and get one of these. Better on tap but good just about anywhere, anytime…

In the most recent column, as we explored the role of the brain in ultrarunning, I thought I’d recommend a more heady beer and went with a beer from one the East Coast’s great breweries, Dogfish Head. Where, a few times a year, they create the masterpiece that is 120 Minute IPA.

Not to be taken lightly, this brew is so high in alcohol one can scarcely call it beer. But, for hopheads, it is second to none. Next time they run a batch be sure to pick up a bottle or two to savor on a Saturday afternoon following a nice long run.

Which brings us to the last beer of 2011. As some readers of the column know, Bryon and I envisioned the idea for AJW’s Taproom over a couple beers at a great brewery in Central Virginia. So, appropriately, the last beer of the year comes from the Devil’s Backbone Brewery in Nellysford, VA. This is the place where AJW’s Taproom was born and in honor of that this week’s beer is Devil’s Backbone’s Cru Noir, a black lager with a great blend of smoothness and texture that happens to be one of Bryon’s preferred varietals.

Until the New Year, Bottoms Up!

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • What’s been your favorite AJW’s Taproom column to date and why?
  • Which of the above beers would you most want to drink?
  • Care to join me in raising a pint to AJW for his contributions to iRunFar and the ultra world as we enter the new year?

There are 51 comments

  1. Jeff

    What is it with ultra runners and IPA's? Do all the gels out on the trail make you crave something horrifically bitter when you're done? Give me a good dark stout or porter any day over an IPA!

    Although maybe my opinion will change once I've gone beyond 50 miles?

    1. Bryon Powell

      I'm solidly anti-hops…. ok, anti-tons-of-hops. I'll take a porter, reasonable stout (no imperials), lager, red, heffe, or pretty much anything over an IPA. :-) I'm enjoying the whole black lager thing these days.

      1. boisean

        What's with all of the 'antihopitism'comments. Although I do consider myself to have a pretty developed palate, and can appreciate many styles of beer, I am a 'hop head' at heart. IPA's are my 'go to' beers, while Belgians (truly Belgian) and Belgian-style (brewed in the USA at an ever increasing and outstanding way) a close second.

          1. MikeH

            I am also a non-Hophead (as opposed to an "anti-hophead")– I'll go hoppy occasionally with pizza or spicy food. Lived in San Diego for a bit, which is basically Hophead Heaven.

            So what's wrong with being a "malthead" instead? I love the taste, I love the smell, and preferably when it's not overpowered by hops. There's a microbrew/restaurant here in Idaho Springs, CO (Tommyknocker) whose malt smell permeates the main street outside — awesome!

      2. Geoff


        risky move here. you're somewhat of a celebrity in the ultra running world, and you're going on the record saying that you're "solidly anti-hops." This could be one of those blunders that could decimate a career in this sport. I'll try my best not to hold these opinions against you (although it's going to be tough), but you might want to strongly consider retracting this statement or surely you will lose most of your "fans." :-)

        happy new year, buddy.

        1. Bryon Powell

          Perhaps, I'm merely portraying myself as anti-hops so I can politely decline beer offers so that my friends have more hopilicious beer to drink. On the other hand, maybe I'll go with the 2011 trend of deleting posts. ;-)

          Next time I see you, we can split a mixed case. How about that?!

          Happy New Year,

    2. Brandon

      I'll have to say that all of us WNC Trail Runners seem to exclusively drink IPA and pale ales after our monthly fun runs. In my opinion, the pale ale family has a great crisp finish and is perfect after putting in a hard effort in the humidity that seems to always be present in the southern appalachias. And Jeff, you may be onto something with the gel thing. I've got to counterbalance that awfully sweet taste of gel after hours on my feet. Yuck!

  2. Paige

    I look forward to the coming year of AJW-ness here at iRunFar. It's an awesome addition!

    Being an IPA hater/white belgian lover I also look forward to some tasty new beers! :)

    Happy New Year!!

  3. John

    My beer preferences, like many of the people I know, change with the season. In the winter I lean more towards porters and stouts, along with the various christmas ales that are introduced by the local craft breweries. Come spring/summer though…I switch back to IPA's almost exclusively. I don't think IPA's are an ultra thing…I have fairly sedentary friends that really enjoy the flavors that are provided by a good IPA.

    Thanks for the beer suggestions AJW, we have a local craft beer store right around the corner…I'll have to see if they have a few of these in stock.

    1. boisean

      Definitely agree with the 'seasonal' change in tastes and preferences according to the weather. No matter what though, I can be happy with an IPA 'year round,' but only seem to have a taste for stouts, porters, etc. in the winter. That's the time for Deschute's (sp?) 'Abyss,' or Laughing Dog's 'Dogfather.'

  4. Mike Hinterberg

    Re: Silverton's Ice Pick Ale:

    "Not available outside of the immediate area, this is a beer that is worth the trip."

    A trip to Silverton is always worth it, but to give credit where credit is due, there are also good reasons to come to Fort Collins, since Silverton's canned beers are also being brewed and distributed in Fort Collins by one of Fort Collins' numerous microbreweries.

    In fact, a fire at Silverton Brewery last year impacted the local canning, so that it was easier to find Ice Pick — and the even better sweet and malty Bear Ass Brown — in Fort Collins liquor stores than it was in Ouray, just up the road from Silverton, this past year.

  5. Steve Pero

    Nothing like an Ice Pick served fresh from the tap in July, sitting on a Silverton Brewery bar stool watching a snow squall outside the door knowing that in a few days you'll be out on the trails.

    Ice Pick isn't my favorite, but have been recently really enjoying some Sierra Torpedo…and considering that Deb was nice enough to give me a brewing kit for Christmas, I think I'll be enjoying my own brews soon. First batch will be a Red Chili Chocolate porter from Santa Fe brewing company which I'll be bringing some along on my trip to Silverton in July…look me up at the Avon :-)

    Great column, thanks!

    1. Jim Skaggs

      Steve, enjoy brewing your own. I've been doing it for a few years and always have some homebrew available to runners after the Buffalo Run. If you come out to run it, bring some of yours. I'm always looking to trade homebrews.


      1. Steve Pero

        Jim, will do and hopefully we can fit in Buffalo. We're also seriously considering joining you mid April at the R2R2R instead of in the Fall, will have homebrew in cooler ;-)

    1. boisean

      Right on! Agreed! DogFish Head is a great brewery, but the NW and SoCal (think Port Brewing and Russian River) dominate. I am not discounting Colorado! Have to plug 'Boulevard' in KC, outstanding, try the 'Double Wide IPA,' a spoof on the trailer park world (seemingly a tornado magnet).

  6. Victoria

    Green Flash IPA is AWESOME. Probably the best beer I've had in a while is the Cohoho Imperial IPA from the Midnight Sun Brewing Company in AK. They also did an amazing pumpkin ale (I know, sounds gross but it was really good) that was fantastic. Not cheap, Midnight Sun Brewing Co, but makes damn good beer.

    My trusty standby is probably Pyramid Brewery's seasonal Snowcap. Love that beer.

  7. Andy Snyder

    I agree with Jeff. What's up with all the IPA rage these days? As for me, Ommegang Three Philosophers is as good as it gets! Ommegang (Cooperstown, NY) has a great selection of Belgium style beers. By the way, Bell's Brewery is not in the UP. It's located in Kalamazoo. But you're right about it being a great brewery.

  8. Denver Gregor

    two recommendations from our micro-brew mecca in CO would be Great Divide brewery's

    "Rumble", an oak-aged IPA with a more subtle hopiness. and "Fade to Black" from Left Hand brewery, a seasonal porter brewed with smoked chilies! great in winter and both over 7%abv. love the column, thanks for your efforts.

  9. Brad Koenig

    Great column you have going here! Didn't I read on your blog (a long time ago) that you moved east to Virginia? I think it's time to run MMT100 and drink some good bourbon. ;) (you can still sign up for the wait list. everyone on the wait list made it in last year)

  10. Matt Smith

    IPAs and pale lagers are just fine, but I'll take a crisp, dry Pilsner any day. Not a lot of small breweries make Pilsners, but I had one in Reading, PA last year that was just amazing – just wish I could remember the name of the brewery…

  11. Wheels

    There's nothing wrong with an IPA bias… regardless of where the bias lies or if the anti-bias takes over, keep up the good writing!

  12. Mary

    Mercenary IPA from Odell Brewing in Fort Collins, if you've deep pockets. Otherwise, it's their standard IPA that, well, sets the standards.

    1. Steve Pero

      You, Sir , have to come run Speedgoat…all the PBR you can drink at the finish :-) Not my favorite, but it sure tasted good that day!

  13. Kimba

    This will be my first time to Hardrock, so I will of course want to try the Silverton brews! Already have a partial fondness to the 60 min and 120 minute of the Dogfish, maybe we can have a tasting contest in the week before HR!

    1. Andy Snyder

      Ah! Le Fin Du Monde! Great, great beer. One of my favorites too. I'll be opening up a bottle of Delirium Noel tonight to bring in the new year! Cheers!

  14. Keith Remington

    Although I am blessed with all of the great beers brewed where I live in Co., I still love to sit down with an original Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Great after a run or just hanging out with friends.

  15. Tom Caughlan

    I've got to say that with all the great breweries here in CO, its hard to pick just one. But, Twisted Pine in Boulder is my current fave and the Pearl St. Porter is the best porter I've ever had (better than fade to black or black butte!). The tasting room is fantastic and just a few minutes from trailheads.

    But, I also have to mention my former home of Minneapolis, MN and some very fine breweries there. Surly Brewing, especially Furious (IPA) and Darkness (Oct. seasonal) are definitely worth the trip. Also, Fulton Brewing, a brand new brewery in MPLS makes a killer IPA called Sweet Child of Vine.

  16. Peter Kuiper

    Happy Newyear everybody. Talking about beer and running; at the Rennsteiglauf supermarathon in former East Germany (73k ultratrail) beer is being served during the race at approximately 5k before the finishline. Never tried it, always sticked with water, thea and cola. Immediately after crossing the finishline you get your bottle of schwartz-beer and 100 meter further there's a lot more in the beergarten. That's my way to recover!

  17. Joe Constantino

    I was recently introduced to Surly and would agree they make some fine brews. In fact I just brewed a batch of Surly Bender and it is drinking very well as I browse these comments.

  18. the other "Geof

    Heard you were buying me a Porter or Stout the next time I see at a New Leaf event Paige!

    My pick: Lefthand Milk Stout.

    Cheers all, Geoff.

  19. Jeff

    Wow, I should not have logged off for the weekend after posting that comment!

    Glad to know there are other ultra runner non-hopheads out there :)

    Some day I'll give IPA's another chance – I think my gel theory holds water, I was pretty sick of them after six hours or so at Oil Creek…

  20. Scott Handley

    In my totally biased opinion, Founders centennial IPA is best all around-er. Nice malt balance. Not a big fan of 2-hearted (Bell's). Bell's DOES make good seasonal DIPA's like "the oracle" & "Hopslam" are fantastic!!

  21. Scott

    After PCT50 or SD100, treat yourself w/ a visit to Alpine Beer Company (n, well – Alpine just off I-8) for a couple frosties and a bite to eat at their cafe. Their Nelson and Duet IPAs are my personal favorites, hough the Pure Hoppiness and Exponential Hoppiness explore the unabashed west coast heavily hopped style. http://alpinebeerco.com

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