November 23, 2010

Top 10 beer list

I've talked of this post for a while now and casually mention it whenever I have a really good beer.  (DISCLAIMER: this is an ever fluctuating list and nothing is written in stone with it.  It is all personal opinion and probably will change by the time I finish my final edit)

The basis of this list was to create a virual "top ten" list of beers.  The concept came about because over my years, I've gleaned a lot of knowledge about the beverage industry and have come to appreciate the finer brews out there.  Slowly I realized that this post might become enormous and I would have to split it into seasonal beers there as well because most breweries offer limited release beers that coincide with the seasons that sometimes are better tasting than their flagship offerings. However on the flip side of things, those seasonal offerings are very strong and not always a standard normal drinking beer.  That's why I have split out the seasonal section (it will follow in another post).  But anyway, without further adieu, here is my rendition of my top-10 all time drinkability beers:

#1 - Unibroue - La Fin Du Monde
Literally translating to "the end of the world", if you have too many of these special beers, you might feel like doomsday is near the next morning.  This beer is probably my absolute all time favorite brew.  It's brewed by a company in Canada called Unibroue and their offerings are all supreme in my books.  All of these beers are bottle fermented which means that when you pour it, the fizzy head is exhorbent and you get a small amount of sediment in the bottom of your glass/bottle.  It's sold in 4 packs because the alcohol content is up around 9% ABV and it is a little bit pricey.  It's a belgian white beer, so the head is tiny compact bubbles and the appearance is cloudy in nature.  To anyone that I tell this well kept secret about, I always tell them it's comparable to a stronger version of Blue Moon or Shock Top (without the overpowering citrus aftertaste to it) All in all, this one tops out my list.

#2 - Ommegang Brewery - Rare Vos
This amazing creation is bottled and brewed right down the Thruway from our hometown here in Rochester in nearby Syracuse at the Ommegang Brewery.  A rich amber beer in color, Rare Vos is a middle of the road drinkable beer for me. I originally sampled this for the first time at the Flour City Brewers fest back in 2005 or 2006.  It was in Fronteir Field at the time and the guy that was pouring samples at the Ommegang table told me I was going to need a "frequent flyer" card because I was coming back so often for a refill!  I thought it would just be a regular amber ale, but there is some distinct characteristic that I can't place my finger on that makes this one special. So it snuck up on my list after years and years of going back and trying it.  Rare Vos scores very high on my list and I would recommend it to anyone.

#3 - Lake Placid Brewery - Ubu Ale
Lake Placid holds a special place in my heart as most of you know.  Their flagship beer is no different.  With a rich malty flavor and an exceptionally dark color, once I was introduced to the "nectar of the gods" as it is referred to in several circles, I was hooked.  Combine this beer with the relaxing atmosphere of Lake Placid and the fact that usually when it is consumed, I'm up there doing what I love (training for triathlons, hiking high peaks, etc) this beer has risen to a high ranking on my top ten list.  Recently pushing it up into a higher ranking has been my appreciation for this fine concoction during the winter months (typically when real malty beers should be appreciated, but I don't discriminate) after snowshoe races.  My rule of thumb is that "the darker the better" for beers and the Brew Pub got it right.  Tipping the scales at a stout (no pun intended) 7% ABV, this beer was named after the breweries Chocolate Lab that is depicted on the 6-pack case.  Great beer.

#4 Franziskaner - Weissbier
I suppose with all of the talk of hefty malty beers, we should lighten the load a little bit.  I definitely don't discriminate between malty or hoppy, but this beer is one that I kind of stumbled upon and grew to love. First off it has a taste kind of like a more dry Blue Moon (only without the fruity overpowering aftertaste) and to boot in most bars that you can find it on draft, it's served in those 22oz glasses as depicted on the left.  It's a great drinkable beer that you can have 5 of and still be okay with the taste after you're done. 

#5 Warsteiner - Dunkel
I came across this beer when at a trail race in Hell, Michigan many many moons ago.  Well not exactly the Warsteiner brand of beer, but the Dunkel brewing style was discovered for me then.  Something about it just clicked with me as a solid drinkable everyday beer.  We were at a local brewery outside of some town in the southeast quadrant of Michigan and were tasting flights of beer and a dunkel came up in the flight and it was hands down the best beer we had out of the bunch.  There are a lot of other brands of dunkel-beer that have been brewed recently including varieties from larger breweries such as Michelob down to the small town guys such as the Genesee Brewery here in Rochester that just came out with their own JW Dundees Dunkel.  Not a bad dark brown ale to have around the house, a little more malty in flavor, but with a good balance of hops on it as well.  Overall a dunkel variety will always make my top ten list.

#6 Troegs - Dreamweaver Wheat                                                           Normally I don't buy beer because of the labels, but when walking down the aisles of a local beer distribution store (B.O.T.W. - for those of you who are reading in Rochester) but this one, I couldn't resist.  Most of you that know me, know I have an affinity for trees.  Hell, I cultivate bonsais and have a tree tattooed on my back.  So upon seeing a label as such and the name dreamweaver just caught my eye, I had to try it.  Turns out it was a good choice.  A little pricier than most beers (around $12 per 6 pack) but definitely worth the cost, dreamweaver is an unfiltered goodness in a bottle.  A hefeweissen by category, this one has a faint citrus aftertaste, but overall a solid brew.  One that can definitely be drank over and over thru the day.  Not overly hoppy, Troegs does a great job at perfecting their beers for the niche craft market

#7 Guinness brewing company - Guinness Stout
It's about time we had a stout added to the list, eh? Brewed at the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland, Arthur Guinness had the great idea many years ago to roast the barley that is used to brew this beer.  This gave it the essential dark color and malty aroma.  I became a big fan of Guinness in college when we used to play open mic nights at the Idle Hour and get absolutely hammered on the $2/pint specials of Guinness.  That combination only strengthened my resolve towards loving the malty characteristics that make up this fine nectar.  It also gave me the confidence to get on stage and sing and play some original songs for people that probably didn't care what I was playing anyway.  Overall a great brew!

#8 Samuel Adams – Imperial Pilsner
Now many of you can probably come up with better ideas on a solid “hoppy” beer for this list, but since this is my list and it looks like I’m a big fan of dark brown beers and Hefeweissen’s. The Sam Adams Imperial Pilsner has a delicate but not overpowering bitterness that is balanced quite nicely with the smooth barley and malt to form a solid pilsner style beer. It’s smooth, but not overly sharp and has a nice clear and aromatic flavor.

#9 Leffe – Brown Ale
This beer was first discovered by me at Acme Bar located on Monroe Ave in Rochester, NY. Obviously the lesser known of the Leffe family of beers (most folks are at least familiar with Leffe blond) It was discovered one night while having pizza in the bar (yes they make pizza and serve it in the bar…it’s amazing) that this one is a generally good solid brown ale. Comparable to Ithaca Brewing Company’s Nut Brown, I haven’t come across a Leffe Brown that I haven’t enjoyed.

#10 Dogfish Head – Miles Davis Bitches Brew
No list could be complete without some type of offering from the wonderful craft brewers at Dogfish Head brewery. The first brand I tried from them was their aprihop and while I do not generally enjoy overpowering fruity beers, this one wasn’t bad. So when recently a bunch of friends were out at a local tavern and we (whilst intoxicated) noticed this sitting on the shelf, felt compelled to give it a try. I was just stoked because it had Miles Davis on it! This one poured as dark as they come and had a nice chocolate aroma on the head. It dissipated quickly, but then again, so did my drink. It was delish. It was a prime example of a solid stout that held some chocolate characteristics to it as well. A fine example.

So there you have it, since it’s off season, go grab yourself an assorted 6-pack and sit on the couch relishing your past accomplishments this year. I know my season’s been extra long and I could use a rest too, so kick back for a few weeks, enjoy some choice drinks that you normally wouldn’t have, indulge yourself and I’ll be back to report on my favorite seasonal brands and varieties in the near future. (Because some of those seasonal one’s almost made it onto the top ten! – the only reason I didn’t include them in the top ten is because you can’t get them year round!!) But this is a good time for beer friends. My top three seasons are either upon us or will be soon, (Autumn, Winter and Spring) so get out there, grab a cold one and relax, you’ve earned it. Cheers!

November 19, 2010

The evolution of my ride...

Over the years I've had some solid bikes and I just thought it would be a pretty cool post to chronicle the evolution of my bikes over the years. I started out doing multisport in 2004 when my buddy Phil convinced me to do the first annual Penn Yann/Keuka Lake triathlon.  I was a newbie and had no idea what I was getting myself into.  It was the only race I did that entire year.  I rode it on this bike below:
 It was a FILA bicycle (I know, right? Fila makes bikes?!?!? I thought they just made crappy shoes!) But I was hooked and came back the next year to try the Olympic distance race.  In between that time, I got hired on to work for a large insurance company and was sent down to Georgia to live for a little over a month. I shipped the bike down via UPS in a cardboard box and reattached the pedals (I had shimano SPD's on it) and rode ALL over the Atlanta suburbs.  It was amazing and I felt as though I was a little kid again.  The shifters on the down tube and the swan neck stem didn't even deter me.  Neither did the fact that when I climbed, my knees hit the handlebars.  I was elated, I had a bike (given to me by my now roommate Erin Varley, thank you!) and I was riding...everywhere. 

But there comes a time that you realize you need to upgrade.  Not really knowing what I was doing, I chose a Trek 1500 bike from a local bike shop that was an aluminum frame.  I don't have a pic of it for here, but I still own it and actually raced on it this past year in several bike races. I finished 5th in the Bloomfield RR this year and some guy stated as we rolled around for cooldown, "props to the guy in the lead pack on the steel frame bike!"  Made me feel a little proud inside and that bike was adequately named "the TANK" because I used to ride it long and I loaded it down with bottles.  Also it is jokingly called "old ironsides" as well, but that's a little known name. I rode that bike out in Missouri for the US Halfmax National Championships which are now called the UltraMax or something like that. 
But I rode on and with the decision to race an Ironman in 2006, I decided it was time to buy a big boy bike and rubbed my pennies together to purchase, "the BEAST".  (see above, that's her hanging out a few days prior to IM Florida where she took me for a 20.7 mph bike split) She was a solid, solid machine and the first time I rode her, we travelled along the streets of Buffalo at blazing speeds and I knew it was a match made in heaven! :o) I was seeing speeds on the odometer that I hadn't EVER seen.  She was sleek, full carbon and FAST.  I got her several upgrades over the years and actually a lot before IM Wisconsin in 2008.  She came to IMLP in 2009 with a full carbon cockpit (stem, basebar, aerobars and brakes) and was as light as a feather.  She lived a good life.  Tragically though, it came to an end on 7/26/2009 as we had a minor mishap halfway thru the bike course at IM Lake Placid.   I still have her cracked frameset in my storage space in the basement and I don't really know what to do with her.  We've shared so many miles that I can't see just tossing her in the garbage just yet. We've won races, had the worst things happen mid race, had bad rides, shared many a laugh over the years.  But with every disaster comes a silver lining:
With the death of the Beast, came a new creation that rose up from her smoldering ashes.  The Lunar Phoenix (see above) was born and resurrected several key components from the Beast to make her a whole bike. I'm still working on getting everything back to where it was in 2009, but those components sure are pricey and my pocketbook will not allow me to be as frivolous as I would like to be.  But as the keen observer might notice, the LP is a P3 frame and the Beast was a P2C, both are carbon, but good old LP was a slight upgrade (why not, right?) LP is certainly fast and she'll be a solid steed.  She hasn't gone thru the rigors of a long course season yet though, so I'll have to break her in gently.  The beast was a pro at that.  She'd ridden herself thru 3.5 Ironmans (I say 0.5 because she only got thru half the bike the 2nd time I did Placid) But as always, there are upgrades to be had and instead of getting her fancy handlebars and such, I chose a more frugal and hopefully beneficial route this year. For my b-day this year, I was given a wonderful Tacx trainer which I affectionatively refer to as the "watt meter" and it's awesome.  I've never trained with power and it definitely showcases your weaknesses as a cyclist out there.   
This is the current set up that I have right now in the "dungeon" at my apartment. I ride in the basement laundry room next to the circuit breakers and most of the time it's in the darkness.  The lights are actually on a motion detector thing and they shut off after 16 minutes and 2 seconds exactly (I timed it last night...) but it's nice because no one really bothers me (other than my neighbors that come to change over their laundry and they already think I'm crazy, so I suppose it's no shock to see me spinning in the basement too)

But the Tacx isn't the only power meter that I've been in contact this year.  See my good buddy Matt upgraded his bike and had a spare PowerTap SL+ hub to sell, so I took that off his hands really quickly and am currently having it installed into a new rim (with the proper amount of spokes) by Craig down at the Mendon CycleSmith.  I'm stoked to be able to ride outside and keep myself in check with power because I have an affinity to go out too hard and then die in the latter miles of the bike.  I don't have a picture up of it yet, but will take one in the next few upcoming weeks. 

Now the only problem for me was that I didn't have a head unit to have the hub send the signal to.  This was a definite problem as I didn't just want a really expensive hub on my bike. I wanted to be able to utilize it.  This problem will be rectified hopefully this February when I purchase a Garmin Forerunner 310xt.  This little beauty is just like the GPS running watches in th past, but it has the ability to pick up a ANT+ signal from a PT hub and display power.  Plus it has a handy little quick release kit that allows this to be mounted to your bike and then twisted off and snapped onto your wrist for running.  BAM.  This thing is gonna be sweet for an Ironman.  It is basically a bike computer that is detachable and can be used to pace a marathon correctly.  And the kicker is, if I purchase the one with a HR strap on it, I can use my health savings account from work and buy this baby pre-tax and it's a qualified purchase because HR monitors are "necessary for the treatment/prevention of heart disease" according to the folks that manage our HSA's.  So that's why it's not coming into my possession until February, I have to still pour cash into my HSA for it.  But the wait will be worth it to have power on the bike and a GPS for the run.  Sweet.

Well friends, I hope you have enjoyed my evolution from a steel framed bike that was too small for me with shifters on the down tube, all the way up to a full carbon rocketship with a powertap that is being installed.  Now I must say this, the bike is only as fast as the rider, so I'm gonna be training my @$$ off over this winter and will hopefully be able to rip it up next season.  So until then, train hard my friends and I'll be the one crushing cranks with the lights off.  Cheers.

November 16, 2010

Competitive Eating challenge 2010

So those of you that have known me for years know that I have a knack for taking down eating competitions.  Usually I try to prepare for these and the original one that I did many moons ago was to eat a whole large pizza by myself (piece of cake!) when I was in college.  Over the year, the challenges have increased in intensity (I think close to 2005 was to eat one of everything on the McDonald Dollar Menu - thanks Dave for suggesting that one, but I finished it...) And just recently my sister Jenna, brother in law Dave, and myself conquered the Cheeburger Cheeburger challenge of eating a one lb burger with 4 toppings on it up in Charlotte.  We got our pictures taken with this large stuffed burger and got on the wall of fame up there.  That was all childs play in comparison to what went down last night.
As I type this, the only thing I have eaten since the 6:15pm start last night, has been a single 1/2 cup of coffee and a yogurt and quite honestly I still feel full.  This was insane and the details are located here but I don't believe they do it justice.  From my calculations this is what was included:

0.5 lb burger with 0.25lb cheese
0.5 lb burger with 0.25lb cheese
8 strips of bacon (0.5 lbs as bacon is 1oz per strip)
4 sets of (lettuce, 2 slices of tomato and onion and mayo)
1 lb of pulled pork
1 lb of seasoned french fries with 0.5lbs of meat sauce on the fries as well
~5lbs of food is the approximate grand total of food to be consumed. Picture below is what was delivered to our table:
Now the reasoning behind all of this was that I originally just wanted to get my name up on the marquee outside of Sticky Lips and wanted to get a picture of myself underneath it.  That would have been fun, but last night was not my night.  To give you all a little insight on how ridiculous this challenge is, they make you sign a waiver prior to starting that basically says that you will not hold Sticky Lips BBQ responsible for any "harm done to myself or others" from this contest.  It's the real deal.  And you have 30 minutes to complete it or else you don't win...
Thats my bro-in-law, Dave above signing away his life on the waiver. There were 3 of us brave souls who tried to accomplish this monumental task that night. It was me, Dave and my buddy Matt who was just coming off of IM Florida and ripped off a 10:13!! So he had the post Ironman metabolism in his favor. I do have to thank my sister, Jenna for shooting all of these pictures of the night as a picture is worth a thousand words. I'll let them do the talking though...Enjoy 
The image above is me tearing thru about midway done with the time limit
Dave threw in the towel about 22 minutes in when he realized that although he had an AMAZINGLY strong start and had finished all of the burgers and pulled pork, he wasn't going to finish in the allotted timeframe.
It took me a little longer to realize that I probably wasn't going to be able to accomplish this mammoth task.  I felt good thru about 15 minutes, but honestly the hot meat sauce mixed in with the french fries just really took it's toll on me.  It wasn't necessarily a mental thing (I kind of assumed it would be a mind over matter type of deal) but it was strictly a CAPACITY issue and my stomach wouldn't stretch enough to hold the remainder.  The picture directly above is what I left behind....I'm not proud either.
Matt got bested by the challenge as well, although he kept on powering thru after the time limit expired and he "won" the challenge out of the 3 of us fools because he eventually ate the most food.  I think the best quote of the night came from Matt when he said something to the effect of, "I don't even want to WATCH Man vs. Food on the Travel channel anymore, I think I'm just completely done with eating challenges".  And I absolutely agree with him.

My whole deal was that after I was done competing in Ironmans that I was going to try my hand in competitive eating.  There is absolutely NO way that is going to happen now.  I'm just not cut out for it in any way, shape or form.  So there you have it.  The final tally was Food 3, Man 0...So instead of a solid message on the marquee, I'm left with a full stomach (still), lots of indigestion, and this:
So that's it.  I'll be cranking extra miles on the roads and trails and on the trainer to work that big guy off, but hopefully I'll see you all out there on the roads and trails.  Take care, eat well and cheers.