Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Two-Year-Old is Tough

Our little boy met his new pediatrician today. He got his flu shot as well, and I was once again amazed at how tough our little man is. The needle went into his thigh and he let out a slight grunt, furrowed his brow, then continued playing a game on my phone. He got a plastic frog and a sticker. Pretty sure he feels like he pulled one over on us.

After we dropped him off at school, I spent way too much time at the hardware store trying to get the correct parts to install the ball valve on the mash tun. Also I went ahead and upgraded to ten gallons to give myself some scalability later on. How's that for a buzzword? Thanks, business world!

I rushed into my training session afterwards and made the huge mistake of skipping my normal warm-up. Soon, my knee would make me aware of just how bad of a call that was.

Dynamic Effort Lower

235x2x8 - My right knee felt like it was stuffed with knives and about to explode. I had to take a long break between sets 6 and 7. Punishment accepted.
325x1 - This was supposed to be a heavy double but I felt far too unstable on the first (as you can see), so I just racked it and set up quickly to hit it again.

Reverse Hyperextensions

Weighted Decline Crunches

Weight - 205

Got the job done, but certainly wasn't a top-notch session today.

I finally finished reading Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer by Maureen Ogle. I highly recommend it for any beer nerd or history buff. It's a great narrative about how the beer market in the U.S. became what it is today. It does a great job of disproving the conventional wisdom about how big soulless macro-brewers destroyed the art of beer in America, and craft brewers are somehow entirely different animals sent to save it. My favorite parts are her exhaustive profiles of the early beer moguls: Adolphus Busch, Frederick Pabst, August Uihlein.

I'm going to bottle my dortmunder tomorrow. Please calm down.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sparge is a Funny Word

I've been all amped up about building my own mash tun for all grain homebrewing. I decided I would start the process today and get the basics. In the age of "everything available on the internet, always" I have decided to this stubborn-style. No how-to vids, no using someone else's process and parts listed on a homebrew forum somewhere. No; I was going to sit and think, sketch this out and figure it out on my own.

After all - it's just a container to put things in, run water over them and drain it out. Right?

Today I just picked up the 5-gallon Home Depot plastic cooler and the parts to replace the cooler's valve with a 1/2" ball valve. As if to immediately punish my decision to not consult the Great Wise Internet, I quickly discovered I am short one semi-important component. Not a deal-breaker though; plenty more trips to hardware stores and the homebrew shop to get this whole setup working.

I also lifted several weights today.

Max Effort Upper Body

Floor Press
265x1 Easy
275x1 PR

No great revelations today. Just felt a little stronger. 275 felt lighter than it ever has, and 285 felt absolutely impossible.

Incline DB Press

DB Fly
35x12, 12, 9, 9

Dips (Bodyweight)
12, 9, 7

Cable Curls Superset w/ Neutral Grip Chins
I lost track. 3 sets?

Plenty of failure, don't worry. Also I was not aware that I swerve my spine around like a sassy cobra when I do dips.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I hope Tony Romo reads my blog.

Got a decent, quick training session in yesterday. Low box squats are finally starting to click.

Max Effort Lower

Box Squats
295x1 Should have been a triple.
325x1 PR
335xf Unusual failure for me; got out of the hole just fine but couldn't finish.

Straight-Leg Deadlift

Cable Crunches Superset w/ Face Pulls
3 sets of 15 each

Weight - 205 (I can't remember the last time my weight was this consistent)

Lower back really took a beating yesterday for some reason. It was interesting to find a new weak point on that 335 failure. I have the distinct feeling it was more of a form issue than just strength. I can usually finish squats strong, but I felt like I got stuck forward a little and couldn't correct.

For cardio I went outside and flew a kite with a cool bro.

I can't possibly write a post about yesterday without mentioning my Cowboys and their impressive yet ugly win against the Redskins. Listen, Tony: We will never ever question you again, just keep doing that being awesome and winning games, ok? Also maybe grab an extra nap this week and, you know, let the hole in your lung heal up.

Before you immediately start hating me and un-follow this blog - I was born in Dallas.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Drinking at 3 in the Afternoon

The big event of my weekend was the Texas Craft Brewer's Festival on Saturday. I've been rattling on about this for a week or more, so I was pretty stoked to head down to Town Lake and try some Texas beer.

By the time I arrived at 3pm, the party was in full swing; live music, long lines and the smell of Uncle Billy's BBQ in the air. There were easily a couple thousand people in attendance, which was honestly surprising. Craft beer is a legitimate draw, it seems. The tasting glass you were issued was 4 oz. and all you had to do was walk up to each brewery's booth, hand over a ticket and they would pour you the brew of your choice.

I made it a point to sample brews that weren't widely available in Austin. Not much point in spending that much time and money to try something I could get at the corner store. I thought it was very cool that the lesser known brewers consistently had much longer lines than the well-known guys (Shiner, Independence). Overall I was pretty impressed with the beers I tried. One dimension I thought was lacking was the interaction (or lack thereof) with the people pouring your beer. It was rare that anyone who was involved with brewing was manning the booth, and when they were, they generally weren't very engaging. Maybe it's just my inexperienced take, but as a small craft brewer I would think the chance to market your beer to hundreds of consumers face-to-face would mean it's time to bring out your A-game. Exhausting? Maybe. Still totally worth it though from a small business perspective.

All that being said, here is my ranking/rundown of the eight most memorable beers I tasted beers I tasted:

8. El Hefe Weizen

Style: Hefeweizen
ABV: 5.5%
IBU: 12
Appearance: Blonde/Yellow
Aroma: Banana and hint of spice, true to style. Aroma overall a little weak.
Taste: The banana notes you expect from a German wheat beer end up much closer to Circus Peanuts. Not especially bad, but it hurt the "classic" hefeweizen taste the brewer is aiming for. The malted wheat flavor is well represented, but I was disappointed in the lack of complex spices and citrus.
Mouthfeel: Excellent mouthfeel, very silky for a hefeweizen.
Finish: Finish was just right, and the banana notes actually improved a little.

7. Skylight Dunkelweizen
New Republic Brewing - College Station, TX

Style: Dunkelweizen
ABV: 5.1%
IBU: Low 20s
Appearance: Dark Amber/Copper
Aroma: Sweetness and mild alcohol.
Taste: I was very happy with how comfortable New Republic was with putting the malt up front on this beer. However, it was almost too sweet, like marshmallow. Hop balance was good and on-point for the style.
Mouthfeel: Thin and flat mouthfeel, not with expectations. Very well may have been a by-product of the outdoor venue or the handling, but really put a damper on the beer. There was an enjoyable dryness that continued on through to the finish that was a really nice surprise though.
Finish: Finish was strong with alcohol. As mentioned, nice mild dryness.

6. Mesquite-Smoked Porter
Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling - San Antonio, TX

Style: Porter
ABV: 6.1%
IBU: ?
Appearance: Dark Copper; A little cloudy and thin in sunlight.
Aroma: Mesquite and Smoke
Taste: Ranger Creek definitely created one of the more unique tasting brews available at the festival. The mesquite is obviously the star. There is a nice hint of smoke as well, and honestly I wouldn't have minded having it brought forward more. The malt was really overwhelmed and basically absent, which is unfortunate in a porter.
Mouthfeel: A little thin, but well within the style.
Finish: Mesquite and smoke, obviously.

5. Alamo Golden Ale
Alamo Beer Company - San Antonio, TX

Style: American Blonde Ale
ABV: 5.3%
IBU: Low 20s
Appearance: Cloudy Straw-Gold
Aroma: Hops and very slight jalapeno.
Taste: Very clean, accessible and drinkable blonde (as they generally should be). I had a chance to chat with Eugene Simor, the company president, and he made clear that this ale is meant to be an easy-drinking, introductory craft ale. Crisp taste, not overly hoppy, malt (and corn maybe) were thin but apparent. Very slight apricot and citrus notes.
Mouthfeel: Light mouthfeel. Almost like a light lager.
Finish: The glacier hops really define the finish. Light all the way through.

4. Fuego

Style: Pilsener
ABV: 6.5%
IBU: 46
Appearance: Yellow-Gold
Aroma: Hops and very slight jalapeno.
Taste: I was looking forward to this one since these guys operate basically around the corner from me. I intended to try their Premium Lager but their volunteer accidentally poured the Fuego. It definitely lives up to it's billing as a jalapeno pilsener, as the the flavor of the chili is front and center right from the first sip. They certainly dial it back more than other beers in this genre, but there's no denying that it dominates the flavor. It's a pilsener, so there really isn't anything else that can compete with that unique spiciness. Expertly crafted, and as balanced as can be expected.
Mouthfeel: Great mouthfeel for a pils, and a great job of keeping the jalapeno fire under control.
Finish: Jalapeno and a touch of hops.

3. Fire Eagle IPA
Austin Beerworks - Austin, TX

Style: India Pale Ale
ABV: 6.4%
IBU: 70
Appearance: Bright Amber; Very Clear
Aroma: Hops primarily, but surprisingly soft on the nose.
Taste: Anyone that listens to me long enough when I nerd out about beer knows that IPAs aren't at the top of my list of styles; I love malt. Thus, the fact that Austin Beerwork's IPA made it this high in my list is a tribute to its excellent execution. Well-hopped and bitter, but the taste stayed fresh and drinkable throughout. The first sip didn't immediately scream HOPS, but instead mixed them tastefully with some fruity esters.
Mouthfeel: Thin for the most part, but worked well with the freshness of the brew.
Finish: This is where the hops really make themselves known. Again, bold but not overpowering. Surprisingly smooth for style and ABV over 6%.

2. Bombshell Blonde

Style: American Blonde Ale
ABV: 5.25%
IBU: 20
Appearance: Blonde
Aroma: Perfect blend of alcohol and sweetness, not much hops.
Taste: Very crisp taste, almost lager-like with how clean it is. As usual, I was hoping for more malt, but it's definitely there. Subtle buttery diacetyl flavors actually add a lot to this brew as well.
Mouthfeel: Light, light light. Doesn't dry out though.
Finish: Slight buttery flavors maintain, but the finish is still very clean. Easy to take the next sip.

1. Nightlight
Circle Brewing Co. - Austin, TX

Style: Dry Irish Stout
ABV: 4.7%
IBU: ?
Appearance: Dark Coffee
Aroma: Amazing blend of sweet roasted malt, oak and coffee.
Taste: I love stouts and porters as much as the next beer nerd, and I really thought with all the stylistic branching out I did at this festival I would have a favorite that wasn't dark as night. Circle Brewing Co. threw all that out the window. I had never even heard of this brewery before the festival, and that's what's great about these events. Circle completely nailed the Irish Dry Stout style. They didn't overdo it with the roasted malt, and they really let the more subtle notes shine in this beer. The hops were even detectable, and just enough. A great example of a stout that doesn't feel like a meal and leaves you ready for the next glass.
Mouthfeel: Great dryness with a medium viscosity, perfect for style.
Finish: Dry, malty finish with a nice touch of hops which is so often missing in stouts.

And there you have it! Thanks to all the great brewers and the people that helped out at the festival. If this post is your first visit to the blog, be sure to follow me in every possible digital way. It validates me as a person.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Believe in yourself as long as other people tell you how.

I've had a tough but rewarding week in the gym, and today's lift was a great way to cap it off. I decided to forgo the box and just free squat for my dynamic effort day because of the apprehension I have been having about my strength level and form. Thank goodness I did - even though DE days aren't meant for big numbers, I still felt good and solidified some small tweaks I have been working on.

Dynamic Effort Lower

225x2x8 - Video
315x2 - This felt amazing. About time.

Rack Pulls
365x8, 8, 6

Reverse Hypers
4 sets of 10

DB Shrugs

Weight 205

Since the point of DE is to move the bar as fast as possible, I think the video shows I have a lot of work to do. Still, I felt more explosive than I have for a few weeks. The major thing I tweaked today is the width of my stance. I have been squatting out wider since I attended a Learn to Train seminar with Dave Tate and his EliteFTS crew earlier this year. Dave works with a lot of equipped lifters, so I think absorbed some of that. I mean, the wide stance is tempting because it shortens the bar path and gets glutes and hams more involved.

However, I think for a smaller, weaker raw lifter like myself it gets to be a diminishing returns thing at a certain width. I am also trying to protect my right knee, and getting the quads out of the lift certainly made sense in that regard. The problem was that my lack of strength and size was causing instability and consequently a rotational force on my knees as I hit the hole. Today I brought my feet in a few inches and I instantly felt more stable, strong and pain-free. I'm still relatively wide, certainly not Olympic squatting.

On a side note, I got to see one of my favorite varieties of gym wildlife: Guy lifting in scrubs. I know very well what life as a resident and attending is like, and there is absolutely no excuse for ever doing this. You can take 20-40 minutes to drive to and from the gym, work out for an hour but can't possibly make time to change into some fucking shorts? It takes everything I can muster to not stand next to him, point and yell "Wow! Are you a doctoooorrrr???!?" The next step above this is "Dr. Scrubs at a Bar, M.D."

Tomorrow could be very cool. I could either go to the Texas Craft Brewers Festival as planned, or I may end up going to a local Celtic Festival to watch some Highland Games. OR I COULD DO BOTH! Life has too many possibilities, it's overwhelming.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Yeah, I'm happily married. No big deal.

Woke up early and got the little guy to school this morning, and I was feeling refreshed and well-rested for once. Ashley and I hit the Barton Creek Greenbelt for a morning hike/run and it was awesome. My wife can always tell when I'm spending too much time inside my own head, and she knows just how to snap me out of it. While enjoying the decent weather, we solved pretty much all the world's problems in between runs. Well, okay...It was more like me spewing out all my goals and future plans and "what-ifs" while she listened.

There are a lot of things I want to do that involve both strength and beer (heyo) that I feel like I'm having problems getting momentum on. Add to that some career uncertainty/indecision and it was a recipe for a brooding dude. Ashley is great about putting things in perspective and reminding me of everything I've accomplished. Plus, she makes me go trail running occasionally so I don't use strength sports as an excuse to become a disgusting lardass, so there's that.

After the hike, we dropped by Austin Homebrew Supply to price out some all-grain brewing equipment. These guys rock, and I love going to a place where I can just look, learn and get prices without being pressured. Honestly, that approach is the best way to make me spend my money with them. They will even tell you which of their items are overpriced and can be made cheaper at home.

I'm going to make the switch to all-grain soon and I think I can build some of this myself. I'm a big believer in the idea that you learn more by crafting things yourself than buying them ready-made. Plus, it makes troubleshooting later a ton easier. I'm trying to decide if I want to go the cheap route and make my liquor tank and mash tun out of plastic coolers like these or just pony up the cash and use steel pots that I have to drill for spigots. Either way, I am going to buy the stuff I can't build, like the burners, valves and false bottom.

Also scoped out a Blonde Ale recipe. I'm thinking that's next.

Because of all the excitement I trained a little later in the day. I hit up the closest Gold's Gym because these kind of days aren't very equipment intensive. I have started digging out of my little pity party about my lifts due in part to the aforementioned wife awesomeness as well as my friend Jay sending a long e-mail about some amazing strength breakthroughs he is having. He keeps shit pretty simple, and that's always refreshing.

Dynamic Effort Upper

Bench Press

Pretty low percentage speed work today (60%). I really feel loose and out of sync on bench, so I wanted to worry less about the weight and more about set-up and bar speed. Found some weak points to work on for sure.

Skull Crushers
80x10, 10, 8, 6

10, 10, 8, 5

Tate Press
30x20, 13, 10, 7

Weight 205

Had better intensity and more energy for my accessory work today.

Also, this finally came in the mail:

Guess I'm legit now. I have mastered business.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ugly Squats, Pretty Lady

The wife and I hit the gym together today. We squatted in side-by-side cages. Isn't that adorable? My training was okay, I suppose. Squat numbers still aren't what I'm used to, and my form feels pretty unstable. I suffered a torn meniscus in my right knee several months back and I can still tell that I am gun-shy about it. Didn't help that it's been tender since last week's dynamic effort squat day.

Max Effort Lower:

Low Box Squat

Reverse Hypers

Cable Crunches

45 Degree Back Raises (plate behind head)

Band Pull-Aparts

Weight - 205

I have a long way to go to even get back to where I was in my last meet. I don't yet feel like the training methods I am using are paying off. Being as relatively small as I am for powerlifting, I sometimes wonder if I wouldn't be better served by a program with more volume and hypertrophy. I made good gains on Wendler's 5/3/1 last year, and it kinda calls to me on tough stretches like this.

For months I've really been trying to fix problems with my form that I overlooked while I was making decent strength gains early on. One step back, two steps forward I suppose. Still, it's frustrating right now.

I almost completely forgot that The Texas Craft Brewers Festival is this Saturday. I think I will try to convince the family to go down to Town Lake and watch me taste beers, scratch my chin and give opinions that sound well-informed but are not.

Monday, September 19, 2011

If you're reading this blog for amazing feats of strength...don't..

I'm getting the urge to brew again. Seeing fellow home brewers and their amazing setups on my Facebook news feed certainly doesn't help. I would like to get myself set up for all-grain brewing by my next batch, but I'd also like to keg the dortmunder that's currently lagering. Each project is equipment and time-intensive, so I need to make up my mind. First world problems.

Speaking of the dortmunder: Brewed it back on 8/21 and the session went very well. I pitched nearly double the yeast I would have for an ale just be sure. Original gravity was 1.060. Gave it a diacetyl rest from 8/31 to 9/2 then put it in secondary. Took another gravity reading and it showed 1.014. I am a little unsure on the temperature of each reading (dang it) but a conservative calculation puts this beer between 5-6% ABV already. Whoa. Tasted decent too. It's not clarifying as well as I would like at this stage, but dortmunders aren't supposed to be crystal clear. That's what I keep telling myself anyways.

In other beer news, I made my best buddy Aaron a wort chiller for his birthday. He flew in from Charlotte, North Carolina, so he had no way to transport the thing back. If he tried to stuff it in a suitcase...well...I can't imagine anything looking more like a bomb on an x-ray machine than this:

Guess I will ship it.

Took the weekend off from training to recuperate from my birthday extravaganza last week. Lots of beer, lots of awesome stuff Ashley did for me. Short version - I got a knife, some shirts, a big TV and a party. The response to the Guinness clone I bottled got a really good response from the party crowd. My theory is that we are friends with nothing but skillful liars. I'll take it.

Today was Max Effort upper body. Warmed up a lot more than usual. Foam roll, bands, etc. Took my time.

Floor Press
45x whatever
265x1 this is my old PR, and it felt very easy
275xf forgot I had a lower body

Frustrating. I felt strong enough, something just fell apart. Reviewing the video, I think the fact that I'm continuing to breathe after I've unracked is loosening me up too much.

Incline DB Press
80x6, 6, 8

DB Triceps Press (behind head)

Close Grip Pulldowns

Rope Pushdown

Weight - 205

On the upside, the failures on 275 exposed some weakness in my triceps. Gonna focus on them even more than I had previously.

My next meet is October 22 in Fort Worth, TX. My older brother, dad, and possibly my wife and son will be there. No pressure, right? I feel stronger than I have for previous meets, but that's not translating into numbers yet. Guess I gotta trust the programming.

Friday, September 16, 2011

My CNS is fried and my dortmunder is chilly.

I have been trying to salvage what's left of this week's training, but yesterday was the coup de grĂ¢ce. It wasn't pretty but it looked something like this:

Dynamic Effort Lower Body

Low Box Squat

For a few sets I decided to pull the box out and free squat, since it had been quite a while. Weight was plenty easy, but I can tell I have some form issues that start with my setup. Then I proceeded to load up 315 for a free squat attempt and failed it. Easy weight normally, but I was lifting for pride and was already gassed. Finished up with some weighted 45-degree back raises and chest-supported rows.

I had nothing in the tank, and if there is nothing else I can take away from this week it's that I learned what it feels like when your nervous system has been beaten into submission by Max Effort work. In my infinite wisdom, I followed up a great ME lower day on Monday (2 personal records set on suspended good mornings) with the another ME lower on Tuesday. My best friend, Aaron was in town and he was a day behind me in training. So being a dutiful friend, I buckled down and did it all again. Once we hit 275 on suspended good mornings I told him "you're on your own from here." I did the accessory work, but I could sorta feel the damage was done.

Wednesday I tried a ME bench day that started with pin press. Absolute waste of time. I squirmed under 245 then just went home.

Tonight we are having a party at our house. Sort of a housewarming/birthday thing that Ashley put together. I bottled up some of my Guinness clone and slapped some labels on it. We will see what the beer drinkers at the party think.