The 30 Day Vegan Challenge

Good Produce, Good Meals

From the outset, I fully intended to use this blog as a vehicle to talk about beer and food, but a quick look back at my posts reveals how uneven the ratio is of one to the other. I’ll now attempt to balance the scales a bit back in food’s direction. A bit over a month ago, my girlfriend Victoria asked me if I would do a 30-day vegan challenge. No meat, no dairy, no animal products at all for a month. She’s been a vegetarian for fifteen years and has been eating vegan for about nine months and I knew accepting the challenge would mean a lot to her. So I did.

While I’m not as much as a carnivore as I used to be, I do enjoy meat. Largely, it tastes pretty good and can usually function as the centerpiece of a meal that you work other ingredients around. My biggest concern with being vegan for a month was actually this—what becomes the central part of a dish without meat? Wouldn’t the turkey sandwiches I eat every day for lunch be severely lacking without turkey and cheese? Wouldn’t burritos be found wanting without carnitas, shredded beef, or chicken filling them up?

Vegan Camping

Today I can say most of my fears were unfounded. Not only have meat substitutes come a long way in recent years, vegan “dairy” products have been a surprisingly delicious parts of my diet in recent weeks. Kite Hill brand, in particular, makes yogurt, cream cheese, and other dairy substitutes that often exceed the flavor of the “real thing.” More importantly, however, I’ve realized that neither meat nor its substitutes need to be central to most meals. After reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma a few years ago, I tried to take to heart his thesis of “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” The short explanation is that he advocates eating “real” food, not processed food-like simulacra, eating said food in moderation, and making vegetables the focal point of meals. I’ve struggled to follow the first two tenets at times, but the last one never clicked with me until this month.


Baja Fish-less Tacos

It took me eating sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, and veganaise to realize that what I once considered toppings can stand on their own just fine. Granted, Victoria did the shopping and always picked out ripe, quality produce (going back to the “eat food” tenet) with plenty of flavor. I switched out string cheese (don’t judge me) for mini-bell peppers and hummus in my lunches. Oreos, which are probably my biggest weakness, are vegan so they stayed on the table. For dinner, Victoria made a host of delicious meals, ranging from sweet potato enchiladas and roasted pepper chilaquiles to Thai coconut curries and nut-based burgers. This month also forced me to eat out less, though we did make the rounds at Long Beach’s various vegan restaurants like the Grain Café, Veggie Grill, Seabirds Kitchen, and the pop-up Wild Chive.

The 30 days are up, but I still have been eating vegan for the past five since it ended. I’m not here to proselytize—I just want to share what I’ve learned. We (society at large, and Americans in particular) have stopped knowing or caring where our food comes from. We hide behind euphemisms like pork and beef to distance ourselves from the pigs and cows that died to make them. I intend on eating meat and dairy again, but I want to make a more conscious effort to consume them less often and when I do, ensure that they come from humane and sustainable sources. I love animals, and knowing that none had to die (or wish they were dead at an industrial dairy farm) for me to eat the past month makes me feel pretty good. This alone is enough to encourage me to eat vegan at least a few days a week, and the clearly beneficial environmental effects are icing on the egg-and-dairy-free cake.

Modern Times is 100% Vegan

Since I couldn’t go this whole post without mentioning beer, I’ll add that the only modifications I had to make to my beer intake were avoiding milk stouts and other lactose-laden beers (lactose IPAs have been catching on of late), as well as a bottle of KBS, which has actual milk chocolate added during the brew. I think 30-day challenges are a good thing; breaking your mind and body’s expectations offers a chance at a new perspective, which in turn becomes a learning experience. Twice in the past three years I’ve done 30 days without alcohol, which I recommend everyone try to do every so often. Like the vegan challenge, going alcohol-free for a month made me realize I don’t need to drink as often as I was and to be more selective about my choices. Financially, it makes sense too. If I’m consuming less meat or beer, when I eventually do, I feel inclined to spend more on a premium product since my overall meat or beer budget is down. With that said, pay attention to where your food and beer comes from—when you do, you’ll eat better and drink better.

The Thrills of Pils

It’s hot here in Long Beach. Chances are it’s also pretty hot wherever you’re reading this. In such a climate, whether you’re hanging out by the pool or unwinding after a long day of work, your choice in beer tends to be focused on one thing–refreshment. So you open the fridge and grab a nice, chilled Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout with Cacao Nibs, Coffee, and Chipotle to quench your thirst. You’re not sure if it’s the 12% alcohol by volume, the fact that you drink it at 55 degrees, or the roasted quality of the coffee, but something about this beer really hits the spot on a hot day, right? No! Of course not. Enter the Pilsner.

Pilsner arose during the Industrial Revolution as the first light-colored lager and took over the world’s drinking preferences remarkably quickly for reasons you might expect: it was easy to drink, tasted best when cold, and had a low enough alcohol content to warrant drinking large volumes. By the second half of the 20th Century, brewing efficiency had metastasized pilsner into a flavorless shadow of its former self, with macrobreweries using rice and corn in the malt bill for a thinner body and cheaper product. The craft beer revolution understandably revolted against this style and craft brewers preferred to make complex and/or full-flavored ales over delicate lagers. You may recall that, for years, Stone Brewing’s slogan was “Fizzy yellow beer is for Wussies!”

I really should pack my lunch in this bad boy

But, whether with maturity or palate fatigue, craft beer drinkers are finally coming back around to a style either forgotten, misunderstood, or ignored for so many years. Perhaps a reason brewers avoided pilsner for so long is that it’s hard to do well. After all, with flavored stouts or hop-laden IPAs, it can be easy to mask an off-flavor that arises during the brewing process. In a pilsner, with its delicate malt body and flavorful-but-not-super-bitter hop profile, any error in brewing becomes readily apparent.

I warmed up to the style last year while studying for the Certified Cicerone exam and re-examining many beers with a more critical eye. While tasting through Central European lagers, most of which surprised me with their quality, I included Pilsner Urquell to represent Czech Pilsners. Instantly, the malty aromas of bread crust jumped out of the glass, followed by the light earthy spiciness of Saaz hops. I was hooked. It was so much better than I remembered and it actually became hard to concentrate on the beers that followed because I would invariably compare them to Pilsner Urquell. From that moment to now, nearly a year later, pilsners have been my go-to style.

It’s important to note that there are two similar, but distinct styles of pilsner: German and Czech. The Czech Pilsner, also known as the Bohemian Pilsner (and now officially the Czech Premium Pale Lager according to the Beer Judge Certification Program), is darker and maltier than its German counterpart and brewed with Saaz, the classic Czech hop. German Pils, often spelled pilsener (with the extra “e”) in German, is a light gold beer that seems more bitter than a Czech Pilsner due to its milder malt bill. It’s typically brewed with German-cultivated Noble hops like Spalt, Tettnang, and Hallertau Mittelfrüh and leaves a slightly stronger bitter aftertaste.  I’m partial to the Czech Pilsner mainly for the bready malt profile and my preference of Saaz hops over the other Noble varieties.

Modern Times Ice’s natural habitat

What comes next for pilsner? In the must-have beer book, Tasting Beer, author Randy Mosher says that he would “like to see Americans loosen up a little and not be so reverential,” adding that “[a] dash of creativity could help liven up this category in the marketplace.” Recently, it’s starting to look like he’s getting his wish. Noble Aleworks was ahead of the curve when they released Pistol Whip’d a few years ago, which was one of the first pilsners I know of to use New Zealand hops–Motueka, in their case. Earlier this year, I attended a coffee beer festival featuring dozens of coffee stouts and imperial porters. Yet, the beer I kept coming back to was Cellarman’s Pils, a coffee-laden pilsner from Creature Comforts out of Athens, Georgia. Modern Times, who’s seen success with their pilsner, Ice, has been experimenting with the style and released their own NZ-hopped pilsner called Meru, as well as an absolute gem of a beer, Bogus Totem. This special release brew took an already delicious pilsner base and added pineapple and tiki spices to it and instantly became a favorite.

In addition to the beers I’ve mentioned above, I’d be remiss not to recommend some other fine pilsners I’ve had recently. In no particular order, here are a few more I think are worth seeking out: Half Acre’s Pony Pils, Societe’s The Heiress Czech Pilsner, Pizza Port Pick Six Pilsner, and Central Coast Brewing’s Keller Pils. It also seems like Firestone Walker has released a brewer favorite in Pivo Pils, a German pilsner that’s incredibly balanced and pairs well with food and hard work alike. Lastly, in a cleverly named attempt to swallow their pride, Stone Brewing now brews a quality pilsner called Wussie. So, as we slog through the dog days of summer, do the right thing and grab yourself a pilsner; nobody’s judging (anymore).


Have you jumped on the pilsner train yet? If so, what’s your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

Judas, Benedict Arnold, Wicked Weed?

Yesterday, Wicked Weed Brewing agreed to be acquired by AB InBev, the parent company of Budweiser, Stella Artois, et al. and the largest beer company globally by a monstrous margin. Of all the craft brewing buyouts, this has made the most headlines since Ballast Point’s billion dollar deal, but has arguably sent more shockwaves throughout the craft beer community.  When Ballast Point sold, the biggest surprise to everyone was the number associated with the deal. They had been expanding so rapidly that the idea of them selling out was not entirely unfathomable. But for Wicked Weed, which I venture a good portion of you have never tried, it feels different.

Wicked Weed became popular in the brewing boomtown of Asheville, NC for doing a lot of styles well, and more recently have been a craft beer darling for their outstanding sour beers. Last year, I sang the praises of Red Angel and Angel of Darkness from my visit to the Firestone Walker Invitational. So when the news broke that they agreed to sell, it felt like losing one of the good guys. Breweries, especially sour breweries, were quick to react. Jester King, The Rare Barrel, and Black Project quickly released statements canceling collaboration beers with Wicked Weed and/or dropping out of Wicked Weed’s own invitational beer festival. Additionally, the two breweries closest to my heart, Beachwood and Modern Times, both reiterated what it means when a conglomerate gobbles up another craft brand: AB InBev is trying to fill all available “craft” beer shelves with breweries in their portfolio by any means necessary. And, as best they can, they want to do this without the consumer noticing. Increased production by Elysian, or Golden Road, or Wicked Weed ends with less independently-owned beer available.

I love a brewery with a solid backbone. @beachwoodbbq @beachwoodbrewing

Independent breweries, especially the ones that fight tooth and nail against the nefarious practices the big guys use, are small businesses that support local jobs and economies. When they succeed, the money stays in local communities. When they are acquired, the money (in this case) goes to Belgium, Brazil, St. Louis, and wherever else AB InBev has headquarters. Wicked Weed seemed like one of those small businesses, and yesterday, it let a lot of folks down–drinkers and brewers alike. It’s not illegal to sell your business for a profit–in fact, it’s one of the things many people in this country dream about. However, when that sale violates an ethical boundary many of your peers aren’t willing to cross because it would negatively affect the group as a whole, you have to be willing to live with the decision.

Beer geeks will know about this sale and, hopefully, vote with their wallet to avoid Wicked Weed in the future. Casual craft beer drinkers might not, which is exactly how AB InBev wants it. If you know better, I urge you to inform your friends which company really owns the beer they want to buy next time you’re at a bar or bottle shop. I’ve stopped (as much as I can reasonably help it) buying beer from Golden Road, Ballast Point, 10 Barrel, and Lagunitas. And after today’s second kidney punch news that Heineken is buying the remaining 50% of Lagunitas, that’s not about to change. Stay informed, and stay vigilant!

Note: I previously stated that I intended to continue to drink Ballast Point when I wrote about their acquisition. With more knowledge, this is no longer my position or my practice.

1 of 9