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Beer Adventures In London and Edinburgh

Posted in Food and Drinks, Pictures on September 12th, 2012

During my recent trip to the UK, I made an effort to sample beers that I haven’t seen in the USA or in New York specifically. Here are some of the hilights:

Cider in London
While in London I enjoyed a lot more cider than I had initially thought I would have. It’s quite popular and was available at ever pub and restaurant we went to. What surprised me is that it’s often served over ice. I’m not a fan of that, because the ice melts and dilutes the cider. Most of the time, the bar tender or server will ask if you want ice, so that only happened to me once, with a Wyld Wood Westons Organic Cider.

We visited the Sherlock Holmes pub with Steve Bowen and @RedDalek. I was quite shocked that someone had mounted their poor bloodhound on the wall, but then I realized that it was the Hound of the Baskervilles! The pub contains memorabilia from Sherlock Holmes movies and television series.

Like many in /r/beer recommended, I made sure to sample Strong Bow Cider on tap. It tasted even better drinking it outside on a sunny afternoon at a pub that was actually a boat.

Photo credit: RPM
Tattershall Castle

I tried Aspall Draught Suffolk Cyder on the advice of @ChardHollis and was not disappointed.

We got to visit The Mayflower, the pub that is said to be where the ship of the same name set sail for America.

While there I had a Joseph Holt Maplemoon, which I think was the beer highlight of London for me. The maple flavor was just enough that you could really enjoy it but it didn’t overpower the beer.

On a day trip to Bath, I had some (nonalcoholic) ginger beer. I see Reed’s extra ginger brew sometimes in the United States, but most American soft drinks are packed with high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. Fentimans was very gingery and almost too spicy.

During our visit to the British Museum, I noticed this fascinating piece of beer history:

Cask Ales in Edinburgh
While in Scotland, I tried to always pick a beer from the cask selection, something not often seen in the United States.

When we arrived in Edinburgh, it was cold and rainy. We had lunch at the Halfway House, a small pub on the oddly named Fleshmarket Close. I had a smoked haddock and cheese pot pie and Adam had stovies – corned beef hash to us Yanks.

Dark Munro on the right and Thrappledouser at left.

I had my first cask ale, a Highland Dark Munro. I enjoy darker beers, and this one had a very pleasant flavor of well roasted malt and just a hint of chocolate/coffee. It was definitely appropriate for the weather and a hearty lunch.

That night we visited The Last Drop, a picturesque pub on Grassmarket, famous for being the site of the last ever public hanging in Scotland.

The inside of it was cinematic. The building is hundreds of years old, and the tavern has seen a lot of history. It was crowded even fairly early in the evening and we got a table facing the bar. I enjoyed watching the crowd and looking at the different taps and trying to make sense of the scotch whiskey list. The way the pub was lit, it seemed to suggest candlelight and a glowing fireplace although there were only modern, electric lights. I had another pot pie, but this one was made with steak and ale. I’m not generally a steak and potatoes kind of woman, but it was fantastic. I had a pint of Caledonian ale, the same used in the pie I was eating. It was a very satisfying meal.

On the way home we stopped at Bow Bar, where I was happily surprised to see Brooklyn Lager and Goose Island representing the United States on their bottle list.

The next day I have to admit we were ugly Americans and had lunch at Filling Station but I did have a chuckle at this description of Brooklyn Lager:

We made up for it though with dinner at The White Hart Inn, a pub whose cellar dates back to 1516.

Photo credit: notcub

We had a drink outside before heading in for a dinner.

Independence Ale

Later on we made our way to Brew Dog, passing a night club offering £1 drinks:

Quality cocktails, I’m sure!

But we were greeted with this amazing sight when we arrived:

Brew Dog had a laid back atmosphere with a larger selection of bottles than beers on tap, most of which were IPA’s:

Photo credit: @BrewDogEdin

I had the Dogma, which was very rich and pleasantly medium bodied. There were hints of honey and dark malt. Definitely a beer to savor.

We couldn’t leave though, without trying the infamous Tactical Nuclear Penguin.

It tasted like Port and burning.

It was £5 for a shot (or dram as they say in Scotland) and was served in the glass pictured above. TNP smelled really good at first, like a caramel stout with dark fruit. But when I tilted the glass to drink some, I got a slight burning sensation in my nostrils like I was at a gas station. Technically it’s an imperial stout, and I could see that. It also tasted like a very strong port wine, and had a strong alcohol aftertaste. It wasn’t great, but I’m glad I tried it for the novelty.

One of the things Adam particularly liked about Edinburgh was the churches that had been renovated into pubs.

The Iron Church

The Frankenstein Pub

Cloisters Bar

At Cloisters, I tried a Tempest Cresta Black, which was a pretty decent stout, but a little thin for my tastes.

We had dinner at the Guildford Arms which had been highly recommended to us. It’s a beautiful place, and was built in a very ornate style to try and combat the prevailing notion that pubs were a bane on society. The food was very good. I had the traditional Fish and Chips with an Edinburgh Gold. Edinburgh Gold was light but much too fruity for my taste. I felt like I was drinking a jar of perfume at times. We ordered dessert because we were having such a nice evening. I had an Orkney Dark Island which was nice on it’s own, but much to bitter to be paired with my profiterole. I pushed it aside and sipped it when I was finished.

A view of the Guildford Arms from the upstairs seating.

On our last day in Edinburgh, we had lunch at Teuchters a cozy pub on William Street.

This was where we found (in our humble opinions anyway) the Holy Grail of Scottish beers – Innis & Gunn on tap:

Checkmate, Atheists!

We had dinner at The Canon’s Gait. The restaurant is decorated with famous quotations painted on the walls, like “If God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good?” The food was good, and I was boring and ordered a Magner’s, but the honey and ice cream parfait I had for dessert was really terrific.

Our final stop in Edinburgh was The Blue Blazer to meetup with some Daylight Atheism readers.

Photo credit: Chris Donia

I tried two really good beers on cask there, Trade Winds and Blathan.

Trade Winds was the only wheat beer I had in the UK, and I enjoyed it immensely. I was interested because it was described as including elderflower, and I love St. Germain elderflower liqueur and champagne cocktails, so why not try that flavor in a beer? It was light and fruity with some nice malt tastes.

Blathan was a challenge to order, mainly because the name is Gaelic and not pronounced how it’s spelled. But it was worth the confusion my labored Long Island accent produced to the bar tender’s Scottish ears. It was crisp, fruity and not too bitter. Very refreshing.

Photo Credit: Craige Moore
Blathan? Blath? Bath? Blan? That one!

I had lots of fun on my trip, and want to give a shout out to /r/beer for recommending many of the fine establishments we visited in Edinburgh. Also I really enjoyed the Daylight Atheism meetups, thanks to everyone who came out!

I Speak For The Lorax

Posted in Editorials, Pictures on February 29th, 2012

During this year’s Superbowl, I had my first look at the trailer for “The Lorax” a new animated film adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic. I was not amused. Adam reminded me that this version didn’t stick to the story of the original book – I was tipped off by a stupid joke about a “mannish” looking woman.

A few days later I was browsing in a store and saw a box of Lorax Valentine’s Day Cards for children. How could a movie about saving trees have a marketing tie-in with a paper product?! I looked closely and did see that the Valentine’s were printed on recycled paper, but they were being marketed more as an advertisement for the movie than as a green alternative to other Valentines.

On Thursday night, Kate Sheppard from Mother Jones tweeted a link to her article about the movie’s tie-in with a new Mazda SUV. No, it’s not a hybrid or a plugin.

I was able to push the whole mess out my head, until Saturday afternoon. I was clipping coupons and saw…

…this atrocity

“The Lorax’s Breakfast With Green Eggs & Ham, Truffula Chip Pancakes”

I just felt so overwhelmingly frustrated at the bitter irony of it all. The Lorax was a very important story in my childhood, and to see it undermined in this fashion is heartbreaking. It’s not just the blatant commercialization. I dig Star Trek and Star Wars and Archie Comics and Harry Potter – fandoms with endless merchandising, that I know is not always the best thing for the environment. But SUV’s and pork are two incredibly destructive products with regards to human health, climate change and biodiversity.

According to the EPA, after electricity production at #1, Transportation is the #2 source of Carbon Dioxide emissions – the greenhouse gas most abundant in the atmosphere that is contributing to climate change. This is why advertising an SUV – one of the most inefficient forms of transportation – in conjunction with a movie that is based on a book about preserving the Earth’s ability to sustain life is so distasteful.

But what about the green eggs and ham? Can’t a kid have a nice brunch with family? According to The Sierra Club, those eggs aren’t so bad – at only 4.8 pounds of CO2 emissions per kilogram of food, they are a reasonable indulgence. But pork produces much more CO2 – 12.1 pounds per kilogram of meat. And that’s not all. In the United States, most pigs raised for pork live in CAFOs – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

The EPA defines a CAFO as an animal feeding operation that:
(a) confines animals for more than 45 days during a growing season, (b) in an area that does not produce vegetation
(c) meets certain size thresholds

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? It’s like a chicken coop! But for pigs. Not quite. The thing about raising pigs – for those of you who never think about where your bacon comes from – is they create an incredible amount of manure8 pounds or more per hog, per day. And all of that fecal matter has to go somewhere. Most farmers or factory farms are responsible, I’m sure. Generally, pig manure is stored in lagoons to decompose. Yes, lagoons. And sometimes, accidents happen. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council:

In Oklahoma, nitrates from Seaboard Farms’ hog operations contaminated drinking water wells, prompting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue an emergency order in June 2001 requiring the company to provide safe drinking water to area residents.

Large hog farms emit hydrogen sulfide, a gas that most often causes flu-like symptoms in humans, but at high concentrations can lead to brain damage. In 1998, the National Institute of Health reported that 19 people died as a result of hydrogen sulfide emissions from manure pits.

Huge open-air waste lagoons, often as big as several football fields, are prone to leaks and spills. In 1995 an eight-acre hog-waste lagoon in North Carolina burst, spilling 25 million gallons of manure into the New River. The spill killed about 10 million fish and closed 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands to shellfishing.

When Hurricane Floyd hit North Carolina in 1999, at least five manure lagoons burst and approximately 47 lagoons were completely flooded.

Runoff of chicken and hog waste from factory farms in Maryland and North Carolina is believed to have contributed to outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida, killing millions of fish and causing skin irritation, short-term memory loss and other cognitive problems in local people.

That’s why I was seeing red when I looked at that IHOP advertisment. I was thinking of all the lakes of pig feces in our great nation that are making people sick. And the flesh of the pigs who produced it was being marketed to me as a delicious family breakfast. By The Lorax.

I’m not even going to write anything about the diaper tie-in.

I want to be clear, I’m not a saint. I eat meat a few times a week – mostly poultry and the occasional grass fed beef if I can find it. (Writing this post might have been the motivation for me to give up my weekly BLT once and for all). I try not to be wasteful, and to research the environmental impact of products I buy before purchasing – but I’m sure I mess up on occasion. That’s not the point. My achievements or failings as an environmentalist are not being portrayed to market a children’s movie based on a book about saving endangered species and taking care of trees.

The marketing team for The Lorax did choose some partners that make sense. Stonyfield organic yogurt, Ecotourism in Costa Rica, and the EPA Energy Star Program are all much more appropriate sponsors – because even though they are consumer products, they are ones produced ethically and have a smaller environmental impact than SUV’s, diapers, and ham. The movie’s producers did not stop there, however. It’s almost as if they watched Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold as if it was an instructional film about movie marketing. I can’t pretend to know how these decisions were made – but I would wager it would have something to do with taking for granted that most people are stupid and uncritical of their media.

I speak for The Lorax, and this is an unconscionable exploitation of the story told in Dr. Seuss’ book. Whether or not you see this movie, think about where your money goes, where the products you buy come from, and about what assumptions are made by those trying to sell you something.

Privacy? On Facebook?

Posted in Pictures on November 18th, 2011

Cinematic Titanic September 24, 2011 Best Buy Theater

Posted in Pictures on September 25th, 2011

From left to right, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson, J. Elvis Weinstein, and Frank Frank Conniff taking a bow before a cheering crowd at the Best Buy Theater. The Cinematic Titanic Live Show “East Meets Watts” was met with a standing ovation from their adoring fans on Saturday night.

Letter Writing Friday: NYSC Should be Embarassed

Posted in Editorials, Pictures on June 3rd, 2011

I’ve been going to NYSC since February of 2009, and I am generally satisfied. I consider myself to be in favor of a healthy lifestyle which includes lots of exercise. I am not in favor of shaming people about their bodies. So I filled out a customer satisfaction survey and included the following:

Currently, there is an advertisement in the window of the location I visit which says “Thought flu season was scary? Swimsuit season is here.”

I am at a loss for words as to why Town Sports Clubs thought that this was an appropriate advertisement. According to the CDC, since October 2010, 5,991 Americans have been hospitalized due to influenza and 105 children have died.

This is hardly comparable to a little embarrassment due to some love handles or cellulite on the beach.

I would appreciate a response as to the reasoning behind this advertisement. I am otherwise very satisfied with NYSC because I had found it to be a supportive environment to pursue my fitness goals until I saw that poster this week. I also am publishing this inquiry on my blog located at www.politicalflavors.com in hopes of drawing attention to this crass advertisement.

I look forward to their response.

Cognitive Dissonance

Posted in Editorials, Pictures on May 4th, 2011

From the news reports and internet hysteria, I had expected to find a bacchanal lasting for days, instead there were just a few joggers and some tourists quietly taking pictures.

Amanda Marcotte has been clear that liberals should not scold people for gloating over  the death of Osama Bin Laden. Neither scolding nor celebrating was my first response to the news – mostly I just felt overwhelming relief. And while there were indeed large outbursts of public rejoicing, they were spontaneous and short lived. I was in Washington DC on a business trip and took a walk past the White House late Monday afternoon – from what I had heard described, I thought there must be something still going on. But there was no sign of the revelry that had taken place just a few hours before. The debate about whether or not to “celebrate” this event feels like manufactured controversy – it detracts from the larger issues of the so-called “War on Terror,” the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the loss of Civil Liberties and rise  of security theater here at home.

But the cheering crowds and atmosphere of New Year’s Eve or a home team sports championship for a few short hours on Sunday night and early Monday morning did deeply disturb some people whose opinions I respect.  I personally would rather that  Bin Laden had been killed by US forces than taken alive at the expense of American (or NATO or Pakistani or civilian lives) and so I see no reason to criticize what has been done. However, days later  I’m still reflecting on President Obama’s words,

“[Bin Laden’s] demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”

I consider myself one of those people  – it’s pretty much straight out of the Unitarian Universalist principles – and I don’t know if I agree. If someone holds those moral values, there will be cognitive dissonance in celebrating the death of any human person. It’s difficult to accept that the beliefs you hold most sacred, may not be as strong as you have professed. The conflict between wanting to shout for joy in the streets after hearing of a military victory, and knowing that one has previously claimed to be a pacifist and to stand for human rights is not easily resolved. Public shaming of those who gave in to the desire to celebrate is an understandable, if not productive response.

Photo Sunday: Shaking My Head Edition

Posted in Pictures on March 27th, 2011

Photo taken with my iPhone on Friday March 25th 2011 in Midtown Manhattan
I am relieved that corporations have now co-opted stencil graffiti. Heaven knows I don’t want to look down at the sidewalk without being advertised to.