Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Beer of the Month - November

The beer of the month for November is Newcastle Brown Ale (NBA) {4.7% abv}. I crossed paths with NBA in college, not really knowing what to expect but knowing what I didn't want from the other available beers on tap. Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised and would typically seek out some of this lovely beer, annually, over the next decade or so. This is one of those beers that I always enjoy, but forget about for months at a time due to availability and other excuses. I went to dinner with an old friend, a week before Thanksgiving, and NBA was on tap at the restaurant. I got a glass and was reunited with another old friend; the BOTM was decided there on the spot. When Thanksgiving came around, I brought a couple to my parents house to enjoy among other delectables.

Newcastle Brown Ale has history going back to 1925 in North-Eastern England. It was created by a third generation brewer named Lt. Col. James ('Jim') Herbert Porter, after serving his country in WWI. After the war was over, Lt. Col. Porter moved to Newcastle and refined this latest beer recipe. According to various records, NBA was a failed attempt to recreate another UK legend, Bass Ale. Regardless of the original goal, the distinctive flavor of NBA set itself apart from others, immediately, and later led to it getting the nickname of 'dog' - as in 'I'm going to walk the dog', which became the universal excuse for men leaving the house to grab a pint at a local pub. The brewing companies responsible for NBA getting to the USA have fluctuated quite a bit in the last decade or so, but thankfully the formula hasn't changed under the current ownership of Heineken USA.

While not many beers use clear bottles, primarily to maintain the integrity of the product, NBA takes this challenge on and thrives with it. The color of this ale is almost red shade of brown and is pleasing to drink. NBA is moderate on head froth, and froth that does come from a freshly opened bottle is typically gone half a glass in. Typical UK serving etiquette involves a 12oz Newcastle glass and a pint bottle, so you can keep the froth going through completion. This beer has nice carbonation yet is easy to drink. While a dark brew, it's surprisingly light on the palette, so food parings can include poultry, pork and beef. 3 stars.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Eurotrip 2011: A sunny morning in Crete

The stint of our time on the boat was now coming to a close and due to our distance from our returning port in Italy, Civitavecchia, we'd be setting off to sea pretty early. This meant that the excursions for today were all short enough to end by 1pm or so. What we decided on was a beach day in Crete, consisting of a round-trip bus transfer to a small beach west of our port in Chania (Souda). This trip would allow us not only to relax for once on this journey, but also take a first time dip in the Mediterranean Sea. This beach cove was named after a church atop a small mountain along the coast called Agioi Apostoloi; please don't ask me to pronounce it.

We woke to another lovely July morning, breakfast and got on the bus. We wound our way through Chania, and visually comparing this part of Crete to Athens (both Greek) was quite hard to do. The alphabet and signs were similar, but the buildings were rarely over four stories high. The orange trees didn't make an appearance on this part of the island, but other vegetation was very familiar. There were plenty of odd sights, including a Lamborghini repair shop and cafe combo which I didn't get a great shot of. The houses were small but all had driveways with medium to small cars in them. Further in from port, it began looking like most other beach towns; high-rise hotels and smaller niche motels for foreigners looking to spend their holiday at on the shores in Crete. It all makes sense why Europeans we met during the trip knew two or more languages, even if it was just basic understanding, because if you want to 'get away' you're just a short jump flight or drive from another country. Want to enjoy summer on the Mediterranean, but Monaco is too expensive for you? There are literally thousands of other countries with real estate equally as beautiful for any budget.

We pulled up beside a small park which looked like the playground of an elementary school in Anytown, USA, and were let out. Through the trees we could see blue water in the background, blond sand and chairs and umbrellas. There was a small snack bar on the right with a small sprinkling of customers already there. It was about 9:30am when we arrived and it was a pleasantly empty canvas. We grabbed a chair and we were greeted by the guy who managed the rentals; ten euros for the both of us. They were worth the price of admission as it was just about impossible to walk barefoot not more than an hour later.

After an hour of laying around with our kindle and car magazines, Beth made her way to the water. I started wandering to see what I could get from this location. I walked around barefoot, which wasn't the smartest, but there were plenty of odd nooks around this cove which were pretty cool to see. There was even a decent view of the city we left behind to get there.

After I was done here, I burned my feet getting back to my camera bag, then joined Beth in the sea. I tried to touch the bottom from about eight feet without much success. The sea water was cool and extremely salty, but it made staying afloat that much easier to do; you just need to make sure you keep your eyes shut while submerged. After some pruning we got back to the chairs to lay back a bit more before leaving. There was no special service being provided by our transfer bus, if we missed it we'd have to try wrangling some transport to make the departure cutoff. Strangely enough, even though it was mid July, this part of Crete had little to no taxi's at all.

Once back on the ship we washed up and hit the buffet-zone for lunch. I mentioned that the ships buffet hall was a madhouse in my last post; I'll elaborate now. The buffet hall was designed much like every buffet you've been to in Vegas. One long wall with every variety of food you can think of, drink stations, toothpicks that are too big to get between your teeth and be useful and way too many people wandering aimlessly like deer on a dark winter highway. I mean, this was afternoon traffic in Rome, but with people instead of cars. Much like when I drive in real life, I was purposeful, direct, and had no wasted movements while weaving through the ragtag gathering of Mediterranean cruise participants. There were parentless children that I side stepped, seniors I dodged with spin moves and after about a minute and change of effort, I was back at the seats Beth and I had locked down upon entering the building. Soon afterwards, Beth returned with her trayed bounty, thankfully unscathed by the melee. We ate quick and got the hell out of there.

This was an impressive vessel.
Land ho! One of the many islands we passed on our westward path to Italy.

I made my way onto the deck to get a nap in under the sun later that afternoon and enjoyed a pretty hot sunset as the ship made its way west. The next 35 hours or so would be nothing but travelling on the boat. We'd have to find some daytime entertainment tomorrow.

Capturing Life's Fabric with Technology.