I just tried Turkish Delight for the first time

Posted in Reviews on July 9th, 2014 by Nathan – 1 Comment
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Turkish DelightI don't remember much about the Chronicles of Narnia; I only read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe once, I believe in early elementary school, and didn't find it very entertaining. But chief among the things I remember is that one of the children is lured by the witch into her van sleigh with his favorite treat, Turkish Delight. I think at some point I watched a movie version of the book, or perhaps just imagined annoying little Edmund speaking in a Oxbridge accent asking for more Turkish Delight. Either way, that connection has been seared into my head, and the two cannot be separated.

So when two coworkers brought some Turkish Delight into work recently, I had no choice but to take a taste and see what Edmund wanted so badly. And I have to say, Edmund is a proper git.

It's chewy, sweet but in an odd and discomforting way, and the pistachios, while they probably mean well, are not helped by being suspended in this odd gelatinous creation. The green color is slightly off-putting, as it's not quite a shade of green you'd expect from normal foodstuffs, and the outer dusting of powdered sugar is a weak attempt to pretend that this goo is candy.

If that witch had tried to lure me away with this stuff, and I don't care how enchanted it's supposed to be, I think I'd get away just fine.

Actually, on that topic, why had Edmund's parents never told him not to take candy from strangers? Oh, I take that back. They probably did. But there's no way anyone of reasonable taste could identify this as candy.

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Rockwell Tavern

Posted in Burgers on May 21st, 2014 by Nathan – Be the first to comment
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I've been far out to Rockwell Tavern a few times now but haven't put my thoughts on their burgers here yet. So here goes.

Basically this is a great burger. I've tried a few of their burgers now and my favorite is easily the Sunburn, topped with all manners of heat: pepper jack, jalapeno bacon, chipotle mayo, and their "house hot sauce." I cannot verify the implied claim that it's made in house, it honestly doesn't seem so. But that doesn't matter: the burger is excellent. The meat is fresh and tasty, a good blend of beef that speaks for itself. (This is especially evident if you order the Vintage, a simple bacon cheeseburger.) It's juicy and oozes magnificently, but the sweet cheddar jalapeno bun (standard on every burger) easily stands up to the challenge.

The heat is not overpowering, and the chipotle mayo and jalapeno bacon complement each other to provide a little bit of extra flavor in contrast to the spice-only taste of the "house hot sauce." And to add to that, the hand-cut french fries, though not the best I've ever had, are pretty good, and are easily washed down with any of a very good selection of craft beers.

My only major complaint with Rockwell is the location. Oh and the hours: I find it very strange that a bar closes at 9 pm (and thus frequently empties/cleans earlier than that) on a Thursday night. If you find yourself in Cypress, hungry early in the evening, stop by Rockwell. Get a burger and fries. And enjoy.

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Snapchat your vacation

Posted in Travel on May 12th, 2014 by Nathan – Be the first to comment
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I guess the ghost is because the photos vanish?Photography, especially while on vacation, is a very strange subject. When visiting a new place, people immediately whip out their cameras or cellphones to capture, permanently, an image of whatever they point at. The lens of the camera becomes a surrogate eye, so that the vacationer "sees" (through the viewfinder) but does not experience. I am somewhat critical of ubiquitous photography, in that I feel there is little value in taking pictures on vacation, partially because a better picture has already been taken, and partially because the camera becomes a distraction.

I am also critical of the correlated desire (or even need) for these pictures to be seen by others. That is, when vacationing, people not only take pictures constantly, but then expect to show them to friends and family upon their return. This feels to me like a form of need for validation ("look how much fun we had!") rather than an actual desire to express the beauty of a place, the excitement of an experience, or whatever else the picture likely failed to capture. Not only does this further emphasize the point that the photographer was distracted, focusing on the image rather than the source of the image, but frankly, most people don't care.

This last point is one of the major reasons photo sharing on social media has been so successful when slideshows of yore were not: it moves the control from the photographer to the audience. That is, those people who do care to see the photos can, while others can move on and ignore them. While this does not solve the first problem (in fact, I believe it exacerbates it), it certainly does a good job of dealing with the second.

However, the permanence inherent in social media means that one's online presence is a constant, rolling résumé or advertisement. ("Look at me! Here's things I've done! Here's places I've been!") This, as I stated above, exacerbates the first problem, and as a result, people who fifty years ago would not have ever touched a camera spend time today taking pictures of everything, including the most mundane.

I took a short vacation to Portland a few weeks ago to visit breweries and check out their beer culture (which is incredible). The last time I went on a beer-related vacation (or "alcoholiday" in 1920s slang), I found myself taking pictures of the occasional beer menu or beer flight and tweeting them out. I did this largely because when friends of mine do similar vacations, I'm always intrigued by what and where they're drinking. These pictures are quick, they don't heavily distract from the experience, and they are interesting to at least some small number of people. So when I went to Portland, I intended to do the same.

However, upon whipping out my phone for the first flight picture, the little ghost in my notification bar informed me that I had a Snapchat waiting for me to view. I opened it up and saw a picture of an impressive few bottles of beer from a friend of mine. In response, rather than tweeting the beer flight, I Snapchatted it, as a reply to that picture and as an addition to "My Story."

Now you may think it hypocritical that I can say I dislike ubiquitous photography and would use Snapchat. And I assure you that's a correct thought. It absolutely is hypocritical. The rise of photo sharing social media applications such as Instagram and Snapchat has massively increased the presence of this problem, and by using Snapchat, I'm encouraging it. Pictures I take are not better than the ones I allude to at the beginning of this post, nor are they free of the attached distractions. Nor are they more interesting. I do not claim that any reason others may take photos would not apply to me. There is an unquestionable attraction to photography, even knowing full well that I will not likely ever revisit these pictures.

There is, therefore, a massive benefit to the ephemerality inherent in Snapchat. Essentially, because vacation photos are not something most people ever look back on after a brief grace period after the vacation, such photos are practically ephemeral, though in practice not at all. With social media currently, such pictures last forever. But with Snapchat, one can match the intentions ('bragging' or quest for validation, updates to friends and family who care, the satisfaction that comes from capturing an image) with this additional desire for true ephemerality of vacation photography.

On my trip to Portland, I snapchatted the entire time. Every picture I would have tweeted I instead pushed to those very few people with whom I am connected on Snapchat. The experience was exactly the same in terms of mechanics/satisfaction of the photography, and better still, the pictures are now gone. I never have to worry about not revisiting pictures I never would look at again, simply because they no longer exist.

Most importantly, Snapchatting my vacation forced a slight remedy to my first problem above; because I knew photos would be fleeting, I was able to take such pictures while still making sure that I focused on enjoying the experiences themselves – after all, the memories of such experiences would last even if the pictures won't.

So I highly recommend that you Snapchat your next vacation. Take the same pictures you would have taken before, but push them out to My Story and then put the phone down, enjoy the vacation, and make memories that are less ephemeral.

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Craft beer is underpriced

Posted in Beer on April 9th, 2014 by Nathan – 17 Comments
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If quantity cannot increase fast enough, price must.I've written a lot about this topic in various other locations, but I figured it's time to talk about it here: much of craft beer is absurdly underpriced. I've touched on supply/demand before in this blog, but a quick refresher can't hurt. Basically, to the left is a supply and demand curve. It's basic. Where that dot labeled "equilibrium" is is the magical world where supply matches demand. In that world there's an equilibrium price and an equilibrium quantity. It's magical, of course, because it rarely exists with specific goods.

Craft beer is one of those goods where the equilibrium seems to be a fantasy, impossible to reach. Instead, we're at a point on the supply curve down and to the left of the equilibrium: quantity is low, price is low.

The symptoms of this are obvious in many craft beer scenes around the country: super quick sellouts, the recent Hunahpu's Day disaster, beer scalpers, etc. When demand outpaces supply, these types of things happen. These are simple market inefficiencies. And there's only two ways to fix these inefficiencies: increase supply or decrease demand.

Increasing supply is a somewhat nice idea, and in the market overall, this is already underway. More and more craft breweries are opening, expanding, increasing production. However, because beers are not perfect substitute goods, an increase in supply in the overall market does not translate to an increase in supply for particular beers. As a result, rare or limited releases continue to see the problems described above. In fact, this is precisely where the problem is most evident and these beers are the exact ones I would argue are underpriced.

Thus, demand must be decreased. And as the supply/demand curve image shows, if the quantity can't increase, the price must. And as it does, the consumer appetite will decrease, demand will drop as prices approach equilibrium. Note that there's nothing "fair" about this – it's a purely capitalist system, but it's also a system that, with the scarcity that exists, works.

Jester King's Aurelian Lure and Nocturn Chrysalis were priced at sixteen dollars per 500ml bottle. There were about 500 bottles of each. Every bottle sold out within three minutes. That's absurd. Jester King could have easily charged twice that and the sellout would still have occurred, albeit at a slightly slower rate. In fact, I would argue that Jester King could have charged ten times as much – an unheard of (some might say obscene) $160 per bottle, and still sold out in a reasonable amount of time. (Of course, they would have had to remove the "limit one per person" stipulation. And I wouldn't have gotten any.)

A six-pack of Saint Arnold Divine Reserve may run you as much as twenty dollars. Look on Craigslist a day or two after it's been sold out in Houston, and you'll see postings asking for fifty or one hundred dollars. No matter how often people flag the posts (myself included) as prohibited, those sellers will sell the beer they bought. If they wouldn't, then we wouldn't see the same thing after every somewhat limited release. The prices they request are closer to the market equilibrium, and the gray market rewards them for taking advantage of a massive market inefficiency.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that there seems to be some kind of "noble pricing" that breweries implement. Reputational risk is probably a concern, but honestly, a lot of breweries are owned by or started by people who find it abhorrent to charge more than what they think is fair. Freetail is a great example of this, and they have stated before that they purposely keep prices low, intentionally do not capitalize on the extreme demand for Ananke and other special releases, and do not plan to change this in the future. Honestly, I think that's noble, wonderful for my wallet and those wallets of my friends, and unsustainable.

The prices probably won't rise in the near future, unfortunately, because of this reason and other reasons. But I repeat that I believe this is unsustainable. The growth in craft beer demand looks to continue at ridiculous rates, while supply simply cannot keep up. The result will be increased gray market activity, more catastrophes at beer releases, more rapid sellouts and angry consumers, and ultimately chaos. It's not impossible to envision a future in which a brewer throws his hands up and sells out or quits, in retaliation to this chaos. And that benefits nobody.

The responsible but unpopular thing to do is to raise prices. Craft beer is massively underpriced and unless this changes, there may be a crisis ahead.

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On Voter ID laws

Posted in Opinion on March 31st, 2014 by Nathan – Be the first to comment
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If I'm gonna continue blogging, I'm gonna go full nine. Politics this time around.

"We need to ensure our elections are fair" – Tom Corbett, PA Governor who signed the state's Voter ID law.

"I think any person who does not want to see fraud believes in having good, open, honest elections. Transparent. One of the ways to do that, one of the best ways to do that, is to have an identification, photo identification so that you prove who you are and you keep those elections fraud-free." – Rick Perry, TX Governor who signed the state's Voter ID law.

I don't have too much to say on this topic other than that I think voter ID laws are political power plays (possibly with racist and definitely with classist implications) that do very little to combat "voter fraud," a menace that I do not believe exists.

I do however think it's very interesting that those in power are the ones alleging elections – those elections that got them into power – are unfair. I also think it's interesting that these laws are fought for almost entirely by one specific party, and only when that party is in charge.

And finally, I think it's interesting that with so few voters in each election, anyone would do anything to try to decrease that number. If we are going to require an ID to vote, maybe we should take it another step and require everyone to vote. Of course, the political landscape would massively shift if every American voted, and I guarantee those who support voter ID laws would find that shift hateful.

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A brief, open letter to Saint Arnold (Ode to Icon Red Bohemian Pils)

Posted in Beer on March 24th, 2014 by Nathan – Be the first to comment
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Dear Saint Arnold Brewing Company,

Please make Icon Red Bohemian Pils a year-round offering.

Love,

Nathan

++++

Last year, when the first in Saint Arnold's Icon series came out (Red: Belgian Pale Ale), I was immediately excited. Before Icon, Saint Arnold's offerings had changed very infrequently, or been limited release only. Icon represented a new world for the brewery: new, changing styles released with a volume high enough for everyone to have a ton of the stuff. And each quarter, that has remained true, each time with a delicious beer. The BPA was crisp and delicious, and then came the Cascadian Dark Ale (Blue), one of the few "black IPAs" (a term I dislike generally only slightly more than the style) I actually enjoyed. It was flavorful, malty, and unlike the typical CDA. Following that was the Amarillo Hefe (Green), which was unique and refreshing. And to cap off the first year of the Icon series was the Bière de Saison (Gold), a mixture of two styles, and in my opinion the best of the four.

When the second year of Icon began, it was clear that the series was going to continue brilliance, but it started with a letdown for me: Icon Red Bohemian Pils. I say "letdown" because when the style was announced I was immediately saddened; I simply don't consider myself a pilsner guy.

Or, more appropriately, I didn't consider myself a pilsner guy. The vast majority of pilsners I had had before the Bohemian Pils were disappointing, unbalanced, and not friendly to my palate. In fact, some of the worst beers I've had have been pilsners. So when Saint Arnold announced their second Icon Red, I assumed I'd give it a try, not like it very much, and wait a long three months for whatever came next.

I could not have been more wrong, as the "letter" above makes obvious. I drank a ton of Icon Red over those three months and now find myself wanting as it has dried up nearly everywhere, replaced by the newest (and also delicious) Icon Blue: Brown Porter. Don't get me wrong, I can't wait for more Icon beers, as each one has been delicious. But I want the Bohemian Pils to return as a year-round offering.

As Saint Arnold this past week added to their year-round offerings for the first time in two years (with the incredible Boiler Room Berliner Weisse), I don't think the timing could be more appropriate for yet another addition. So, I write the brief, open letter above to ask Saint Arnold to do exactly that. Make this one-time pilsner a year-round pilsner.

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I wrote something: Top Ten Breweries in Texas

Posted in Beer on March 21st, 2014 by Nathan – Be the first to comment
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After a shameful post on Thrillist about the top ten breweries in Texas, my friend Jason put together a panel to come up with a better list. Since I was one of the panelists, I figured I'd separate out my votes (very different from the final result) and post them again here. Best part is I get to revive this blog without actually writing something new for it…

BreweryCommentsTop Beers
1. Real AleReal Ale has been consistent and impressive for 18 years, in that time failing to produce a bad beer. They consistently nail "basic" styles (a big plus for me) while producing the state's best sours in their Mysterium Verum series and creating interesting experiments in the Brewer's Cut series.Scots Gone Wild, 4-Squared
2. Saint ArnoldIt was really hard to choose the #1 spot between RA & SA, and I'd entertain the opposite ranking. Everything I said about Real Ale, I can say about Saint Arnold, except change "18 years" to "20 years." They are the paragon of consistency, do not make bad beers, and their experimentation in the realm of Divine Reserve, Icon, and Bishop's Barrel has been marvelous.BB2, Icon Red Bohemian Pils
3. (512)Another brewery that does not make a bad beer. (512) makes probably the best porter in the state, and their anniversary beers are among my favorites in their styles. Like Real Ale, they aren't super flashy, and so I think they get overlooked often. Hype doesn't follow taste though, and (512) consistently puts out fantastic beers.Pecan Porter, THREE
4. Live OakAgain, hard to choose between this and (512) for the #3 spot, so again, I'd be okay with them switching around. Live Oak is singularly the best German brewery in America. There is no question about that. Even if you're not into traditional German styles, you have to admit that these are incredibly impressive. Best in class Hefeweizen, Pilsner, Weizenbock, and even a great Barleywine. Hard not to love these guys.Hefeweizen, Old Tree Hugger Barelywine
5. Jester KingJester King's new foray into fruited sours makes them my number five with a bullet. If they continue on the trajectory they've placed themselves after leaving behind the past mistakes, they'll be higher on my list the next time I have to make it. Farmhouse & Sour means a lot more in Texas today than it did when they first replaced their (fantastic) Black Metal with a (less so) Farmhouse Black Metal. The national recognition JK has achieved is very deserved.Atrial Rubicite, Le Petit Prince
6. Hops & GrainIt's very important to me not only that a brewery can make one amazing beer, but that they can make a ton of amazing beers. If those are simple styles, that's even more impressive, as it's harder to hide mistakes in "basic" beers. H&G is very good at this. Very few misses, and the vast majority of their beers are fantastic easy-drinkers. I'm excited to see where the Greenhouse IPA series goes in the near future.Zoe, Greenhouse IPA (Jan '14)
7. FreetailFreetail has a lot of hype, and for some people, that's a bad thing. But I say most of it is deserved. Their beers, especially in the recent two years, have been incredibly complex and very impressive. Easily the state's best (traditional) brewpub, and also rising fast on this list.Peche'cus, La Muerta
8. Austin BeerworksABW has managed in a short time to create some fantastic beers, a great IPA series, and only a few misses. Unfortunately, I think their misses were in the most important styles, those basic ones that can't hide mistakes. Nonetheless, an amazing brewery and the first one to bring us a truly great Berliner Weisse.Einhorn, Heavy Machinery Half IPA
9. Lone PintIt might be a bit early to put them on this list, as they're very young, but I believe they are currently producing the best single beer in Texas (Yellow Rose), and it would be blasphemy to leave them off the list. I can't conscionably put them higher though, as unfortunately the rest of their beers fall far short of where YR is. That's not to say they're bad – I would say I've only had two misses from them – but they're not on the level of excellence that YR is. I can't wait to see what the future brings though, as every new offering is fantastic.Yellow Rose, Zythophile El Dorado
10. LakewoodVery similar to Lone Pint in that they produce one fantastic beer (Temptress) and a ton of variations thereof. There's somewhat of a dearth of great milk stouts in this state, and Lakewood solves this problem with a fantastic one.Temptress, BB Temptress

And finally, the honorable mentions that Jason didn't put up on his post:

Missing from this list: There’s a couple breweries notably missing from this list and I’d like to very briefly explain them as “honorable mentions.” Peticolas: both beers I’ve had from them have been very good, but the keyword is “both.” I simply do not have enough experience with them to form a more realistic opinion. Community: very similar. I’ve only had four beers from them, three of which were absolutely fantastic. But still, not enough experience to include them. Karbach: hype doesn’t make beer taste better, sadly.

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