by Alex on April 12, 2013
American beer has always been a little bit of a joke. And rightly so.
To international tastebuds, it meant bottled lagers like Budweiser, Miller or Coors – commonly regarded by self-respecting drinkers as bland, corporate and lacking in credibility.
But the explosion in “craft beers” has lead to quite a revolution in the American beer industry. It’s actually pretty good stuff and for some weird reason very fashionable.
Somehow, beer from the United States has become not just widely respected, but achingly fashionable.
Visit a chrome-surfaced bar in London, Stockholm or Amsterdam and you’re likely to find Brooklyn Lager, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Odell’s porter on tap.
“There’s a hipster cachet to it,” says Melissa Cole, ale expert and author of Let Me Tell You About Beer. “Craft beer is seen as sexy right now, there’s no doubt about it.”
But in my mind it’s all gone a bit too far. When you go into a pub or bar in any beer drinking country, you can always find an array of very cold lagers. Simple, refreshing, no pretense. This is basically all American beer was for decades. Very cold Bud lights, Coors, etc. But try going into a “beer works” or “ale house” or some other equally pretentiously-named establishment and try and get a cold lager. Nope. I went into one of these places last summer that was very proud of the fact that it had 24 beers on tap and more than twice that in the bottle, all proudly displayed on a huge chalkboard above the bar. When the waitress came to take my order, I asked for a cold lager, didn’t care which one. “A lager? I don’t think we have that brand.” I could have had any type of nut ale, chocolate stout, coffee IPA, blueberry bock or some other weird concoction (as well as some damn fine ales, don’t get me wrong.) But the reliable simplicity of a cold lager has been entirely eschewed in favour of boutique beers. It’s like going to a burger joint that serves potatoes wedges instead of fries.
Meanwhile the big beer makers aren’t refining their core lager product to appeal to the thirsty, hot beer drinker of today. No they’re creating monstrosities like Bud Light and Clamato. For shame.
I’m delighted to see American beer is getting the respect that it deserves overseas, but let’s not throw the baby out with the beer water.
via BBC News – US craft beer: How it inspired British brewers.
by Alex on April 9, 2013
For someone who crosses the Atlantic several times a year, I thought this was interesting. As they noted in the article, the winds across the Atlantic are already stronger and now areas of turbulence will be stronger and more widespread. Indeed on several eastbound transatlantic flights I’ve taken recently, the NYC-LON flight time was less than westbound transcontinental US flights (e.g. NYC – SFO). In other words, because of stronger winds, I could go from NYC to London faster than I could go from NYC to San Francisco.
Modelling suggested the average strength of transatlantic turbulence could increase by between 10% and 40%, and the amount of airspace likely to contain significant turbulence by between 40% and 170%, where the most likely outcome is around 100%. In other words, a doubling of the amount of airspace affected.
“The probability of moderate or greater turbulence increases by 10.8%,” said Dr Williams.
“‘Moderate or greater turbulence’ has a specific definition in aviation. It is turbulence that is strong enough to bounce the aircraft around with an acceleration of five metres per second squared, which is half of a g-force. For that, the seatbelt sign would certainly be on; it would be difficult to walk; drinks would get knocked over; you’d feel strain against your seatbelt.”
Besides passenger comfort, there’s also a business consideration here:
“It’s certainly plausible that if flights get diverted more to fly around turbulence rather than through it then the amount of fuel that needs to be burnt will increase,” he told BBC News.
“Fuel costs money, which airlines have to pay, and ultimately it could of course be passengers buying their tickets who see the prices go up.”
Pilots never knowingly fly into or stay in areas of sustained moderate (or greater) turbulence, not because it’s dangerous but because it’s not fun for the passengers or the cabin crew. So if they have to go further and further north or south to avoid it, then they burn more fuel. And those increased costs will inevitably get passed onto the flying public.
by Alex on March 24, 2013
Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield is a prolific tweeter. Not an interesting fact in isolation but there’s one important detail; he’s currently in command of the International Space Station. He tweets several times a day often with stunning photos taken from his vantage point 250 miles above the earth.
Yesterday he posted this beautiful shot of the entire Bay Area at night, each of the valleys clearly visible.
by Alex on March 19, 2013
When I was growing up in Hong Kong I spent a year at (the now closed) Boundary Junior School. It was a unique experience for a 10 year old, going from a suburban Californian elementary school to an international school populated with every nationality and culture under the sun. But that wasn’t what made BJS so unique – it was the location that made it truly memorable.
Crammed into the concrete jungle of Kowloon, BJS was right under the flight path of the legendary Kai Tak airport. Every 90 seconds a plane would roar over our heads as we sat in assembly or played downball in the playground. And we’re not talking about several thousand feet here, we’re talking LOW. As each plane came over, the teacher would pause, wait for the plane to pass, and carry on with the lesson. It became as second nature as breathing or blinking.
While looking for a photo of the Kai Tak approach I stumbled across an infographic on one of Boundary Junior School’s more infamous neighbors – the Walled City of Kowloon.
The walled city, located not far from the Kai Tak airport, was remarkable high-rise squatter camp that by the 1980s had 50,000 residents. A historical accident of colonial Hong Kong, it existed in a lawless vacuum until it became an embarrassment for Britain.
Each resident had about 40 ft.² of space, and because it fell outside of the jurisdiction of any Hong Kong authority or municipal service, including rubbish collection, garbage was hauled to the roof and just left.
But within its dark and squalid walls a micro-economy emerged. Metal fabrication shops, grocery stores, and even kindergartens and schools all had a place within the “City of Darkness”.
The infographic below tells a quite extraordinary tale of an architectural and urban anomaly. Unauthorised, unplanned, and unregulated but yet, like the rest of Hong Kong, efficient, thriving and successful in its own unique way.
Click on the image below for the full version.
by Alex on March 14, 2013
My favourite magazine in the world is Saveur. I like to refer to it as the National Geographic of food. A recent issue was dedicated entirely to a food that doesn’t always get the love it deserves. The Donut.
The genus of donuts is broad and extremely varied, with each species attracting fiercely loyal advocates, and God help you if you question their donut style of choice. What most people think of when they think “donut” is the Krispy Kreme style, yeast risen, fluffy donut which is often found on this side of the pond, occasionally filled with jelly or jam. I never been a huge fan of these but I know people all over the world go absolutely nuts for Krispy Kreme, and it can be an irresistible allure first thing in the morning.
But Saveur reserves special prayers for my favorite type of donut, the donut I was brought up, the doughnut I will knock over an old lady to get to…
Then there are cake donuts, the sturdiest of the bunch; prime examples are dense chocolate donuts or substantial old-fashioneds. Made with a chemical leavener, such as baking powder, the dough doesn’t need time to rise and can be fried immediately. These are the dunkers of the donut world, the ones with heft, a satisfying crust, and a moist interior. Unlike yeast donuts, they’re still pretty good on day two…assuming you have the willpower to keep them around.
In California you can’t walk a city block without stumbling across an independent donut shop, usually still resplendent it’s 1960s decor and generally populated by slow talking retirees. Row upon row of every conceivable type of donuts, cruller, Bearclaw, and fritter. But the wonderfully dense cake doughnut is what I will always reach for.
by Alex on March 14, 2013
Every single day 175,000 office workers in Mumbai get to eat a home-cooked meal because of an extraordinary logistical network that gets their lunch from mama’s house to their office on time and without mistake. 175,000 times a day.
These guys have cropped up on everything from Michael Palin travel shows to Top Gear to the New York Times but that’s probably because it is completely awe-inspiring, no matter from which angle you look at it.
They carry the tiffens “lunch containers” on their heads, on bicycles, on trains and even across the tracks to get to the offices where husbands and sons of the ladies who prepared the food are awaiting lunch. Despite the various modes of transport, the lunches always arrive on time.
There’s an old logistics industry tale that suggests that FedEx’s legendary hub and spoke system was inspired by the Dabbawallas. With results like that, how could you not be inspired?
by Alex on March 7, 2013
A recent study came out comparing the general health and life expectancy of 19 countries of similar affluence, including the UK. It concluded that:
The British are less likely to live long and healthy lives than the inhabitants of most European countries – and we also trail Australia and Canada, whose people are more likely to be dancing a jig at a lively old age than we are.
One wonders where we’d be without the NHS, of course, but according to the study “how long and healthily we live is not so much about how hospitals look after us – medical care contributes only about 20% to our healthy lifespans – as how we care for ourselves before we get there.”
The Guardian, in interpreting this data, offered up 10 ways to live longer which include moving to Japan. Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world not just because of diet but also because:
”Japanese people give attention to hygiene in all aspects of their daily life. This attitude might partly be attributable to a complex interaction of culture, education, climate [eg humidity, temperature], environment [eg having plenty of water and being a rice-eating nation] and the old Shinto tradition of purifying the body and mind before meeting others.”
The rest of the tips are pretty obvious (don’t smoke, move more, eat better, don’t stress, etc) but this one is a damning indictment of the north-south divide:
A major study published by the British Medical Journal in 2011 found that people who live in the north of England are 20% more likely to die before the age of 75 than those in the south. The researchers from Manchester University said the gap had reached its widest point for 40 years. The reasons are complex. The researchers said that “socioeconomic, environmental, educational, genetic and lifestyle factors” needed to be looked at – as did the reasons why government efforts to bridge the gap fail. On the other hand, it is far easier to find a stunning and uncrowded beach for a jog on the north-east coast – but swerve the fish-and-chip restaurants and make do with a packet of unsalted peanuts.
*compared to our neighbours and allies, anyway.
by Alex on March 2, 2013
Virgin Atlantic are launching a new UK domestic carrier at the end of this month. They announced the service last year but have finally released details about the new subsidiary. It will carry the Virgin Atlantic titles and livery but will be referred to as Little Red. Of course the airline nerds are up in arms about this but a) it’s sub brand that will get little usage and b) what the hell do they know? They could have called it Uncle Richard’s Fantabulous Flying Machines for all I care.
Managed properly, this could be a shot in the arm for an airline that has struggled recently. It’s being squeezed from all angles from Middle Eastern Carriers, budget carriers, and stronger alliances. Indeed this airline was borne out of remedy slots granted to Virgin Atlantic after BA gobbled up BMI, something which Uncle Richard should have done when he had the opportunity, in my opinion.
The new carrier, which will use four Airbus A320s leased from Aer Lingus, will offer 26 daily flights between London Heathrow and Manchester, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
Virgin Atlantic is taking over the routes as remedy slots that British Airways was forced to cede to maintain competition on UK domestic sectors after its parent company International Airlines Group took over bmi.
by Alex on February 14, 2013
So American Airlines and US airways have finally tied the knot. This has been coming for a number of months now and is a sad final chapter in the otherwise illustrious history of American Airlines. They’ve suffered from at least a decade of atrocious management and union bullying that has turned them from one of the global elite airlines into frankly a bit of a joke. Recent high-profile horror stories of flights delayed by days (not hours), seats detaching in mid flight, and disastrous union negotiations have made a bad situation for American even worse. Even a mediocre rebranding effort couldn’t take the focus away from a Legacy airline that was drowning in its own mediocrity.
But what about plucky US Airways? Remember, US Airways is in fact America West, the latter acquiring the former several years ago. US airways (and former America West) CEO Doug Parker seems to have a knack for pushing these massive merger deals through on a seemingly regular basis. I can’t understate how extraordinary it is that America West gobbled up US Airways and now American Airlines, one of the most storied brands in travel history. I never been a fan of US Airways but they’ve managed to make this recent merger work and I think the spirit of America West still trickles into the product from time to time.
What remains to be seen is if Parker has the wherewithal to steer American Airlines out of its current dilemma or whether he just took a massive gulp from a very poisoned chalice – only time will tell.
Consumer won’t see any change for very long time. These types of acquisitions have to go through all types of regulatory redtape before they can even begin to consider how to integrate products, frequent flyer programs, fleets, etc. But I can tell you know that I would rather slam my fingers and adore over and over again that be the project manager on that little endeavor.
American Airlines’ parent company filed for bankruptcy protection more than a year ago.
With a history stretching back 80 years, five years’ ago, American had grown to be the world’s biggest airline.
It was a pioneer of the loyalty programme for frequent fliers and also brought in the system of sliding prices according to demand.
But deep losses pushed the company into bankruptcy, with the company blaming labour costs and the unions blaming poor management.
US Airways, by contrast, has been profitable in recent years.
The two companies have been in discussions since last August when they signed an agreement to exchange confidential information.
The carrier will be run under the American Airlines brand, but the chief executive is expected to be the current US Airways boss, Doug Parker.
Not including affiliates, it will have around 900 aircraft and run more than 3,000 flights, employing 100,000 people.
by Alex on February 13, 2013
Well there’s a long-held believe down the drain. Of course you can pair wine with whatever the hell you want but it seems that pairing chocolate and red wine does a disservice to both. Serious Eats breaks down the reasons why they don’t work together as well as suggesting the types of chocolates that work with specific wines. (Hint: Port.)
Here’s why the combination of red wine and chocolate is never going to truly taste good. Sugar. A sip of dry red wine without any perceptible sweetness will turn bitter and sour when taken with sweetened chocolate. Unless you’re munching on plain roasted cocoa nibs, back away from the Cabernet, please.
Pairing wine and chocolate isn’t hard, though—look for a wine with some sweetness, and the whole thing can come together beautifully. Don’t let the word “sweetness” or the phrase “dessert wine” scare you away. We’re not talking about wine coolers here. A proper dessert wine, when paired with a sweet food, will taste less sweet than it might on its own. Think of the wine as the raspberry syrup drizzled across your molten chocolate cake: it adds the contrasting flavor to make the chocolate pop.