Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Beer Review, Week of Jan. 24: Fade to Black

This week's selection is a seasonal release from Left Hand Brewing Company, a regional brewery based out of Longmont, Colorado. The psychedelic black and white label reads 'Fade to Black Ale' [named after, or perhaps in homage to, the Metallica song?], and this beer represents the brewery's winter seasonal. It is touted as being perfect for "that time of the year when the day seems to fade away."

While technically an ale, in that the beer was brewed using a top-fermenting yeast, the style of the beer is better characterized as a foreign export stout. Foreign export stouts are a broad class of stouts that can encompass a variety of flavor profiles, ranging from flowery and sweet to dry and bitter.

The beer poured even, without an overabundance of carbonation being released immediately. A milkshake-thick, tan colored head formed, propelling the distinct aromas outward from the beer [see pic]. The head slowly settled, lacing beautifully onto the edges of the glass.

Fade to Black had a wonderful deep aroma that gave off hints of licorice and molasses, with a subtle coffee scent coming from underneath it all. The beer did not give off any overt alcoholic odor, despite weighing in there at 8.5% ABV. As far as appearances go, this beer was one of the darkest I have ever seen. The Left Hand website describes the color as being "black with ruby edges." I would describe the color as "black, period." Even held up to a light source, it was an extremely dark brew.

The beer started with a sweetness and maltiness that sat right upon the middle, fat part of the tongue. The residual aftertaste was surprisingly bitter and hoppy, a taste that might be best compared to a bitter baker's chocolate. And while the beer did not give off an alcoholic smell, the 8.5% ABV became clearly evident when tasting the beer. The mouthfeel on the beer was full bodied, and provided a roasty and smoky essence. The beer was extremely delicious and given its rich milkshake-like qualities, could go well with a scoop of vanilla-bean ice cream.

Style: Foreign Export Stout
ABV: 8.5%
IBUs: 30

As far as winter seasonal releases go, this offering from Left Hand delivered. I enjoyed it more than some of the Christmas seasonal beers I tried this year, simply because it was not overly spiced up, or over-embellished with any one particular flavor. It was rich but well-balanced, and delivered several intriguing and sequential tasting experiences [a nice bitterness at the end]. If you can still get your hands on some, I encourage you to give it a try.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beer Review, Week of Jan. 17: Brew Free! or Die IPA

The first thing you may notice about this week's selection, is the CAN! When I initially decided to sample this beer, I was certainly a little apprehensive...everyone knows that good beer doesn't come in a can! Canned beer is inherently light, watery and always tastes like aluminum...

Well, the folks up at 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco [and many other craftbrewers across the country] are out to change the negative perceptions people maintain toward canned beer. In fact, on the packing, 21st Amendment offers "Six Good Reasons to Open a Can of Beer."

First, cans keep fresher because the beer never sees any light, and cannot be damaged by UV rays. [as my college buddy would say, 'Never trust a green bottle...'] Secondly, cans are lined so the taste of the beer remains unaffected. Cans weigh less and chill faster than glass bottles, and they are easier and cheaper for smaller breweries to ship and distribute. Cans are easier to recycle and perhaps more importantly, cans get recycled at a higher percentage rate than do bottles. And finally, cans will go "where no glass dares"...for example, beaches, parks, stadiums, boats, pools, golf courses [and into those sweet hats].

21st Amendment offers their IPA, their Watermelon Wheat beer, and their limited edition 'Insurrection Series,' all in can format. If all of these reasons aren't convincing enough to try canned craft-brew, Brew Free! or Die IPA should definitely provide incentive.

This beer poured smooth and clean. Cracking open the can not only provided that great sound, but unleashed the flowery aroma of the beer. The pour formed a white head that clung to the side of the glass, and released good deal of carbonation that forced the aroma and flavors to the forefront of the brew.

Beautiful copper color with an evanescent glow. The beer had a white head, that did not quickly dissipate, forming beautifully intricate 'spider-webs' of suds on the inside of the glass as I drank. The beer smelled flowery and clean, with no real discernible alcoholic undertones.

I am loving these West Coast Style IPA's, and this one delivered. The taste was bright, bitter and bold, but not unbalanced or overpowering. The flavors were clean and polished, not messy by any means. The flowery taste masked the alocholicity (7.0% ABV) of the beer, but you got the feel of residual heat down the throat. The hop flavors are balanced nicely with a malty/sweet hint, and thus, the mouth-feel is not overly bitter but does give a little of that bite in the cheeks.

Style: American IPA
ABV: 7.0%
IBUs: 70

All in all, this could be one of my [current] favorite IPA's. It is certainly a notch down from Pliney the Elder, in terms of big brash and bold hoppy bitterness. But still, Brew Free! or Die IPA delivers that classic American IPA flavor, all wrapped up in a portable, environmentally friendly can! I recommend this brew to any IPA fan, seeking a canned craft-brew experience.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

NY Times: Another Brick in the (Pay) Wall

According to a Slashdot article, the NY Times has confirmed an earlier speculation that it will be placing its online content behind a pay-wall, beginning in 2011.

While many of the details and key aspects of the pay-wall system have yet to be determined, the NY Times will begin charging users who regularly visit the site each month. But for instance, it is not certain whether the pay plans will be monthly, daily, or per article/view. It does appear that occasional users will still be allowed access to a certain number of free articles.

This announcement from the NY Times, and similar past announcements from Rupert Murdoch and News Corp, concerning the institution of pay-walls for online news content may be an industry effort in futility. Can instituting a pay-wall, or removing a news site from Google's index, actually be advantageous to content owners?

I am reminded of a statement made by a panelist on the legal podcast, the Intellectual Property Colloquium, which compared the music industry to the news industry in terms of online content survival.

The panelist noted that the music industry was too late in adopting a strategy for online survival...refusing to partner with Napster during the early days, placing heavy DRM onto music legally purchased, etc. Only now does the music industry seem to be settling into an online business model that can generate enough revenue to promote content creation. [Granted there are myriad issues that still exist surrounding the music industry and online content...the current model is far from perfect (and to what degree is dependent on the evaluating perspective)]

Conversely, the news industry was too quick to open up their content and initially adopt a free online model. The general manner in which people consumed news began to evolve, and users started to access free online news content to replace, rather than supplement their daily news consumption. The free online model quickly denigrated into one that could not generate enough revenue to sustain the creation of news content [and the traditional business model itself is currently unsustainable, as people migrate online for news] .

Now, the news industry has to put the proverbial cat back into the bag, and get users to pay for something they are accustomed to accessing for free.

Unlike smaller news operations, the NY Times is clearly not under an immediate financial threat; after all, the pay-wall doesn't go up until 2011. The first attempt at a NY Times pay-wall model failed in the past...the question is, can one work in 2011? And will it be enough to ensure the survival of "premium" news content online?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Apple's "Special Event": I'm Unfortunately Not Invited (Again!)

Just over a week after the conclusion of CES 2010, Apple has sent out invites to a "special event" they are holding next week [Wednesday, January 27th] at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco.

While the rumors surrounding the event continue to swirl, a commonplace belief appears to be that Apple could be revealing either their apocryphal tablet, upgraded iPhone 4.0 software, or [gasp!] both.

Needless to say, hardcore Apple fanboys and iPhone wielding soccer-moms alike should be interested to see what Apple unveils as its "latest creation." But, what announcement would actually have the most impact?

The Apple tablet, potentially to be dubbed the iSlate, has been in the tubes for a while now. It is almost an issue of when, and not an issue of if, it will be released [answer: January 27th?]. While this product will in all likelihood be both drool-inducing and probably will be loaded with awesome features [and don't forget about those apps!], I just don't see it having an initial mass-market impact.

First of all, the price point will simply put it out of reach for many consumers. The [rumored] nearly $1,000 price tag will certainly preclude me from owning one. Second, there are latent concerns about connectivity for the device. What carrier will cover the data connection? Will users have to pay twice for data [billed once for their cell-phone, once for their tablet]? Will tethering between devices finally be enabled?

Given AT&T's floundering attempts to cover iPhone users, it seems unlikely that its network could handle both devices. Without a reliable and fast data connection, the iSlate is simply not as compelling a device.

The iPhone 4.0 software, on the other hand, will have an immediate impact for the millions who currently use an iPhone, or those looking to purchase one. While it might be dismissed or overlooked as just an upgrade, this new reiteration of the software will ultimately be pushed out to most users, and it will likely be an improvement. What these improvement might be, remains to be seen. Apple has been rumored to have kept the 4.0 upgrade under wraps, because it happens to include numerous references to the tablet. [Does this mean that iSlate will be running an iPhone OS, and not OS X?]

Whatever Apple eventually announces, the truth is that the January 27th event will be over-hyped and over-analyzed throughout all of next week. Further, every single minute of the event will be scrutinized by the tech media via live blogging and social media updates [after all, Steve Jobs is a rock star...]. What will we be left with come January 28th?
Whether Apple announces a tablet or the iPhone 4.0 software, or completely floors the tech world with something else, one thing is for certain: Apple continues to impact the industry unlike any other company today.