Weihenstephan Beer – First Impression

New Year’s Eve is synonymous to celebrations. So for today I’m appropriately writing another beer blog.

I recently was able to try a Weihenstephan beer for the first time. As usual, I’m not going to spoon feed you and rewrite here what you can get from a quick search. Go Google the details, and I’ll go straight to writing about my impressions.

The variant I was able to try was the Vitus which is said to be a spicy, single-bock wheat beer. Its bottle is very elegant as you can see below. Nothing less coming from a monastery that claims to be the world’s oldest commercial beer brewery. Could it be the world’s best tasting beer?

Properly chilled bottle of Weihenstephan Vitus

I am no beer connoisseur, but here’s my attempt at describing my first Weihenstephan experience:

First, I made sure that I had chilled the bottle to almost freezing. Then, I carefully poured the contents to a mug that had been sitting in the freezer. The liquid is cloudy, much like Hoegaarden. The taste? Much like Hoegaarden too…but not quite. Somehow, the beer had a rust iron aftertaste, to me at least. Kinda like the taste of blood in your mouth. Definitely not pleasant. Maybe this is how proper Belgian beer should be? An acquired taste? Could the other Weihenstephan variants be better? I wouldn’t know for sure.

Don’t let me mislead you into steering away from this beer. What may taste bad to me may be delicious to you. I would still recommend giving this beer a try and let your tongue decide. It is, after all, a Weihenstephan. Sourcing this beer locally might be a challenge. (I got my sample from the U.S.) If anybody knows where to get this in Metro Manila, please do everyone a favor by dropping a comment.

Cheers to welcoming 2010! But stay sober enough to be safe.

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Mac OS X Snow Leopard Quick Review

I’ve been holding back on investing Php1,700 for what basically is the OS X’s version of a Service Pack, nicely marketed with references to a big Asian cat. Heck, Microsoft Windows offers theirs for free! I had previously attempted to avail of Apple’s free up-to-date program thinking that my pre-Snow Mac is eligible, but a month after submitting my application, I got a letter stating that I have been declined because the offer is only redeemable in the U.S.

Long story short, I finally got a retail box of OS X Snow Leopard at PowerMac. I figured that it would be best to have my Mac equipped with the latest OS version, with the notion that my laptop will get optimized. A list of improvements is on Apple’s website, but I have a feeling that there is more to it than that. Think bug fixes, increased security, better compatibility and probably some performance fine tuning here and there.

Here’s my quick take on the OS update. Note that I’m just a regular Mac user and in no way am I a Mac expert. Install was very simple but took a little more than an hour. After installion, my Mac looked and (performance wise) felt pretty much the same. The only clue that my Mac is already running Snow is a quick check on the OS version, which now indicated 10.6 instead of 10.5. My immediate next step was to do a software update for good measure. So far no post upgrade bugs or quirks whatsoever.

About this Mac screenshot showing Mac OS X Version 10.6

The Good

Before installing SL, I took note of my available hard drive space. After the upgrade, I was surprised to see that my free space increased by roughly 20GB! A smaller footprint is one of Snow’s best benefits. Your results may vary.

The Bad

As mentioned, the install took more than an hour. Make sure you have enough battery charge or have your Mac plugged before attempting to load Snow. I may already be nitpicking here, but I’m sure there’s a way of doing an OS upgrade for 15 minutes or less. Another “bad” thing is the price. It was clearly a marketing and revenue decision to sell Snow than offer it for free. I still strongly feel it should’ve been a free download, even for users outside the U.S.

The Ugly

My old man had his pre-Snow lappy updated too, but his Mac encountered an Airport connection problem after the update. A quick check online revealed that it is a common bug that occurs in SL updates, but is quickly solved by a work around (creating a new network location). The occurrence  of this bug seems to be random, as it happened on my dad’s laptop, but not on mine.

Wrap Up

I believe Snow Leopard is a must have update for pre-Snow Macs. The extra disk space you will get back is reason enough, but it would’ve been better if it was free. If you’re really a miser, have 5 of your friends with pre-Snow Macs to chip in for a Snow Leopard Family Pack that contains 5 licenses and retails for only Php2,700. Oh, and I wouldn’t worry about the Airport bug, as there’s an easy fix.

P.S. The retail box of SL contained two large Apple logo stickers. Large stickers are reserved for Macs and the iPods have the small stickers, therefore the large apples have become relatively rare. It’s one thing to have them large Apple sticks, but it’s another thing to actually find a use for them. I personally find them pretentious and passe stuck on the rear windows of cars. They’re tacky to be stuck anywhere else too. Maybe these stickers are just nice to have and keep.

Danish Cookies, Japan Style

We all know what Danish Cookies are all about. They typically come in round royal blue tin cans and they belong to the “top ten most given or received as a gift”, alongside Hickory Farms and Body Shop products. While Danish cookies are nice and buttery delights, they’re just not the type of food one would crave on.

Recently I discovered that the Japanese have their own version of tin can delicacies. The one pictured below was a gift given to my sis by a friend of hers who touristed Japan.

Before opening the box, I had no idea what it contained. The tin’s minimalist artwork seemed to suggest it had fruity contents. I had the notion that it was an assortment of sweetened fruit preserves. Opening the tin proved me wrong…

Within was an assortment of mini pastries or cookies if you will, delicately packaged with a silky translucent paper liner, a pack of silica gel and a couple of literature cards. The biscuits are celled into bento-like compartments: undeniably Japanese.

The close up above is mouth-watering, simply beautiful and Zen-like relaxing to the eyes. But let me be quick to say that they taste half as good as they look. The sugar frosted bits on the top left has a hint of ginger. The green ones have a slight–you guessed it–green tea after taste. The top right with what looks like rice crispies is the only variety I’d consider snacking on; it has that familiar Japanese nori/fishy taste. The rest of them are tasteless. Blech! No thanks.

I love Japanese culture. Why? Because they’ve brought into this world everything that I love: their cars*, food, girls and gadgets! But this little tin can of biscuits right here has taught me that there is something about Japan that I could really hate.

* Evo X and GT-R!

Starbucks Instant Coffee

You read it right, the world’s most famous purveyor of coffee now retails instant coffee products, and they have branded it Starbucks VIA Ready Brew. True to the form of instant coffee, VIA comes in pre-portioned sachets and to make coffee, you simply add hot water.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Starbucks has sold out! They have taken all their coffee principles, fundamentals, ideals and thrown it all to the waste basket. It’s like Rolex making quartz watches! (Well, they actually do.)

We coffee lovers cringe at the mere thought of instant coffee. I’ve tried all instants at the grocery store and none of them were anywhere close to the taste of brewed. The marketing team at Starbucks swears that their VIA Ready Brew begs to differ. They’ve even conducted Taste Challenges in the US, just to prove that the VIA has “full Starbucks flavor in an instant.” I’m determined to find out for myself…

I was able to get samples of the Italian Roast and Columbia variants, having bold and medium intensity respectively. Each carton contains twelve stick shaped sachets. For this review, I sampled the Italian Roast. Before I even opened a sachet, I’d honestly say that I had set my expectations really low. My mindset was that it’s probably just the same as your garden variety Nescafe, if not just a tad better. I worked as a Starbucks Barista during my college years and with things coffee, I’m not easy to be impressed.

I dispensed the contents of one sachet into a clean mug. What I saw was a very dark brown and very fine, talcum like texture, as opposed to Nescafe’s lighter-colored and bigger granules. The sachet contained less than a teaspoon’s worth of powder, roughly half as much as what a Nescafe sachet would contain. I gave out a cynical chuckle. How’s this going to taste like a genuine brew? I poured a cup of hot water into the mug, added a sachet of Equal and gave it a good stir.

The first sip knocked my socks off! The concoction I just made tasted even stronger than brewed. I had to add a little more hot water and some milk to neutralize the coffee’s intensity. Unbelievable! This Starbucks instant coffee tastes just like it’s brewed equivalent. You can quote me on that. Take any coffee lover to a blind taste test of the VIA versus regular brewed and he/she will have a very difficult time.

Starbucks has done it again and has proven that you can indeed reinvent the wheel in the established world of coffee. This, my friends, is the future of coffee. The usage possibilities are endless! Going hiking to Pagudpud or hitting the beach in Palawan? Do your friends a favor and bring a pack of VIA. Your friends will thank you and worship you at the same time.

The only downside is, at the time of writing, I’m quite certain that it isn’t available in the Philippines yet. Don’t fret, I’m sure the folks at Rustan Coffee are already thinking of bringing it in. Can’t wait? Then e-mail your relatives in the U.S. and tell them to send a few packs over.

Pig in the Mail!

Look what arrived in the mail:

Arrived in my sister’s mail, that is. It contains a pair of Rally Pig stickers that I ordered from HSPN Networks. At long last, it was finally sent here in Manila and I’ve hastily stuck one of them onto the left side mirror of my car.

So what’s the big deal? A quick Google on “rally pig” will get you some answers. In a nutshell, the pig is a mascot of Young Magazine, a Japanese publication for teens. This same mascot was spotted on the left side mirrors of Subaru rally cars of past, and it seems to have been there for sponsorship.

It has since become popular–albeit a case of love it or hate it–within the Subaru and Rally Car subculture. The mascot was eventually dubbed as “the rally pig” in the rally car scene. The pig is big in the US. In fact, the fad is probably already on it’s way out. But it’s almost unheard of in the local car scene. I wanted to get one, but couldn’t source it locally, so I resorted to getting it from an online store.

The wife loved it (after giving her a quick background on what it’s about). She thinks it’s cute and adds character to the car. The general public, upon seeing my ride, would probably have the same “hey, that’s cute!” reaction. But just as certain, they will also have a “what’s the pig on the rear view mirror all about?” afterthought.

B+W and Hoya Filter Initial Review

Merry Christmas everyone!

For my Christmas Day post, I’ll share a quick review of my Christmas presents to myself: the B+W UV Haze 010 (MRC) and the Hoya HOCP77 Circular Polarizer lens filters. These were purchased at B&H Photo Video alongside a Canon EW-83J Lens Hood (I will try to do a review on this as soon as I spend enough time with it). These compliment the Canon EF 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens which is my 50D’s one and only lens at this time.

Christmas presents to myself

B+W UV Haze MRC

A UV filter’s main role is to protect the front element of a lens from impact, smudges, scratches and the elements i.e dust and salt water spray. I decided on the B+W mainly because of the excellent reviews I have seen on the web, and Bryan Carnathan’s convincing review was the tipping point. The B+W MRC is a multi-coated filter. Coatings are said to minimize reflections. You’d want this because you’d want all the light to go into the lens and onto the sensor, not reflected off. Furthermore, uncoated filters are said to degrade your pictures by introducing glare. The B+W MRC is a bit pricey as compared to uncoated filters. But if you have invested on $1000 or more on quality glass, an $85 filter is in my opinion, is justified.

The B+W feels substantial and solid on my hand. I’m not sure if it’s the brass rim or the glass that’s contributing to the weight, but one can really feel the quality of the filter merely by holding it. Screwing the filter on and off the lens are easy tasks, and so far I haven’t experienced having the filter stuck on the lens. I could also easily attach the lens cap and the lens hood, even with the filter on.

I already took a lot of photos with the filter on, and I did not see any improvement in my photos. More importantly, I did not see any degradation (i.e. vignetting, glare and loss of contrast) either.

B+W UV MRC Filter mounted on the lens

Hoya Circular Polarizer

A circular polarizer is a great companion to outdoor photography because it cuts out glare from bodies of water, foilage, glass, or other non-metallic surfaces. It also improves contrast and makes blue skies bluer.  Circular polarizers can be rotated to adjust the polarizing effect.

My choice get the Hoya single coated circular polarizer is simply due to cost considerations. High-end multicoated polarizers such as the one of B+W go for  as much as $160. I am simply unwilling to spend that much for a filter that I will only need when I’m shooting outdoors (which is only 30% of the time). Of course, I also didn’t settle for flimsy filters either, which is why I went for the $83 Hoya  as a mid-range product.

I took a few snaps with the polarizer, probably not enough for a fair review. Its effect is very obvious on some shots and not at all obvious on others. For certain, the filter lowers your exposure for about 2 stops, which could be to your benefit (i.e. on bright sunny days) or disadvantage (i.e. in low light situations). Below are a couple of sample shots wherein the bluer skies and increased contrast are clearly noticeable. They were not edited except for resizing.

Bluer skies

Improved contrast

Overall, I would recommend both the B+W and Hoya filters as essential parts of your kit. The former is for unobtrusive protection and the latter for improved outdoor images.

Stella Artois and San Mig Premium

For my Christmas Eve post, I decided to write about a Noche Buena must have: booze!

Stella’s a great beer and everyone knows that for a fact. San Miguel Premium is a great beer too, in case you haven’t tried it yet. In fact, I’d choose Premium over San Mig Light anytime. Premium is a great companion to dinner or the typical “2 bottles after work” sortie. Too bad Premium isn’t a low calorie beer.

My old man loves Premium too, so he stocked the halfway house fridge with them for the holidays. I remembered I had a bottle of Stella in the fridge too so I looked for it. I actually had a hard time searching as the Stella was able to “camouflage” itself among the multitude of Premium.

Here’s a photo of the two beers side by side:

Blatant imitation by San Miguel or mere coincidence? You be the judge.

By the way, the similarities are only skin deep. The flavors within are worlds apart, but both good. If you ask me, I’d have a Premium over a Stella, simply because the former is really good quality malt for the price.