The More You Know…About BEER!: Old Foghorn

November 25, 2009

Editor’s Note: Since this is Thanksgiving week, instead of having our beer review on Friday we’ll have it a smidgin earlier so you can all revel in your beerful knowledge before your tryptophan-induced comas. Happy Turkey Day everyone!

Old Foghorn
By Anchor Brewing Co. (San Francisco, CA)
12 fl oz.
8.8% ABV

Anchor Old Foghorn

Anchor Old Foghorn

Bottle Description:
San Francisco’s celebrated Old Foghorn Ale has been virtually handmade by the brewers of Anchor Steam Beer, in one of the world’s smallest and most traditional breweries, since 1975. Our barleywine-style ale, the first of its kind in modern times in the United States, has a luscious depth of flavor that makes it ideal for sipping after dinner. It is made with top-fermenting yeast, fresh whole hops, and “first wort,” the richest runnings of a thick all-malt mash. Old Foghorn is “dry-hopped” in the classic ale tradition and aged in our cellars until it attains the perfect balance of malty sweetness, estery fruitiness, and exquisite hop character, for which it is known throughout the world.

Barleywine is one of my favorite styles the beer world has to offer. Is it called a barleywine because it’s produced with grapes? Not at all. The English Barleywine was one of the first beers to be brewed to the “strength of wine,” hence barley-wine. The original version tended to be sweeter and extremely malty but with just enough hops to balance the sweetness. And what did we Americans do? We hopped the crap out of it. Furthermore, the residual sweetness is a result of the yeast failing to ferment all the sugars in the beer resulting in a malty sweet, alcoholic beverage. These beers age well, keep a few.

Old Foghorn 6-pack

Old Foghorn 6-pack

A six-pack for $12.99? Risky purchase since they don’t offer this in single bottles. Worth it? We’ll see…Amber brownish in color with a tan-beige colored head that has medium retention. This barleywine is quite opaque, seems to be unfiltered. The aroma starts off a little musky with some cloves. Hop aroma is very mild with hints of orange and citrus. The malt dominates with flavors of figs and raisins. The initial sip is loaded with intense maltiness, with a strong hop bitterness following. The malt profile is simple but with emphasis on caramel/toffee and some bubblegum notes. The hops in this beer seem to focus more on bitterness rather than flavor. Very full-bodied with moderate level of carbonation and some alcoholic warmth. This beer is extremely rich and well-supported by the hops. This beer is definitely a after dinner sipping beer, savor it.

Category 19C: American Barleywine
Aroma: 10/12
Appearance: 3/3
Flavor: 16/20
Mouthfeel: 5/5
Overall: 6/10
Total: 40/50 — B+

– Ant

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Homebuyer Tax Credit and Jobless Benefits Extended

November 23, 2009

If you were thinking about buying your first house but then put it on hold because the first time homebuyer tax credit is expiring on November 30, it is time to reconsider.  The senate has passed a bill to extend this credit until April 30 (and giving you two months to close – by the end of June) in efforts to continue encouraging real estate growth.  Home prices are still down, but seemingly on the rise so it is still a great time to look around!

On the other side of the spectrum, those who are in the position of taking advantage of jobless benefits may be interested to hear that the senate has also chosen to extend those benefits by 14 – 20 weeks, depending on the state.  If the state unemployment rate exceeds 8.5%, then jobless benefits are extended by 20 weeks.  This is also in response to reports that unemployment is still on the rise, regardless of whether the economy is recovering (or not).

This news tip will probably be pretty obvious to some of you but maybe not for others so I thought it would be worth mentioning.  Have a great week!
– debs


Off-Year Elections

November 10, 2009

Election week!  This past Tuesday, we had off-year elections.  Not presidential, not mid-term, but off-year.  Chances are you didn’t vote since about 40% of people actually vote in even midterm elections.  This isn’t so unusual and like many people I know (even my close friends), not knowing about local politics makes sense.  After all, not having kids going through public school, not using social services like medicare, and generally not seeing much local government in action makes people complacent.

Local issues may not seem worth your effort, except that low voter turnout misrepresents what people actually think.  A few couple of local election issues that you may care about:

  • Same-sex marriage has been rejected in all 31 states where it’s been put up for vote.  Polls show that something like 40% of people think it should be legal and it was defeated most recently this past election in Maine.  So if you’re gay or lesbian or have any gay or lesbian friends and care about them maybe you’ll care to be acknowledged by your government to be equal to everyone else.
  • Do you care that American education is so backwards that we still have people pushing to teach creationism as science in schools?  This is a local issue, that is decided by school boards and other local officials.  Quick aside – I recently heard a story of a friend of mine who was buying a drink from a concessions stand and the girl manning the cart had to go for a calculator when making change for a $20 on the $3 drink.  And apparently this girl was in high school.
  • Taxes are frequently put up to vote.  And even if the tax measures themselves aren’t, anything that mandates a service provided by the government has tax implications.  A good example of this is New York’s $50 billion medicare tab (almost $8K per person) which comes from decades of local politics.

So it’s time to go all after school special on everyone and remind everyone to take some time out and vote.  In my case, I went after work on Tuesday after spending an hour reading about the candidates up for election in my city and listening to recordings of them speak from local meetings.  If any readers are from Sunnyvale, I recommend http://www.radiosunnyvale.com/ as a good local resource.  In general, http://www.smartvoter.org/ covers every election in the country.

Some good reasons not to vote:

  • If you don’t care about what’s being put up for vote, don’t bother.  But like RT has said before, once you do this, you really have no right to complain about the outcome.
  • If you don’t care enough to research what the pro and cons are of each item, don’t vote.  This one may be more controversial, but I think turnout for turnout’s sake is stupid.  It just perpetuates shallow, short advertising that either ignores issues and anything of substance or plays up a single emotional issue with no pretense of neutrality or nuance.  Youtube has plenty of examples of such sound-bite ads.

Some bad reasons not to vote:

  • Too busy on election day.  This is a terrible excuse.  Many employers will give time off to let their employees vote.  And if you think that if we made the day a holiday so there was no dependence on a kind employer, check out this study that showed that making an Election Day holiday doesn’t really increase voter turnout.
  • Didn’t register in advance.  This was almost my excuse this year since I recently moved into town and haven’t registered locally yet.  It turns out that you can vote provisionally even without previously being registered.  The only catch is that your vote isn’t counted till later.  One neat thing about this process is that you get a stub that lets you check if your vote counted (or if they caught you on fraud).

-Tim

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California’s New Tax Withholding Scheme.. Part II.

November 6, 2009

At the heels of RT’s last post “California’s New Tax Withholding Scheme,” I wanted to chime in about a couple of other things I had learned.  I had watched a piece on it on the local news, but found the highlights I took away nicely summarized in this article from the LA times.  I’ll just mention a couple things from the article, and leave the rest of it up to you to take a look.

As RT mentioned, the withholding is basically serving as an interest free loan to the state.  As the LA Times puts it,

“Think of it as a forced, interest-free loan: You’ll be repaid any extra withholding in April. Those who would receive a refund anyway will receive a larger one, and those who owe taxes will owe less.”

While it certainly provides relief to some of us to know that we will probably get the money back in April, for others the extra withholding may be dipping into an already tight holiday budget, or extra money they were hoping to earn some interest on.  My guess is that even though RT has pointed out that the difference is probably hardly noticeable on the paycheck, people will still panic since most of the U.S. population is already actively cutting back on spending.  Knowing the state is holding onto more money probably won’t do much to encourage consumers to spend more, which is what businesses typically depend on as we approach the holiday season.  For those that, for whatever reason, would like to see their paychecks unaffected, the LA Times also suggests a workaround.

“Savvy taxpayers can get around the state’s maneuver by increasing the number of personal withholding allowances they claim on their employer tax forms, said Brenda Voet, a spokeswoman for the state’s Franchise Tax Board.

“People can get out of this,” she said, noting that most people would have to change their allowances through their employers. California’s budget leaders are banking on the hope that most won’t.”

Truth be told, I probably won’t take the time to file a new W-4 form at work but others may find this a good opportunity to hold onto more money per paycheck.  For those who tend to glaze over government related news (I’ll admit to being one of them sometimes.. trying to change that), hopefully this provided some good, easy to understand information for you!

-debs


The More You Know…About BEER!: Hofbrau Original

November 6, 2009

Hofbrau Original
By Staatliches Hofbrauhaus (Munchen, Germany)
1 pint 0.9 fl oz (500mL) x2
5.1% ABV

Hofbrau Original

Hofbrau Original

Bottle Description:
The Hofbrauhaus am Platzl is a symbol for Munich’s hospitality, conviviality and sociableness. Guests from all over the world enjoy the famous specialties of Hofbrau Munchen there.

Hofbrau Original embodies the special atmosphere of the brewing metropolis Munich and carries this throughout the world. It’s full bodied, refreshing and its fine hard aroma have made it world famous. A Munich specialty with character!

Got this at BevMo! for $2.19, yet you can find this at any better beer store. Definitely a steal compared to other 500mL German beers. Poured out carefully into a 1L mug giving off a light sulfur aroma that fades into a soft floral yet spicy hop aroma with hints of corn and grainy malt sweetness in the background. The beer is golden in color and leaves a pretty resilient white head with brilliant clarity. I noticed some very small black specks on the head; I can’t tell if that came from the glass or the beer itself (yet its good to note in case). The clearness provides excellent viewing for its strong carbonation which almost rises up like soda bubbles (but smaller). A grainy pilsner malt taste dominates with a slight metallic taste on the back of the tongue. The malt profile is well supported by a moderate hop bitterness with a spicy hop flavor. The finish isn’t too dry but the malt kicks back in after the hops fade away. A medium bodied beer with moderate level of carbonation that provides a smooth mouthfeel. If you’re looking for a flavorful pale lager, this one is for you. Deliciously malty and supported by spicy hops which result in an excellent crafted commercial beer.

Category 1D: Munich Helles
Aroma: 11/12
Appearance: 3/3
Flavor: 17/20
Mouthfeel: 5/5
Overall: 7/10
Total: 43/50 — A-

-Ant


California’s New Tax Withholding Scheme

November 1, 2009

The Governator

Effective right after Halloween, November 1st, the citizens of California will be subject to a higher income tax withholding. This will last, at least, until the end of the year. Assuming we all file our taxes correctly (ha!) this will effectively serve as an interest-free loan to the state for the rest of the year. I suppose this is the state government’s alternative to raising taxes, knowing full well that they stand to rake in some money here if/when people get confused about how to file their taxes and subsequently receive less money back. Is that too cynical?

California is raising the withholding rate by 10% on your paycheck. What does this mean for you? The truth is you’ll hardly notice it. But let’s give an example just for fun!

Let’s say you’re single (or dual income married, or married with multiple employers) with zero withholding allowances and your biweekly salary is $1000. That’s equivalent to $52,000 per year. From January 1, 2009 to October 31, 2009 your biweekly paycheck would reflect the state withholding $20.63. From November 1, 2009 through December 31, 2009 your biweekly paychecks will now show the state gouging you out of $22.69!

I guess that’s relatively harmless, right? I guess things could be worse, but let’s just hope that the tax returns we’re expecting don’t come back in the form of IOUs. More food for thought: after three months, you’re out one footlong sandwich from Subway. Think about that…

The government site has a moderately useful FAQ and general 2009 Rates and Withholding details for you to peruse including PDFs of the actual withholding rates.

I think it was a John F. Kennedy that once said: Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for The Terminator.

-RT


Last Minute Halloween Costume Tips

October 30, 2009

In all fairness, these tips are only last minute because I’m posting them last minute. Many of them actually revolve around planning to make your own costume. These tips can (dare I say, should?) be used every year. There really is one overarching theme for these tips: Think outside of the Halloween store box.

Halloween Costume 2009

Green Belt and Sewn Tunic-like shirt

Plan ahead.
The best part about planning ahead is that if you’re buying a costume you may well have more options to choose from. Also, Halloween stores will have sales toward the beginning of October every year and those stores will be jam packed with latecomers the closer you get to Halloween. That means you’ll waste a lot of time in line when you want to buy something. They also have huge sales right after Halloween. If you’re a perennial costume buyer and want a cheap one for next year you shoulder consider this option. If you’re building your own costume planning ahead will save you a lot of stress and probably time. There are invariably more things on store shelves at the beginning of October than at the end. Plus, if you can’t find what you need for your costume you have to time to go to plan B… or C… or D. Plan D being the plain white sheet ghost.

Build your own costume.
It’s really not that difficult. The first time you do it will probably be daunting, but with a little planning you can come out with a much better looking and more creative costume than you’ll find at your local Halloween store. And for less money! Full on costumes at stores will cost you at least $40-$50. That’s a lot of money considering they can be terribly uncomfortable and don’t look that great. You’re clearly paying a premium for convenience here.

Learn to sew or find a friend who does.
This directly follows-up on the “Build your own costume” idea. If you’re buying a costume, skip to the last item. Sewing really helps for building your own costume because then you don’t need to find the exact right piece of clothing for your outfit. For example, the tunic pictured above is a combination of two t-shirts; one of which is cut up to make the jagged ends. Amazingly, the t-shirts were the most expensive part of my costume aside from the shoes I bought, which can and already have been re-worn as real world shoes.

Look for costume items in smaller shops.
I needed a belt for my costume this year. Preferably a green belt. Do you know how much belts cost? In the tens of dollars, which doesn’t seem like a lot except depending on your fashion style the belt may or may not be re-wearable. On top of that, I’m trying to keep the cost of my costume under a retail store’s cost, so $10 would be a quarter of my imaginary budget. So where did I get the green belt in the picture? Daiso Marukai. For $1.69! Can you say, “WINNER?” Little shops can have surprising bargains and better selection for the more randomly colored and shaped items and accessories you might want to use this Halloween, so keep them in mind. I also recommend thrift stores, charity shops, and if you must shop in retail stores then Wal-Mart, Target, Marshall’s and Ross are good ideas. You know what you’re getting at the first two – namely, semi-cheap everyday stuff. At stores like Marshall’s and Ross it’s a complete toss up. You never know what you might find, like the women’s vest I turned inside out last year for my 80s Hair Band look because the inside of the too-tight vest had a leopard-ish print to it. And it was cheeeeap! (I forget the exact price, but I was pretty dang happy). So happy bargain hunting!

Your costume can be a take on a regular costume.
For example, almost any good character costume can be turned evil, and vice versa. Like an evil angel or evil [insert Disney character here]. Or you can be an off-color Where’s Waldo. This will allow you to pick different colors and kinds of clothing to still match what you want to be. For example, if your character normally wears bright colors, you can pick a darker shade that’s easier to find and then call that character Dark Halloween Character. It’s just that easy!

Lastly, and this is legitimately a last minute tip: Ask around and see if you can’t re-use a friend’s old costume, or even one of your own from 2+ years back. Who’s going to remember anyway?
If you’re really hard up for a costume at the last minute remember that this happens every year. Your friends must have dressed up in previous years and probably don’t want to dress up as the same thing again. So maybe you can borrow a costume or even swap old costumes with them.

Did I miss something? Have tips of your own? What ideas and tips do you have for buying or putting together your Halloween costumes? Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

-RT