Friday, February 24, 2017

Chad Tries.... Crystal Pepsi

Crystal Pepsi originally debuted in 1992, but this is NOT a 25-year-old vintage. No, this is a NEW bottle that has been released as part of Pepsi's nationwide revival of the product. They actually did small batch re-releases in the last few years, but this seems to be a major release. Whether this product will continue to be available year-round or just in short duration (or just once every quarter century) remains to be seen.

P.S. this video was shot with my new 1080p webcam and new Audio Technica ATR2100 microphone (thanks, Tom Woods!).

Friday, December 30, 2016

My 2016 Adventures in Homebrewing

2016 (4)
Homebrewing: great! Bottling: not so much :(
There are only a couple days left in 2016, but I just realized that I hadn’t written any blogs about any of the homebrews I made this year. So let me “briefly” recap all the explorations in zymurgy I embarked upon this year:

I should start by mentioning that I sold ALL of my homebrewing equipment back in the autumn of 2015 when I was moving from Albany, New York down here to Central Florida. Once I got an apartment in Orlando in January of 2016 I thought I’d pick up the hobby again, so I bought a starter kit from the new Orlando Homebrew Supplies shop on Curry Ford Road for $70.

Homebrewing 2016 (2)
Homebrew #1: Maggie Brau (espresso stout)

iPhone 201602 (101)My girlfriend at the time, Maggie (now my BFF), had recently tried Founders Breakfast Stout and wanted us to make a homebrew similar to that beer. So I bought a sweet stout extract kit along with some vanilla beans; Maggie provided the coffee in the form of her own espresso beans. I had made a similar homebrew about a year prior so I was familiar with the brewing process, though this recipe was a little different (it came with lactose sugar, but no oatmeal nor cocoa nibs).

Everything went well as far as the brewing and fermentation process. However, right before we were about to bottle it we took a taste test and realized that there was almost no coffee flavor in the stout. Since Maggie keeps espresso beans in her house we decided to throw a handful in the fermenter for about a week to up the coffee taste – and did it ever!

Initially, “Maggie Brau” was difficult to drink. The espresso flavor and intense roasty bitterness overpowered the base brew. After about a month the coffee presence began to subside and the true stout character started to emerge. It was no longer a coffee bomb, it was an American stout with coffee. I didn’t find it to be much of a sweet stout, though. The lactose really wasn’t noticeable and neither was the vanilla. The only way to get the sweetness to emerge was to pair the beer with spicy and savory foods. We found that if we drank it while eating Montreal-seasoned steak for dinner, the coffee was neutralized by the spice and the chocolaty flavors really stood out. In fact, I recommend trying this food and beer pairing with any commercial coffee brew – you’ll be surprised by how different a beer can taste in a contrasting pairing.

Maggie Brau recipe
Homebrewing 2016 (14)

Homebrew #2: Hockey Hefeweizen

Not long after making the first homebrew, I decided to wanted to get back into all-grain homebrewing. I bought a mash/lauter tun and a propane burner from a fellow Orlando homebrewer I had met through Facebook. I returned to the homebrew store and purchased a 10-gallon brewpot and wort chiller, along with all the ingredients to make a hefeweizen recipe I had made the last few years. As enjoyable as that brew was in the New York summer, I thought it would be even better here in the Florida heat.

I brewed it on a Saturday in March – the best day of the year for college hockey fans as there are six playoff games happening from early afternoon to late night that day (hence the name). Unfortunately, that particular brew day was cursed by Murphy’s Law. Pretty much everything that could have went wrong, did.

For starters, the propane tank kicked about halfway through the mashing process. So I ran over to Walmart and got a new tank. I was annoyed because I was certain there was enough gas in it to get through the brew day, though that’s not the first time this had happened to me. Then, when it was time to sparge, I realized I had forgotten to buy rice hulls which resulted in a stuck mash. It was a major PITA trying to get the wort to flow but it did, albeit super slowly. Once it was time to boil I set the burner to max power, but it plateaued around 180 degrees – arrgh! So Maggie ran over to Walmart and bought me a new burner which was able to get the temperature up to boiling lickety-split.

And then it started raining.

Not just raining, but an apocalyptic-level of downpour. Fortunately, I was able to get the burner and brewpot moved under cover but not before getting absolutely drenched. Thankfully, the rain stopped just as the boil time concluded. What should have been a typical four or five-hour brew day inflated to eight or ten hours! I was hoping that as long as the fermenting process went well, the beer would at least be drinkable.
It was not.

Though the beer smelled great while it was fermenting and even tasted pretty good when we bottled it, it was clearly infected with Butyric Acid. The beer smelled like farts and tasted like vomit – eww! I was disappointed and quite angry that I had to dump two cases worth of homebrew. I have had beers not turn out well in the past, but I had never had an entire batch become so infected it was rendered undrinkable.

I do plan on making this recipe again next Spring, and this time I’ll remember to get rice hulls.

Hockey Hefeweizen recipe

Homebrew #3: Brooklyn Sorachi Ace Saison (one gallon clone)

There’s a great bottle shop here in Lakeland called Beer Revolution. Last summer, they were selling 1-gallon all-grain homebrew kits from the Brooklyn Brew Shop (a subsidiary of Brooklyn Brewery). I had seen these around in recent years but had never bought one because I always make 5- gallon recipes. I thought it would be fun to try, since the kit was all-inclusive and contained both the equipment as well as the ingredients.
Sorachi Ave on the left, Maggie Brau on the rightHomebrewing 2016 (26)It was interesting to make an all-grain homebrew on my stovetop. The process is similar to making a traditional homebrew, but there’s no lauter/sparging stage which really saves on time. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy this beer was to make. I used my own fermenting and bottling buckets, though. The actual beer was pretty good. I would definitely make one of these kits again, but I haven’t seen them for sale since.
Sorachi Ave on the left, Maggie Brau on the right

Homebrew #4: Hoppy Beerthday! (IPA)
IPA is one of my all-time favorite styles of beer, and it had occurred to me that I hadn’t homebrewed an IPA in years. They’re pretty easy to make; especially this recipe because it was a SMASH (single malt and single hop), so I figured this was going to be a foolproof operation.

I made it on my birthday, September 9th (hence the name) and everything went fine as far as the brewing process. I decided to ferment the beer with a generic American ale yeast strain (Safale US-05) I’ve used in prior years back north. However, since I don’t have any kind of fermenting cooler other than my broom closet, using that strain in the Florida [summer] heat wasn’t a good idea. You see, even if your equipment is perfectly sanitized you can still wind up with a bad beer if you ferment at too high of a temperature. Each yeast strain has its own comfort zone for temperature. If you go below that zone it’ll ferment extremely slowly or not at all; if you go above that zone the yeast will produce a bunch of off-flavors known as phenols. Sometimes phenols are a good thing as they tend to produce smoke and clove-like flavors and aromas (they’re a required characteristic for styles like hefeweizen). However, in the case of my IPA, these phenols were not pleasant at all. If you’ve ever blown up a plastic pool toy or a balloon, you’re familiar with that plastic/rubber chemical-like taste. That flavor was in my brew in the form of phenols as a result of fermenting at 80 degrees or more.

Additionally, I had recently acquired a bunch of flip-top 500ml bottles from someone on Craigslist. Though I sanitized the bottles, it was clear that they contained wild yeast (which are mutated strains that tend to survive most sanitation procedures other than boiling). Also like phenols, wild yeast can be a good thing as they sometimes produce tart, citrusy aromas and flavors – but usually only controlled environments. Truly wild, feral yeast strains can produce nasty chemical by-products like Butyric Acid (see homebrew #2 for example).

The Mosaic hops created for a nice pineapple flavor, but the plastic phenolic quality was too distracting. I was able to drink a few ounces at a time, but this homebrew became cloying quickly. I wound up having to dump most of this batch, too.

Hoppy Beerthday recipe

Homebrew #5: Bray’s One Month Mead
I was really frustrated by the way my IPA turned out, so I decided to do something completely different. I found a recipe online for a one-gallon mead that would be ready to drink in a month. I thought this would be a fun experiment and a challenge because I had never made mead before. In fact, I rarely even drink mead but I’ve always liked the ones I’ve had.

Making a mead is amazingly simple: there’s no brewing involved. You simply take honey and water and mix them together, add yeast and you’ve got mead. Well, you do have to add some nutrients for the yeast, but it’s really easy to measure out a fraction of a teaspoon here and there.

The recipe calls for using a Belgian beer yeast strain which is good because Belgian yeasts do well at higher temperatures and produce a lot of esters and phenols (the good kind). I did a secondary fermentation as well to clarify the mead, though it was still quite cloudy when I bottled it. However, as soon as I refrigerated it, the brew clarified amazingly well.

I was shocked when I measured the gravity before bottling as it was 0.996! I had never seen anything finish that dry before. However, I think my hydrometer may have been broken as my next brew would also finish extremely low.

As for the mead, well, it turned out pretty good. It had a bit of a dry white wine taste to it, but I didn’t pick up on any off-flavors or flaws (but I’m not nearly as experienced with mead tasting as I am with beer). I gave away a few bottles and everyone who tried it seemed to like it.
The only thing I wasn’t happy about was that the mead did no carbonate. I dropped about 5 sugar tablets in each bottle and I could see there was a tiny amount of sediment at the bottom of each of them, yet they were all essentially flat when poured. Oh well, live and learn. I plan on making this recipe (or one similar to it) again soon.
BOMM recipe
Left: BOMM mead Right: Creamy saison
Left: BOMM mead
Right: Creamy saison

Homebrew #6: Creamy Saison
Cream ale in the 5 gallon carboy. Mead and Christmas Ale in the 1-gallon carboys.
Cream ale in the 5 gallon carboy. Mead and Christmas Ale in the 1-gallon carboys.

Having learned my lesson from fermenting the IPA too warm, I decided to play it safe and make a simple cream ale recipe and ferment it with Saison yeast (a Belgian strain which enjoys high temperatures).
This wound up being a two-day brewing session. I work nights, so I figured if I started by 11am I’d be done in time to leave for work.


The lauter stage didn’t finish until about an hour before I had to leave, so I transferred the wort from the brew kettle back to my mash tun and brought it inside for the night. The next day I picked up where I left off and boiled it for 90 minutes. I used one of many packets of dry saison yeast I had bought for literally pennies at Tampa Beer Works when they were closing their homebrew store (among a bunch of other items).

Using saison yeast definitely was the way to go, though, ironically enough, the beer was fermented a bit cooler than the IPA was which meant that there wasn’t as much of an estery character as I had hoped and expected.

Additionally, using those 500ml flip-top bottles imparted a wild character – but the good kind this time! The beer in those bottles had a nice lemonade-like character: tart and a little citrusy. No nasty phenols this time.

I gave away almost half of the batch to my co-workers and everyone said they liked it. In fact, a lot of people asked me if they could have another.

I still have a few bottles left in the fridge. If there was a competition coming up I’d probably enter it as a wild ale rather than a traditional cream ale (or maybe a 36C “Experimental Ale” since it’s a hybrid of three styles, really).

Creamy Saison recipe

Homebrew #7: Christmas Beer Is Here (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)

I’ve always wanted to make a huge Trappist ale like Rochefort 10, Westvleteren 12, or Chimay Blue. But I’ve also wanted to make a spicy Christmas beer, so I thought it would be fun to combine the two (St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is a good commercial example of such a brew). I didn’t want to make an entire 5-gallon brew, though. I did some searching around online and found a 1-gallon recipe for a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, and I picked up some coriander and orangepeel while I was at the homebrew store.
I also wanted to try my hand at Brew-In-A-Bag, a style of homebrewing where you eliminate the lauter/sparge stage by mashing your grain in the brewpot within a bag and simply pulling the grain out when the mash stage is done. This is difficult to do when you’re making five gallons, but only one gallon on the stovetop is a bit simpler. I even wrapped my brewpot with a blanket during the mashing to prevent the temperature from dropping too drastically. I’d say the brewing procedure went pretty well considering I had never tried this before.

The beer itself turned out pretty well. As far as specs go, it has the typical aromas, flavors and color of a 26D. I was a bit disappointed that the orangepeel and coriander did not stand out much. Additionally, the Belgian candi syrup (date syrup) becomes very prominent if the beer warms. It’s a bit cloying and kind of vegetal. Still, the final product was enjoyable. I would definitely make this again and next time I’d up the spices and use a little less syrup. I might even use saison yeast to emphasize the spicy flavors. We’ll see.

Christmas Beer is Here recipe

What’s in store for 2017?
I wouldn’t mind doing another one of those BOMM meads but with a different type of honey since that can be made in less than an hour (plus, there’s a mead competition in Savannah in a few months I would like to enter). I’m also considering making the 1-gallon Christmas Ale again already if for no other reason than to use up the leftover spices, syrup and hops.

As far as my long-range plans, well it’s a bit hard to say right now. I have a few other projects I’m working on right now so 5-gallon homebrewing is taking a backseat for the time being. If and when I do brew again I’ll blog about them at the time instead of waiting until the end of the year to do a recap.

Sorry this blog was so long but if you read all the way to the end you are awesome!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders | Batman '66 | vlog #121

This is a spoiler-centric analysis/discussion of the new animated film celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the original Adam West/Burt Ward "Batman" television series. I've already discussed each and every episode plus the 1966 theatrical film, so it's only appropriate that I talk about the latest installment in the franchise. Yeah, this is a long rant, but I think I covered everything I wanted to talk about. What did you think of the movie?

See ALL of my Batman '66 vlogs here:
LIKE the Batman '66 Fan Page on Facebook:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Chad Tries.... Neal Brothers Pink Himalayan Salt Kettle Chips

Another bag of kettle chips courtesy of Neal Brothers. These are made with pink Himalayan salt. Are the chips pink? Are they especially salty? Will they be as creatively flavored as the two previous chips? Watch and find out.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Chad Tries.... Neal Brothers Montreal Steak Spice Kettle Chips

This is the second of four bags of Neal Brothers kettle chips. A Canadian potato chip company. Much like the previous entry (Srirachup) these chips have a spicy flavor to them, but without the heat of Sriracha. Do they taste like steak seasoning though? Watch and find out.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Chad Tries.... Neal Brothers Spicy Sirachup Kettle Chips

Neal Brothers out of Toronto, Canada sent me a box of four of their crafty kettle chips (thanks, guys!). I start out with the Spicy Sirachup - a flavor combination of Siracha hot sauce and good ol' ketchup (aka barbecue sauce). Would the flavor combination work? Watch and find out!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

RetroUSB AVS NES + PowerPak review

If you're a fan of retrogaming you've probably wanted to play your Nintendo NES on a modern HDTV, but the only way to do that is with an upscaler or playing through an emulation console. Well, not anymore! Thanks to the RetroUSB AVS NES, you can play your NES games in 720p on your HDTV - no upscaler or special cables needed!

Also, if you've ever wanted to be able to play ROMs through a cartridge you can with RetroUSB's PowerPak which enables you to play .nes ROMs saved on a compact flash card.

I bought both of these recently as well as some accessories and I'm going to tell you all about it.
NOTE: There's no gameplay footage in this video because YouTube has been going total copyright nazi mode lately. If you want to see the AVS in action, check out this awesome video by My Life in Gaming:

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Chad Tries.... a 2009 vintage bottle of Coca-Cola

I recently started working for Publix - a supermarket chain in the American southEAST (I said west in the video for some reason). One of my onboarding gifts was this commemorative bottle that was made for their 1000th store opening back in 2009. So this bottle is a good 5 1/2 years old! Will Coke age like wine? Let's find out!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Greetings from Orlando!

So I'm finally settled in Orlando, Florida - about 2 1/2 months after I moved out of Albany. Things are going to be pretty different around here. The biggest change? No more beer reviews! Why? Watch and find out.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Chad Tries.... IKEA snacks

Now that I'm living in Florida, I thought it would be fun to do a "Chad Tries" at my first-ever visit to an IKEA in Orlando (where I now live).

Thanks to Maggie for the food, drinks and filming this! :D

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

My thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

My thoughts on SW: TFA (probably spoilers)

JJ went all-out with the callbacks to the original three films. In fact, there are plenty of situations which are almost virtual repeats of scenes (and the entire plot) of the first three movies.

This is clearly a movie made by a Star Wars fan, rather than by a studio per se. Though there's plenty of aspects about it that I can see easily being turned into cash grabs in the form of toys and other merch.

Harrison Ford has more screen time in this movie than he did in the first three combined! He returns to that character with ease, apparently.

This movie does what the first three (first SIX, really) didn't do: acknowledge that there are more than white males in the Star Wars universe! Holy crap! There's actually FEMALE villains!? FEMALE pilots!? Hell, the two leads are a black dude and a woman. Though, ironically enough, I'm not sure if this film passed the Bechdell Test.

Speaking of which, I thought John Boyega and Daisy Ridley were both very good and managed to carry the bulk of the movie rather well. Though Ridley's character was a bit 1-dimenisional. At least Boyega got to do a little more.

Why the hell does Mark Hamill get second billing? He was in it for literally a minute and didn't even utter a line. Also, old Mark Hamill looks a lot like football coach Rob Ryan (yes, Rob Ryan - not Rex).

The whole premise of this movie essentially means that everything the Rebel Alliance accomplished in the first trilogy was all for naught. The First Order is identical to the Galactic Empire - so what did the rebels accomplish at the end of Return of the Jedi if everything is back to the way it was already?

I find myself more interested with wanting to know what happened BETWEEN Star Wars movies than what's happening DURING them. Luke Skywalker has a helluva lot of explaining to do. From the way the story is told, he bolted rather quickly at the first sign of trouble. I'm sure that'll be explained in the Episode 8.

There's a huge plot hole at the end: The Resistance blows up the Death PLANET (much like in chapters 4 and 6), but we never saw Kylo Ren or any of the upper echelon villains escape - so I'm assuming they're dead.

Also, it appears that the entire villain organization was all wiped out. What's the next movie going to be?

There may have been a Clerks reference when "Finn" says he worked in sanitation as a Storm Trooper.

After all these years, I can't believe spaceships are still relying on point-and-shoot laser blasters. That'd be like if our Air Force still used gattling guns. Missiles are so much more accurate and effective than blasters.

The best thing about this movie: Not as much in-your-face CGI characters or anything resembling those crappy prequel movies. A few funny moments, but not as goofy and corny as the Lucas films.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

What's up with the whole "Chad'z" thing?

A lot of people have been asking me this lately, so I thought I would put it up here as its own separate post once and for all:

Well, it's a long story, but in a nutshell it's just a nickname my friends came up with all the way back in high school. It's just a shortening of my first and last names into one name. I always used it back in the 90s in the early days of the Internet. It sounded cool at the time.

When I started doing the beer reviews in 2008 I resurrected it because I thought it would be ironically clever and nostalgic and I never really expected anyone other than my friends to see my beer reviews anyway. Once my site started gaining traction I realized it had become part of my online persona. In other words, "Chad'z" was my brand and I had to stick with it. In retrospect, I wish I had come up with a completely different and more professional-sounding name. It's too late to try to re-brand myself at this point.

Trolls and haters constantly try to mock me by putting 'z at the end of random words (see the comments section for examples). As if that's supposed to hurt my feelings or something. In actuality, I completely agree with them: "Chad'z" absolutely IS a silly moniker! However, that goes to show that the whole 'z thing does indeed work as a branding identity! Huzzah!

Though I will point out that I'm not the only one to use the 'z brand. There's a chain of pizza and wing joints in the Virginia Beach area called Cal'z.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

I'm outta here, New York!

As soon as I finish uploading this video I will be packing up to move to Florida! After 8 long years in this apartment it's time for a MAJOR change of scenery! I go into the main reasons in this vlog, but if you REALLY want to know the nitty gritty details, check out these two blogs:

Top 10 Things I'll Miss About Albany:

Top 10 Things I WON’T Miss About Albany:

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Top 10 Things I WON’T Miss About Albany

Yesterday I compiled my list of things I’ll miss about Albany now that I’m moving to Florida. Today I’d like to discuss the opposite: things I most definitely will not miss once I get down there. In fact, all ten of these items are really just sub-items related to three major issues: shitty weather, shitty traffic and shitty people. That’s not to say that everyone in Florida is an angel, there will never be traffic jam and the weather will always be pleasant (they do get hurricanes there, after all). Still, here are ten specific things about this area I’m glad to be getting away from.

#10 Window Air Conditioners

I lived in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area for about six years when I was active duty navy. One of the first things I noticed when I got there was the presence of central air conditioning literally everywhere. Up here in New York that’s a rarity. Most houses and buildings were built before the proliferation of central air, so we just use window air conditioners in the summer – which are, themselves, another major pain in the ass of installing and uninstalling them.

Anyway, when I moved back to Albany in 2007 one of the first things I realized was how hot it was (and this was in late October/early November). I couldn’t just flip a switch and cool my apartment down, I had to open windows and use fans. What the hell?!

Down south, they realized the importance of central air a long time ago and it’s in virtually every home, apartment and office building. I recently gave away my two window ACs and people said “You’re moving to Florida and you’re NOT taking air conditioners with you?!” Nope. Don’t need them. There will be central air everywhere.

#9 The Insfrastructure & Toll Roads

Traffic is pretty bad even if you live in a mid-size metro area like the Capital District. And I don’t want to make it sound like it’s anywhere near as bad as that of major metropolitan areas like New York, D.C., L.A., or Atlanta. Those cities don’t have highways as much as they have movable parking lots. So yeah, I realize Albany isn’t nearly as bad, but that doesn’t mean it’s great.

Once again, let’s compare Albany to Norfolk. Norfolk actually has a larger population spread out over a larger area. And yeah, there were traffic jams during the morning and evening rushes, but they weren’t that bad. You know why? No toll booths! That’s right, you can drive pretty much anywhere down there without having to pay a toll. Here in Upstate New York (and the northeastern section of the country, for that matter), we LOVE toll roads. Somehow politicians have tricked us into believing that if we didn’t pay tolls the highways would cease to exist (though somehow most other states manage to keep up their infrastructure without tolls).

Toll booths have a major effect on traffic jams and overall delays because of the bottleneck they create. You multiple that with the thousands of cars that go through the toll booths every day all day and I really adds up. My commute would’ve been significantly shorter without toll booths.

I would love to see Albany install Metro Rail, mostly for the benefit of state workers who account for the majority of the morning and evening rush every weekday like clockwork. I won’t hold my breath, though.

#8 Cramped and dilapidated roads

I never realized how cramped this area was until I moved elsewhere. I even lived in northern Illinois for about a year when I first joined the navy and I saw how much more spacious everything was there. Down in Virginia there was plenty of room everywhere all the time. There’s no such thing as a street being limited to one-way because it’s so narrow. That can’t be said of this area: everything’s close together – even the suburbs.

The absolute worse is downtown and midtown Albany, especially in the areas around the colleges. When you go to the bar at night you end up parking a mile away because there aren’t any parking spaces available. And in the winter when it snows… dear god… these streets are both undrivable and unparkable.

Every winter the snow and ice get into cracks in the road and wreak havoc. So the DOT patches them up and the road becomes a patchwork quilt of various grades of asphalt and concrete (anyone who’s ever driven on Route 85 knows what I mean). You end up wondering what’s worse: driving over a bunch of potholes, or driving over a bunch of tiny speed bumps.

#7 People’s attitudes

You’ll notice that the majority of the items on this list fall under this general category of bad attitudes. I don’t know what it is about Blue States, Blue Cities, and Albany in particular, but so many people around here have a completely undeserved sense of entitlement and elitism. Sure, anywhere you go people take pride in being from there, but there’s something about Albany that makes people so arrogant, so conceited, and so brash it turns them in complete douchebags and pricks.

You always see spoofs of people in New York City constantly fighting with each other, but that should be the Albany stereotype. I think it may have been true of New York for a while, but that attitude refused to die and migrated northward. I remember reading somewhere that the Capital District was voted “Most Unfriendly City in America.” I absolutely believe it. We were also voted “Most Atheist City in America” as well. Whether that’s just a correlation and not a causality I do not know (I’m inclined to believe that one of those caused the other but I’m not sure which).

I’ll also say that Albanians for some reason think their shit doesn’t stink. Whatever they say or do is pure gold. People who are popular or have some semblance of power or sway in the community let it go to their head and think of themselves are movers and shakers on par with those down in the District of Criminals. For example, I once dated a woman that was really popular in the local food and arts scene. She ran a bunch of “charities” and attended awards galas on what seemed like a weekly basis. My reaction was just “Oh my gawd, really? This is Albany – I’m sure that housing center for artists is just going to put us on par with Paris now, eh?”

And that’s just one example. Let’s go over some more.

#6 RPI hockey fans

The last two nights I went to Union/RPI and RPI/Union hockey games at each team’s arena. I’ve been attending these games for nearly 20 years so I know there’s a heated rivalry. RPI has won two NCAA Division I hockey championships and Union has won one. For some reason, RPI fans think that gives them license to be complete and total toolbags on par with the worst superfans of pro sports teams in major cities: Oakland, Philly, Chicago and soccer hooligans over in Europe. RPI fans just love yelling “you suck” every two seconds. Even if their team is LOSING! Don’t get me started on the whining, either. No RPI player has ever committed a legitimate penalty in the history of time according to RPI fans. Also, no RPI goalie has ever given up a legitimate goal. It’s ALWAYS the refs’ fault.

I can’t imagine any fan of any Florida sports team could be as arrogant as RPI fans, but we’ll see (I’m sure Miami Heat fans were pretty bad when LeBron James was down there).

#5 The Table Hopping comments section

This one pretty much speaks for itself. If you’re even remotely into food in the Albany area, you’ve probably seen Steve Barnes’ “TableHopping” blog on the Times Union. The same newspaper which also hosts my beer and comics blogs. There are a couple MAJOR differences between my blogs and this one, though. First of all, it garners an insane amount of traffic. Secondly, Steve Barnes is an actual Times Union employee so that blog is in essence an extension of the newspaper itself.

As I said before (and will continue to say throughout this list), Albanians are elitists and have ridiculously high expectations for everything. For some reason, Albany is a quasi or faux foodie city. I’m not sure when or how it happened, but people around here think they know gourmet when they don’t. South Park recently did an episode about everyone in the town becoming a self-entitled “food critic” on Yelp. It’s almost as if they were making that episode about Albany itself (with pretty much everyone playing the role of Cartman).

Table Hopping announces all the restaurant openings, closing, holiday events and other events and general commentary. One person will complain that the review was completely wrong and another person will chime in to tell them THEY’RE wrong. Then another person will correct that person’s spelling or grammar. Then another person will say they walked by that place with their dog once and then another person will say that breed of dog is stupid and it just descends into freefall.

At first, I found this veritable orgy of semantic violence to be funny and quirky, but now it’s just pathetic. I lurk the blog every once in a while because it mentions beer events and other beer news of the area and I like to share that on my Albany Craft Beer social media outlets. Sure enough it is the exact same handful of people making the exact same comments over and over and over. They have all declared themselves not only the local food police, but the local food BLOG police! This comment section is SO NOTORIOUS, in fact, that it is now part of Albany’s reputation. Whenever I meet someone that’s a foodie from another area and I tell them I’m from Albany they tend to ask me if the rumors are true about that food blog and if people in Albany really think their food scene is nothing but 5-star restaurants as far as the eye can see.

I think this these memes sum it up perfectly:

#4 Capital District beer snobs

As I mentioned in my “Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Albany” blog, the beer scene in this area I think is legitimately good (and “great” considering this isn’t a major metropolitan city). The downside to having such a quality beer scene is that it spawns a lot of snobbery. And it’s not snobbery in the form of pride in this area – just the opposite. People who constantly complain about the selection, the quality and what they consider a lack of originality.

The local beer snobs formed their own Facebook group which is a Good Ol’ Boys network of hardcore traders and hoarders. You know, the kind of guys that spend a ton of money on exclusive bottles from The Bruery and then complain that the beer was only okay. They’re the type of guys that will go on what can only be rightfully described as a 400-mile roundtrip beer run to tiny breweries in the middle of nowhere to wait in line for hours just on the hopes of getting a few growlers filled or scoring a case of a sought-after beer. The kind of guys who traveled hundreds of miles years ago for Dark Lord Day and/or Hunahpu Day and/or Pliny the Younger Day and now say those beers are overrated.

Nothing is ever good enough for these guys (I say “guys” because 99% of these snobs are dudes, but there are few snobby broads as well). Either Local Brewery A makes crap beer, or Local Bar B doesn’t have as good a selection as it should, or Local Beer Blogger C (that’d be me) is an asshole. And yeah, I hear that regularly. What’s worse, these snobs don’t even have the balls to say it to me even remotely directly. I’ll read their vapid comments on the Table Hopping comments section or hear it secondhand from friends who are members of that aforementioned Facebook group. None of them have been able to articulate why they don’t like me; they just don’t. They’re kind of like the RPI hockey fans who will yell at the other team “you suck!” when they’re losing.

Yet again, it comes back to the stuck-up attitude problem this area seems to have. And it’s worse when that manifests itself in the form of rubber-meeting-the-road policy….

#3 The politics and politicians

I could write an entire book on why I dislike and despise politics and politicians in particular. And for some reason, it’s supposedly “liberal” and “progressive” politicians who are the absolute worse. Sure, Neocons and theocratic Republicans are pretty bad, but they seem to be self-aware that they’re playing the role of a villain. For lefties, they think they’re smarter than everyone and will save everyone from themselves through government action. I can’t stand it. That’s what I’m an anarchist.

But when it comes to Albany in particular, you have to consider that this is a very blue city in a very blue state. We’re not quite at the level of San Francisco, New York, or anything Bernie Sandersville just yet but we’re getting close. The local city and county crooks have begun implementing (or tying to implement) pretty much every Progressive policy you can think of, but they try to do it on a local level. They banned pharmacies from selling tobacco; they made restaurants list their calories on the menus; They banned fracking (because apparently someone's going to start a gas mining company in the city of Albany?); they put up Big Brother red light cameras all over the city (as cities across the country have been dismantling them because they don’t work right and citizens are beating them in court); they banned Styrofoam food packing; and now they’re considering raising the legal smoking age in Albany to 21. And gun control - oiy - unless you're a cop you can't get a gun in Albany. I’m sure there’s dozens of other inane rules, laws, regulations, etc. that have blown my mind over the years, but these are some of the most memorable ones. And though they may sound petty, it’s the principle of them that irks me.

And yes, I’m smart enough to realize that wherever you go there will be idiot politicians elected by idiotic voters to implement idiotic policies. I’m not sure how Florida compares to New York, and Albany in particular, but I’ve gotta believe it can’t be this bad.

NOTE: I should put a disclaimer here that there’s a difference between being political and being an asshole. I’m neither conservative nor liberal; neither Republican nor Democrat. In fact, I tend to disagree with both parties’ politics most of the time. That being said, I don’t mind talking politics if people actually want to have a calm, rational discussion. It's the people that immediately invoke name-calling and all the fallacies in the book that I can’t stand. In my experience, I find people on “the left” are more apt to do this than people on “the right” (I put those terms in quotes because they’re all authoritarian centrists to me). So you can be a progressive or a neocon or whatever you want to call yourself, and we’ll get along just fine as long as you’re not an asshole about it. The problem is, the people who are genuinely passionate about politics and are NOT assholes are few and far between. 

#2 The high taxes and high prices

The problem with politicians (well, one of them anyway) is that their stupidity, arrogance and ignorance of how the world really works can make things worse with the laws they pass. As I said, this is a blue city in a blue state so one thing they really love around here is taxes. Property taxes, school taxes, sales taxes, luxury taxes, parking meters every 2 feet, toll highways, DWI checkpoints, speedbumps, gun buyback programs, etc. All programs and laws that are supposedly in our best interest but are actually counterproductive if you do the research.

All those government programs create massive bureaucracies which in turn cost a lot of money, so they have to be paid for in the form of taxes. And since everyone is paying so much in taxes they have to charge more either for their goods and services (if they’re a business) or their labor (if they’re an individual). It all adds up to a very expensive cost of living. Now, obviously Albany is nearly as bad as New York or other cities like it, but for a relatively small city, the cost of living here is far above average when compared to the rest of the country.

When I moved to Albany from Virginia I immediately noticed how much more expensive EVERYTHING was. I couldn’t find a single item that was cheaper up here than down there, except maybe houses since everything is brand new down south and everything is old up here.

One of the major reasons I chose Florida as my new home is because there’s no state income tax. So even if I earn the exact same per-dollar salary, it’ll translate to a higher pay check because there will be one less thief stealing my money. Also, the lower prices will also amount to more net gain for me. It’s a win-win.

#1 The Winter

I grew up in Schenectady, so the winter is no stranger to me. Even when I lived in Virginia it still got pretty cold, but it rarely snowed. It’s not that I’m a wuss when it comes to cold – just the opposite in fact. When I go to the gym to work out at 6am between December and February and it’s only 20 degrees out (or colder), I’ll just wear a sweatshirt over my gym shirt and shorts and I won’t get too cold. I’ll even go for an 8+ mile run in the winter months as long as there’s no snow or ice on the sidewalks.

That being said, just because I CAN tolerate the winter doesn’t mean I HAVE TO! I don’t know what specifically happened, but sometime last winter I just hit a wall where I couldn’t take the cold, the snow and the darkness anymore. Before I got laid off from LTI, I had been asking my bosses if there was any way I could get transferred to the South Carolina office. It may not be Florida where it’s 70 in January, but at least it wouldn’t be ridiculously frigid all the time, either. And actually, when I was let go from LTI, my first inclination was to finally pack up and move to Florida. I had applied for some brewery jobs down there at the time, but they didn’t pan out, obviously. I stuck it out all summer here in Albany and for some reason it seemed unusually hot and humid all summer long and I loved it. I thought it would be awesome to live where it’s like this year round.

I probably should’ve mentioned in my “Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Albany” blog that the Christmas season is always fun and nostalgic for me. For whatever reason, I never seem to mind the cold and snow up to and including December 25th. But beginning on December 26th it just becomes a major pain. It will be strange celebrating Christmas somewhere where you could go swimming the same day. I’m sure I’ll get used to it eventually and I’m sure I’ll fly up to Albany for Christmas some, if not most, years. Still, I’m willing to part with the nostalgia in exchange for warmer temperatures.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Top 10 Things I'll Miss About Albany

Well, after 8 long years the time has come for me to not only move out of my apartment – but out of my state (as well as my climate)! There’s just so many reasons I’m packing up and leaving this suck shack for a better life down south. Still, as much as I dislike and, frankly, despise New York State, there are still a few things I’m going to miss down in Florida. I could probably make a list pertinent just to all of Upstate New York and even the Northeastern section of the country, but I’m going to limit this list to things just in my local area. Notice that I said things, and not people. It goes without saying I'm going to miss my family and friends. I mean, I'll still be able to talk to them online or on the phone whenever I want so it's not like they'll be completely inaccessible like the things on this list will be 1300+ miles away in Florida.

#10 My barbershop

As soon as I moved to Albany from Virginia in 2007 one of the first things I tried to find was an inexpensive barber. I was still in the Navy Reserves at the time which meant I had to keep my hair within military regulations at all times which in turn meant I had to get it cut quite often. Down in Virginia I could get a haircut at the Navy Exchange (NEX) for less than $10 (including tip). When I asked my friends up here where they got their hair cut, most said they went to salons or high-end barbers and paid $20 plus tip. That blew my mind at the time and it still baffles me now. For a man, there’s no reason a haircut should ever cost more than $10. Unless you’re some kind of rock star, a haircut should be a strictly utilitarian purpose. Styling your hair is something I’ve always associated with being something women do. 

What’s interesting is that even after I got out of the Navy Reserves in 2011 I kept getting my hair cut nearly as often as I had been and still getting the same “high and tight” cut. This is because my hairline is receding and I also have a bald spot in the back. I really can’t let my hair grow out. If I did (and I tried this in the summer of 2011 after I got out of the military), my hair forms this weird reverse mushroom shape where the sides grow longer and faster than the top. Also, trying to pull off long hair with a receding hairline just makes you look like you’re in denial like Michael Bolton. 

Hopefully I’ll be able to find a ~$10 barber down in Florida, but who knows how reliable they’ll be. Not that “Super Mario” at Crossgates Mall was always a sure thing, either. Some of the barbers there are kids fresh out of school with no experience. Though there was one lady, I forget her name but I know she’s Korean – who could cut my hair perfectly and FAST (like in 10 minutes or less). I will miss that.

#9 Walmart and Planet Fitness at Crossgates Commons

Yet another petty consumer item on the list, but for good reason. The Walmart store here in Albany – at the Crossgates Commons location on Washington Avenue Extension in particular – is literally the World’s Largest Walmart. It’s two floors: the grocery store on the bottom and the department store on top. Pretty much anything I need to buy I can get there all in one place. And it’s only a few miles from my house, which is also extremely convenient. 

Much like the barber shop issue, when I moved to New York from Virginia I knew I’d be losing out on access to the NEX and the Commissary: stores that have very inexpensive stuff and was tax-free as well. Though there technically was a NEX and Commissary in Scotia, that was 20 miles away and I rarely went there. They were also relatively tiny stores compared to the ones in Norfolk. So Walmart was a nice substitute. Sure, I have to pay sales tax there, but the prices are more or less the same (if not lower) than the NEX and Commissary. I’m sure there are Walmarts all over the place in Florida, but who knows if I’ll find one with the selection as good as Albany’s and also as close to me.

As for Planet Fitness, the main reason is convenience. I originally started going to a small, old PF gym in Delmar; but that was closed once the Crossgates Commons gym was opened. Back in 2012, when I was closing in on 220lbs, I went to that PF six times a week and it really helped me drop the weight. Once I got big into running and P90X, I stopped going as often – mostly in the winter and on rainy days. And again, I’m sure there will be a Planet Fitness down in Florida, but will it be as modern and chic as the Albany location? I’ll find out I guess.

#8 Paesan’s Pizza

Everyone has that one local pizzeria they love and for me it’s Paesan’s Pizza, which is actually a chain of many stores around the Capital District. Back in Virginia there was a similar chain called Cal’z, though I suppose there’s pizza chains like this in every general metro area. I’m not saying Paesan’s is the best pizza in the world, but it’s always been great every time I’ve had it. It’s also remarkable affordable with a quick pickup time of 20 minutes. The closest location is only a few miles from my apartment so I always picked it up – never had it delivered except once or twice. Their wings are okay, but I never expect top notch wings from a pizza place. Additionally, that Paesan’s location was practically across the street from my beer store, which made those trips to fetch food and beer both convenient and fun. Speaking of which…

#7 Westmere Beverage

If you know me you know I love beer. Though in order to enjoy beer properly you need a beer store that knows what the hell they’re doing. There are two stores in Albany that bear the name “Brew Crew”; Oliver’s in midtown, and Westmere Beverage way uptown in the Guilderland area. I started frequenting this store sometime in 2008 and found myself stopping in there on a weekly basis most of the time. I befriended a lot of the guys that worked there, even shot a few videos with them, and the manager – Jeremy – started giving me the employee discount (but only when he was jockeying the register). 

This store has a great selection and it was (and still is) expanding exponentially. I’ll bet they’ve doubled their inventory in the last 8 years. They installed an awesome growler station and put in a great new walk-in cooler, too. My only complaint was that I would often find stuff out of code on the shelves, but that seems to be typical of most beer stores. Anything that’s not a new arrival tends to sit, so it’s usually best to stick to that section.

Obviously, I’ll missing getting a discount on my beer, but I’m worried that I may not be able to “mix a six” when I get to Florida. That’s the sign of a good beer store: one that lets you buy a single 12oz bottle rather than committing to an entire six-pack. If I can’t find a store that does that in Florida I may have to start buying just a few 22oz bottles once in a while instead of 12oz bottles often.

#6 The fall season

Ask anyone from Upstate New York what their favorite season is and you’ll likely hear fall as the most popular answer. That’s probably because this area is hilly with plenty of deciduous trees (and plenty of evergreen trees, too), so every year from Oktoberfest to Thanksgiving the landscape is potpourri-colored with reds and oranges. Sometimes it’s fun to go for a drive in the Adirondacks just to “leaf peep.”

Fall is also a nostalgic season because it’s associated with school starting, the baseball season ending, and football, basketball and hockey all starting. Plus it’s a nice reprieve from the summer weather. For some reason, the seasons tend to change from summer to fall ON A DIME here. The same can’t be said of Spring to Summer, though.

I’m wondering if 70-degree Januarys will drive me crazy or if I’ll love them because I won’t feel cooped up inside and can for a run every day. Speaking of which…

#5 My running routes

I started taking running seriously in 2012 when I dropped about 40lbs. Since I live in a fairly suburban area, there are plenty of side streets around me that have little to no traffic (and the busy streets have sidewalks, so they’re safe for running). When I first started running I mapped out a route that was nearly 5 miles roundtrip and would always bring me back to my doorstep. Then, earlier this year I “discovered” another route similar to the one I had been taking with a major detour through some posh suburbs. It was almost as long as my original route, but much safer and much, much quieter. It was nice being able to actually hear the music in my earbuds for nearly the entire length of the run (though there is a fairly lengthy leg on Western Avenue that’s pretty noisy because of all the traffic). 

I’m wondering what running will be like in Florida. I’m sure it’ll be nice to be able to run outside in December, January and February in t-shirts and shorts, but how bad is it going to be in the summer? I may have to do all my running at 4am before the sun rises and it’s still relatively cool out. We’ll see.

#4 Homebrew club meetings & bottleshares

Though I had been big into beer for a while, I didn’t start homebrewing until late in 2011 and even then it was only extract. In the summer of 2012 someone told me about a new homebrewing club that had just started called “Albany Brew Crafters” and invited me to a meeting. It was great meeting so many other fellow beer enthusiasts and people who knew so much more about brewing that were more than happy to give me advice and help me out. I actually became an officer in the club fairly quickly – a position I retained up until a month ago, actually. 

I met many people through ABC and made a few new friends as well. Alex and Marissa, Alex and Piper, Aaron, Don, Ryan, Garret, Scott, Dustin, Eric, Matt etc. Since a homebrew club meeting was essentially just a bottleshare comprised of homebrew, me and some of those people began having bottleshares at our homes – some of which I made vlogs of. I’m sure I’ll meet fellow homebrewers and beer lovers down in Florida, though I wonder how the experiences will compare to those I’ve had up here?

#3 Union College hockey

I’ve always rooted for the underdog, and in the local sports scene there wasn’t any more of a perpetual underdog than the Union College (of Schenectady) hockey team. It’s the school’s only Division I sport (along with the women’s team). They don’t offer scholarships and their tuition is pretty expensive, so it’s pretty difficult for them to recruit when other colleges might offer a full ride with a more prestigious name. 

I became a big hockey fan back in the late 90s when I covered the local minor league hockey team – the Albany River Rats (or Albany Devils as they’re called now) and also RPI hockey, too. I’m not sure how or when it happened, but sometime in the early 2000s I decided I was going to become a hardcore Union fan and I did. Whenever I came home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, my dad and I would go to a game. They’re usually lose, but it was still fun. Once I moved back to Albany permanently, my dad and I decided to get season tickets because they were fairly cheap. Maybe I was good luck charm, because as soon as I got those tickets Union became a markedly improved team. They started winning the ECAC regular season title as well as the ECAC championship and even went to their first NCAA tournament. In the 2013-2014 they actually became NATIONAL CHAMPIONS! That was a fantastic experience. Though I kick myself for not having gone see it live in Philadelphia. 

I think that championship might be the best it’s going to get for Union, as all their good players immediately went pro afterwards (literally – some were playing in the NHL the next week). I’m sure the coach is going to be lured away to a bigger and richer school and it will be difficult for them to recruit players with a lousy record again. 

There isn’t a single college with an NCAA Division I program anywhere in the state of Florida. In fact, the closest team is probably in Alabama or maybe Ohio or Pennsylvania. I can watch Union games online (for a fee), and there are minor league and NHL teams in Florida, but I can’t imagine I’ll be going to them that often. 

Godspeed, Dutchmen.

#2 My Times Union blogs

If you’re reading this you can obviously tell I enjoy writing. I got the opportunity to take that to a more professional level in 2013 when I was asked to become a contributor to the Times Union newspaper’s “Beer Nut” blog. I knew being part of this blog would give me greater exposure and would also inspire me to write more than just beer reviews. In 2 ½ years I churned out dozens of op-eds, reviews, open threads, and plenty of other posts on a variety of beer-related topics. I tried to keep it either local or autobiographical. 

In my time as a beer blogger I got to attend to “Beer Bloggers Conference” in Boston in 2013 (which was an absolute blast), as well as many free beer dinners and beer festivals as I was there, technically, as a member of the press. Though I also attended plenty of events I paid for myself and also blogged about. 

Not long after I started beer blogging I convinced the Times Union blog editor to let me start doing a comic book blog as well. But since I didn’t read new comics, I knew I’d need fellow contributors to write about the current state of affairs. My friend Chad was brought on board and he began churning out posts like a madman. In fact, he still posts 2-3 blogs every week! I’m glad it has been such a positive experience for him. And while I have more fond memories from the beer blog than the comic book blog, I’ll still miss being a contributor for them equally.

#1 The beer scene

I wasn’t nearly the beer nerd I am now when I was in the Navy and living in Virginia. I really had no frame of reference for how poor of a selection there was as far as a beer scene went. When I moved to Albany and discovered Westmere Beverage (see #7), I knew there was more to beer than just Sam Adams, Magic Hat and Saranac. I eventually discovered Mahar’s Public Bar on Madison Avenue in midtown. That in turn led to a lot of new friendships and experiences. Then came my first TAP NY beer fest in 2009 and my mind was pretty well blown.

It seems like the Capital District became enamored with “craft beer” around the same time I did. Sure, brewpubs like Albany Pump Station and Brown’s Brewing had been around for a while, but they were considered just restaurants that made their own beer. Eventually, more local breweries began popping up, like Mad Jack in Schenectady, Druthers in Saratoga Springs (and later in Albany), Rare Form in Troy, and a plethora of nano “farm breweries” in the rural areas of the Capital Region. Special mention should be made of Shmaltz Brewing Company for finally opening their own facility and making some of the best beer in the area, state and country.

Additionally, high-end bars and restaurants became all the rage. The Bier Abbey opened in downtown Schenectady in 2012, then The Ruck decided to become more than just a college bar as they stopped serving macros on tap and went to an all-craft lineup (they also radically improved their food menu from generic bar food to gourmet bar food). Mahar’s closed, but was replaced by the vastly superior Madison Pour House, which in turn spawned The Beer Belly on New Scotland Avenue. Even a townie bar like the Allen Street Pub started going craft-centric and became the home of Mahar’s beer tour computer. 

I see people complaining about the beer scene in this area – from both perspectives. Either the area is saturated with hipster/foodie/boutique beer bars and restaurants, or the ones we have aren’t that good. Both of these complaints are dead wrong. This area is far from saturated and if it were, that’d be a good thing because it would inspire everyone else to step up their beer game. Even places like Applebee’s and TGIFriday’s are now carrying major craft brands. But snobs will be snobs, and even though you can walk into The Ruck, The Bier Abbey, Madison Pour House, The Beer Belly, or Henry Street Pub and get a Hill Farmstead beer pretty much whenever you want, there are still people that complain that this area isn’t that good. I guess their frame of reference is only NYC and San Diego. 

From what I’ve been told by friends and acquaintances in Florida, that state has a lot of catching up to do as far as beer selection and even beer laws go. I can’t imagine any place down there, except maybe Miami or Tampa, has a comparable beer scene to Albany and the greater Capital District. For the sake of my sanity, I hope I’m wrong because if I’m moving to a beer desert I’m going to be upset.