20 March 2010

The Vernal Equinox

Today is the vernal equinox, which means that everywhere in the world will get roughly the same amount of daylight today.

Since the autumnal equinox back in September, every day in Edinburgh has been shorter than we're used to, having spent most of the last 25 years between 35 and 45 degrees north. In December, the days were really short--full dark by 4:30 most days. From now, however, every day will be longer than we're used to--not by much at first, but by June it won't actually ever get fully dark.

Just another reminder of how far north we are here in Scotland: if you drew a line across the globe straight West from here, it would pass through Labrador in Canada and through the very southern part of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.

17 March 2010

EUSA Beer Festival: an Intro to Real Ale

Last week, the Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA) hosted a charity beer festival. The festival featured a selection of cask-conditioned or "real" ales from a handful of Scottish breweries.

British-style real ale is probably a bit different from what you're used to. It's brewed with a limited set of natural ingredients, and no extra carbonation is added, so it is generally much flatter than the typical brew. It's also traditionally served at room temperature. If the idea of warm, flat beer doesn't sound appetizing, don't worry, it actually works--all the flavors, especially the bitterness from the hops, are rounded out a bit by serving it in such a way, and the result is subtler than most cold, bubbly beers.

If you're interested in learning more about real ale, the drink actually has a political advocacy group (only in the UK!), the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).

Many of the beers on tap at the EUSA festival are also widely available in bottles in specialty shops or on tap in certain pubs, which is itself a testament to the quality of Scottish beer culture. At the festival, we focused on the stuff we'd never seen before, such as the Houston brewery's Tartan Terror, a malty dark ale, and Harviestoun's Haggis Hunter, which is super hoppy. (You'll notice we also have a soft spot for campy Scottish branding.) Here's Nana taking on the Tartan Terror.

I have to say, the beer was good, but there was nothing that could hold a candle to anything put out by my favorite Scottish brewery to date: Edinburgh's own Innis and Gunn, who age their beer in oak whiskey barrels, rum casks, and sherry casks.

You might recognize it as "That beer Justin and Nana brought home for Christmas."

On a related note: The EUSA Charity Beer Festival was sponsored by Teach First, the UK equivalent of Teach for America. Anyone else have trouble imagining an American beer festival sponsored by anyone having anything at all to do with education?

Just a reminder that, while UK alcohol laws are pretty similar to those in most of the US, UK drinking culture most decidedly is not.

15 March 2010


For all that McDonald's, along with Starbucks, is considered the stick against which all other aspirations to homogenize the planet can be measured, McDonald's does have its localized menu quirks. I get a big kick out of finding out what they are and giving them a try. I'm not the only one who does this - there are some other global McDonald's observers out there:

From Food Network Humor:

- Turkey's McTurco ("2 burger patties covered in cayenne pepper sauce, and vegetables, and served on a fried pita")
- Mexico's McMolletes (refried beans, cheese, and pico de gallo served on an English muffin)
- Hong Kong's Shogun Burger ("a pork patty with Teriyaki sauce and cabbage.")

Among many others.

In Korea, I tried the Bulgogi Burger, a nod to Bulgogi sauce, a local sweet/salty brown marinade. It was awful. Here in Britain, the adaptation incorporates one of the most popular local cuisines: Indian food. You have NO IDEA how strongly the British feel about Indian food. Curry is a national dish. The supermarket has half an aisle dedicated to bottled Korma sauces, canned Chana Masala, and bags of naan and pappadums. And McDonald's has, as a variant on the American Snack Wrap, the Chicken Tikka Snack Wrap.

Verdict: Not bad. Tangy and actually quite spicy. But you could safely say that no actual Indian seasonings were harmed in the making of this Snack Wrap. In the U.S., you could sell the exact same flavor and title it "Zesty Southwestern Ranch," and people would go for it. In fact, now that I've looked at the U.S. menu, I'm starting to wonder if "Chipotle BBQ" might not be the exact same sauce....