Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No post this week, I'll be back next week

I apologize to all of the loyal readers of Graham's Travel Blog that were expecting something exciting and original from me this morning. I've got some personal things to take care of this week so I'll be unable to post this week.

However, I do have several interesting posts in the works so stay tuned.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Becoming a Beer Ambassador

In Traveling With Beer, I discussed the logistics of traveling with beer and why you would want to bring beer back with you from your travels. Today I'd like to discuss why you should consider taking beer from your area with you on trips that extend beyond your local area.

When you go someplace new, everything is a little different. Sure there are public transportation systems, but they might take a different fare or have nonsensical routes. Things are different without being completely foreign. The same is true with beer. Beer styles can transcend regions, yet ingredient choices and interpretation make each beer unique. Traveling gives you the advantage of trying beer from different areas. Wouldn't it be nice to share a favorite brew from your local area with someone where you are visiting?

Upon visiting a local bottle shop at your destination, you may find many beers that you've never seen before or maybe have only heard about on the internet. You'll also notice that many of your favorite beers are missing since they are not local to the area. Like minded individuals will most likely be thrilled to receive a beer from your area as they normally don't have access to them, so why not make this happen?

Beer that isn't widely distributed is referred to as "never beer" on a podcast that I listen to called Beer School. This term came about because when they mentioned certain beers on their show, many of the listeners could never find them locally. Bringing a "never beer" with you on your adventures is a great ice breaker, and for me this has facilitated interesting conversations with several people that I would have otherwise not spoken to at length.

The beer that you bring with you doesn't have to be expensive, but it shouldn't be readily available in the area to which you are visiting. You can check a given brewery's distribution by visiting their website; if your destination state (or country) isn't listed then you are ready to go.

I'm still learning the ins and outs of beer ambassadorship, but I've found that 22ounce bottles tend to work well and they are reasonably priced for a gift (generally $3-$7), and they pack well. What bottle I bring may depend on availability, but if I'm visiting a brewery or someone that is not a complete stranger I might track down a limited release from my local brewery (Harpoon).

So you have your "never beer" ready, now where do you take it? Breweries and brew pubs are a natural as the gift may very well get you a free pass to talk to the brew master if they are available. Another option would be to find a well respected beer store, this acts as a great ice breaker and can open up a great conversation about local beers. You can find good beer stores by checking the Beer Fly section of Beer Advocate. You'll need a user name and a password, but registering is free.

In theory, you could join a beer forum and ask to see if anyone wants to meet you at a pub to trade local beers, but I haven't tried this.

Remember that when you travel and find things that are interesting, there are those out there that would find your every day encounters just as intriguing. Do them a favor and share what you have ready access to.

One last thought on the topic. Being a beer ambassador should be done freely and without any reward expected other than a good conversation. Keep this in mind and you'll be surprised at how rewarding being a beer ambassador can be.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Weighing Passengers Before Travel

When you think about it, getting a plane to actually take off and fly across countries and oceans is absolutely amazing. An incredible amount of energy is consumed, expelled and transformed into movement and, thanks to Bernoulli's principle, lift.

Taking off is a balance between gravity, the total mass of the plane and the amount of lift that is available. Too much mass aboard and you aren't going anywhere.

If you are like me then you never thought about how all this weight is calculated. The base weight of the plane as well as the weight of the fuel onboard is known, and checked bags are weighed before every flight. What about the passengers and carry-on luggage. We don't get weighed before each flight so how do they do it? They use an average traveler weight.

This makes sense, but where does this average come from? They weigh people with their carry-ons. Since the average weight of people will fluctuate based on the population traveling and why they are traveling, there is a shift in this average passenger weight every now and then.

Even airline policy can affect this average weight. While increased baggage fees reduced the number of checked bags, you can be sure that it increased the weight of passenger's carry-on bags as passengers try and avoid additional travel costs.

This weighing is done regularly in order to ensure that the average remains accurate, but I've never actually taken part in one. Traveling quite a bit for 7 years you would have thought that I would have run into this before, but travel still surprises me every now and then.

On a recent trip on Air Canada from Toronto, ON to Boston, MA I heard the following message (more or less):

In order to calculate the amount of weight that is on the plane, we need to know the total weight of the passengers and the carry-ons aboard. To spare you from the embarrassment of being weighed before each flight, we use and average weight for each passenger with their carry-ons. In order to ensure the accuracy of this average, we routinely need to take new weight measurements. Today we are conducting just such a measurement.

As you board, you will be asked to step on a scale with all of your carry-on bags. The weighing only takes a few seconds and it is completely anonymous. Thank you for your cooperation.

In front of the boarding gate, two men with small metal scales attached to laptops set up their weigh station. Just like the announcement said, the weighing only took a few seconds and it was minimally intrusive. It was completely anonymous and no one was taken aside or denied boarding for exceeding a weight limit.

To all of those who read this article looking for a rant about how each passenger should be allowed a total combined luggage and body weight allowance, I apologize, but I hope that you learned something regardless.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Beer Store- Demystified

I have to admit that the beer distribution systems of other countries usually don't interest me, but I have made an exception to Canada for two reasons:

1. I've visited Canada more than any other country.
2. The cult classic Strange Brew.

In this pivotal scene the McKinsie brothers, who are on a quest to replace their father's beer, visit a Beer Store in search of free beer. Here I saw my first glimpse of a magical store that sells nothing but beer. The scene shows that the Beer Store is a place with it's own ritual, language and quirks.

According to the movie, beer is not out for display rather you relay your order (a case of 24 beers can be called a two-four) to a clerk who calls out the order into a microphone. Moments later a case of beer flies through a hole in the wall down a belt of rollers to the clerk.

With such a strange system I was certain that such a place was merely a concoction of Hollywood fancy. This was so ingrained in my mind as the Myth of The Beer Store that I almost didn't believe my eyes on my first trip to Canada when I saw a truck bearing the iconic store's name.

I ended up not following up that first truck siting with a visit as I wasn't a beer drinker at the time. As my loyal readers know, this status has recently changed so when I walked by a The Beer Store not too long ago I popped in. Much like that scene in Strange Brew, I saw empty beer bottles adorning the wall and a magical hole in the wall through which the beer traveled once it was ordered.

Days later I realized that there were others like myself who knew next to nothing about The Beer Store and I should have learned what I could and reported it here. After I realized my folly, I promised myself that I'd make up for the mistake on my next visit to Canada.

Prior to my trip, I contacted The Beer Store and they not only agreed to let me take pictures, but they offered to take me on a tour of one of their newer stores in Waterloo, Ontario. On my visit, I learned much more about The Beer Store than I ever expected.

The store that I visited wasn't of the older style with the hole in the wall, but rather of a newer style which actually allows you to see the beer before you commit to buying it. Since I've only ever purchased beer that I could see and touch, this appealed to me greatly even though part of the magic of The Beer Store seemed to be lost with the absence of this hole.

The main portion of the store was dedicated to showcasing and storing a huge variety of Canadian beers along with some prerequisite imports. While you will find the large American brands such as Budweiser, the floor is dominated by major Canadian brands such as Molson, Labatt and Sleeman who happen to own The Beer Store. The American brands are rightly delegated to the sidelines here.

Unfortunately you won't find any craft beer from the States at The Beer Store. However, there are some Canadian craft beers available though they can be easy to miss if you aren't looking for them as the major brands get more shelf space with their mighty stacks of two-fours. The single beer selection, which I prefer to bring home with me, are almost entirely in cans and there are no ciders to speak of though I did spot a few meads. Still, if you are looking for some every day beer brewed right in Canada, there really isn't a better choice.

The Beer Store's main rival is the government, that is, the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario). While The Beer Store has locally brewed beers covered, the LCBO imports quite a few specially brews, mostly from Europe. Here's where you'll find more ciders than you can shake a stick at as well as more microbrews from Canada. What you won't find is a lot of the mass produced Canadian beer as The Beer Store has that market cornered.

Since I had visited both the LCBO and The Beer Store before none of this was completely unexpected, but what came next was. The Beer Store is a leader when it comes to recycling. For all of Ontario, The Beer Store handles the customer level returns of all alcohol containers, and I do mean all. Bottles and cans for beer are a given, but they also handle liquor bottles, wine bottles and even the bags that come in box wine.

It has always bugged me that the United States doesn't have deposits on wine and liquor bottles, but it looks like Ontario has this figured out. With all of these containers only redeemable at one place, it forces anyone wanting their deposit back to visit The Beer Store wether they got their beer at the LCBO or even at a local brewery. This is a brilliant marketing plan.

In Massachusetts you must return your empties to a store that sells that particular brand. Believe me when I tell you that this is beyond annoying. Heaven help you if someone gives you a 6 pack of something that you've never seen before.

Another thing that grinds my gears about our recycling program stateside is that we automatically crush and reprocess bottles when it's much more energy efficient to give glass a good wash and reuse them again. In many countries, including Canada, they return glass bottles to the breweries who wash and reuse them. The rings around the bottles are a testament to how many times they've been reused. Ultimately they do get melted down, but not before they've seen between 12 and 15 trips through a brewery.

I went to The Beer Store wanting to find out more about that mysterious hole in the wall, but I walked away jealous of a provinces recycling program. It's funny how these things turn out. The mystery isn't all gone though. They tell me that after a while The Beer Stores gain a smell that is all their own thanks to all of the bottle returns. I guess I'll have something forward to on my next visit to Canada.

Special thanks go out to Catherine, Dave and Craig of The Beer Store for taking time out of their schedules to talk to me, give me a tour and answer all of my endless questions- no, there is not an Elsinore brewery and yes, you have to go to the brewery if you want free beer.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Vending Machine Roundup #4

The months have gone by and I keep traveling. Being such, I keep running into new and interesting vending machines. This group contains some specialized machines that don't try to do everything, but rather just try to do one thing very well.

The MooBella machine is quite interesting. I found this one at the Logan Airport in Boston, MA. I've featured ice cream machines before, but this one is different as it makes the ice cream while you wait. All of the needed ingredients are handy in the machine. You select your base flavor and your mix in and the machine goes to work, freezing and churning the ice-cream while you wait. You can't get much more freshly made than this.

I didn't try this machine as I found it at 6AM. I hope to be going through Logan at a more reasonable hour soon so that I can give this ice cream a try.

Large vending machines that carry a variety of snacks are often branded by one of the major brands such as Coca Cola or M&M. This makes it difficult for smaller brands to take advantage of the visibility of vending machines. The solution- specialized machines like this one. All Pringles, all the time. Found in a Comfort Inn in Waterloo, Ontario

With vending machines branching out to sell expensive things, it was nice to see this new variant of the classic gum ball machine. Found in a Holiday Inn in Minot, ND.

Here's a machine that I haven't seen before. Found in a brewpub in Waterloo, Ontario, it's just a nice looking design for a bathroom.

Behold the future of vending machines. Currently residing in the gift shop at the World of Coca Cola in Atlanta, GA, this is the most advanced vending machine I've seen for a long time. Like most new technologies it was broken by the time I got to see it.

The front of the machine features a large screen which displays commercials on the top and bottom while the center of the screen is supposed to be an interactive menu. This wasn't working. The only thing active in the center section was a tab instructing me to insert money.

This looks like it could be the future of drink vending machines, but until they get the bugs worked out you probably won't see one of machines any time soon. I did try to get a video of this machine for you, but I was not granted permission to do so. A few pictures aren't a problem, but a video was forbidden, go figure.

That's it for this vending machine roundup. Until next time, keep your quarters and crisp one dollar bills handy because you never know what you might find.

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