Thursday, March 6, 2014

Christmas Down Under

     Last December we traveled down to Australia for the first time to spend our Christmas break.  Since then we decided that when we wrote travel blogs we didn't want to include simply a summary of the trip itinerary.  Rather, we wanted to try to write about our impressions and reflections on the trip which might be more interesting to read.  Thus, I'm going to give it a shot starting with this post.

     In order to give some necessary context, we basically flew to Melbourne for Christmas and New Year's and drove the Great Ocean Road in-between.  Here's a glance at the Top Ten Sights:

1.  Phillip Island

Just south of Melbourne, it's a nice place with lots of wildlife watching like a colony of penguins that come back and cross a beach every evening at sunset.

2.  Wilson's Promontory (Squeaky Beach)

Nice national park with camping grounds and lots of hiking.  The sand on the beach really did make a funny sound when you walked on it - thus the name.

3.  Geelong (Little Creatures Brewery)

4.  Bell's Beach

One of the most famous surfing beaches in Australia.

5.  Twelve Apostles

Absolutely incredible geological formation.  They speak for themselves.

6.  Red Hill

Also south of Melbourne, with vineyards, farms, and a garden maze.

7.  Otway

A nice walk through jungle-like terrain and an elevated canopy walk with stunning views.

8.  Animal Parks

The animal parks didn't disappoint with plenty of opportunities to feed kangaroos.

9.  Cape Bridgewater

The furthest we made it along the Great Ocean Road - we stopped here for some seal watching.

10.  Melbourne

We stayed in St. Kilda and had time over Christmas and New Year's Eve to get a feel for this funky city.  We attended Christmas service at Hillsong Church and were able to watch college bowl games at the local pubs.  My kind of city.

New Year's Eve at James Squire Brewpub

NYE Melbourne - it was weird being some of the first to celebrate 2014.  We actually slept, woke up and flew back to Hong Kong before it was celebrated on the west coast of the USA.

As to my impressions of Melbourne and Australia in general….

I loved the entire trip.  The spacious roads and reasonable population density reminded me of North America.  When you live without a car for most of the year, it's always relaxing to just drive on an open road - even if it is the "other side".  We gave ourselves a generous amount of time and limited the trip to one small region which was the right move - it slowed the pace down and made it feel like a vacation.  As to the "small region" comment, we took several days on our road trip and averaged 2-3 hours of driving each day.  After looking at a map of Australia, however, it appeared like we barely scratched the surface.  Australia is a VERY large country - comparable to the area of the Lower 48 I'd imagine.

We did have a chance to talk with a guy at an education centre for the aboriginal peoples.  I was surprised to hear how poorly they were treated by the Westerners; to the point that the aborigines were not even classified as Homo sapiens until the 1900s - they were viewed as a lower species!  However, there are some definite similarities between the Native Americans and the Native Australians.

You always think about animals when you hear about Australia and we had no shame in stopping at multiple animal parks in order to see all of their craziness.  The animal-scene does not disappoint.  We got to see kangaroos, koalas, echidnas, wallabies, Tasmanian devils, and seals.  Most of the animal parks seemed like someone's back yard but I suppose all of the animals are mostly tame anyways.  Hats off to Australia for marketing the mess out of that advantage too.  Coming from the States I always appreciate when people reach their marketing potential for a tourist site and the Aussies have gone above and beyond to deliver all kinds of goods from stuffed animals and every other product related to indigenous animals for that matter, to boomerangs and didgeridoos.  Way to make that Aussie dollar!

It's definitely a place that I could consider living, but it's also really far away from most everything else. We're interested enough to want to go back next Christmas to do Sydney and Brisbane with a little of the Great Barrier Reef.  You just can't do it all in one trip, but we'll scratch off the map anyways...


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Hong Kong Home Brew Competition 2014

     Since my last home brew related post things have been moving steady.  In December/January we brewed three different batches:  a porter with cacao nibs, a double IPA, and a rye pale ale.  While spending Christmas in Australia, I did some shopping at a brewing shop called Grain and Grape and picked up some quality ingredients for the IPA and the rye.  I was enthusiastic about the fresh ingredients and motivated by the upcoming home brew competition in February, which is the focus of this post.  In this post I'll tell you a little bit about the three brews and the competition results.

     I should first mention that we've come up with a name for this unofficial brewery - "Mong Kok Brewing".  It's not particularly original, but we wanted a name that left no guessing as to the geography and allowed us to use references to local culture and places for all of our beer names.  A logo is still in the works, but at least we have a name.

1.  Darkside Porter (5.1% ABV)

     So Hong Kong is basically split between the "Island" side and the "Kowloon" side.  Unofficially, the Island has all of the Western expats and Kowloon has more of a local feel.  Since we live on the Kowloon-side we wanted to give a shout-out to our 'hood, which is affectionately known as "the dark side" of Hong Kong.

Compared to the previous porter, the Darkside was much more complex with the cacao nibs adding a nice chocolatey aroma with a roasted taste and a thick head.  This one really is close to being a stout, since we used roasted barley and chocolate malt.  There's a fine line between the two and we're taking poetic license on the definition.

My only adjustment that I'd make is to try to prime it for carbonation using a dark sugar such as molasses next time rather than a dextrose carbonation drop - it was left with just a tad too much carbonation for the style.  I'd also like to experiment with other additives such as vanilla or maple syrup.

Verdict:  DRINK IT!

2.  131 IPA (6.4% ABV)

     We went trendy with this one and used our street address as the name of this india pale ale.  The attempt was for a double IPA with a higher original gravity (more malt), but the fermentation didn't quite make it to completion so it finished a bit more on the malty side with an ABV more in the regular IPA range.  I actually liked it though, with the more full-bodied taste and a nice balance of malt and hops.

I'll definitely be giving it another go at the double IPA, but for now I'll probably try to make a traditional American IPA next.

Verdict:  DRINK IT!

3.  Argy-lo Rye Pale Ale

     Once again we used our street address for a beer name.  This one worked too well to resist.  In Cantonese, the street is pronounced "Ar-guy-Lo Guy" (Argyle Street).  Coming from Georgia and being exposed to Terrapin Brewery's flagship beer - Terrapin Rye - I wanted to make a version of it.  I used rye from Australia along with a base recipe of an American Pale Ale.  The result was a nice, slightly spicy brew that finished slightly bitter.

Verdict:  DRINK IT!

Now…..the Home Brew Competition…..

     I've only been brewing for about a year, just after the first annual Hong Kong Home Brew Competition, sponsored by the HK Craft Beer Association.  When I first set out brewing my goal was to have drinkable beer to enter by the next competition.  At a pace of one beer per month, we were able to submit the three aforementioned brews in this year's competition.  Thirty different brewers submitted 42 different beers this year in their respective categories.  While I was happy with our entries, I had no real expectation for winning.  The most I hoped for was some honest feedback to help us continue improving.

     On the day of the competition we arrived at the Globe beer bar at 4:30pm.  The judging in different categories started at 3pm as well as a "People's Choice" award.  Had I known that it would be so popular I would've come earlier.  There was a long table where any home brewer could bring in extra beers and fill out a placard, allowing other enthusiasts to try a selection of the contestants and vote for their favorite.  We stayed for a couple of hours talking with other brewers awaiting the results.  Around 6:30pm the decisions had been made and the winners were announced…

"Thank you all for your patience.  We will now announce the winners from each category in the 2nd Annual Hong Kong Home Brewing Competition.  The first category is pale ale.  And the winner goes to… Justin Jackson with Mong Kok Brewing."  

     I honestly think it happened so fast that the reality didn't fully set in until the next day.  I high-fived my colleague and assistant brewer and thought it was really cool, but it didn't really hit home for me.  In the end, the Argy-lo Rye Pale Ale took first place in the pale ale category for our first win in our first home brew competition.  Needless to say it was a helluva encouragement.

     So what does it mean to "win" in a home brewing contest?  Well, since the judging criteria basically follows the Beer Judging Certification Program (BJCP), it means that the beer has to closely match the style and be free from off-flavors.  The comments from judges basically said that they loved the beer, thought it was true to the pale ale style, and they would pay money for the beer!  We also received an unofficial offer to come and brew our recipe at a local brew pub.  

My brewing partner, Vlada, and I celebrating the win at the Globe.

     With one year of brewing experience under our belt, it was certainly encouraging to win first place for one of our beers.  I'm not quitting my day job just yet, but I am enthusiastic to continue brewing at least one batch per month and working on my skills.  It's a great hobby and I just want to keep trying new recipes and different styles until we're happy with our recipes.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Adventures in Hong Kong: Cheung Chau Island

By November, we are dying for a break from work, but with no school holidays from September to December we are kind of on Hong Kong lock down until Christmas. Hong Kong has a lot to offer so we decided to take an overnight trip to the outlying island of Cheung Chau. Our good friends, Becky and Vlada, go to Macau pretty often to "get away" from Hong Kong, but we decided to try something closer and cheaper. The weather was perfect and I have to say Cheung Chau is a cute and enjoyable little adventure. Unfortunately, we weren't there for the Bun Festival, but we still managed to take a short hike, eat some great seafood, and just enjoy a day in the sun.

The short 30 minute ferry ride to Cheung Chau. After this picture we paid the extra 7HKD to sit upstairs at a table. It was well worth it!

Justin got all excited about some random 1996 Atlanta Olympic rings.

Along our hike

The mini "Great Wall of China"

A little horsing around with fire sticks, why not? Props to Becky for hiking around at 6 months pregnant

This was the amazing sky we enjoyed while partaking in some snacks on the roof of our B&B

Some vino and nibbles? I think we will!

Our B&B was adorable and had some great Austrian beer which the boys loved!

Check out those chopstick skills! That is a peanut, that is what a year and a half in Asia can do for you too.

Dusk around the village was just beautiful

Love wandering onto random weddings, Check out that posing. They all look lovely.

A very picturesque place

For anyone visiting Hong Kong for more than a few days, Cheung Chau is definitely worth a visit. With beaches, shops, hikes, great seafood, and a very laid-back feel this place was a prefect getaway. Next time I want to rent bikes and ride around the island.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mixing Work and Pleasure #5: NYU Abu Dhabi

Occasionally I get the opportunity to visit different university campuses around the world with my job as a University Counselor. My last fly in was about two years ago at SCAD in Savannah and Atlanta, GA. These are great opportunities to see a campus first hand and report back to my students. This past November, I was invited to NYU Abu Dhabi. Everyone knows NYU in NYC,but did you know they have campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai? They are a very globally minded university and I really enjoyed my visit. 

They are building a new campus to open in Fall 2014, but this is their current building.

You can see the enormous campus being built in the distance. This area has a lot of plans for development.

This was my first time to the UAE and I definitely learned a lot. There is a lot of money being pumped through this country and they are developing everywhere. This photo is of their plans for the area around the campus until 2020. It will be a cultural center with their own Louvre and Guggenheim. 

A small detour from the campus visit was a stop at the Grand Mosque. It was a very impressive structure and the most modern mosque I have ever seen.


Italian marble

Had to wear the whole get up, but no worries I look good in black.

Bonus: Got to have a drink with my old colleague from Frankfurt, Ben. Great to see you Benny boy!!!

It was a quick informative and cultural trip. I will say I have to agree with many when I say that I thought Abu Dhabi lacked a bit of a soul for me. Granted, I didn't get to venture around too much, but from what I saw and experienced it seemed to be taking culture from other countries and adopting it. I won't write it off so quickly, I will give it another try. 

Perks of the job aren't too bad for a University Counselor, right?

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