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So you’re stuck spending some “quality time” with the family around the holidays, when you’d rather be at the bar around the corner with your friends, or even in jail, as long as no one from your family is in jail with you. Someone wants to watch a Christmas movie. Everybody starts chirping like newborn chicks. You reach for the knitting needles, praying that they’ll hit something vital in your skull before you’ve experienced any pain.
Put the needles down, friend. There are other options that are more enjoyable and less permanent than death’s sweet, sweet kiss. Here are five movies that get us through the holidays with murderous impulses held firmly in check. Merry Christmas, everyone. Pass the bourbon.
Admit it: you secretly fantasize about a gang of white-collar criminals hijacking your holiday party and killing the fast-talking weasel in sales who won’t shut the hell up. You’ve read the praise about “Die Hard” serving as the blueprint for every action movie made since – and it’s true, as the most popular studio sales pitch between 1989 and 1997 was “Die Hard on a ____” – but it is grossly overlooked as a holiday classic, and that is just wrong. It’s funnier than “Home Alone,” more heartwarming than “The Santa Clause,” and it has what all Christmas movies lack but some real-life families have: a body count. Bruce Willis has rarely been better, and Alan Rickman completely rewrote the rules on action movie villains. If you feel like going for camp value, watch the sequel, “Die Harder,” with the TV dub track. Yippie-ki-yay, Mister Falcon.
The definitive dysfunctional family (which is really just a polite way of saying normal family these days) holiday movie. A cat burglar (Denis Leary) trying to lie low reluctantly kidnaps a couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) on the verge of divorce, just before the in-laws come over for Christmas dinner. Armed to the teeth with a before-they-were-stars cast (it also includes Christine Baranski, J.K. Simmons, and the great Raymond Barry) and directed by the gone-too-soon Ted Demme, “The Ref” is caustically funny, and one of the more quotable movies you’ll ever see. (The marriage counseling scene alone has a good dozen zingers.) Why did this movie fare so poorly at the box office? We’re guessing the release date may have played a part in it. Yep, they released it in March, just when the snow is thawing for good. Well played, Touchstone.
Better Off Dead
Up there with “Heathers” in the teenage suicide canon, “Better Off Dead” is one of the most diverse teen comedies of its time, combining clueless parents (love the scene where Kim Darby nearly kills John Cusack while vacuuming), animation, claymation, ski racing, exploding neighbors, the awkward first date, and a Japanese Howard Cosell impressionist. And it all takes place at Christmas, setting up the painful call when Cusack calls his ex-girlfriend Beth and learns that her new boyfriend bought her “a giant stuffed teddy bear, bigger than you.” Yes, Beth was a hottie, which explains why everyone from the mailman to Barney Rubble wanted to date her, but as longtime fans of “The Last American Virgin,” Cusack did well to bag the lovely Diane Franklin as a so-called consolation prize. Just make sure and pay that paper boy on time.
Drug deals gone wrong. Actors forced into being informants. Cops selling Amway. (“It’s Confederate Products, it’s completely different.”) Threesomes. Vegas hotel rooms on fire. Strip clubs. A hit and run. Monologues about “Family Circus.” And tantra, baby! Whatever crazy things you’ve done in your life, chances are you’ve never had a night like the characters in “Go,” and if you did, it sure as hell didn’t happen on Christmas Eve. Even funnier, the characters don’t even think about the day’s events in terms of being something out of this world. Indeed, a few of them – including the one who just pawned over-the-counter drugs as ecstasy in a club in order to pay her rent – immediately starts planning ahead, wondering what they will do for New Year’s Eve. Whatever it is, it won’t be as wild as what takes place here. Doug Liman has gone on to make some big, successful movies, but this one remains his best, as far as we’re concerned. It has a hell of a soundtrack, too.
Hookers and Christmas, together at last. Hey, what better way to come up with a little extra scratch around the holidays than to serve as the pimp for the girl down the hall? (We readily admit, though, that the idea of Shelley Long as a prostitute is even funnier now than it was then.) The movie may have served as a springboard for director Ron Howard and Michael Keaton (not to mention a comeback vehicle for Henry Winkler), but take a closer look at the supporting cast. Shannen Doherty as a Bluebell (“Mugger!”), the late Vincent Schiavelli as a surly delivery guy, and don’t blink during the party scene or you’ll miss Kevin Costner walking behind Keaton when he balances a beer bottle on his forehead. It may seem tame by today’s standards, but hey, it’s Christmas; not a bad time to show a little propriety.
When I set out to write this section of our Beer 101 series, I knew I was in for some work. There are nearly infinite styles of beer, and as the popularity of craft brewing has grown, we’ve seen a resurgence of near dead styles, the creation of new styles, and the advent of ‘imperial’ beer. That said, I want to give an overview of some of the most common styles and highlight a few of the more exotic beers so you can understand the scope of variety among beer styles.
Lager – This is the style we learned in high school, courtesy of the big American breweries and the most popular style of beer in the world. While some would call beer like Budweiser a pilsner, a pilsner is typically defined by a slight hoppy bitterness that cuts a portion of the malt character typical to lager-style beer. The distinction is very slight – after all, pilsner is a type of lager. The cold fermentation process used to create lager beer yields a nice, crisp flavor with a slight aftertaste.
Ale – This is going to be a more substantial subheading than lager because there are so many varieties of ‘ales’ in the world. Ale is widely defined as a malted barley beer, brewed with top-fermenting, fast-acting yeast that yields a sweet and fruity character, a bright, floral aroma and full-bodied mouthfeel. There are virtually endless varieties of ale, so we’ll only discuss a few.
Pale Ale – This is the beer known as a ‘bitter’ or ‘English bitter.’ It’s brewed with pale barley malt, typically a low- to mid-gravity brew with a highly complex finish. The flavor in pale ale is often heavily defined by the malt, and the best pale ales use the very best English or European malts. American malts are fine for lighter lager beers that are less about flavor and more about mouthfeel, but if you want some real character, you need better malt. Pale ales also have a bright aroma, thanks to the low-alpha hops added at the end of the brewing process. Low-alpha hops can be added in large quantities to impart some flavor on the beer without adding too much bitterness to your brew. I realize almost everything I’ve said here has been contradictory, so I’ll just say this: pale ales are all about balance.
Abbey/Trappist Ale – I group abbey ale and Trappist ale together because the brewing process and end product is nearly identical, the difference being that Trappist beers are brewed in Trappist monasteries by Trappist monks. This style of beer is top-fermented and often sweet and high in alcohol content. Some of the sweetness comes from the spices or candy sugar you can typically find in this style, and the rest comes from the alcohol. Perhaps the most prominent abbey ale is AB In-Bev’s Leffe, an amber-colored ale with a supersweet finish. Among the Trappist ales are Orval, Koningshoeven, Westvleteren, and of course, Chimay.
India Pale Ale (IPA) – The IPA has seen serious growth in popularity in America over the past decade. Brewers seem to be constantly releasing some epic IPA or another every month or two. The IPA style was invented so that beer could sustain long, oceanic voyages. The high hop content essentially safeguarded the beer against contaminants and also imparted delightful complexity with prolonged cellaring. IPAs are bitter to the max, though many also have a smooth, citrusy finish that pairs well with a wide variety of food.
Lambic – Lambics are a beer all their own. This brew is made using wild yeasts instead of cultivated ones, which can yield some interesting differences from batch to batch. Many lambics are also brewed with a portion of unmalted barley, which gives off a sour aftertaste not unlike a dry white wine. Lambics have been popularized in recent years by adding fruit sugar to cut the sour, funky taste of the beer. If you know anyone who drinks ‘Framboise,’ they’re really a Lambic drinker, though the Lindeman’s version is pretty far from the traditional style.
Wheat Beer – Wheat beer technically belongs to the ale category, but it has its own subset of special rules, and there are enough differences for it to stand alone. Wheat beers are, as you might have guessed, brewed with wheat malt, though they still contain malted barley. These beers are typically top-fermented and often appear hazy as the yeast settles during bottling and kegging. The most common styles of wheat beer are Belgian witbier (Belgian white ale) and German-style wheat. A witbier often employs unmalted wheat and spices – coriander, organe peel, and lemon zest are all popular – while a German-style white follows stricter guidelines: no spices, top fermentation only, and tightly controlled malt combinations.
That does it for our Beer 101: Beer Styles section. I could go on and on about styles I didn’t have space to mention. If you’re interested, dig around the web. There is a ton of information out there. If you’re just joining, be sure to head back through the past couple weeks for posts on the history of brewing and an overview of the brewing process. Next week we’re on to pouring and appreciation and in two weeks we’ll cover some guidelines for pairing beer with food.
Some might call it blasphemy, but there is something Zen in Eric Cartman’s obliviousness to Christmas. To most kids, Jesus doesn’t even factor into the equation – it’s just Christmas trees and pie. Cartman is at least aware of Jesus’ existence, because “Jesus is born, and so I get presents.” Now fall on your knees, and hear the angels’…something.
Gearing up for the holiday party season can be trying. Hosting guests, especially in numbers, takes a lot of time and planning. Lucky for you, Robb Report, your global luxury resouce, has teamed up with William Grant & Sons to bring you the Holiday Host Guide app for the iPad. The app is designed to give you the tools you need to create a dazzling event for your guests.
Features of the Holiday Host Guide (iTunes link) include a virtual wine cellar containing more than 100 new releases handpicked for the holidays; dozens of creative and classic cocktails recipes complete with video demonstrations from expert William Grant & Sons mixologists and ambassadors. The app also offers fresh insights on hospitality and etiquette, tips on organizing a menu, and an array of unique party gifts. The “Chef as Host” function offers party insight and recipes from some of America’s finest chefs. The easy-to-manage party-planning function generates a complete shopping list based on the items you select and enables you to purchase all of the necessary products and ingredients right through the app! Planning your holiday event has never been easier!
The Holiday Host Guide iPad application can be purchased for the introductory price of $2.99. Following the holiday season, this multipurpose and multidimensional application will be continually updated, making it ideal for party hosts throughout the year.
Last week I got an email I’m sure every gamer would love to get: Do you want to go to the Spike Video Game Awards Show in LA? Oh, by the way, it’s being hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. Being the professional that I am, I tried to answer with the most reserved ‘Hell yes,” I could manage. It was…not so reserved. I was to be sent to the show courtesy of Jeep and Spike, who had partnered to promote the Call of Duty: Black Ops edition Wrangler. We would stay at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, hit a Maxim party on Friday before the show, and sit on the floor for the show. Again, hell yes.
As you might guess, Spike knows how to host a party, and though I’m sure I slept at some point, the weekend remains an endless blur of bright lights and free drinks. Staying at the Four Seasons is like staying in another world, a world that is completely unlike and seemingly infinitely better than my own. I was greeted in the hotel lobby by an enormous bouquet of live lillies. There was marble, quite literally, everywhere. My room was spacious and well-equipped and I had a great view of the hotel garden below from my private balcony. The bathroom followed the hotel’s upscale, modern decor and featured amenities by Bulgari.
Spike wasn’t content to leave me in that room for long. Shortly after my arrival, my host and I made our way to the tenth floor, where Spike had arranged a gaming lounge for its weekend guests. The suite was packed to the walls with food and drink and each room hosted a different game system. Black Ops was on hand (of course), and I got to spend a little time with Microsoft’s Kinect. As I mentioned in a post on our gaming blog, I’m not typically a shy person, but jumping around like a fool in front of a room full of people I had just met was an odd experience. Still, it was great to have access to some games to get into the mood for the weekend.
For dinner we headed to The Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel, also in Beverly Hills. The Bazaar features Spanish tapas, both traditional and modern, as well as some classic dishes with a culinary twist. Andrés was named GQ’s 2009 Chef of the Year, an accolade I can now appreciate after several hours with his food. Our server was kind enough to let us order roughly forty dishes and bring out enough for the table to taste. We went through baby Japanese peaches with burrata, hazelnuts, and arugula, a tuna ceviche in an avocado roll, jicama wraps with mint and basil, and refined versions of homestyle cooking. Cod fritters with a honey aioli replaced your average battered fish. Air bread filled with aged cheddar and topped with rare Wagyu beef took the place of a Philly cheesesteak. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention my cotton candy foie gras. It was decadent.
We left The Bazaar and made our way to Hollywood Blvd for the Maximum Warrior party at LA’s Supperclub, hosted by Maxim. It was everything you would expect from a Maxim party: girls on trapezes soaring over the dance floor, bottle service in private booths, bunkers with skimpily-clad models playing Call of Duty: Black Ops, a photo booth with weapons and costumes to celebrate the Maxim competition, and a DJ that rocked the house as late as people would stay. I had a chance to meet Mark Salling from Glee, chat with Cedric Yarbrough of Reno 911 fame and said a quick hello to Masi Oka from Heroes. All of this, and we hadn’t even made it to the awards yet.
After a late night, both at the Supperclub and in various rooms of the Four Seasons after, I was glad for a slow start Saturday morning. My host and I hit breakfast at the Four Seasons café and then split for a few hours – him to the spa, me back to the room for some writing. We reconvened for the Spike Video Game Awards just before two, and enjoyed lunch on the way to the convention center. The red carpet seemed to fly by, and before long we were in our seats on the right side of the main stage. I’ve never been to awards show, so it was interesting to see how the live show went off. Neil Patrick Harris came on just before things got started to give us a little pep talk about the proceedings and get the room fired up for the awards.
The show itself was pretty cool – NPH is always fun to watch and there were some very cool appearances. My favorite part of the evening was listening to Jose Gonzalez perform his theme for Spike’s Game of the Year, Red Dead Redemption. If you haven’t played the game, it’s hard to appreciate how much atmosphere ‘Far Away’ gives to Rockstar’s vision of a wild west, but you could feel the eerie tension as he played. As part of the show, we also got to see trailers for Mass Effect 3, Guillermo Del Toro’s Insane, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Uncharted 3, all on an enormous screen. The show staff came around periodically to deliver typical gamer food, with a bit of a twist. We had pizza bites made with gorgonzola, sliders and tater tots, and classic hostess snacks.
After the awards show it was off to Katsuya at LA LIVE, the entertainment mall that hosts Staples Center. Katsuya is probably best described as a modern sushi bar for the American palate. The dishes are simple but delicious. I ate chef Katsuya Uechi’s Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna in quantities typically reserved for buffet trays (at one point, our server actually asked if she should just leave the tray – my answer: yes). Katsuya was laid back, quiet enough that I could enjoy the company of some fellow Midwesterners from Jeep’s Detroit media office. Once I had finished the last bit of spicy tuna in the place, we went back to the Four Seasons lounge for drinks before bed.
It would be tough to say enough good about the experience. Both Jeep and Spike are excellent entertainers, and the Spike VGAs were the perfect place to integrate the Call of Duty: Black Ops edition Wrangler. If you ever have the chance to get to LA for a weekend, seize it and don’t look back. You’ll never be short on things to do, and if you’re over near the Staples Center, be sure to get yourself some Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna.
For more about the Spike Video Game Awards, be sure to check out our gaming blog, Fearless Gamer. I’ll be covering several of the announcements in more detail and discussing the atmosphere of critical awards in gaming culture over the next few days.
We all know the brand Brut but how many of us have recently tested it for personal use? I have seen the Brut cologne bottle since I was a kid and can distinguish the Brut scent immediately. Bullz-Eye was sent a few samples from the folks at Brut and were very pleased at the quality and reasonable pricing they put together. The splash on is not overpowering but with just enough attitude to get you noticed as the cologne is macho is strength and long lasting. The product that I found very effective was the Brut Deodorant Stick which easily had my back (underarms to be exact) throughout the day and evening.
Some men’s grooming products out there are borderline feminine but Brut is for men only and their tagline of “The Essence of Man” is no joke.
The AMP Energy/WEC Hometown Takedown (WEC: Henderson vs. Pettis) is almost here – and AMP Energy is back with another opportunity to give MMA fans exclusive, unprecedented access to the sport and its best fighters.
AMP Energy is inviting fans to a live chat with superstar fighters Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes hosted by PRO MMA Radio host Larry Pepe on AMP Energy’s USTREAM tomorrow, December 14th at 9 p.m. EST.
Faber and Mendes will field questions from fans about the AMP Energy Hometown Takedown at Jobing.com Arena, which is the final WEC card ever, as the organization announced last month that it will be merging with the Ultimate Fighting Championship® in 2011. The event is headlined by a fierce matchup between WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis. Check out Bullz-Eye’s recent interview with Anthony Pettis.
The chat is just another example of AMP Energy providing fans access to fans that no other sponsor has provided in any other sport. To get fans pumped for the upcoming fight, AMP Energy partnered with Bullz-Eye.com earlier this month and gave two fans the chance to have the ultimate experience at WEC Henderson vs. Pettis with the “Best Seat in the House” contest and the “Walk Out With a Fighter” contest, featuring Pettis.
Winners of both contests also received a trip for two to Phoenix, two tickets to the fight, and a dinner with Faber.
This summer, WEC and AMP Energy teamed up for the Hometown Takedown contest, which gave fans the chance to vote and bring a WEC event to their area. Phoenix was announced as the fan’s choice for the December 16 fight.
Here’s a video shout out from Urijah Faber inviting Bullz-Eye readers to join the chat tomorrow night. See you there!
Over the last decade, craft beer culture has exploded. There are now more than 1600 breweries operating in the US alone, a number that continues to grow year after year. Beer 101 is a guide to understanding the history of brewing, beer culture, and (my favorite part) the enjoyment of good beer.
Part 2 – Brewing Process and Ingredients
Last weekend I put together a brief history of beer, bringing you through thousands of years of history in just a few hundred words. Sorry for the delay this weekend – I ended up flying to LA for the Spike Video Game Awards. For this week’s post, I’ll be walking you through the basics of the brewing process, a process every enthusiast should know since it informs so much about the way a beer looks, feels, and tastes.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, beer is essentially brewed with four ingredients: water, yeast, hops, and malted grain. There are all sorts of ways to modify the process, but for our purposes, this ingredient list will do just fine. Of those four ingredients, yeast is the really important one. If your yeast goes bad, everything goes bad. Yeast is the miracle ingredient that makes the entire process possible.
First, you steep your malt. Steeping is just what it sounds like – soaking your grain in water, which prepares it for germination. Soaking the grain activates the growth process. Little rootlets start to sprout from the grain and the starches in the grain begin to break down. Once the germination process is complete, you have what is known as ‘green malt.’
Next, the grain goes to the kiln to dry. The kiln process, along with the type of grain used, is what gives the malt its character. Pale malts are dried and lower temperatures than, say, ale malts, which will also produce deeper color in the final product. Once dry, the grain has to be cracked in order to better absorb water during mashing. This cracking is called milling.
The milled grain is now mixed with warm water in what is known as the mash tun. The warm water helps convert the starches from the malting phase into sugars, which the yeast will then be able to consume, creating the alcohol and carbonation in the beer. The sugar-rich water gets strained through the mash and becomes wort.
We’ve finally reached the part of the process we know as brewing. The wort is boiled, causing a lot of different chemical changes to take place. This is where a craft brewer develops most of the flavor in a beer. Hops are added at different stages to produce varied results. Bitterness, aroma, and acidity are all determined, in part, by the moment the different hops are added to the brew kettle.
From brewing, the wort gets cooled as quickly as possible. Rapid cooling preserves the character of the wort and makes it temperate enough for yeast to live and work. Once cooled, the wort heads to a fermentation tank, where the brewer selects the yeast and adds it to the wort. Different yeast strains produce different results, again altering the flavor profile and character of the beer. Also, certain yeasts can live in higher alcohol concentrations than others, allowing higher ABV beers. The next step of the process is known as racking. The beer is transferred from the fermentation tank to a conditioning tank to allow the beer to age. Finally, the beer is ready to be filtered and carbonated, a process known as finishing. Once finished, the beer goes to a holding tank until it can be bottled or kegged.
That’s brewing in a small, tightly compressed nutshell. There are all sorts of ways to embellish this process, and while some of my descriptions are short, several of these processes can get complicated, especially on a large scale. It’s a difficult thing to produce the exact same beer time and time again, but with careful monitoring and the latest brewing technology, it can be done.
Come back next week for a discussion of the many different styles of beer, and in the meantime, check out A-B InBev’s iLoveBeer iPhone app (iTunes Link) – it’s a surprisingly solid look at several different beer styles. I won’t be able to cover them all, but I promise to give you a look at brews both strange and exotic.
We had the chance to attend a party at the new Fiat dealership in LA to check out the new Fiat 500 during the LA Auto Show. Fiat is finally coming back to the United States and the company unveiled the hot new 500 at the party.
With the Italians involved we weren’t surprised at the incredible food served at the event, and of course they had beautiful women serving espresso as well. We were also struck by the elegant and modern design of the dealership that helped to highlight the impressive new design of the Fiat 500 that was tailored for the American market. The company also had a vintage 500 on hand at the auto show which of course was promoted by a beautiful booth babe. The Italians are reintroducing sex appeal to the auto business, and we couldn’t be happier!