Odell Brewing – Isolation Ale

The last one for tonight is the Odell Brewing Isolation Ale.

From the label:

A funny thing happens here around summer’s end – our eyes start searching the skies for those first fall flakes. As we welcome autumn’s first snow, we celebrate the return of Isolation Ale. A sweet caramel malty ale that is balanced by a subtle crisp hop finish. Whether you ski, shred, or shoe, Isolation Ale will inspire you to make first tracks.

This was, by far, the best of the Odell brews I’ve had so far.  It’s a near perfect balance of malts and hops, with a beautiful color, and a smooth finish.

At a 6% ABV, the balance is solid.  A great introduction into the Odell Brewing line, albeit seasonal.

As a side note, I had the Odell Mountain Standard (Double Black IPA) after coming home from Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s got a 9.5% ABV, it was beautiful, tasted great, but due to the consumption of mass quantities, hardly knocked on my alcohol tolerance meter.  Darn, I’ll have to try it again later.

Sierra Nevada – Narwhal Imperial Stout

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This was one epic brew.  The Sierra Nevada Narwhal.

From the label:

A malt-forward monster, highlighting the depths of malt flavor.

Narwhal Imperial Stout is inspired by the mysterious creature that thrives in deepest fathoms of the frigid Arctic Ocean. Featuring incredible depth of malt flavor, rich with notes of espresso, baker’s cocoa, roasted grain and a light hint of smoke, Narwhal is a massive malt-forward monster. Aggressive but refined with a velvety smooth body and decadent finish, Narwhal will age in the bottle for years to come

Yes, epic.  I said it.  Trust me.

Deep, dark, and heavy, this brew was like drinking pure awesome.  It has a particular focus around the deep malts, espresso, and cocoa, but keeps its balance by letting a tiny bit of the hops filter in.

I want everyone to try this.  It’s a 10.2% ABV, so don’t try this without something to eat, but I suggest a dessert, instead of a dinner.

Sierra Nevada – Celebration Ale 2012

The next on the list is the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale of 2012.

From the label:

Celebration Ale is a special ale for the holidays. Featuring the first hops of the growing season, this pioneering IPA is full of complex flavors and aromas from the generous use of whole cone American hops.

This was a very nice brew, and is very similar to the Torpedo Extra IPA, but remember that it’s definitely NOT so.  It has a flavor profile different enough to separate itself, but still is very hop heavy.  Also, see this article, which highlights some myths about the brew.

A 6.8% ABV, this goes well with just about any meal out there, and should be considered a robust accompaniment to any meal or event.

Bison – Organic Honey Basil Ale

Tonight, I’m going to be updating on a number of brews I’ve been saving up.  First is the Bison Brew Honey Basil, an organic type.

From the label:

Bison’s Organic Honey Basil Ale a light-bodied ale, infused with organic clover honey & fresh, whole leaf organic basil, lending a floral and slightly herbal aroma, a hint of sweetness and mild basil after taste.

I thoroughly enjoyed this ale.  Light, crisp, a great color, and heavily basil.

While I like basil, many people may not like this.  I suggest those who haven’t tried it to get a taster single, if possible.

It’s a 6% ABV, which is very nice, considering it should go with a meal, preferably with an Italian style dish.

Windows 8 Start Menu Replacements

 As Windows 8 is now out in the consumer market, there’s a new, emerging market designed specifically for Windows 8 users: Start Menu Replacements.

I’ve dug out a handful of these applications, and there have been good sides and bad sides to them all.  It also needs to be noted that all of these replacement applications are separate processes from the Windows 8 Kernel, so you see them on the Task Manager process list, and I’ll show you the processor usage with the Start Menu open.

Pokki

Pokki

Pokki (Free) – https://www.pokki.com/

Great design, the most unusual of the lot.  It’s currently under development, and still having the bugs worked out, but it’s quickly rising to the top of the pile (see: Google Search).

It also has the unique ability to add shortcuts to your favorite web applications, via it’s own App Store.  This may be the point of contention and confusion for college campuses that limit user profiles.  Pokki is built off of Chromium, the Google Chrome project.  This is good, as it promotes interoperability with Google Apps.  This is bad, as some apps require Flash Player to run, and that’s not included.

Installation is done via a One-Click-Install method from the website.  This also means that any updates are easily handled just by the virtue of the computer being on.  There’s another problem with it: It’s a per-user install.  It installs to C:\Users\\AppData\Local\Pokki.  That’s no good for multi-user environments.

There’s also a couple more nit-picking items I feel I need to share with you.  First is, Pokki has no configuration option.  No way to go in and make certain features your own.  Secondly, Pokki fails to acquire full control of the Windows key on your keyboard.  If you’re in a native Windows 8 application, pressing the Windows key will bring you the Windows 8 Start Menu, not the Desktop with the Pokki menu.  Once to the desktop, however, Pokki has the key completely.

Pokki All Apps Menu

Pokki All Apps Menu

Pokki App Store

Pokki App Store

Pokki Process Usage

Pokki Process Usage

 

Power8

Power8

Power8 – http://code.google.com/p/power8/

A take off the Windows 7 Start Menu, Power8 is marketed towards power users.

The ability to pin apps is there, however the Windows 7 style Jump Lists are not.  It’s got the quick functions for shutting down, but it takes up more real estate than needed.  The Start Menu itself acts like a sub-menu, with the folder expansion style.

While I understand that Power8 is still under development, the graphic button for the menu is noticeably bugged.  It was very unhappy with any setting I chose.

The settings can be found by right-clicking on the menu button, and choosing the settings area.  Processor usage, Power8 runs on a single threaded executable, but said process uses ~27mb of memory; opening the Start Menu however, yields next to nothing for CPU time.

Power8 Start Menu Flyout

Power8 Start Menu Flyout

Power8 Settings

Power8 Settings

Power8 Process Usage

Power8 Process Usage

 

Initial Configuration Window

Initial Configuration Window

Start8 (Pay – $4.99) – http://www.stardock.com/products/start8/

I’m going to show a little bias here.  Anyone who’s read anything about Stardock should know that they are the most awesome, customer service, anti-run-of-the-mill company out there. And they produce good, clean software.

That being said, Start8 is customizable only to a point, but still flexible and appears to be dependable.  It can be configured to look like the Windows 7 Start Menu, or like the Windows 8 UI (only smaller).

While being a paid for application, it has more than just a lot of promise; support comes with it too.  Process time is minimal, and menus fly out smoothly.  The only slowness I met was in the Virtual Machine (VM) when I resumed the session.

Start8 Windows 7 Style

Start8 Windows 7 Style

Start8 Windows 8 Style

Start8 Windows 8 Style

Start8 Process Usage

Start8 Process Usage

 

ViStart

ViStart

ViStart (Free) – http://lee-soft.com/vistart/

This is one of those “good enough” applications.  They’ve replicated the Windows 7 Start Menu to the letter, with a couple of extras (something they call Ultra Blur, and custom Start button icons).  While simple, it’s too simple, and does not match the Windows 8 experience.

ViStart also attempts to install with a Search Bar for IE, so just be wary of that.

There are bugs with this.  The print screen function is locked out when the Start Menu is opened, the button itself has a graphical bug to it (bad transparency, I think).

Processor wise, ViStart does some good, with a single thread process, but also has a secondary process called ViUpdater, which appears to be an auto-updater application.

ViStart Start Menu

ViStart Start Menu

ViStart Options Window

ViStart Options Window

ViStart Process Usage

ViStart Process Usage

 

Start Menu X

Start Menu X

Start Menu X (Free, Pro $19.99) – http://www.startmenux.com/

Start Menu X is one of the “branches” of a line of an existing Start Menu replacements; Start Menu 7, Start Button 8, and Start Menu X.  But don’t let the lineup confuse you.  X is the latest version.

This app starts as a freeware application, but can be upgraded to the Pro version.  The benefits of the Pro version are minimal, but if you use them, they can be very powerful; specifically the tab function.  Cost wise, if you have no need for the Pro features, the free version is probably good enough.

Playing with the application, it’s smooth and is easy on the eyes (matches the current theme).  It takes up a lot of the screen area (but less intrusive than the native Windows 8 menu), and generally works as intended, with a nice, clean operation.  A simple interface will make this a good option for many.

It includes a Power Control Panel, where you can decide to shutdown, lock, etc.. and have a timer for such an event (like when you’re downloading a big file, but it’ll be done in an hour, you can tell the computer to shutdown in two hours or so).

The downside is that clicking any part of the app that is a Pro feature, it will prompt you to buy it.  Otherwise, the process usage is good, and is nice and speedy!

Start Menu X Menus

Start Menu X Menus

Start Menu X Settings

Start Menu X Settings

Start Menu X Process Usage

Start Menu X Process Usage

 

Classic Shell

Classic Shell

Classic Shell (Open Source) – http://classicshell.sourceforge.net/

Personal favorite of the free grouping, Classic Shell is probably the most customizable, flexible, and hassle free of the lot.

Configuring it is easy enough, though you will have to open the Advanced option to get the rest of the goodies.  It has a Windows 8 option for skin and button, and a plethora of other options.

As the lightest wight of the bunch, it has a great number of things going for it.  The latest release adds an Apps menu for all of your native Windows 8 applications, but still keeps a great number of the original Windows Start Menu options intact.  For enterprise users, the settings can be made, and exported for your mass deployments.

Classic Shell Menu

Classic Shell Menu

Classic Shell Settings

Classic Shell Settings

Classic Shell Process Usage

Classic Shell Process Usage

 

If you’ve made it this far, here’s to you!  And here are my suggestions and top pick!

Classic Shell is great for the most users.  The processor usage is light, and the options are great (if not a little too much).  Unfortunately being Open Source makes support a bit more difficult, since it’s a job for only one person.

Start8 is a great choice for just about the rest, as it’s a paid for, highly supported application.  The Windows 8 configuration is a great bonus to get people used to the feel of the native Start Menu.

Start Menu X is, however, perfect for the power users out there (so long as you go Pro).  The price tag is a little too high for my opinion, and I personally will stay with the freeware version unless the price comes down to meet or beat Start8.