Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mornings on the Range

I was looking through my notes, and realized that I had not been to the outdoor range to shoot my pistol for a couple of months. Shooting has been limited to a few USPSA matches, the indoor range, and some shotgun or rifle time. So, during my holiday staycation, I've been making an effort to get out to the range in the morning, before the crowds show up.

When I headed out Monday morning, it was slightly overcast, with a temperature of 45°. The park was empty when I arrived so I grabbed the larger bay and spent most of the time shooting on the move and doing reloading drills. I even snuck in some "rapid fire." (I wish I had thought to bring along those evil steel targets.) It was a very fun and relaxing morning. Interestingly, by the time I was finishing, I heard some rifle fire starting up, but still no pistol shooters had showed up.

Well, that was so much fun, I decided to do it again Tuesday morning. What a difference a day makes! The temperature was about 15 degrees cooler, although the sun was out. Well, sort of. Oddly, half the bay was in deep shadow, while the sun shone on the other half —despite it being the same time of day as yesterday.

I restricted my activities to the sunny side. Even so, the cool temperature and cold fingers made loading mags a chore. Most of the morning's fun was spent shooting at longer distances while stationary. The main reason for that was to make the brass pickup chore quicker. By the time I finished, I was glad I was able to gather brass quickly and get home to some to some hot coffee!

I don't know what the upcoming mornings will hold. I do know it's expected to be much cooler later this week. There's even the possibility of a few snow showers, but I've shot in the snow many times. I do know that we're going to need more ammo. :-)

Of course, the best thing about shooting first thing in the morning is that it leaves the rest of the day open for enjoying some good craft beer. And that's the other focus of this "staycation"!

Monday, December 30, 2013

It's Always 5:00 at BadWolf Brewing

This past weekend, Colleen and I finally made it back to MadWolf Brewing in Manassas. We had visited prior to their opening back in June, but busy life kept getting in the way of a return visit. After fighting the weekend traffic, we arrived at the brewery Saturday afternoon, but first made a stop at Virginia Arms, located in the same shopping plaza. After some quick window shopping over firearms it was time to hit the brewery.

The small tasting room was filled with folks enjoying local beer. After getting a rundown of the six beers that were on tap, we decided that the proper course of action would be to start out with a flight. The 6 ounce servings were well-suited to sharing, while still providing enough volume to get a feel for the beer. We grabbed one end of the retro Pac-Man game table for a place to sit our glasses. After the two hour drive I didn't mind standing for a bit. Colleen and I shared a laugh and memory, recalling that we met over a similar arcade table at a local pub, circa 1980.

The six beers in the flight, in the order we tasted, were Grodammit, a smoky wheat beer, Simcoe Warrior IPA, ESB, UnKolsch, Imperial SMASH Pilsner, and Ryon Orthros, a Belgian Dubbel with apricot. We enjoyed each and every one of them, and a few especially stood out. The Groddammit exhibited noticeable but not overwhelming smoke, with the smoky and wheat flavors well-balanced. The Simcoe Warrior IPA was the hoppiest of the beers. The Simcoe hop citrus bitterness was bold enough to keep your attention, but not so much as to overwhelm. Finally, the Imperial SMASH ("Single Malt and Single Hop") was a mildly bitter pilsner, one that seemed to be a popular choice among the crowd.

After reviewing the beers in the flight, we decided to get some food, and full pints of a couple of our favorites. BadWolf has a free popcorn machine on site, but doesn't serve other food. No worries though, there are plenty of nearby places to get takeout, which you are welcome to enjoy in the brewery. I went next door to Adam's Pizza and placed an order that was delivered to our table at BadWolf in short time. To go with our pizza Colleen ordered a pint of Grodammit, while I opted for the Simcoe Warrior IPA.

As we ate, there was activity at the large chalkboard that lists the beer selections. The Ryon Orthos keg was kicked, and was replaced by a beer from the "coming soon" side of the board, Festivus Ale. Naturally, I had to try a small glass of that one too. Described as an Amber Ale with spices, it reminded me a lot of Anchor Our Special Christmas Ale. The dark reddish-brown ale had subtle "Christmas spices" and a pleasing caramel malt base. Earlier in our visit, I would have definitely gone for a full pint of this. I suspect this one will be a hit at the pub and will go fast. (Why didn't I get a growler to go?)

We enjoyed each of the beers we tried. They were fresh, tasty, and served at just the right temperature. It was obvious that local folks were very much enjoying the local, fresh beer. Despite the constant crowds, the service was friendly and quick. We never lacked for a beer, and our table was kept clean and clear of empty glasses. The atmosphere was relaxed and everyone seemed to be enjoying the afternoon.

The wall clock at the brewery is stopped at a few minutes past 5 o'clock. As the saying goes, "It's 5:00 somewhere," and that somewhere is BadWolf Brewing. I'm looking forward to going back soon.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Celebrating Christmas With Rifles and Whisky

The second day of the Christmas season was a day spent celebrating with a close friend of our family. After a tasty brunch of Scottish Eggs, Baked Beans, and homemade Crumpets it was time for some shooting fun. Another friend had graciously allowed us the use of his backyard range for the afternoon to sight in a couple of new AR-15 rifles. We've only shot the AR-15 a few times, our shooting experiences being mainly handguns and the occasional shotgun, so we were looking forward to a fun-filled learning experience.

We initially set up at 50 yards, since our goal was to sight the rifles at that distance. After everyone had a few rounds of shooting, and numerous trips walking downrange to check the targets, we humbly surmised there was a lot of "operator error" going on. In the interest of openness, I must admit that our son had the best accuracy right from the start. I attribute that to his frequent participation in airsoft battles using an AR-style airsoft replica. It's generally accepted that airsoft practice is beneficial for shooting real weapons, and I think he demonstrated the truth in that.

We moved in closer to use the standard 25 meter military sight-in targets. With that change we were able to get the rifles sighted in. Returning back to 50 yards we enjoyed continued success. Of course, just as we were feeling confident, our friend suggested it was time try shooting standing and unsupported. We'd previously shot offhand at closer distances, and this was a new experience. Less successful, but still much fun.

Eventually the sun, and the temperature, began to go down and it was time to finish the day with the requisite spent brass hunt. It was a truly enjoyable afternoon. As noted previously, shooting the modern sporting rifle is both fun and a fairly new activity for us. Most rewarding personally, is that our son enjoys the rifles much more than the pistols, which I'm sure will lead to more frequent family outings to the range.

Arriving back at the house, it was time to switch our attention to my other favorite topic; tasty beverages, namely of the alcohol-bearing persuasion. While craft beer is my usual beverage of choice, I've been interested in an increased exploration of distilled beverages. To that end, our friend had gifted me a bottle of Lagavulin Distiller's Edition 2013. This single malt scotch whisky was aged for 16 years and finished in casks that were previously used to mature sherry. I was told this particular whisky was chosen specifically due to my fondness for smoky flavors. While Colleen prepared a fitting dinnertime feast, we all sipped on a glass of the Scotch. The sherry influence and the Lagavulin smokiness made a great combination. We tried it "neat" and with a splash of water. Adding the tiniest bit of water quashed some of the alcohol heat, and the smoky aspects were further revealed. This indeed was a fitting way to knock off the chill left from the time on the range.

It was quite a memorable day, spent with family, friends, firearms, alcohol and food. I can hardly wait to see what the rest of the Christmas holiday holds in store!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Beers of Winter - St. Bernardus Christmas Ale

As we did some pre-Christmas beer shopping, Colleen spied a bottle of St. Bernardus Christmas Ale on the shelf. Since this one was absent from her St. Bernardus flight the other evening, Colleen suggested we pick it up for our Christmas celebrations. That's certainly a suggestion to which I cannot object. 

We opened the bottle on Christmas evening after dinner. This seasonal Quadrupel-style from the Belgian brewery is dark red and cloudy in appearance. It reminded me of a dark mulled cider, though with a thick, frothy beige head. The foam dropped fairly quickly, leaving behind a very sticky lacing on the inside of the glass. The aroma was fruity and slightly sweet, with a hint of yeast. The flavor is that of dark fruit, with cherry and plum dominating. There is a slight tartness that comes through in the end. The mouthfeel is thin, and although the carbonation in minimal, there is a lively effervescence to tingle the tongue.

We sipped our Christmas Ale late into the evening, as the family enjoyed a movie. Still being quite full after a wonderful Christmas feast, there was no room for more food to go along with the beer. Despite the rich dark appearance and flavors, the beer was actually quite light and easy to enjoy.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Beers of Winter - Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

Brooklyn Brewery's Black Chocolate Stout is one of those beers we buy every year, put in the basement, and forget about. When it's time to enjoy a dark, rich Russian Imperial Stout, we'll dig out an old bottle and enjoy the effects of aging. Such was the case recently when we heard about the passing of Mikhail Kalashnikov, the creator of the AK-47. (And that's how I get to muse about beer and guns in the same post.*)

"Checkered Flag" joined us as we were inspired to raise a glass of a Russian Imperial Stout. (It's the closest to "Russian" I had on hand.) We have bottles of the stout going back at least 7 years, but I didn't dig too deep for this tasting, and opened a couple of 2012 bottles. The beer poured an opaque black with a thick beige head. The foam quickly dropped to a thin ring. The aroma was dark cocoa and coffee. Sipping the beer, over a discussion of guns and defense, we enjoyed the rich dark chocolate and espresso flavors. Even after just a year in the cellar, the flavors were blended and smooth, with very little taste influence from the 10% ABV. The finish left a bittersweet chocolate aftertaste and was very dry.

It was just this past weekend that we picked up some of this year's bottling of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. They've been added to the stash in the basement for enjoyment in the years to come. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to enjoying more vintage bottles in the coming Winter months.

*Regarding Mikhail Kalashnikov, it's been quite entertaining to read some of the disparaging comments on other blogs regarding the weapon designer's death, even from pro-gun folks. I have no love of Communism or it's supporters, but there's little denying Kalashnikov's influence on the world. The AK-47 was developed to defend the creator's homeland. (Against the Nazi's no less.) Kalashnikov once stated, "I invented it for the protection of the Motherland. I have no regrets and bear no responsibility for how politicians have used it." Blaming an inanimate object, or it's designer, for subsequent uses by evil men, is ludicrous. Only a deceitful, political opportunist would consider such a thing.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Soldier's Silent Night

Merry Christmas to all who have served our Nation, protecting the freedoms we often take for granted. Thank you and may God bless you always.

Merry Christmas

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas. May the joys and blessings of the season be with you today and all year. Despite the commercialization and secularizing of the holiday, the true reason we celebrate this joyful time is eternal.

Birthplace of Jesus, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Photo by Colleen, Family Pilgrimage, August 2010
But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: "Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,  because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”  --Matthew 1:20-23

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Eve Range Trip & Errant Bullets

I was one of the few folks in the office on Christmas Eve, so I decided to take a lunchtime excursion to the indoor range. Arriving at the range, just a few of the lanes were occupied, but I ended up near a lane being shared by three "youths."

It's not that I'm anti-social, or maybe I am, but I prefer shooting alone, or at least with people I know. Controlled competitions being an exception. We've been known to leave the outdoor range when other folks have arrived and asked to share the bay. Since their skills, and intents, are unknown, I'd rather skip shooting than deal with any negligence. However, by design an indoor range is a shared range. I'm always alert to who else is there, especially when the dividers make it impossible to see the goings on nearby.

Well, this afternoon I was having a good time, just relaxing and enjoying time away from the office, when suddenly there were ceiling tile bits and fluorescent bulbs crashing to the floor in front of me. The girl two lanes over had put a round into the ceiling, just 7 yards or so from the line. Laughs and giggles ensued. 

Of course, that commotion was immediately followed by me packing up and making a hasty exit. It's too close to Christmas for a trip to the ER. Or maybe I'm just a Grinch.

 A seasonal target. 

A Dark Beer Evening

We went down to Capital Ale House for dinner and a beer or two last Friday. Due to the crowds, we were seated in the dining area instead of taking our preferred bar seats. The table servers are generally clueless about what's on tap, especially with regard to anything not listed on the (often outdated) beer menu. The dining table servers are well-versed in the food specials, but that's not really why we're there, is it? But, this is not an insurmountable problem, I simply make a point to review the tap handles myself whenever we end up at a table.

During my walk of the tap lineup, I spied a handle for Great Divide Yeti. It's been a while since I had this Russian Imperial Stout from one of my old favorite breweries. My first beer of the evening was an easy choice. This pitch black beer smells of dark roasted malt, espresso, dark chocolate, and a hint of smoke. The flavor is slightly sweet, with espresso and bitter chocolate notes. At 9.5% ABV it's a sipper, and was as enjoyable as I remember. Great Divide produces a number of versions of Yeti, including barrel-aged versions. Sipping my glass of Yeti the other night put me in the mood for tracking down a few of them once again.

My next beer choice was a bit more daunting. Do I repeat a beer I've enjoyed recently, while it's available, or try something new? I noticed on the menu that Sierra Nevada Narwhal was listed as an "upcoming" beer. Since the list was a couple of weeks old, and some of the other upcoming beers were already on, I took a shot and ordered the Narwhal. Unfortunately, our server returned with the news that it wasn't available. But for bonus points, he did return with samples of two other Stouts he suggested I might want to try; Blue Mountain Dark Hollow and Bell's Expedition Stout. Having had the Dark Hollow frequently, and recently, I opted for Expedition Stout. (Although I enjoyed the taster of the Blue Mountain beer as well.)

Bell's Expedition Stout is another dark Russian Stout, but one that takes "dark and bitter" to the next level. The aroma has roasted malt, and dark chocolate, with boozy underpinnings. To no surprise, the flavor profile continues with the same theme. The roasted malt, dark chocolate and espresso flavors are strong. The alcohol level makes its presence known in the flavor as well. A thick mouthfeel and a long-lingering bitter finish completes the picture. It's no secret that I like bold-flavored beers, and Expedition Stout met that preference quite well.

As an added beer bonus, Colleen was enjoying a flight of St. Bernardus beers; Witbier, Pater 6, Prior 8, Tripel, and Abt 12.  She graciously shared the flight with the rest of the table. It was a treat, and very interesting to sample most of the St. Bernardus lineup at one time. The Christmas Ale was listed as part of the flight as well, but was unavailable. Capital Ale House substituted N'Ice Chouffe, the Christmas Ale from Brasserie d'Achouffe, adding to the evening's beer variety. Not be daunted, we picked up a bottle of St. Bernardus Christmas Ale over the weekend for our upcoming Christmas celebrations at home.

As with most evenings at Capital Ale House, we left with full bellies and with memories of great beers.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Family Range Time

So the first weekend of Winter turns out to be more like Spring; warm and raining. Most of the weekend was filled with Christmas preparations. Sunday was especially filled; Mass, last minute gift buying, shopping for beer, hauling in the tree, stringing up a few more outside lights... By the afternoon, there was bit of a break in the chores, and the rain, so I said to the family, "Anyone want to take a chance on hitting the range? The rain might keep folks away." The reply was an immediate and resounding "Yes." So we loaded up the new family rifle and set out for some fun family time.

Lo and behold, the park was empty. If it wasn't going to be dark soon, we could have spent uninterrupted time on the shotgun and pistol ranges too. Our son enjoys shooting the AR much more than the shotgun or handguns, and I am excited that he'll be joining us more often. I'm happy to skip shooting the other weapons, for that reason alone!

We had a great hour or so taking turns shooting and experimenting with stance and sight alignment. It's really fun when we're all learning at the same time. It even came up in conversation that one AR-15 isn't enough for a family. (Do I have a great family or what?)

As we were loading up the car at the end of the day, Colleen noted that the sight of the red range flag was a much more welcome sight than that red flags we experienced for so many days during our vacation in the Outer Banks. Those red flags meant no swimming. This day's red flag meant we were actually engaging in the activity we set out to do!

It was a fun-filled afternoon. Monday morning as I headed off the work and saw the muddy remnants left by our boots on the car floor mats, I had a smile remembering the good family time the day before.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Jingle Bells at the Range

This looks like fun.

With enough "tuned" steel, and enough ammo, one could have a whole concert!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Conference Diversion 2: The Big Hunt

After my final evening working the conference, a coworker and I walked over to one of DC's oldest beer bars, The Big Hunt, for an early dinner. By this time in my week, I was on the verge of exhaustion, but I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to visit this infamous pub. Stepping into the dark room, our IDs were checked, and we made our way to one of the few open tables. I had some trouble reading the beer list (did I mention it was dark?) but I had looked up the menu online, so had some idea of my choices. Despite the crowd, and just one server working the tables, service during our stay was prompt and efficient.

I started out with the featured cask selection, The Movement, from DC's 3 Stars Brewing. Served in a highball glass, this Pale Ale exhibited fresh hopped citrus aromas. The flavor had a "green" edge to it, with a citrus rind bitterness. A bit of syrup-like sweetness came through in the end. The serving was the proper temperature and carbonation expected from a casked beer, and my glass was quickly emptied.

I had previously seen the tapping of William's Winter Warmer from Baltimore's Pratt Street Ale House announced on the pub's Twitter feed, and that was my next selection. The aroma of this Strong Ale was full of dark fruit; plums and raisons, along with dark malts. The taste continued along those same lines. Dark fruit, licorice, vanilla, with roasted malts and a bit of alcohol in the finish. I wasn't disappointed.

The food menu is somewhat limited at The Big Hunt. I was reminded that this was a "bar." In Virginia, there are no bars, only restaurants that serve alcohol. (Okay, I give DC a win in that one category.) I didn't feel like waiting until the pizza happy hour started, so I ordered a spicy buffalo chicken sandwich. The pairing with the William's Winter Warmer may not have been the best choice, but both the food and the beer were tasty.

The long week catching up with both of us, we called it an early evening, opting to not stay around for the free burlesque show advertised for later that evening. Although I had just a short visit, I enjoyed Big Hunt, and it definitely lived up to its reputation.

I was glad I got to visit a couple of good beer stops, in spite of a busy week. I suspect I'll be returning to the same DC hotel in the future. The Big Hunt, and The Black Squirrel, are both on my "do again" list.

A water main break the morning of my departure caused me to be stuck in traffic right in front of The Big Hunt.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Conference Diversion: The Black Squirrel

I spent the past week ensconced in a Washington, DC hotel for a conference, with little time to get out and about. I was however, within walking distance of two "infamous" DC beer bars, and I did manage to squeeze in trip to both. The first of the stops was The Black Squirrel in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. According to their website, they have three distinct pubs within. I peeked into the basement window and spied a long bar, that was unoccupied at the time. Climbing the stars, I entered another pub area with a few folks sitting at the bar. I was greeting promptly by the barkeep Rhyd, who let me know that "Snakes on a Plane" was on the TV. "Well, that's different," I thought. It turned out to be quite entertaining and the subject of much fun conversation and joking.

I started off with Carrack Imperial Red Ale from Mission Brewery. The beer was full of juicy, resinous pine and earthy hops. Roasted caramel and a sticky sweetness was matched with a notable alcohol presence. It was a bold beer that tempted me to have a second glass, which I resisted in order to try a variety of beers.

The Carrack was followed by another West Coast beer,  The Immortal IPA from Elysian Brewing Company. This IPA had a rich citrus aroma. The flavor was a mix of pine and citrusy hops, with a bit of honey-sweet malt to round it out. Immortal IPA is a big smack on the tastebuds, and was a worthy foil to my very spicy Jalapeño Burger. The tasty burger was topped with guacamole, roasted jalapeños, and goat cheese. It was delightfully messy, and left behind a burn that could only be matched by an equally bold beer.

Dinner finished, my West Coast beer exploration continued when Rhyd treated me to a taste of Big Bear Black Stout from Bear Republic Brewing. The aroma of this Imperial Stout was strong with molasses, dark roasted malt, and more than a little alcohol. I would have sworn this was a barrel-aged beer, but there's no mention of that on the Bear Republic website. Nonetheless, the flavor was reminiscent of bourbon barrel aging, with dark chocolate, molasses, roasted coffee. The mouthfeel was thick, with low carbonation. After finishing the taster, I was contemplating ordering a pint. Alas, it was getting late, and I did have a late-night walk through the city ahead of me. I made a note to look for this one again.

I was about to ask for my check when Rhyd suggested I try Jai Alai IPA. He certainly had picked up on my preference for "big" beers. I gave in and ordered just one more beer. Jai Alai was more on the citrus and fruit side of the spectrum than the evening's previous beers. Bitter grapefruit and orange citrus notes, along with the "green" feel of a fresh hopped beer. By this point in my evening I was feeling full and satiated from good food and beer, still I was happy to enjoy another tasty beer.

Four excellent beers, and a spicy, sweat-inducing burger made for an enjoyable evening. Although I don't get into DC very often (nor have much desire to do so) I look forward to the opportunity to return to The Black Squirrel and visit the basement bar, which I understand, has an even more extensive beer list.

And then the evening almost took a turn for the worse...

Halfway into my walk back to the hotel a voice in my head said, "Hey dummy, you left your credit card at the bar." (Yes, my guardian angel uses such terms of endearment frequently.) Within a few minutes of that thought, I noticed I had both voicemail and a text messages from Rhyd about my forgotten property. Kudos to Rhyd! I was reminded of a time a few years ago when I had left my card at a Falls Church pub, with a different outcome. I was never contacted, and had to spend a lot of time on hold when I called them to find out if it was there. I ended up canceling the card, since I couldn't get back to Northern Virginia to retrieve it in a timely manner. I was glad I didn't have to go through that exercise again.

My credit card retrieved, the walk back to the hotel was uneventful. On the bright side, maybe the extra walking burned off a few calories from all the beers.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Samichlaus Toast to St. Nicholas

After our enjoyable evening at Capital Ale House, Colleen and I returned home last Friday and realized we had almost missed our traditional drink of Samichlaus Bier on the Feast of St. Nicholas. The beer's name means "Santa Claus" in the Swiss-German dialect of Zürich. Brewed only on December 6 of each year, by Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg in Austria, the beer is aged for almost a year and released in time for the following year's feast day. Not to be deterred by the late hour, I dusted off a 2007 bottle and poured a nightcap.

As soon as I removed the cap from the bottle I was struck by the strong sherry-like aroma of dark fruit, molasses, and alcohol. The beer had a translucent reddish-brown color and no head to speak of, although there was some tingling carbonation in the mouthfeel. The flavor is strong, and rich with dark plums and raisons, sweetened ever so slightly by molasses and brown sugar notes. Fresh Samichlaus can be syrupy and sweet, however aging seems to mitigate the cloying sweetness.

While I sipped this amazing 14% ABV lager, I kept muttering to myself, 'Oh, this is so good." While not a beer I could drink every night, it is certainly a treat worthy of honoring the good St. Nicholas. Eventually our glasses were emptied and it was time to enjoy a good night's sleep.

Monday, December 9, 2013

From West to East - An Evening of Great Beer

Each month Capital Ale House taps a special beer that's been aged for the past year. The December "Ales From the Crypt" selection was Stone Brewing 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Ale. It seemed as good a reason as any for an evening out. I don't recall that I ever had release in the Stone Vertical Series, and the beer could only have gotten better with time.

I always enjoy the appearance of a beer, and the Belgian Strong Ale looked quite appetizing in the snifters. Served a touch too cold for my tastes, I admired the beer and let it come up to temperature as we perused the dinner menu, and Colleen arranged the social media photo shoot.

Stone 12.12.12 had a surprisingly mild aroma. We picked up molasses, vanilla, ginger, along with some Belgian yeast. The flavors came out much the same with a stronger presence. Some dark coffee and roasted notes are added as well. The mouthfeel is thick with a long-lingering, dry finish. The beer was quit enjoyable and the well-blended flavors I suspect were only enhanced by the year spent waiting in the cellar.

On a serendipitous note, a friend of Colleen's on FaceBook saw the above picture posted, and inquired back, "Bottle or draft?" Colleen answered and the reply back was "We're our way!" A bit later in the evening we were joined by another couple. As it turns out, the husband is a craft beer fan AND shooting enthusiast. Any guesses what we talked about most of the evening?

As I looked over the row of tap handles, trying to decide on my next beer, I spied a Blue Mountain Barrel House handle, and learned that Dark Hollow Imperial Stout was behind that lever. Dark Hollow is a Bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout. That aging treatment is apparent in the aroma, as the sweet bourbon and dark coffee notes waft from the glass. The beer is not overly boozy, but neither is the alcohol masked. Tastes of dark chocolate, coffee, molasses and vanilla are also present. The mouthfeel is thick and smooth. This is an exceptional Bourbon barrel stout.

Since we were now joined by friends, it was only sociable that I enjoyed another beer. Also sighted on the tap row was Lickinghole Creek Brewery. I posted on this new new Virginia brewery last year, but have never had the opportunity to enjoy their beers. The beer being poured was Gentleman Farmer Estate Hop Ale. I think this is the first beer from the Goochland brewery to make it to Fredericksburg, so my evening of good beer would conclude with another Virginia-brewed libation.

Gentleman Farmer Estate Hop Ale is an Amber Ale brewed with Cascade, Columbus, Nugget and Chinook hops grown on the brewery's farm. The beer has a thick viscous appearance, and the bubbles seem to rise slowly in the glass. The aroma was very mild, with subtle bready malt and citrus fruit notes. The flavor, and mouthfeel, followed the sights and aromas. I found the beer to have a very clean and refreshing taste. I savored the subtle flavors, especially following the big and bold of the previous beers. I'm looking forward to trying this one again, as well as some of the other Lickinghole Creek beers.

It was a fun evening, filled with good beer and conversation. I enjoyed the California-brewed Stone Epic Ale, but I remain partial to the beers of Virginia. The evening's treats from Blue Mountain and Lickinghole Creek breweries are just two of the reasons for that preference.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

With Regard to Today's Weather

For your entertainment, Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise, and his rendition of Let It Snow...

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Beers of Winter - Sierra Nevada Celebration

This is surely the beer that we most look forward to each year. Long-time readers will know of our love for this Winter seasonal. Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hop Ale takes a somewhat different approach to the Winter beer. Instead of bringing dark, roasted flavors to the party, Celebration treats us to citrus, hoppy goodness.

Celebration Ale pours a rich marmalade-orange color with a thick, sticky head. I always tend to pour the first few servings a little too hard, until I again remember the strength of the foam. I think this year I'll keep my 20 ounce Sierra Nevada glass handy to help avoid any overflow. The aroma of grapefruit and pine foretells the flavor enjoyment to come. The bold taste of citrus, in the form of grapefruit and orange pithiness hits first. Freshly harvested Cascade hops are used to add to the richness. A balancing bitterness comes quickly into play, and there's just enough breadiness in the malt to round it all out. The mouthfeel is "thick" and "juicy." (If that  sounds odd, once you've had the beer, you'll understand.) A fair amount of carbonation adds to the body and helps impart a crisp, clean finish.

I have no doubt that the seasonal nature of Sierra Nevada Celebration adds to the enjoyment and desirability. We like this beer, a lot, and if my bulk purchases are influenced by marketing, and knowing I can only buy it for a couple months of the year, I'm comfortable being manipulated in that manner.

Which reminds me, I need to get back to the store...

Friday, December 6, 2013

Foothills Brewing Arrives in Virginia

We saw the news last month that Foothills Brewing was expanding distribution to Virginia. I've enjoyed some of their beers previously during visits to North Carolina. More good beer available locally is always good news, and when I saw a last minute post on their FaceBook page that Capital Ale House was tapping a few Foothills beers this week, we made plans to stop in.

Three Foothills beers were were available; Torch Pilsner, Hoppyum IPA and Stout. Though I heard many folks asking about it, the infamous Sexual Chocolate Stout wasn't on the list. I started out with a glass of the Torch Pilsner. This Czech Pilsener was a golden-yellow color with a thin white head. Our friend made the comment, " Is that a Bud?", to which I replied, "This is what Pilsner is supposed to be." The flavor was grassy with bitter hops. There was a touch of earthiness and a slightly sweet clean finish. After a night (or day) of heavy beers, I often like to "wind down" with a crisp Pilsner, and this is one I'd choose again.

Next up I ordered the Hoppyum IPA. I'd had this one recently during our vacation in the Outer Banks. Back then, the beer was accompanied by spicy wings, this time it was a hot pretzel and spicy mustard appetizer. This pairing worked go well too. Hoppyum has a rich citrus hop aroma. The taste is what one would expect; citrusy, juicy and resinous. It's a good, classic IPA.

I opted out of ordering the third Foothills selection in the interest of time. However, Colleen and "Checkered Flag" had both ordered the Foothills Stout, so I was able to get a few sips, solely for reporting purposes. The stout has a moderately strong aroma of roasted grain and dark coffee. The flavor is bitter, with more roasted, or even burnt, malt, with coffee and bittersweet chocolate. The finish brings some lingering bitterness.

I'm glad to see Foothills beers showing up locally. I hope we'll see more of them on local tap lists in the near future.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

How to Talk to Santa

I've been dropping hints. And "thinking out loud." Just hoping that Santa might be inclined to slide a Modern Sporting Rifle down the chimney this Christmas. Recently a friend came by with his new AR and we went out to the range to try it out.

Colleen had never shot an AR rifle before. She stood at the 20 yard line and put a few rounds downrange. "That's fun!" she exclaimed.

Santa might be convinced. Just sayin'

New Fredericksburg Brewery

It's true, Fredericksburg is getting another craft brewery! Spencer Devon Brewing will be located in downtown Fredericksburg at 106 George Street, in the space formerly occupied by Fatty J's restaurant. The owner, Shawn Phillips, is a soon-to-be retired Marine Corps veteran. The restaurant and micro-brewery opening is planned for Spring 2014. 

The brewery was recently named as a finalist in the Made in Fred VA business plan contest. You can follow the brewery's progress on their FaceBook page.

Fredericksburg Business Insider has more on the brewery plans.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Beers of Winter - Anchor "Our Special Ale"

For all intents and purposes, it's Winter in Virginia. The calendar claims three more weeks of "Fall," but it's time to accept the reality of the cold, wet, and dark months to come. As much as I already look forward to warmer days, I still cheerfully anticipate the beers of Winter. As a service to you faithful readers, I thought I'd make a point of enjoying and writing about these beers to help pass the time until the days lengthen and the temperatures rise.

While many brewers have a special beer they brew each Winter, those recipes usually remain unchanged from year to year.  Anchor Brewing "Our Special Ale" is one that changes each year, adding to the anticipation of it showing up on store shelves. Also known as Anchor Christmas Ale, each year's release features a unique tree-themed label. I've missed picking up the beer in some past years, but didn't make that oversight for the 2013 release.

"Our Special Ale" pours a deep mahogany brown color with a beige head. The aroma is roasted malt with notes of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, along with a hint of pine. The flavors follow suit, with caramel and brown sugar coming through as well. Despite the long list of the usual "Christmas spice," the beer doesn't come across as a spiced beer. The spices supplement the winter warmer flavor, without dominating. The 2013 edition checks in at a reasonable 5.5% ABV, making it somewhat unusual compared to a typical "Winter Warmer." There's little alcohol in the flavor, creating a mild but flavorful libation.

I am enjoying the 2013 Anchor "Our Special Ale" very much. If you're looking a Winter-flavor treat, in a balanced, moderately low alcohol beer, pick this one up. A glass of Anchor Christmas Ale, and a slice of leftover pumpkin pie, will had some brightness to a cold (almost) Winter evening.