Monday, August 3, 2020

Bell's Hopslam and A Balmoral Cigar

Not too long ago, I found a lone can of Bell's Brewing Hopslam Ale hiding in the back of the beer fridge. I was excited as I thought I had consumed the last of the supply I acquired in Spring 2019. Those cans were some of the last available after Bell's announced they would no longer ship their beers to Virginia

Hopslam is an annual release from the Michigan brewery. The Double IPA at one time seemed like it had almost a cult following, and the retail price reflected the demand. In more recent years, my impression is the price had moderated somewhat. The newer distribution in cans helps to preserve the beer so those cans that get lost in the recesses of the fridge stay pretty fresh.

The beer pours a golden amber with a sticky white head. The aroma bring citrus and honey to the nose. The taste is bitter grapefruit, with a honey and fruit background. The mouthfeel is sticky and oily. It's not a beer to guzzle, but one to sip and savor.

My cigar pairing this time was the Balmoral Anejo XO Nicaragua Rothschild. The Nicaraguan Habano wrapper encased a Brazilian Cuban seed binder and a blend of Dominican Republic Olor, Nicaraguan, and Brazil Mata Norte fillers. The cigar's flavors are somewhat muted by the beer's lingering remnants on my palate. The smoke brought notes of milky coffee, toffee, sweet fruit and a touch of pepper. My glass of ale lasted for about half the smoke, at which time I switched to simple water. The flavors of the medium-bodied cigar stood on their own a bit more once the beer remnants faded. Throughout the smoke, I found this to be a quite enjoyable cigar.

It doesn't appear we will be getting Bell's in Virginia again for awhile, as the legal battle around Virginia's three-tier system stretches on.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

An Old Beer and A New Cigar

How to wind down the weekend? That was the question after dinner last Sunday. It had been a full weekend of good smokes, drinks, and shooting. It was still warm (I'm sounding like a broken record.) but bearable, with proper refreshments. I went back to digging through the old beer stash in the basement and came up with a bottle of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale from 2013. 

I've been neglectful picking up bottles of this annual release. However, I've got quite a few older vintages from various years stashed away, some even older than this one. The Barleywine-style ale is ripe for aging.

The seven year old Bigfoot Ale featured a rich, sweet malt backbone, with a pleasing hop bitterness in the finish. Carbonation was good and the beer left a sweet coating on the palate. I was sorely tempted to dig out another bottle but resisted the urge. 

The cigar selected was the Viva La Vida in Torpedo. This 6 ½" x 54 stick was another from a recent My Cigar Pack shipment. Featuring a dark, shiny Habano Maduro wrapper over a Nicaraguan Corojo binder and Criollo ’98 fillers, the boutique cigar comes from Artesano del Tabaco in collaboration with master AJ Fernandez. The full-bodied smoke has rich notes of leather, coffee, pepper and cinnamon spice, all with a hint of sweetness. Construction was perfect and I got a razor sharp burn and plenty of flavorful smoke all the way to the nub.

Of course, I was inspired to dig up a video of Coldplay performing the song of the same name as I enjoyed the smoke.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Espresso and a Smoke

Sometimes one has to ease in to the weekend, rather than jumping too quickly. Once I finished last week's work, I opted to chill a bit before dinner with an espresso and a smoke. At the very least, the coffee would give me the the boost to begin the weekend with gusto a little later.

After preparing my drink, I grabbed a Balmoral Anejo XO Rothschild Masivo. This cigar was part of the My Cigar Pack June shipment. The Balmoral brand is a new one to me. I enjoyed a Balmoral Anejo XO Nicaragua just a few days prior and was looking forward to comparing this darker blend to that one.

The Balmoral Anejo XO features a shiny Brazilian Sungrown wrapper, Dominican Republic Olor binder, with fillers from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. This is a full bodied smoke with notes of charred wood, dark coffee, and pepper. A good bourbon, neat, might have been a more complimentary accompaniment. I opted for only the one double espresso, and finished most of the smoke with simple water. The warmth on the deck was still building in the late afternoon, so the plentiful glasses of cold water were welcome.

The smoke was enjoyable. I would have to say I enjoyed the Balmoral Anejo XO Nicaragua just a bit more. (Review posted later here.) That said, I only had the one cigar of both, so comparisons a few days apart are questionable at best. My cigar finished, it was time for dinner and to contemplate the evening's selections. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Cavalier Monthly IDPA Match

Another hot Saturday, and another hot IDPA match. That's the pattern for the summer in Virginia. This past weekend the event was the monthly IPDA match at Cavalier Rifle and Pistol Club. Five very fun courses of fire awaited the 41 shooters who braved the summer sun.

The first stage we shot presented three shooting positions, all from behind the cover of barrels. The layout was symmetrical with three targets available from the two end positions, and one from the middle.

The stage was interesting in that the targets visible from the two end points of cover, were seen from across the stage. You had to remember to engage targets that were in front of you, and the ones that where on the opposite side. Many shooters also failed to keep the engagement priority straight and failed to "pie" the corner, earning penalties. Not a difficult or tricky stage, but you had to have your plan well in mind. 

The next stage as one that involved many points of cover around a zig-zagging array of walls. The course started with three targets in the open, and the next five were lone targets at different shooting positions — one point of cover, one target. It was only one or two steps needed to get to the next opening or corner between the targets, which made for some interesting footwork.

I enjoyed the next stage a lot. The course began with us engaging three pieces of falling steel that were placed behind the -0 zone of IDPA targets. Then we moved to find two targets around the end of a wall. After that we navigated a couple corners in a hallway to shoot the last three targets. These final targets were shot from a low opening in the wall that required us to kneel to see the targets.

Bay 5 at Cavalier typically holds the course that offers the longer shots of the match, so I was not surprised to see that being the case this month again. (I do not walk the stages to get a sneak peak before the match.) Shot from both sides of a partition, the stage had three closer targets, with non-threats, on the right, and three targets at increasing distances to the left.

I felt confident going in to the stage, even though the heat was beginning to affect me. I was thinking about getting through the next two stages and retreating to the A/C of my car. As so often turns out to be the case, the closest of the left targets was the one I rushed, dropping one shot for a miss.

The last stage we shot had a most interesting target set up. It was one that I debated my preferences for shooting right up to the last moment. I was so focused on my plan, and I was feeling drained, that I neglected to get a picture of the stage. I virtually kicked myself for that oversight when I realized it on the drive home.

The stage was shot from behind a table, with the loaded gun and all magazines starting on the table. Directly in front of the shooter was a non-threat. Behind the non-threat stood a target array with a full target and four head-only targets poking out from behind it, two on each side. There was also a head-only target placed on each side to of the stage. Besides the table, walls on either side limited movement. 

The gun was loaded with only six rounds to start. The center open target required six hits, and the six head-only targets all required one hit each. The placement of the non-threat in the center and the walls meant that the center array could only be fully engaged by leaning or stepping from one side to the other. Each outer target could only be seen while engaging the opposite side of the center array. I opted for the straightforward plan of shooting all six of the required hits on the center target first, then reloading and engaging all the head shots.

The fun stage done, I was fully cooked, despite the multiple bottles of water consumed. While the temperature was minutely cooler than last weekend's match, I seemed to be affected a bit more this week. After I shot, I made my apologies and headed for the car. I think it may be the first time in some 10 years of shooting matches that I scooted before the the last shooter was done. A cool shower and even more water once I was home, did make for a quick recovery.

I thought the stages at this month's match were exceptionally interesting and fun to shoot. Some sloppier shooting as the morning wore on had me finishing 16th of 41 Overall, and 9th of 23 in SSP. Looking back, that's a little better than last week, despite the affects of the heat. There's no more shooting for me for a few weeks, so we'll see what August brings.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Beating the Heat and Digging Into the Stash

After that warm IDPA match last Saturday, I was recovered enough after a dinner out with the family to face the heat once again. This time on the back porch for a drink and a smoke. Remember that delicious Bishops Blend cigar I lamented not buying more of? Well, it so happened the shop had a few more left when I returned, and I snagged the last six on the shelf. It was one of those limited releases I decided to light up for my evening repast.

Since I was consuming one of my limited smokes, I figured I'd also dig into one my my, surprisingly, limited Bourbons. I recall when Buffalo Trace was just another ubiquitous whiskey, worthy of any cabinet, inexpensive, and easy to find. I always had it on hand, and had no hesitation to pour it any time, neat or in a cocktail. Then somewhere along the line, it became a thing. The ABC stores started listing it as "limited." It became a topic of conversation among friends when it was found in stock.

As always, the Black Label Trading Company Bishops Blend did not disappoint. The small stick provided about 45 minutes of enjoyment. The cigar's cocoa and coffee notes matched well with the oak, dark fruit, and spice of the bourbon.

It was an enjoyable way to wind down the day.  And I still have a little of both treats left for another day.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Saturday Morning IDPA Match

On Saturday morning I headed off to Charlottesville to shoot the monthly IDPA match at the Rivanna Rifle and Pistol Club. Of late, this is one of two matches I get to most months, and my only range time, so I was looking forward to it.

The crowd that gathered in the morning for the match was a little smaller than usual, the predicted oppressive heat no doubt a factor. But the heartier souls ventured forth.

Stage one of the match had us facing an interesting array of targets. Three target groups at two priorities of distance requiring the "full" targets to all be engaged first, and then there were four head-only targets that we came back to and engaged in priority. Once we sorted out the instructions it was a fun stage to shoot. This stage got my match off to a good start, but would also represent my best finish of the morning.

Stage two required shooting from a seated position, with the loaded gun and spare mags on the table at the start. There were five paper targets visible, along with two falling steel poppers. The poppers each activated a swinging target hidden by barrels on either side. Engaging the steel brought the swingers into priority. 

I was happy to see the swinging targets, as I don't get to practice with them much. I did better on them than I did on the previous match, getting all the hits on paper, but was still 10 down for the stage.

The third stage we shot was probably my favorite of the match. The interesting course of fire was shot entirely through a narrow opening in a wall. The seven open targets were arranged in a close, semi-circle, however a "V" formed by two more wall sections forced the shooter to shift positions to see all the targets. 

The start position was facing up range, requiring the shooter to turn and bring the first targets into view. A small wooden fence prevented the shooter from leaning into the opening. Positioning was the key to the stage, having to shift too many times would affect performance. Well, positioning and speed. The close-in targets were a temptation to shoot too fast. I zipped across the targets a little too quickly, putting a few shots high on the paper, and coming away four down. However, it was a fun stage to shoot.

The heat of the day, now ramped up, and I believe effecting us all, we approached the last stage. A simple line of six threat targets, shot from a stationary position awaited. Well, simple except for the three non-threat targets covering two-thirds of each target. Even so, it didn't look overly challenging, though there did seem to be an alarming number of hits on those non-threats from previous shooters. 

These were the only penalty-incurring targets in the match. Making up for that, I managed to hit all three. I could blame it on the heat, or the stinging sweat in my eyes, but in truth I just rushed to be done.  

The day would turn into a hot one, and it did affect my performance, but it was a day to be enjoyed nonetheless. Once again, going out and being around smiling people enjoying themselves was a most welcome diversion. While everyone was respectful of personal space, there was none of the cowering from fear of being around our fellow humans that is gripping our Nation.

It was a quick, fun match. Four bottles of water, and one of Gatorade later, I was in the air conditioned car heading home to spend the rest of the day relaxing.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Yep, It's Hot Outside. Matters Not.

I keep reading there's an oppressive heat wave coming to Virginia. Really? It's July. In Virginia. I guess it does qualify as a heat wave, but it's hardly unusual or even unexpected.

More importantly, it was Friday. Despite the reading on the thermometer, the end of another work week means it's time to break out the beer and cigars. We have a lot of "old" higher ABV beer that's been aging in the cellar, some for over a decade. So Colleen and I looked through the stash and grabbed a bottle of Avery Barrel Aged Vanilla Bean Stout that enticed us. To go along with it, I selected an HVC La Rosa 520 Toro

The Vanilla Bean Stout was from the brewery's 2016 bottling. The beer pours pitch black with a moderate beige head. The aroma was vanilla and chocolate. The flavor was a mildly sweet vanilla with added notes of milk chocolate and coffee. Despite the Bourbon barrel aging, there was little evidence of the labeled 11.5% ABV. Perhaps 4 years of sitting has mellowed those notes. The mouthfeel is light and creamy. It went down smoothly and quickly, despite the warm air of the deck.

The HVC La Rosa was a new cigar to me. Admittedly I don't recall ever hearing of the brand prior to receiving the cigar. This stick was part of the June package from My Cigar Pack. I've been enjoying this monthly club precisely for this reason — finding new cigars to try, and I've been pleased so far.

This Nicaraguan puro features a dark Jalapa Corojo wrapper over the Nicaraguan binder and fillers. The full bodied smoke's flavor was woody, with leather and espresso notes. There was also a moderate but not heavy bit of spiciness in the mix. It was an enjoyable smoke that balanced the sweetness of the stout well.

The beer and cigar were nursed along for just over an hour. With the deck fans blowing and some good tunes playing, I totally forgot about the heat as I wound down from the week and began looking forward to the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

1781 Dopplebock and Two Cigars

Recently I met up with a cigar smoking friend for beers and smokes at the Olde Town Tobacconist outpost at 1781 Brewing. I started my evening with one of my favorite 1781 beers, and one that makes an excellent cigar pairing, the König Fruhling Doppelbock. The slightly sweet, caramel and roasted flavors go well with most any cigar.

During a previous visit I had noticed some Tatuaje Avion 13 in the lounge's humidor. It was a cigar I had enjoyed a few months ago, and I was hoping there were still some available. The cigar offers a smooth smoke, with caramel and roasted coffee notes. And the large, Double Perfecto vitola is fun to smoke. 

My friend arrived a little later than I did, and opted to enjoy some food before lighting up. As such, far along in my cigar and beer by the time he lit up. What's a friend to do? Eventually I had no choice but grab another beer and cigar while we visited.

My second cigar of the evening also ended up being of a larger format, the 6" x 56  Las Calaveras Edition Limited 2020 from Crowned Heads. I've been looking forward to trying out the new blend of this annual limited release. I still have a few of the 2019 edition in my humidor, and had smoked one recently, so it was a good chance to compare the two.

The full bodied smoke features sweet, earthy notes and a moderate amount of pepper and spice. I nursed my beer along and smoked the cigar down the warm end. This year's Las Calaveras is a winner. I think I will return to pick up a few more enjoy in the future.

It was a fun evening sitting outside, enjoying some unseasonably pleasant evening weather. Spending a few hours catching up with a friend after months of the Coranadoom lockdown was a welcome respite, and hopefully a foretelling of a further return to normalcy. 

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Saturday, July 11, 2020

1781 Fimbulvinter & LFD Double Ligero

Last weekend I was happy to see that 1781 Brewing had their Fimbulvinter Stout back on tap and I picked up a growler to enjoy over the holiday. On Sunday, while Colleen baked cookies, I poured myself a glass of the Imperial Stout and lit up a smoke. 

Fimbulvinter pours deep black color with a short lived beige head. Aromas of dark chocolate and coffee greet the nose. The flavor profile follows the nose, with bitter chocolate, espresso, and molasses featured. The mouthfeel is thick with a lingering bitterness.

The La Flor Dominica Double Ligero offers a delightful flavor mate to the stout. The dark Ecuadorian Maduro wrapper, and Dominican binder and filler combine to produce a rich, bold smoke. The dark Ligero leaves featured in the blend give the cigar an extra kick of flavor and strength.

Soon, her baking done, Colleen joined me on the porch as we enjoyed the flavorful Stout and the warm evening air. It wasn't a half bad way to wind down the long Independence weekend.

Sadly, when I returned to 1781 this weekend with my empty growler, the limited Fimbulvinter was no longer available for fills to go. So, it's a fond memory until the next batch is ready.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Coffee and a Cuban Cigar

On side effect of the COVID-1984 restrictions is that I have more free Saturday mornings. The chances to shoot on weekends have decreased, and there's been a reduction in other activities as well. Lately I've been enjoying an early morning cigar and coffee on the deck, before the heat and neighborhood power equipment ramp up. As a nod to this, Colleen gave me an espresso maker for Father's Day.

I typically enjoy my coffee "straight up," black, no cream, whether that a big mug of regular coffee or a small cup of espresso. But I do partake in a creamy treat from time to time. Recently I enjoyed a big Cappuccino with a classic Cuban cigar. The Romeo y Julieta Petit Coronas is one of the cigars I brought back from our Ireland trip last year. (You remember travel, right?) 

The small 5 ⅛" x 42 stick offers about a 40 minute smoke. Like most Cubans, it is balanced and, in my opinion, quite mild. The smoke has a creamy, nutty taste with a touch of sweetness. Yeah, sort of like the coffee, though the coffee predominated on the palate. 

I've only smoked a few Cubans. I don't find them overly exciting as a general rule. Give me a bold Nicaraguan or Dominican blend any day. However, the Cubans are interesting and offer a glimpse into the rich history of cigars. All of the Cuban cigars I've smoked of late have been paired with coffee, which seems appropriate. Perhaps in the future, I might try a rum pairing. For academic reasons, of course.

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Monday, July 6, 2020

Independence Day Cigars & Cider

On July 4th, we headed over to one of our favorite spots to enjoy some live music, food, beverages, and, for me, cigars. The brewery / winery grounds were not all that crowded and we found a table under the shade of trees and set up camp. I had seen a social media post that a new cider was on tap at the brewery and headed into the winery for a couple glasses. Wilderness Gold Rush Cider is a dry, tart cider that turns out to be quite refreshing. I had intended to try just one before switching to some of my favorite 1781 Brewing beers. However, the cider was so enjoyable, and a perfect foil for the warm summer day, I decided to stick with it for the rest of the afternoon.

I lit up a Powstanie Habano to go with the crisp, dry cider. It occurred to me that the Powstanie was a somewhat fitting smoke for a day which celebrated independence. The Powstanie name comes from the Polish word for "uprising," and the company's logo includes symbols used by the Polish Resistance during World War II. And it's simply a good cigar as well.

A couple ciders later, it was time for food. The food truck of the day was Barbara's Soulfood Kitchen, serving up a wide range of tasty foods. Colleen opted for a crispy chicken sandwich, while I enjoyed a crab cake sandwich and an order of onion rings. The food was delicious and well prepared. We'll definitely  look for this vendor around town again.

As we continued to enjoy the live music, and the cider, I lit up another cigar to enjoy. The second smoke was one of the RoMa Craft CRAFT 2020 selections. I picked up a box of these uniquely wrapped cigars a few weeks ago and have been enjoying them. The CRAFT series is an annual, limited release, that features various combinations of Connecticut Broadleaf and Ecuadorian Connecticut wrappers featuring Mexican San Andrés accents, and also American Broadleaf and Ecuadorian Habano wrappers decorated with Ecuadorian Connecticut leaf. There are five different patterns presented in the box of 10. Distribution was limited to ten retailers, fortunately one my local shops was included in that group. 

Both of the cigars paired very well with the cider. They are medium to full bodied with notes of nuts, wood, earth, and cedar. The cigars are similar, featuring some of the same tobaccos, and even rolled in the same factory. 

We enjoyed ourselves through the afternoon and into the evening. When we finally decided to call it quits, we were packed up and heading for the car when we were told that fireworks would be visible soon. So instead, we set up our chairs by the car and enjoyed the show. 

It was a most fitting ending to a day of recognizing and celebrating the wonderful gift of living free in this great country.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Next Battle For Independence

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America 
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

Today, and all weekend, we celebrate our Founding Fathers' wisdom, foresight and bravery in declaring independence from an oppressive government. It's a truly American holiday, made possible by a well-armed, determined and freedom-loving citizenry. The celebration is a reminder to those of us who stand by those principles enumerated in 1776 that we must continue to both celebrate and defend them.

Sadly, there is an extremely vocal minority, supported by spineless politicians and other pandering snowflakes, who seek to destroy what was created those centuries ago. Not only do they want to destroy that history, they actually seek to erase it from memory. Under their definition of freedom, they demand you speak only words they approve, read only the books they deem suitable, and worship only where and when they permit. They increasingly resort to violence to get their way, brutally attacking innocent people and destroying property under the guise of "progress."

Our forefathers were explicit. We maintain certain rights which are granted by our Creator. Today, groups of marxists, anarchists, socialists, and the assorted "woke" violently attempt to restrict, redefine, and even remove basic God-given rights from the free citizens of these United States. They demand the government acquiesce to their demands, destroying what had been built over the last 20 years, or they will destroy it themselves, literally.

These groups so despise and fear our founding principles that even the sight of the American flag is offensive to them. The National Anthem sends them into convulsions. Statues and memorials that remember our past are being destroyed. We see daily reports how the lovers of tyranny are turning to violence in order to destroy the nation that was founded 244 years ago. With egregious attacks and lies, all while hiding behind masks, they seek to restrict liberty and create a compliant and submissive population. They scream about justice and inclusion, but in actuality they promote only division and separation. By their words and actions, it is obvious they seek destruction of a Nation, not peace and equality.

The haters of our freedom would do well to remember history. It only took three percent of the population to break the country free from tyranny the first time. True, patriotic Americans are growing weary of the daily attacks and violence. We grow tired of being labeled as racists, homophobes, or worse, all simply for valuing freedom and equal rights for all Americans.

So this Independence Day, celebrate America. Celebrate freedom. Contemplate what losing it means. Then prepare to defend it.

These men did not hide behind masks…

Happy Independence Day!

Friday, July 3, 2020

One Cigar, Two IPAs

A four day weekend. How shall I start? I decided to ease in to the mini-vacation with couple of beers and a smoke on the deck. I was rummaging through the humidor and saw a couple Perdomo 20th Anniversary Connecticut, that have been sitting there for a couple years. It's been a while since I enjoyed one of those. I grabbed one of the beers sent by Tröegs Brewing last month, piped some B.B. King to the speaker, and settled in for a relaxing evening. 

Perdomo 20th Anniversary Connecticut is a well-constructed Toro with a smooth Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade wrapper, around Cuban seed Nicaraguan binder and filler. The medium bodied smoke has a mix of nuttiness, cream, and coffee notes. I also get some sweet bready hints. There's a touch of pepper to be found. 

Perpetual IPA is a year-round beer from Tröegs Brewing. From the can it pours a dark amber color with a pure white head. The aroma is dank pine and citrus. Sipping brings on more of the same, with strong flavors of citrus rind, pine, and grain. The finish is long and bitter, with a hint of sweetness. The mouthfeel is resinous and sticky. At first I wondered if the beer would overpower the cigar. However the 20th Anniversary is a bit more full bodied than the average Connecticut shade wrapped cigar and held its own, the touch of pepper in the finish stepping in to meet the strong flavor of the beer.

The 6" x 56 stick provides a long smoke, so with about half the cigar left I grabbed another Tröegs IPA. Field Study IPA is a summer release from the brewery. Pouring a hazy straw color. It's topped by a frothy white head. With the beer sitting on the table next to my chair, and the cigar smoking next it, I could smell the delightful grapefruit aromas hitting my nose. The flavor profile features juicy citrus, especially grapefruit and melon. The finish is clean and short-lived, with some lingering grapefruit tartness. The mouthfeel is light and carbonated. I thought the Field Study IPA went with the cigar even better than the first beer. There's just enough sweetness in the smoke to match the citrus of the beer, and the pepper in the cigar fades in the last third as to not interfere.

Interestingly, the two Tröegs beers fall at opposite ends of the IPA spectrum. The first is a darker beer, featuring citrus rind and a pleasing bitterness. The latter features a juicy, citrus fruit sweetness. Both are excellent beers, but I know many folks prefer one profile over the other. I always hesitate when someone asks for "an IPA." There's a wide range of flavor profiles included in that term. 

The cigar was smoked down to the nub. It provided nearly two hours of enjoyment. And the long weekend was just getting started.

Interested in more cigar content? Follow me on Instagram at VASIGFan.

The beer mentioned in the post was an unsolicited gift from the brewery. The review represents my opinion and is provided without compensation.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

A Micallef Cigar and Amaretto

Relaxing after the morning's IDPA match, we retired to the screen porch for a before dinner libation. I felt the Micallef Grand Bold Maduro calling to me from the humidor. Such a strongly flavored cigar would typically call for a strong bourbon, but the afternoon heat had me desiring something a bit "lighter." Colleen offered a solution with, "I'll have an Amaretto on a rock." That sounded like just the thing.

The Micallef cigar is one I've enjoyed a few times recently. This 7"x50 Churchill would provide a good two hours worth of enjoyment. It features a beautiful, toothy, Ecuadorian wrapper over Nicaraguan binder and filler. This is a full-bodied smoke with complex yet balance notes of toasted nuts, chocolate, wood, and a touch of cedar. 

The last time I enjoyed this cigar was with a sweet stout. The Disaronno Amaretto offered a different sort of sweetness, this time from almond instead of cocoa. Lower in ABV than any Bourbon option, the liquor kept me refreshed throughout the long smoke. With the slow melting ice block keeping the drink cool, it was exceptionally refreshing.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Liga Undercrown and a Bourbon

At the end of another long work day (aren't they all?) I settled down for a quick dessert after dinner. I grabbed a Liga Privada Undercrown Maduro from the humidor, and pondered an accompaniment. Spying a bottle of Jefferson's Ocean Aged At Sea Bourbon, I opted to pour a wee bit of the whiskey to go with my cigar.

Jefferson's Ocean Aged Bourbon matures in oak barrels for six to eight years before being placed on a ship to travel the ocean for another six months. The voyage is said to cross the equator 4 times with stops in 30 ports. Unsurprisingly, the ocean voyage affects the flavor. I found the 90 proof bourbon to be smooth and mild, with a hint of brine in the flavor. Admittedly, that was a little off-putting the first time I sipped it, but it quickly grew on me. I now find it a most refreshing drink. 

The Liga Privada Undercrown Maduro from Drew Estate is one of my "keep on hand" cigars. This cigar was from the latest batch added to the humidor a couple months ago. The cigar features a Mexican San Andrés Maduro wrapper (another of my "favorite things"), Habano Connecticut binder, with Brazil Mata Fina and Nicaraguan Habano leaves as fillers. The creamy smoke features rich espresso, some cocoa sweetness, and a hint of dark fruit. As a medium-bodied smoke, the cigar paired well with the mild bourbon, neither dominating the palate.

The Undercrown Maduro is one that always gets smoked down to the hot nub. And then still set down with a bit of disappointment when it's done.

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Monday, June 29, 2020

Cavalier IDPA Match

Another Saturday and another chance to shoot. This past Saturday I joined some friends for the monthly IDPA match at Cavalier Rifle and Pistol Club. This was the second weekend in a row when I was able to have some IDPA fun. It's a nice respite from all the pandemic pandering.

Our squad kicked off on a stage which had us starting mid-stage facing a wall. The stage was generally symmetrical, with numerous options for engagement. In fact, I noticed the first four shooters all ran the stage differently. For my part, I began by retreating to engage targets from cover at each side of the course. Then moving forward to the center fault line, there was a single target visible through an opening created by walls and barrels. Continuing forward to the center, two more targets were visible through that same opening. 

That was a fun stage, and I was happy to shoot it -0.

Moving on to the next bay, we found an interesting stage, with moving targets and steel. To either side, closest to us, was a swinger on the left and a disappearing drop turner to our right. Down range was a single static target and three steel poppers, one of which activated both movers. Each paper target required three hits each. Since neither mover was visible at the start, the down range targets had priority. However, as soon as the activation steel was engaged the movers took priority. There was a lot of discussion on the best way to shoot it, taking into account priority, timing, and concerns for not having an empty gun when the disappearing target was activated. With all the discussion and thought going into the stage, I neglected to take a picture.

I felt good going in to shoot the stage. The movers were moderately close, and there seemed to be plenty of time to get at least three shots in each. Yet, when the holes in paper were counted I was left 10 down for the course, mostly due to a couple of -3 shots, as well as some -1 holes on the swinger. Moving on…

Another retreating start was featured in the next stage. We began mid-stage, standing in a corner. Backing up range, there were targets engaged around walls at either side of the course. Next moving down the center of the array of walls, we shot a lone target from the fault line at an opening in the wall. Moving forward a couple more targets became visible through the same opening. Two more shooting positions came into play, before finishing the course of fire on a head shot only target while doing a hard lean around cover.

It was a quick stage, and I finished down two points. At least I was back on track after the previous run.

More steel showed up on the following stage. Shot from a single position, the stage consisted of four paper targets and four falling steel, placed at three levels of priority, the steel in the middle. Each paper target required three hits each. 

Rapidly engaging the first two targets, I swung towards the steel. I caught a glimpse of a -1 hit but moved on before it registered. The steel fell quick with one make up shot. The extra shot actually was a benefit in allowing me to reload on the transition to the back paper targets. This turned out to be my best stage, finishing second in SSP and fourth overall for the stage.

To shoot the last stage we engaged two targets close up while moving, again backwards, to engage a target from cover. Then we crossed the bay to enter a tight zig-zag hallway and find the final two targets. I ended -1 for this stage.

During my post match drive home I contemplated the morning's performance. Excepting the disaster of the movers, I was 4 points down for the remaining four stages. So, I was pretty happy with my accuracy. I find it's my movement and transitions that have been hurt the most by the months of limited or no shooting. I did notice myself hesitating and verifying shots before moving to the next position. Last week I caught myself dropping the gun out of shooting position while moving, and getting it back up late. I tried to remember that during this match and transition better. With matches limited and range time even more rare, perhaps I should get back to the discipline of dry firing. My (old) dry fire routine included practicing transitions between targets and positions which would likely help my overall score.

By the end of the match I was worn out from the heat and sun. Nonetheless it was a fun morning of shooting and seeing friends. Now that summer is truly here, heat and humidity on the range will be the order for the day over the next a few months. I'll take that over "social distancing" any day.

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Cigar and Port

Father's Day eve, Colleen and I enjoyed the pleasant weather with an evening on the screen porch, listening to music and thunderstorms. While discussing our beverage options, Colleen mentioned we had a bottle of port in the pantry. I had been preparing to mix up an Old Fashioned, but that port did sound good.

I was looking forward to enjoying the new Bishops Blend from Black Label Trading Company, and the Graham's 10 Year Tawny Port felt like it would be an excellent pairing option. Sure, some may say it's a winter drink, but some people are afraid the wear white before Memorial Day too.

Bishops Blend is a limited release from Black Label Trading. This year's edition was created in two sizes, with only 450 boxes of 20 produced in each vitola. The blend is comprised of an Ecuador Habano Maduro wrapper, an Ecuador Habano binder, and a mix of Nicaraguan, Connecticut broadleaf, and Pennsylvania broadleaf filler tobaccos. The smoke gives off flavors of coffee, cocoa, and some interesting dark fruit notes. There's a bit of pepper in there as well. It's a full bodied flavor profile. And extremely enjoyable. The burn was excellent as well.

The dark fruit notes in the port made for a very pleasurable pairing. As we poured repeated glasses of the port, I continually was impressed by cigar, and how well it went with the port. I generally gravitate to bourbon or beer when it comes to alcohol with cigars. Lately I've been experimenting with rum, amaretto, and even limoncello. This particular pairing was indeed a pleasure. 

I soon regretted that the cigar was merely a 5" x 48 Robusto. I picked up three of these at the lounge a few weeks, smoke one there and brought two home. I resisted lighting up the remaining stick in my humidor this evening. I'll save it for another day. Until researching the Bishops Blend for this post, I did not realize just how limited the production was. I wonder if the shop still has any left.

Interested in more cigar content? Follow me on Instagram at VASIGFan.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Tröeg's Haze Charmer and an Afternoon Smoke

For a light after work light refreshment recently I retrieved a can of Tröegs Haze Runner Pale Ale from the fridge. The can was part of a package of summer beers sent for review by Tröegs Brewing. Haze Runner is a new year round beer from Tröegs that was released this spring.

The beer has an unfiltered, hazy appearance due to the unmalted wheat used in the brewing, as well as dry-hopping. The glass sports a bright white head, which drops away after a few sips. Citrus and pine lead the aroma. Sipping brings juicy citrus flavors of pineapple, grapefruit and some sweet peach. There's a moderate mix of wheat and oak, and some pine in the finish. The mouthfeel is somewhat chewy with a tingling carbonation. It's an easy drinking beer that goes down fast, and the mild 5.5% ABV suits the fast drink.

Naturally I grabbed to smoke to enjoy as I reviewed the beer. Last month's shipment from My Cigar Pack included the limited Lost & Found No Free Lunch from Caldwell cigars. I wasn't familiar with the stick, though I expected it to be mild. Lost & Found finds cigars that were originally blended by other factories, then repackages them under the new label for charitable purposes. Proceeds from the sales of No Free Lunch will go to relief efforts related to COVID-19.

No Free Lunch features a Dominican wrapper, Indonesian binder, and Dominican fillers, producing a very mild cigar. While the cause is noble, I found the cigar to be rather uninspiring. Your mileage may vary depending on your preferences. At least the cigar flavor didn't overwhelm the beer. I nursed the beer along for about half the stick before boredom stepped in and I switched to the beer alone.

As a year-round offering, I'll keep an eye out for Tröegs Haze Runner at my local stores. It will make a very enjoyable summer refreshment. 

The beer mentioned in the post was an unsolicited gift from the brewery. The review represents my opinion and is provided without compensation.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Rivanna IDPA Match

The Saturday of Father's Day weekend offered a rare, for the year 2020 so far, chance to shoot an IDPA match. On an overcast but warm morning I headed over the Rivanna Rifle & Pistol club for the "monthly" match. About 85 shooters braved all the pandemic posturing to enjoy the outdoors, camaraderie, and a morning of good shooting.

The first of four stages had us starting seated, with our unloaded gun in a box and magazines on the table. We faced an up close non-threat directly in front of us, with five targets downrange to be shot in priority. As a twist, the stage briefing stated the first four targets were shot while seated, while the last and furthest target was to be engaged while standing. All targets required three hits on each.

This is was fast and fun stage, which I was pleased to shoot zero down.  

The next stage involved shooting while retreating. The first two targets were mandated to be shot while standing at the start position, before we began backing up to engage four more targets as they appeared to either side as we passed by the barrels hiding them. Again, each target required a minimum of three hits on each.

Zero down again for me on this stage, though I did lose a bit of time fumbling the reload.

Moving on to stage 3, we found six targets and a couple of non-threats behind a wall. The two center targets were engaged through an opening in the wall. Two more targets were to be found by moving to both ends of the wooden barriade. Again, all targets required three hits, though this time it was specified as requiring two to the body, and one to the head. 

Wow. I was on a roll, with another -0 stage. 

The last course of fire had us shooting from a marked box on the ground, our movement limited to a few feet. Three non-threats placed mid-bay had to be avoided in order to engage the eight targets lined up at the back, each requiring two hits. Now the pressure was on, at least in my own head. Could I complete the match down zero? 

I was to be the next to last shooter on the last stage, but I avoided ruminating on that question while I waited. When it was finally my turn to shoot, I tried to do so deliberately, and at an even pace. It felt good, but the holes in the cardboard where just out of my vision range. I walked down range and listened to the call, "down 1."

Okay, down just one point for the match. No hits on non-threats. And, as I recall, a single make up shot the entire match. Of course, some would say such a clean match simply means I shot too slowly. But, I was pleased with the performance, finishing 4th of 18 in SSP.

I've been able to shoot very little during the covid-related panic and tyrannical restrictions on personal freedoms. For the morning at least, it was a pleasure to be be surrounded with other folks enjoying a good time.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Two Whiskeys, One Cigar

As I prepared for Friday evening, I had a hankering for some Redbreast 12 Year Irish Whiskey. I poured a glass, grabbed a cigar and headed for the porch. For this pairing I selected the Oliva Serie V Maduro Especial in a Torpedo format. The Oliva is one of those cigars I turn to often, and the torpedo is a fun vitola to smoke.

As I headed out the door, I mentioned to Colleen that this might not be the best pairing. I knew the cigar and I knew the whiskey. But I was craving both, so onward I went. The Redbreast is a relatively mild whiskey, with a subtle sweetness of white grapes and honey. It's a good whiskey with which to start a long evening. The Oliva Serie V Maduro is a full bodied smoke featuring rich, creamy chocolate with cedar and nuttiness in the finish. The ligero leaf added to the filler gives it a bit of strength. Both were exceedingly enjoyable, but as predicted, they just didn't compliment each other. But persevere I did.

Once that pour of whiskey was downed, I still had plenty of cigar left. Heading back to my whiskey stash, I went directly for the bottle of Woodford Reserve Double Oak Whiskey. There was no risk involved in this choice, it would be a hit. This fine bourbon tops my list with smooth, sweet oak notes. A slight fruit and vanilla aspect adds to the pleasure. As expected, the match was perfect.

One of the aspects of enjoying beverages, be they coffee, beer, whiskey, or other, with cigars and food is experimenting with pairings. They may not always work, but when you find one that hits the spot like the Woodford and Serie V, it's a great pleasure. Of course, the ongoing hunt for perfection is always fun.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Flag Day & Other American Celebrations

On June 14, 1777, the Second Congressional Congress officially adopted the design of our nation's flag. Flag Day is celebrated each June 14 as proud Americans celebrate the freedoms the flag represents. Given the lack of respect, in fact hatred, so many show for our country's greatness these days, Flag Day offers an opportunity to remember how great this country truly is.

There are other, less official, holidays on today's calendar as well. June 14 is has been designated as National Bourbon Day. And if that doesn't tickle your tastebuds, it's also National Strawberry Shortcake Day

Our flag, some bourbon, and a sweet dessert — it really doesn't get more American than that!

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Saturday Kickoff

Saturday dawned cool and sunny. Perfect for some early morning time on the back porch. While the household slept in a little longer, I allowed myself a bit of decadence and whipped up a cappuccino to enjoy with a Rocky Patel Sungrown Maduro Lancero.

The Sungrown Maduro is one of my favorites, though I usually enjoy the Robusto format.  The 7½" x 38 Lancero packs a stronger flavor profile due to the larger wrapper ratio and concentrated smoke. The cigar format and the USA Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper provide an elegant smoke, but one that requires a bit more concentration to maintain a good burn. The espresso and bitter cocoa flavor profile made an enjoyable match for the rich coffee drink.

Adding some Charlie Parker jazz in the background as I heard the house waking up, completed the atmosphere. I got through most of the smoke and a second cup of coffee before the neighbors fired up a pressure washer and drowned out the music and morning bird sounds. But no worries, it was time to go visit with house guests, before heading off to an afternoon at a local cigar lounge with a friend. 

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Tröegs Sunshine Pilsner

Saturday was an extraordinarily productive day. After breakfast, and on just a single cup of coffee, I went to work on my planned chores for the day. I reframed and hung a new screen door on the porch, transplanted some deck plants to the garden, and upgraded to a new work laptop. All before noon! After a shower and lunch, it was time for relaxation. That was enough productivity for a Saturday!

A few weeks back I received a summer care package of four beers and a bandana from Tröegs Brewing. I decided to grab one of them, and an appropriate cigar, and retire to my newly-doored porch to enjoy a rest. 

A can of Tröegs Sunshine Pilsner seemed appropriate for the sunny afternoon. Digging deep into the humidor, I located a Foundation Charter Oak Connecticut Toro.

Sunshine Pilsner is one of Tröegs' core beers. The beer pours bright straw yellow with a pure white head. The aroma is grass and hay. Sipping the 4.5% ABV pilsner brings notes of bread, grass, and white grape, all backed with a bitter citrus zest. The mouthfeel is crisp and carbonated. Grassy and citrus bitter notes linger in the finish. 

The Charter Oak Connecticut is a cigar I've not smoked in a couple years. I don't smoke a lot of cigars featuring Connecticut Shade wrappers, as they often get a bit bland, and even bitter at the end for me. In addition to the USA Connecticut Shade wrapper, this cigar features a Sumatra binder and fillers from Nicaragua. To my delight, the flavor of the smoke was pleasing to the end.

All in all, this sunny combo worked well together. Neither the beer nor the cigar overpowered the other. Rather than contrasting, the flavors of both, especially in the finish, were surprisingly similar.

If anything, the only downside of the experience was keeping the cigar dry. The cold beer in the humid air created copious condensation on the outside glass, and I frequently reached for the cigar with a wet hand. I nursed that glass of beer nearly through the entire smoke, often almost nodding off in the warm air. Not a bad way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon, if I do say so myself.

The beer mentioned in the post was an unsolicited gift from the brewery. The review represents my opinion and is provided without compensation.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Ending the Week, or Starting the Weekend?

Friday evening I jumped in the car to head over to the brewery to enjoy some music, a beer, and a cigar. The sun was shining overhead. As soon as I started west I could see dark clouds ahead. A quick check of the Dark Sky app on my phone showed storms approaching. So I changed course and headed back home. 

Moving to the porch I lit up a Fratello D.M.V. District of Columbia, made myself a Rye Old Fashioned and waited. I didn't have to wait long. Soon I actually needed to turn on a light on the porch, as the rain and lightening started in force and sunlight vanished.

Turning up the music, I sat back and enjoyed the quickly cooling temps, as well as the light and sound show. The Fratello D.M.V. is one of my favorite smokes. This one was released in 2018 and has aged to perfection. To my knowledge, this vitola and blend was a one-time release; the 2019 release changed the blends for all sizes. I have five four, left in my humidor that I am slowly going through. The medium bodied smoke has notes of leather and spice. It's a great pairing with the drink, and the nearly two hour smoke allows for a couple of glasses of the cocktail.

The storm passed relatively quickly, and I was thankful for the soaking rain for the lawn. As I enjoyed the evening, I got to thinking, was this a fine ending to the work week, or a fitting start to the weekend? I guess it was really both. I'm not sure what happened out at my original destination, but there's a whole weekend ahead to allow for another try.

Monday, June 1, 2020

A Wee Bit of Normality

Around our house we are especially pleased to see the month of May be done. Was it really only 31 days? Seems much longer. Like everyone else of course, we've been dealing with the "COVID-1984" restrictions. On top of that, we've had work being done on our house for the last several weeks. A kitchen renovation was planned long before the Chicom virus was in the news, but the work commenced in May. It's bad timing to be kitchen-less at the same time restaurants are closed. It's bad timing to have construction going on in your house when you are locked down at home. Once the kitchen work was done, we had painters in to refresh the entire first floor. Surprisingly, the painting was more disruptive to life (and work from home) around the house than the kitchen activity. But, that's all done now. This will be the first week in a month we had our house to ourselves. Of course, there's a lot left for us still to do, as we haven't fully moved all our stuff back into place yet.

On Saturday, after some work sorting house out, I picked up a friend and we headed over to the Olde Towne Tobacconist outpost at 1781 Brewing for an afternoon of visiting, beer, and cigars. It was extremely pleasant to sit outside, talk to other humans, and just enjoy the nice weather. Saturday evening, Colleen and I sat in our refreshed living space and enjoyed a relaxing dinner, all the while making plans for the next projects.

Sunday was glorious by virtue of finally being able to go to Mass, as the governor has now granted permission for worship to resume in our part of the state. We had to wear uncomfortable face masks, but it was Mass nonetheless. Even though the church was sparsely populated, we were able to celebrate live and in-person, rather than via an online stream.

In the afternoon we took advantage of the weather to enjoy the outdoor setting at 1781 Brewing. I believe it was the first time in 2020 that Colleen and I were able to get away from the house for an afternoon of relaxation. There was no live music playing as so often happens in the warmer months, but the sun was shining and the beer was good. And there were smiling humans out and about. Patrons were limited to two inside at a time when ordering beer or wine, but the outdoor space was full of "physically separated" families and dogs. 

The cigar lounge is closed on Sunday for sales so I had brought along my own options for smoking. After grabbing a mug of 1781 Brewing Farmhouse Pale Ale, I lit up a Rocky Patel Vintage 2006 Sixty

I typically enjoy darker beers with cigars; stouts, dopplebocks, even a red ale, are frequent choices. But I do enjoy hoppy beers, though they aren't always the best cigar pairings. The Farmhouse Pale Ale is a moderately hopped ale that strikes a nice balance of citrus and fruitiness. The hop notes leave a clean, short finish on the palate.

The cigar is one of my favorites, the Vintage 2006 in the 6" x 60 vitola. A Mexican San Andrés wrapper,  USA Connecticut Broadleaf binder, and Nicaraguan fillers combine to make a flavorful but not overpowering smoke. Dark chocolate, oak, leather and a mild sweetness predominate. It all works extremely well with the mild hop and fruit notes of the beer. It's a long smoke too, requiring a refill of my mug. 

We were later joined by some friends who happened to be out taking advantage of the beautiful environs and new freedoms as well. We enjoyed catching up with them as we wound down the afternoon.

Yes indeed, the weekend brought a bit of normality to our lives, despite the news of the anarchists around the country using a tragedy as an excuse to bring their cowardly violence to bear on innocent people. Let's pray that we are soon able to get back to peaceful living, and the restrictions on free movement and free enterprise will soon be a thing of the past.