Friday, November 25, 2022

Thanksgiving "Digestive": Blanton's and Crowned Heads

We ate our first Thanksgiving dinner early, around 1:00pm. This allowed a break before dessert, and then a second dinner later in the day. The Thanksgiving feast is too good to eat just once. (And of course, we enjoy turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce sandwiches the next day.) In between dinners, I retired to the back deck to enjoy a "digestive" while the family watched football inside. I was blessed with sun and a 60° temperature, making for a most pleasant time.

I didn't have any of the customary Wild Turkey on hand, so opted for what seems to be another popular Thanksgiving bourbon, Blanton's Single Barrel. Blanton's is an allocated bourbon under the government-comtrolled system of manipulated supply in Virginia, so I only break this one out occasionally.

Blanton's Single Barrel checks in at 93 proof, and has a mild, but pleasant aroma of sweet honey, vanilla, with a hint of spice. A moderately bold flavor profile with of caramel, honey, and vanilla as the major players. The finish lingers, adding a satisfying pepper hint to the game. I am surprised that I read so much cynicism online about this classic bourbon, as I find it a quite pleasant libation.

Given the balanced and nuanced flavor profile, I paired one of my favorite medium-bodied smokes, the Crowned Heads Le Carême Canonazo. The Le Carême sticks feature a shiny Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, a Sumatra binder, and Nicaraguan fillers. This 5 ⅞ x 52 box pressed stick is medium bodied with creamy, sweet chocolate and nutty notes.  It is a favorite to pair with milder, sweet bourbons. 

As I finished the smoke, a received a text from Colleen asking if I was ready for dessert. Feeling refreshed and reenergized after the filling (first) dinner, I acquiesced and returned to the feasting inside.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

A Bourbon and A Smoke to Kick Off the Holiday

The past week saw an abrupt change in the weather, with very cold temperatures coming in suddenly. While not bitterly cold, the quick switch from warmer temps made the change all the more jarring. Thankfully, the weather returned to more "seasonable" temperatures in time for the Thanksgiving holiday, at least for a short time. On Thanksgiving Eve, I took advantage of the weather to enjoy a cigar and bourbon on the deck — while running only one of the propane heaters!

I selected a Southern Draw Manzanita in the Robusto size. This is a cigar I've enjoyed in the past, and recently acquired a new supply. They'd been resting in the humidor for about a month, the minimal time before I'd consider lighting one. A reddish-brown Habano wrapper covers a Habano binder, with Corojo and Ligero fillers. The smoke has an earthy base with bold dark chocolate and cedar notes. A kick of peppers concludes the profile. Southern Draw cigars never disappoint and this is one of my favorites.

As an accompaniment, a grabbed a bottle of Russell's Reserve 10 Year Bourbon. I've had this bottle for some time but hadn't revisited it in a while. The aroma on this is, well, bourbon. It's got classic notes of vanilla and caramel. Sipping brings on more of the expected notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak. Like the kick at the end produced by the cigar, the bourbon has a nice, and lingering, rye kick in the finish. At just 90 proof, the Wild Turkey product is an easy sipper, that comes in bigger than its $40 price point. 

As a pairing, the combination was enjoyable. Frequently I'll pair higher proof bourbons with bold cigars. I did find that the boldness of the cigar subdued the bourbon flavors somewhat. I had started smoking the cigar before pouring the beverage, and noted the muted spice from the bourbon. However, I did enjoy a late night pour after the cigar, to appreciate the whole profile more.

Have a Very Happy Thanksgiving Holiday!

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Sanner's Lake IDPA

The stars, planets, and my schedule, aligned this month and I was able to once again shoot the monthly IDPA match at Sanner's Lake in Lexington Park, MD. It was March 2020 when I last attended this fun match. I headed out before dawn to meet my travel companions on a pleasant, warm November morning with much anticipation.

The first stage had us starting at the center of a wall of barrels. Targets were engaged from cover at either end of the wall, followed by two targets found in the open on the way to another wall of barrels, at the last point of cover. I was -7 but this was still my best placing stage.

The match included the 5x5 IDPA Classifier, split into two stages, which our squad shot next. I hadn't shot the classifier for some time, so was happy to at least complete it. I didn't shoot it was well as I would have liked, but it's really moot since I received a match bump to EX a few years ago, and despite the effect of age on eyes and knees, I'm stuck with that ranking. (Unless I lose a limb I am told.)

After the two classifier stages, we moved on to a deceitfully unforgiving stage. Starting on the left side of the stage we engaged an open steel target that revealed a popup paper target. We then moved right along a barrier and engaged targets from cover as they were revealed. Appearing straight forward at the initial glance, the stage was deceptive in that many of the shots were restricted by barrels and non-threat targets. There were a fair number of hits on non-threats and high points down recorded. As I was shooting I saw a non-threat move as I hit it's stick, but at least did get the shoot through score on the intended target.

The last stage we shot was the most complex of the morning, with numerous shooting positions and targets hidden among the props. And as fate would have it, I was to be the first shooter. Starting with hands on the center barrel, the first two targets were found to the right. Moving left and slightly forward, several targets were visible. We then progressed down the center "hallway."

As we processed to the center of the stage more targets appeared to the left, and to the right, including a steel popper and a partially exposed head-only target. We were told the head target was initially planned to be a swinger activated by the steel, the prop wasn't working so it was changed to a static target during set up. Advancing further forward, we saw some open targets before moving to shoot the last target from a hard lean around the left side of the wall. I found all the targets and had almost all -0 hits. Turns out in my haste, I dropped one shot into the "hard cover" black on an early target for my only points down on the stage.

I enjoyed the match and seeing friends, despite the two hour drive time each way. I ended up 22nd of 51 Overall, and 7th of 17 in SSP. We finished shooting before noon, and our first stop on the way home was to do some whiskey shopping at the local liquor store. The free enterprise stores in Maryland often offer selections not available in our more socialist-themed State stores in Virginia. I found a couple fun bourbons to bring home. After a stop for lunch, the day was complete except for the drive home. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Smoking on the Danube

Last month we enjoyed seven day cruise on the Danube River that included ports of call in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. It was an amazing experience with beautiful sights, amazing food, and fun people. The conversations with people who lived much their lives under Communist rule were enlightening, and refreshing compared to the naiveté spouted by the left here at home. I knew setting out the schedule would be hectic, and I wasn't sure about the opportunity to enjoy cigars along the way. I did pack plenty, just in case

I did manage to find time to relax with a cigar on several occasions, usually in the evening after dinner. Nights on the sundeck were cool, breezy, and dark due to low lighting. Sort of like my deck at home in the fall. One afternoon we elected to stay onboard and relax rather than tour, so I immediately retired to the top deck and enjoyed the beautiful view and a fine cigar. 

Early in the trip I happened to mention having a cigar when talking to a couple we had just met. The husband's eyes lit up and I offered that he was welcome to join in. We enjoyed a couple of late night smokes. It's a testament to the cigar culture that strangers become friends quickly. We've exchanged contact info and I look forward to catching up on future travels.

I didn't get the opportunity to visit any cigar shops, like I did in Ireland. Most of the stores I saw were small stalls selling mostly cigarettes. The only smoking-related shopping I did was to pick up another disposable lighter. Not quite your typical souvenir.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Warming Up On A Cool Fall Evening

One a recent cool fall evening I broke out the only A. Smith Bowman whiskey I’ve not previously tried, at least to my memory, the Isaac Bowman Port Barrel Finished Bourbon. This lapse despite living local and even working next door to the distillery for many years. The bourbon has been hard to find for most of this year due to a bottle shortage. During a recent tour of the distillery I asked what was happening with all the Isaac Bowman sitting in port barrels and was told they had stock ready and it had been transferred to stainless steel tanks to hold. The bottle supply issue seems to have been resolved as all the Bowman bourbons have appeared in quantity at the ABC stores the last couple weeks.

The bourbon has some sweet fruit on the nose. The flavor profile is less sweet with dark fruit and a refined port influence. At 92 Proof, it's easy on the palate and has a clean, short finish with a faint lingering fruitiness. I’ve not always enjoyed port finished bourbons but this is a winner IMO. For $40 this could be a staple on the shelf. 

I chose one of my favorite cigar blends to enjoy with the bourbon, the Crowned Heads La Carême. I enjoy this cigar in all it's variations, but the 2021 Limited Edition Belicosos Finos is especially nice. (And now only three left in the box.)

The cigar is medium bodied with creamy, sweet notes. There's a touch of cedar spice to add some complexity and it's one that seems to go especially well with bourbons of all sorts.

Warm days followed by cool nights . . . that's Fall in Virginia. It takes me a while to adapt to smoking in the cold, using the propane and electric heaters. At first, I'll just forgo the pleasure, but as the cool evenings become more regular, the choice must be made. I've finally broken out one of the heaters. After burning off the dust, it provided just the touch to ward off the chill. And the bourbon didn't hurt either.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

A Beautiful Fall Day For IDPA

After a little over a month "off" from any matches, I made it to the October match at the Cavalier Rifle and Pistol Club on Montpelier. The morning was cool, and I grabbed a pair of light gloves on the way out the door. I was thankful I did, though the sun eventually warmed the air by mid-match. 

With summer travel keeping many folks away over the past few months, this match seemed like a reunion of sorts, with the "full crew" of regulars on hand. It was good to catch up. As I often say, a match is a social event interrupted by occasional gunfire! :-)

The first stage the squad shot had us seated to start, with the loaded gun on the table. After engaging targets in the open to either side, we left the chair to move through the course of fire. First to the left, then crossing back to the right to engage targets from several points of cover.

Next up was a simple, two string stage shot standing in one spot. The first string required two hits to the body and one head shot on the close target, followed by two body shots on the far targets. The second string was two head shots to each of the two back targets. A quick stage that our squad of 18(!) shooters finished quickly.

Our third stage of the morning began with us facing uprange. There were target options to either side of the wall behind us. The right target could be shot from the starting position, at a moderate distance, or we could move down range in a winding path, around a wall and barrel, to engage it from a closer distance. Most chose to add the extra steps to close the distance, while others chose the longer shot and shorter path. I elected the former. After those targets were sorted, we moved to other points of cover to finish the stage. Despite the longer path, this was my next to best stage.

Although I generally prefer field courses to stand and shoot exercises, the next stage proved very fun. Once again constrained to a shooting box, we faced four arrays of paper and steel at varying distances. I was feeling good about my shooting, and maybe a little cocky, so I planned to shoot the first five targets as fast as I could, keeping the splits between shots and targets as even as possible. 

The plan paid off. I was -2 on the far paper target, but came in 3rd overall on the stage with a raw time of 8.33 seconds. I must admit, it felt a little wild, but point shooting usually does.

Our last stage of the day broke the typical "two shots on paper" mold with a Halloween zombie-style stage.  We started with just four rounds in the gun, and all reloading devices on a table downrange. All the targets were head-only and required a single shot. Starting with our hands on the pumpkin, the first three targets were engaged as we moved towards our magazines at the table. Seven more targets finished the stage.

I was pleased with my results this morning. In the 10 matches I've shot this spring through summer, I've been quite happy with my performance most of the time. I've been aiming for accuracy, but finishing a little better than midfield most of the time. Aging eyes and knees, as well absolutely zero practice time on the range, having their effect. I went into the match with the intent to speed up a bit, and believe I did that. The 8 points down for the match equal my average of late, but I managed a 10th of 35 overall finish, and 3rd of 7 in SSP. 

It was an enjoyable match shot in pleasant fall weather with good friends. As winter approaches, it's unclear how much more shooting I'll see this year, but this would suffice as a suitable cap.

Friday, October 28, 2022

It's Been a Minute

I recently received an email from a reader making note of my absence from posting. My web browser landing pages set to these Musings, so I am constantly made well-aware of the stale post. Rest assured reader, I am still here. The break has been by design due to a busy schedule, and a lack of inspiration. 

For those wondering, the shooting, cigar, beer, whiskey, and travel activities have not ceased. To illustrate, since my last post on April 10, 2022, I've actually participated in 10 local monthly IDPA matches. I do plan to go back to some match write-ups in the future as an expansion of the brief notes I make for my own benefit.

There have been some 42 different cigars enjoyed in that time too. I opted to not take notes, even for the new or limited releases. Many of those cigars were obviously enjoyed with good bourbon or craft beer. This is a good place to mention that many of those smokes, and other subjects, are illustrated on my Instagram feed.

Speaking of whiskey, my spreadsheet shows I've added 26 whiskeys, mostly bourbons, to my stock since April. That number shocks me a bit -- hopefully my wife isn't reading this. Although she is well aware of the new shelf in the dining room. There are still half a dozen I need to open.

The above statements reveal my OCD, or nerd factor, around the logging and journaling I do across my interests. 

Speaking of travel, we've been to Montana, and to Central Europe for a great Danube River cruise. And, once fall arrived, Hokies football has added several weekend trips to the schedule. 

Wait, I forget where I was going with all this.

Chat soon!. . . 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Fratello and Maker's Mark Bottle Kill

Ah, those bittersweet moments. I was perusing my whiskey cabinet for something to pair with the evening cigar and spied the bottle of Maker's Mark Cask Strength hiding in the back row. As I lifted the bottle I started thinking it was empty. But, lo and behold, there seemed to be one pour left. (How the bottle wasn't finished that last time is a mystery.)

Maker's Mark Cask Strength is a very approachable bourbon even at 110.6 proof. Mild on the nose, upon sipping there are flavors of dark fruit, caramel, and vanilla. There are also vaguely sweet notes of caramel and honey. 

The cigar featured for the evening was a Fratello DMV Maduro Selection in the DC vitola. The December 2020 limited release series features four different cigars representing VA, MD, DC, and PA. The details of the blends were kept secret. While the binder and filler tobaccos are the same in all, four different maduro wrappers finish the cigars.The cigar is a medium bodied smoke with notes of wood and earth. It paired nicely with the selected bourbon.

The pairing was enjoyable if bittersweet. As mentioned the bottle is now empty. Fortunately this is not a hard to find bourbon so is easily replaced. However the cigar was a one-time release, and the last in the humidor, a "cigar box kill" so to speak. But, there are no regrets. Cigars, like bourbon, are meant for enjoyment, not storage.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

At Long Last, Shooting Again

I almost forgot this blog existed. Not really, I just took a long break. I've also been quite inactive in the shooting sports. After some seven months off from any range time, I finally made it to an IDPA match a couple weeks ago. The occasion was the monthly gathering at the Cavalier Rifle and Pistol Club. That long absence was attributable to family activity conflicts, bad weather, and giving myself some "down time." 

It was unfortunate that some of my friends and usual shooting companions were away at another match that weekend, but I did enjoy seeing many others. The day started off cool and breezy, and essentially stayed that way with only brief instances when the sun broke through the clouds.

For this match I decided to shoot my full size SIG P320 rather than the Compact version I had shot all the previous year. As I prepared for the match, I realized not only had I not shot anything since August 2021, I had not shot this particular gun since November 2020! This could be interesting.

The first stage our squad shot started us seated and then moving to engage targets through two center ports and around walls on either side of the course of fire. As I did my walkthrough I got an uncomfortable feeling that I wasn't confident on my very first shots through the high and narrow port. Once I began shooting, it felt good and I finished the stage just one point down.

We shot the next stage while seated. There were targets to either side, and four targets partially obstructed by barrels or non-threats. The stage was a lot of fun to shoot. Despite the tight shots to targets behind the barrels, I shot the stage -0. Alas, I also received a 3 point PE for failing in my attempt to count to 10, thereby loading an extra round in a magazine. 

Up next was another field course with targets engaged from multiple points of cover. The stage started with the unloaded gun and all magazines placed on a table. After picking up the needed loading devices and the gun, we moved up range to engage targets on either side of the course. Then moving down range, the rest of the targets were shot as they appeared. This was again another -0 stage.

Rounding the corner to the next bay, I was not surprised to find falling steel set up. This bay is typically set up with steel and/or long shots. We began the stage with just 2 rounds loaded in the gun and standing behind two barrels. After engaging one low target to the side, we reloaded and dropped to a kneeling position, then taking aim on the distant steel, followed by two paper targets. The steel was placed at around 20 yards. The two paper targets were about five yards beyond and had the bottom sections removed so they sat low to the ground. It was impossible to see the hits on the target from the shooting line. (I could barely see the targets!) I was pleased to approach the end of the bay and find I had another -0 run.

The day ended with another run around walls and hard leans around cover. After engaging three target in the open from behind a fence, we backed up to shoot from cover. Then there was a choice of directions to finish the course. Most shooters opted to cross the course, engage the target on right side, then come left to shoot at the final cover position. I knew I would be reloading while moving between those last two points of cover, so opted to take the sharp turn around the barrels then move right. I shot this one -0 as well.

Despite my initial nervousness over my long absence, I ended up very pleased with the results. The PE added a bit of frustration, especially after the single point lost in the scoring overall. I finished 3 of 11 in the SSP division. Interestingly the top two "young guys" led the pack by a wide gap, finishing 22-25 or more seconds ahead of the rest of us. 

It was a truly fun morning and felt great to get back to the range. Hopefully, it won't be quite so long before the next outing.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

St. Brigid of Ireland

Today is the Feast Day of St. Brigid of Ireland, one of our family's favorite Saints. In a quote traditionally attributed to St. Brigid, she prays...
"I'd Like A Great Lake Of Beer For The King Of Kings. I Would Like To Be Watching Heaven's Family Drinking It Through All Eternity."
Our family has long had an affection for this great Saint. It was during our trip to Ireland a few years ago that I came to realize just how popular she is in that country, second only to St. Patrick it seems. Her legendary association with miracles involving beer often overshadows her deeds of charity and compassion.

Beyond her prayer for a "great lake of beer" this revered Saint has other interesting connections with beer. According to tradition, Brigid was working in a leper colony when they ran out of beer. Since beer was an important source of safe liquid refreshment and nourishment, this was indeed a serious issue. Brigid is said to have changed her bath water into beer to nourish the lepers and visiting clerics. In another miracle attributed to St. Brigid, she provided beer to 18 churches for an entire Easter season, all from a single barrel of beer in her convent.

St. Brigid Statue, Knock Shrine, County Mayo, Ireland

St. Brigid, ora pro nobis! And cheers!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

A Long Smoke and a Fire

For Christmas, Colleen gave me one of those iron kindling splitting stands. A couple days after Christmas, I headed out to my wood pile to try it out. In no time I had reduced a bunch of logs to smaller pieces. Placing the log in the stand and letting the weight of a sledgehammer fall on it sure beats swinging an axe. 

Now that I had all this wood ready to go, it seemed a good time to have a fire. Besides the nice weather, it was still early in the afternoon so there was plenty of time for a longer smoke. I'd been eying the 7 ⅝" x 49 Tatuaje The Frank Redux 1 sticks in my humidor I had not had the time to smoke. I enjoyed one at the lounge at couple months ago so knew it was an 2 + hour smoke. Now was the time.

The Frank Redux is a re-release of the Frank, the first in the Tatuaje Monster Series, originally released on 2008. The hefty stick boasts a USA Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro wrapper, with Nicaraguan binder and filler leaves. The medium bodied smoke produces flavors of cedar and chocolate, along with a touch of sweet vanilla and nuts. 

It didn't take long after lighting the cigar to realize it called for a nice bourbon accompaniment. I grabbed the bottle of Elijah Craig Small Batch to fill that void. Though it was early afternoon, I was vacation* after all. The moderate 94 proof provides a well-rounded profile of vanilla, oak, and caramel. A sweet and light warmth lingers in the finish. This is an affordable and satisfying bourbon that I try to keep on hand. (And as the photo reveals, is about due for restocking.)

I've been fortunate this year, during my attempted vacation, that Virginia has experienced relatively warm temperatures. Cool enough for a fire, but not cold enough to be need to huddle too close to the flame. As predicted, the The Frank Redux provided over two hours of pleasure by the fire before it was time to go inside for dinner.

* Vacation: A period of time where the demands of a job are limited to just a few hours a day.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

A New Year

Another year has come and gone. It was pretty much like the one before it. Standby for another one.

I do see some changes coming though. Not much longer will the "pandemic" be the basis for political overreach and profit. The "America is racist and something-phobic" agenda is being exposed. The clouds are gradually being removed from the eyes of even the CNN and MSNBC watchers. Maybe there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

At least the days are getting longer.

Happy New Year!