Friday, January 31, 2014

All Work and No Play...

... make for a dull blog.

As is obvious from the dearth of recent musings, I've had little time of late for the finer things in life; specifically good drink and shooting fun. Seasonably cold weather, the short days of winter, swim meets, and a busy work schedule have combined to put a damper in these activities for too long now. To help ease those woes, I took my lunch break yesterday at the local indoor range, instead of at my desk. I'm not a fan of indoor ranges, but sometimes exceptions are mandated.

When I arrived and started shooting I was the only person in the range. That shouldn't have been too surprising — it was as cold inside the range as it was outside. It didn't take me long to go through 100 rounds, but I didn't have a lot of time for "lunch" anyway. Even though shooting on the move or drawing from the holster is not allowed, I was able to get in some practice at varying distances, and even some strong hand/weak hand shooting. I made good use of the limited rounds and time.

Most importantly, it was some long-overdue fun. Now I just need to work on getting that pub visit in as well.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Help Find A Killer

MSgt B over at My Muse shanked me is asking for help. The son of a dear friend of his was killed at he sat in his car a few week ago. And the police haven't got a clue. MSgt B is an all around good guy (not to mention he's a fellow SIG Sauer fan) so if he's asking for help for a friend, it's a sincere request.

Please head over to his blog and read the links provided. If you can, help spread the word. And while you're at it, say a prayer for Kyle Jobin and his family.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Weekend In New Orleans

I spent last weekend in New Orleans for business meetings. Fortunately I was able to get out of the hotel on occasion and take in some of the local flavors. I was, obviously, interested in local beers and was able to try quite a few different ones during the trip.

My first order of business after checking into the hotel was to find lunch. I walked into the French Quarter and stepped into one of the first places I came to that had an open table. Soon I was enjoying a spicy bowl of shrimp and sausage gumbo, along with an Abita Amber. Abita Brewing may be the most well-known Louisiana Brewery, and we can even get some of their beers in Virginia. If you can get it in your area, Abita Amber is an very nice lager, and one that seems ubiquitous in most New Orleans bars. The Amber, and later the Abita Turbo Dog English Brown Ale were the only two beers I had that were not new to me. They were also the first two beers I had during the trip, so the rest of the visit was to be new territory.

Another Abita beer enjoyed during the weekend was their seasonal Christmas Ale. On a restaurant menu I saw Abita "seasonal" listed and upon inquiry was told it was Christmas Ale, and the bar had just one bottle left. Described as a "dark ale," it reminded me of a milder Sierra Nevada Celebration. Caramel brown in color, there were piney, resinous hops with just a hint of spice, which I enjoyed very much. Restoration Pale Ale by Abita was the final beer from this brewery I tried out during the weekend. This was a nice citrusy pale ale that made a fine accompaniment to some spicy fish tacos at lunch.

During an evening walk through the French Quarter with co-workers, I spied the sign for Crescent City Brewhouse. I saw the brewery equipment inside, and I peeled off from the group without a word. (This group seemed more interested in walking around than drinking or eating.) I was quickly joined by the other craft beer fan in the group. The menu listed six beers, 4 named and 1 special seasonal, so we each ordered a flight of samples. I was quite pleased when the bartender set out six beers in front of me saying, "We have two seasonals on." Good timing!

The beers, shown left to right above, are Red Stallion Vienna Lager, Pilsener, Weiss Beer, Bock, Black Forest Dunkel and IPA. The Bock and the IPA were the featured seasonal brews. I slowly worked my way through the beers, enjoying the live jazz and simply relaxing after a day of meetings. My personal favorites in the flight were the Black Forest, Red Stallion, and the IPA. The Black Forest Dunkel had a pleasing, mildly roasted malt and caramel flavor. The IPA was moderately hoppy, mostly floral and pine hops, with a hint of sweetness. It's fairly mild as an IPA goes, but still flavorful. Red Stallion Lager had a crisp, toasted grain flavor. We ended up sitting at the end of the bar where the oysters were continually being shucked. My only regret was that I never did get around to enjoying some oysters on the half shell.

Three of the new (to me) Louisiana brewed beverages I tried were discovered during a Saturday evening stroll. We never stayed in one place long; just grab a quick beer and maybe a bite of food, and move on. As with so many of the beers enjoyed over the weekend, that meant drinking from a plastic cup on the go. Not the best way to experience a beer, but certainly conducive to drinking while walking to the next stop.

I had a solo cup, or maybe two, of Mechahopzilla from NOLA Brewing to start the evening, along with some Breaded Crawfish. This Double IPA has plenty of bitter citrus flavors with a fairly strong malty background. Mildish for a Double IPA, and at 8.8% ABV, not too hard to enjoy either. :-)

I enjoyed two beers from Bayou Teche Brewing, during two different stops in the evening. The first, LA-31 Bière Pâle, was a nutty, earthy pale ale with floral and bitter hops. Later in the evening, at another pub, I spied a tap handle for LA-31 Bière Noire, and in the interest of completeness, I had to try it too. This one was a Schwarzbier, or Dark Ale. It had a mild roasted coffee and chocolate flavor to it, with a slightly sweet and dry finish.

One of the last sights I took in before heading to the airport on Sunday was Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar. Said to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States, the shop was built around 1772. Legends claims it was once used as the base of operations for Jean and Pierre Lafittte's smuggling operations. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to go in and enjoy a beer.

Getting to try a grand total of thirteen different regional beers certainly helped make up for time spent trapped in a hotel meeting room. I didn't get to enjoy as much local food as I had hoped, and I saw many interesting pubs still to be checked out, but it was a fun trip. And there will surely be a next time!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Why Gun Rights Will Survive

When the opponents have this level of intelligence, how can freedom not survive?

It's sad that California Senator Kevin de León (Democrat naturally) probably believes what he's saying. He's so naive that he blindly accepts the stuff the anti-gun groups feed him. They know they lie, he's not smart enough to see through it. The same thing could be said of the people who voted for this fool.

I bet his English teacher is proud too.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Free Matthew Bracken Books

[UPDATED with Thursday's Free books ]
Author Matthew Bracken is offering his excellent books as free Kindle downloads. I've already bought and read all these books and thoroughly enjoyed them. Whether you read them solely for entertainment, as warnings, or for lessons in survival, or all of the above, you won't be disappointed. Indeed, they are eye-openers and I recommend them highly.

All three books of the Enemies Trilogy, Enemies Foreign and DomesticDomestic Enemies: The Reconquista, and Foreign Enemies And Traitors are available for download today, January 15.

On Thursday, Castigo Bay and The Bracken Anthology will be offered for free. (I'll update this post with the links on Thursday.)

Free on January 15
Free on January 16
Hat Tip...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hardywood Park Arrives in Fredericksburg

"Finally." That was the common refrain heard at Tuesday's Hardywood Park Brewery release party and Steal the Glass event at Capital Ale House. The Richmond brewery's beers have been available around the Richmond area, and I even saw them a couple weeks ago in DC, but alas, they've not been available in Fredericksburg. Now, the long wait is over. It was a large and enthusiastic crowd that celebrated at Capital Ale House.

Six Hardywood Park beers were being poured, either as a flight of samplers or in individual full servings. Colleen and I both ordered flights, the purchase of which included a Hardywood etched logo glass. The featured beers were Singel, Extra Special Burly Bearded Bitter, Hoperation Pink IPA, Gingerbread Stout, Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout and Sidamo Coffee Stout.

So often, there is at least one underwhelming beer in any sampler flight. That's just the nature of individual preferences. But not so this evening. I drained each glass dry. After the event, Colleen and I were discussing the Hardywood beers, and we both agreed that we enjoyed each and every one of them. The Hardywood Gingerbread Stout is a very popular and sought after beer. We enjoyed it last week at Mekong in Richmond. However, for me a couple other beers stood out even more than the Gingerbread Stout.

Of the three Stouts being served, the Sidamo Coffee Stout was my favorite. It was rich with the flavors of dark chocolate, dark roasted coffee and molasses. Slightly astringent, it left behind a lingering coffee bitterness. I look forward to finding Sidamo on my local store shelves.

My top pick for the evening though was the Hoperation Pink IPA. I was not alone in my selection of this "winner" and many folks I spoke with expressed the same sentiment. The beer is brewed with pink grapefruit zest, and dry hopped with Citra hops. The result is a juicy, fresh, citrus aroma and flavor. At just 6% ABV it was a flavorful but not "big" beer. Hoperation Pink was brewed once as a collaborative effort of several local female brewers in order to raise funds for women's health issues. It's a very well-done beer that I hope will be brewed again.

I had the opportunity to talk a bit with Hardywood co-founder Patrick Murtaugh and Brewer Rachael Cardwell. Rachael used to be a manager at Capital Ale House and I could tell she was excited to bring the kick-off event to Fredericksburg. She and Patrick shared some plans for future beers, and let us know that most of the beers could be purchased locally starting the next day, Wednesday, January 8. I'm pretty sure I'll be doing some more in-depth reviews of Harydwood Park's beers very soon.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fixing Silly VA ABC Laws

There's a small bit of sanity coming from the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Board, an bureaucracy not exactly known for exhibiting common sense. At least one pointless regulation is being eased:
Good news, Virginia bargoers! The state's Department of Alcohol Beverage Control has finally realized that in the year 2014, consumers might want to know whether a bar offers happy hour, and that bars might want to tweet about their happy hours. 
Beginning Jan. 29, restaurants and nightclubs will finally legally be able to tell you, via social media or good old fashioned newspaper ads, whether they offer discounted drinks, and at what times. Previously, they could only announce their specials inside the walls of the restaurant. Get ready for the floodgates to open: You might see Galaxy Hut tweeting "Happy hour tonight from 5 to 7," or Mad Fox Brewing Company advertising that happy hour begins at 3 p.m.
As reported back in September 2011, the VA ABC was been looking at some of their rules and regulations, for the first time in 20 years. Under the new regulations, restaurants can publicize only the times of the happy hour specials, but no details such as prices or specific drinks. Seems almost pointless, but old bureaucracies change slowly in the Old Dominion. 

See "Virginia bars will soon be able to tell you if they offer happy hour" for more on the new happy hour regulations and other ABC changes.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Beers of Winter - New Belgium Accumulation

We discovered this one quite by accident. While shopping in preparation for our annual Epiphany party, I spied a mixed case of New Belgian beers at the local warehouse store. I picked it up on a whim. Returning home with the beers, I realized the box was heavy in the ubiquitous Fat Tire, and the other more interesting beers (to me) were limited in number. During the party, some of our guests were very pleased with the Accumulation White IPA. This is one I'd never had, but fortunately a couple of bottles were left at the end of the evening and we got to try it out later.

I've tried a few other "White IPAs" recently, and have not always been impressed. I think it's hard flavor combo to pull off. Fortunately New Belgium's Winter seasonal Accumulation turned out to be quite tasty. The beer pours a very clear, straw yellow. The bright white head is thick and creamy. The aroma has citrusy grapefruit and lemon, with a slightly fruity aspect. The flavor is a blend of grapefruit and lemon zest, along with a bit of fruit. There's a hint of grassiness that adds some bitterness to the mix. The mouthfeel is light and zesty. The low 6.2% ABV gives no influence over the flavor profile. The overall flavor is that of a mildly hoppy IPA, but with a twist of a hefeweizen thrown in. It's an interesting combination, that actually works.

New Belgium Accumulation is a one-off Winter release from the Colorado brewery.  It's an interesting switch from the typical "winter beer." Admittedly, I am not so sure I would have been interested enough to buy a six-pack had I spied it at the store. However, I am very happy that it was included in my serendipitous purchase.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Pizzeria Paradiso

We've been making use of the holiday staycation to do some extra shooting and to visit some of the "beer stops" that have long been on our to-do list. Last week after taking in the Jerusalem IMAX movie at the Museum of Natural History, we stopped by Pizzeria Paradiso in Old Town Alexandria.

Pizzeria Paradiso's beer menu lists some 12 taps, including one rotating cask, along with 230 other beers in bottles and cans. Reviewing the multi-page list was going to take some time, so we started out with a couple of appetizers; Antipasto with Cured Italian Meat, Pecorino, Homemade Bread, Hot Cherry Pepper, Ligurian Olives, and the Crostino Formaggio Di Capra, with Toasted Homemade Bread, Goat Cheese, Prosciutto di Parma, Sundried Tomato, and Basil. Both plates were very tasty and set the stage for the rest of the meal.

I opted to start with the cask selection, Jaipur IPA from England's Thornbridge Brewery. The Engish IPA had nice grassy and citrus aroma. The flavor was citrus and a bit resinous, with a mild bitterness in the finish. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of citrus for an English IPA, a style which I often find lacking in flavor balance. My glass was emptied by the time our main course of pizzas arrived, but the IPA's low 5.9% ABV, left the option open for another beer.

My next selection was an intriguing Italian beer. When we made our pilgrimage to Italy, I had read about that Italian craft brewers were using chestnuts in their beers, and had hoped to enjoy some while there. Unfortunately, while we experienced many wonderful foods and drinks, the Italian craft beers eluded me. But here in good ol' Virginia, I was able to order CastagnAle from Birra del Borgo in Italy.

CastagnAle pours a deep brown color, looking a lot like a typical brown ale. The aroma is nutty and sweet caramel. We spent a lot of time discussing the beer's unique flavor and trying to describe it. The  flavors presented were complex. Earthy nuttiness, caramel, honey, and, something else... Chestnuts, I suppose. The lingering mild bitterness had a nutty, fruity, aspect to it that was hard to place. But to be clear, I liked it. A lot. Despite having purchased some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor in Rome, and finding them utterly disgusting, I was still quite taken by this beer brewed with chestnuts. The snow was falling steadily in Alexandria and we had a long drive back to Fredericksburg, otherwise I might have ordered another to continue to tasting adventure. At just 4.2% ABV, it was certainly doable under different circumstances. I will be searching for this, and some similar beers in the future.

Our party also feasted on pizza, naturally. There are 11 "house" pizzas at Pizzeria Paradiso, though our party ended up selecting two each of just two of them. My selection was the Napoletana, made with Paradiso Tomato, Basil, Anchovies, Capers, and Mozzarella. The truth be told, it was the Anchovies that sold me — I have a weakness for these salty bits. The pizza had a wonderful wood-fired crust and was quite tasty. Without a doubt some of the best pizza I've had in a long time. Even the next day, we were commenting in text messages between our party members about the great food.

We were enjoying the Italian food and drink so much, we opted for dessert too. In my case, a simple dish of assorted Biscotti. And in a move I swore I'd never do again outside of Italy, I ordered a double espresso. Having enjoying many an espresso at cafés in Rome, I've become disenchanted with the American versions I'd encountered. All in all, the expresso at Pizzeria Paradiso was better than others I've had here at home, though while flavorful, still felt a tad watered down. Enjoyable nonetheless. Between a quest to find more Italian chestnut beers, and proper espresso, we might just have to work on another trip to Italy!

We enjoyed our evening of food and drink at Pizzeria Paradiso. It's one of those places that we've been wanting to get to for quite some time. When we're back in Old Town again, we'll definitely make another visit.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Bartering For Beer

I'm sure we can all empathize with this thirsty Floridian. Who among us hasn't been short of cash, in need of a beer, with an unneeded alligator lying around? Fernando Caignet Aguilera simply wanted to trade a four foot alligator for beer at a local convenience store:
A man who tried to trade a live, four-foot alligator for a pack of beer at a Miami convenience store was cited for charges related to illegally capturing the gator, officials said. 
Fernando Caignet Aguilera was cited after he tried to trade the gator for beer at the Santa Ana Market at 3000 Northwest 12th Avenue back on Dec. 10, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino said Tuesday. (More...)
In another news article we learned that Aguilera had a specific beer in mind. "Not Bud Light, Corona" says the intrepid trader.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Mekong is for Beer Lovers

We drove down to Mekong Restaurant in Richmond this week. The Vietnamese restaurant has been voted the Best Beer Bar in America for two years running. Proprietor An "Mekong" Bui's passion is craft beer and it shows in his restaurant, with the "Mekong is for beer lovers" and "Beer is the answer" slogans prominently displayed throughout.

The large draft selection is replete with hard-to-find beers. The crowded menu board behind the bar lists too many interesting beers to try in one short visit. We took a table in the dining room area and enjoyed a tasty Vietnamese dinner with our beer. The food menu is as extensive as the beer menu, though not being well-versed in the cuisine, I simply scanned for familiar ingredients, seasoned with enticing sauces. My shrimp and scallop dish with onions and a spicy oil was quite delicious. But, it was the beer that motivated the drive south.

Both Colleen and I opted for Gingerbread Stout from Hardywood Park Brewery. The pitch black Milk Stout has a mild, sweet vanilla and spice aroma. I found the aroma to be unexpectedly muted. The "gingerbread" did show itself in the flavor. The dark chocolate and roasted coffee flavored stout is enhanced with the tastes of gingerbread cookies; ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, molasses. The spiced aspect is not overwhelming, but grows as you drink the beer. The finish is somewhat bitter and astringent.

Gingerbread Stout and Oak Aged Yeti.
Social media photo by Colleen.
Another Virginia brewery, Center of the Universe, was represented on the beer menu by a beer with the intriguing name of El Duderino White Russian Milk Stout. As I was contemplating ordering another beer, I went back to the bar area to see if I could find An. I wanted to say hello since we'd never met in person. As soon as I introduced myself, the affable An remarked that there was a beer I had to try. He poured me a glass of what I suspected was El Duderino, which he confirmed. I took the glass back to our table and shared it with our party.

El Duderino White Russian Milk Stout is an interesting beer, and we had a hard time describing it. It was as dark as you'd expect from a milk stout, but the flavor diverged from the expected. There was some sweetness, and there was a burnt coffee flavor that predominated. A little vanilla and a hint of booze came through in the finish. This jury is still out on El Duderino, perhaps a side-by-side comparison to a proper White Russian is in order.

It was fortuitous that Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti was also on the menu at Mekong. Last week I enjoyed a glass of Yeti at Capital Ale House and remarked at the time I'd like to enjoyed the barrel-aged versions again. While at Mekong, our friend Checkered Flag selected the Oak Aged Yeti, and I got to steal a few sips of that as well.

In a coincidence that will be appreciated by the shooters reading this, as I was releasing my inner teenager and "checking in" on Facebook, I learned that we were "600 feet" distant from Colonial Shooting Academy. I am not very familiar with Richmond, and while I'd heard about this gun store and range, I did not know exactly where it was located. We all had a laugh realizing how close we were. Had we known, and planned accordingly, we could have visited the range before dinner! I now know there's a shooting and beer-related field trip in our future.

Dinner finished, we headed out for our drive home (first driving past the aforementioned shooting range.) When we had arrived for our early dinner, there were just a few tables occupied in the restaurant. As we left, at the normal dinner hour, there was a line of people going out the door waiting to get in to Mekong. Even on a Monday evening, folks seem to be ready to find out that beer is the answer.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Merry New Year!

I wish all my friends a joyful and blessed 2014.

There will be no Musings Over a Pint retrospective post. If you need one, 2013 is summarized here. As for 2014, you really knows? Let's just enjoy the ride!