Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thankful For a Little Range Time

Cloudy. Sporadic rain. Temperature in the low 40's. Thanksgiving afternoon. That all led me to think it might be a good time to hit the range. And it paid off as I had the place to myself. Due to poor planning I had only brought along one target stand, and a stack of B-34 targets, thinking I would need to be quickly in and out between shooters. Instead I found myself with the freedom to do as I pleased.

Just me

The events of Ferguson fresh on my mind, I decided to set up the one stand in the center of the berm and spent my time shooting on the move. I worked with the entire width of the bay, from around 15 yards out, and in to five. Shoot a magazine of 10 or 15 rounds, reload, move some more. Replace the target and repeat. The only regret is that I didn't have multiple targets to set up.

It was a good way to spend an hour or so. The hits were good, most inside the scoring rings. I had a few that were merely "on paper" but better to work that out in practice than real life. I was happy to get in some self-defense themed practice, without any warnings about "shooting too fast."

My ammo used up, I probably spent as much time finding my fired brass as I did creating it. There was no squatting and picking up a neat pile as the brass was spread all over the bay. At least the sun peaked through creating some sparkle to make finding it easier.

It may seem a bit odd to be at the range thinking self defense on a day devoted to remembering all the good things in our lives, but that's the reality of the world we live in. And I'm thankful I still have the freedom to be prepared.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Starr Hill Soul Shine

We headed out Thanksgiving Eve for a quick meal at Park Lane Tavern. The beer menu at Park Lane is fairly static, but it's the rotating tap list that typically gets my interest. This evening the cask selection was Starr Hill Soul Shine, a Belgian-Style Pale Ale. I find that with this style, it's hit or miss if the beer tends towards "Belgian" or "Pale Ale." Though either end of that spectrum is fine with me.

The beer was served in 20 ounce snifters, and sported a thick creamy head. Copious bubbles were still rising to the top as the glasses were set before us, and we thought at first it was a nitro pour. Reaching for the glass I could tell that it was coming out at a good temperature as well.

The aroma was that of citrus, with some earthy Belgian yeast. There was also a hint of peppery spice. The flavor brought forth more of the Belgian yeast spiciness, but the citrus notes certainly came forward as well. A bit of sweet biscuity malt rounded out the flavor profile. The finish was clean with very little aftertaste.

A prominent feature of the beer was the creamy mouthfeel. Despite this being a Summer seasonal from Starr Hill, it was my first time drinking the beer. I don't know how much of the creaminess was from the cask serving or if the beer has a naturally smooth mouthfeel. It certainly merits further research. In any event, we enjoyed Soul Shine quite a bit, and the cask serving seemed especially well-done. I expect it'll show up again, as Starr Hill beers seem to make the rotating cask list frequently at Park Lane.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Now It's Really the Holiday Season

Thanksgiving Day traditionally marks the start of the Holiday Season. But for me, like many craft beer fans, there's another marker of the season. It's that first glass of Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hop IPA. I had mine a few days before Thanksgiving.

Celebration Ale pours an attractive glowing orange color with a thick cream-colored head. The aroma of grapefruit and pine preps the palate. Grapefruit and orange pithiness hits the taste buds first, followed by just enough breadiness in the malt to round it all out.

This Winter release is one we look forward to each year. It's one of our favorite beers and "this is so good" is my frequent comment as I'm sipping. We'll be enjoying a lot of it in the coming months.

You Are On Your Own

I purposely have avoided writing on the breakdown of civilized society in Ferguson, MO and elsewhere. Frankly, anything I start to write, quickly turns into a rant of vile disgust at what we have witnessed. But, I would like to make one point. (Calming breath now.) If Ferguson teaches us anything, it's the fallacy of "The police will save me" and "Just dial 911" mindset so many people have when it comes to self-defense. The past few days should make it plainly clear that you are on your own when society breaks down. You are your own "first responder."

The riots in Ferguson were not a surprise. That violence was eminent was known for weeks leading up to the grand jury decision. Federal and local law enforcement were put in place. The night of the announcement, we saw pictures of police in riot gear standing at the ready. And what happened? For two days there was widespread rioting, looting and arson. Unimpeded rioting, looting and arson.

Sure there were a few arrests, but look at the pictures of the city now. It's very obvious that peace keepers were unable to prevent the widespread destruction. Indeed it now appears the lack of protection for citizens may have even been by design. In the aftermath of an unexpected event, like a natural disaster, or even another politically or racially charged crime, the violence would likely be far more widespread and be met with the same lack of resistance.

Watching TV Monday evening, we saw first hand just how fast the breakdown in civilized society happened. We are constantly reminded that the violence was from a small minority of citizens. But numbers and percentages mean little to those in danger. If law enforcement cannot protect a small area when the violence is planned openly in advance, how effective will it be when unexpected trouble arises, or spreads over a wider area?

Indeed, when citizens stand in defense, violence can be averted. That's been proven in the past. But we live in a time when many in government are openly hostile to the right of self-defense and few people are prepared to protect their property, themselves, and their families. We should certainly be asking "WHY" the violence in Ferguson and elsewhere was allowed to happen. But the more important concern is "WHAT" are we as private citizens going to do to avoid being victims of the same sort of violence in the future?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

To my American readers, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. To the rest of you, well, happy Thursday. No matter where you are, or what your beliefs, it's good to take time to reflect on the meaning of the day.

Today I am thankful for my loving family, my faith and the freedom to practice it, for my health, for my friends, and for all the freedoms I enjoy as an American. Even though it seems so often that we're barely hanging on to those freedoms. In these troubled times we are reminded frequently just how tenuous they are. Let's not forget those who serve us at home and abroad.

I hope that the meaning of this day is not forgotten or lost in the hunt for good deals at the big box stores. If shopping is your thing this holiday, take time to think about why you are able to do that. In the days leading up to this holiday, it always strikes me how we hear little about Thanksgiving, only about "Black Friday.

I won't be shopping for "deals" this holiday weekend. I look at these days as a time to relax and enjoy life, before the hectic Christmas season arrives. I do have hopes to hit the range and a local brew pub. Maybe I'll even write some long-overdue blog posts. I hope everyone is able to spend time with family and friends, and doing what you enjoy.

"Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me 'to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.'"
-- George Washington, National Day of Thanksgiving Proclamation, October 3, 1789

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fireside with Wicked Nymph

After getting through some chores around the house Saturday, I made a run up to Adventure Brewing to grab a growler of their Wicked Nymph Imperial Stout. I hadn't had the beer yet, but it seemed a good match for the evening outdoors by the fire we were planning. (Of course I lingered to enjoy a pint of Super Power Pale Ale while I was there.)

The temperature was a mere 28° when I started the fire but I was looking forward to both the fire and the beer so I persevered. I quickly had a small but warming blaze going and poured a couple glasses of the Stout for Colleen and I. A hard growler pour in the dark produced a thin, but short lived head, and released a pleasing roasted aroma. The taste had mild roasted malt and bitter chocolate notes. The ABV is listed at 10.4%, but while slightly warming, did not overwhelm.

Wicked Nymph is enjoyable beer. There's no mistaking it as an Imperial Stout, but it's quite approachable and could be enjoyed by "big beer" fans and the less adventurous alike. I alternated between refilling my glass and feeding the fire, and had a very relaxing time chatting with Colleen. This weekend we're celebrating our son's 18th birthday, and he joined us by the fire for bit, before we headed inside for some late evening birthday cake.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Weihenstephan Steal the Glass Night

The beers of Weihenstephan Brewery in Germany were featured for this week's Steal the Glass event at Capital Ale House. Six different beers were on tap. Fans were able to order any of the six in a tall Weihenstephan glass, or try a flight of small tasters of all six, which also included a glass to "steal." I opted to do an exploration of all six beers.

The beers in the order I tasted, and pictured above from left to right, are Weihenstephaner Kristallweissbier, Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, Weihenstephaner German Pilsner, Weihenstephaner Original Lager, Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel, and Weihenstephaner Korbinian Doppelbock.

The beers are all moderately low alcohol beer. The Doppelbock checks in at 7.4%, while others range from 5.1% to 5.4%. This made enjoying the beers quite easy, and I ran through them fairly quickly as well. None of the beers were new to me. Weihenstephan's Hefeweissbier is considered by many to the original and authentic Hefeweizen. The Dunkelweizen and Dopplebock are both long-time favorites of mine. In fact, all of the beers are well made and great examples of classic German styles.

It was a great opportunity to try a range of beers from the world's oldest existing brewery. And apparently many others were looking forward to the event as well. When I first arrived at Capital Ale House for the event, there was not a single seat open at the long bar, and there were many groups waiting for tables. Fortunately a seat at the bar opened up without too long of a wait. I had a tasty dinner of a lamb gyro "burger" while tasting the beers. I enjoyed all the beers, but decided to cap off the evening with a hoppy American-style beer, which is a story for another post.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Flying Dog: Cookies and Beer

Why not? Beer is practically a liquid cookie anyway. Flying Dog Brewing has teamed up with Otterbein’s Bakery in Baltimore to brew some beers specifically to pair with the bakery's cookies. Flying Dog kindly sent over samples of the beers, and the cookies, for review.

Four beers make up a special holiday pack, each bottle labeled with the recommended pairing.
  • Imperial Hefeweizen, inspired by and meant to be paired with Otterbein’s Sugar Cookies
  • Oatmeal Raisin Stout, inspired by and meant to be paired with Otterbein’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
  • Oak-Aged Hazelnut Scotch Ale, inspired by and meant to be paired with Otterbein’s Ginger Cookies
  • Roasted Peanut Brown Ale, inspired by and meant to be paired with Otterbein’s Chocolate Chip Cookies 

Earlier this week, Colleen, Checkered Flag, and I sat down before dinner and tried out two of the pairings and found them quite enjoyable. (Yes, we had cookies before dinner. Sorry Mom.)

First up was the Imperial Hefeweizen with Sugar Cookies. The Hefeweizen poured a cloudy straw yellow with a rich yeasty aroma. The flavor was rich in banana and wheat, and somewhat spicier than a standard wheat beer. All three of us declared it to be quite a tasty beer, even before we got to the sugar cookies. The cookies too were very tasty. The sweetness of the cookies seemed to bring out a bit of sweetness in the beer as well. The flavors were very complimentary.

Next we selected the Oak-Aged Hazelnut Scotch Ale and the Ginger Cookies. I was looking forward to this one since I am a fan of Scotch Ales, and Ginger Cookies. The dark brown ale had a nutty flavor, backed by mildly sweet toffee and roasted malt. Lots of "oohs" and "aahs" over this one. The Ginger Cookies were crisp and mildly flavored. The cinnamon and ginger spice of the cookie seemed to linger into the taste of the beer, contrasting and complimenting at the same time. This was an exceptionally surprising pairing, and one I'm tempted to recreate the next time we host a beer and food tasting.

Even though we were splitting the beers between three tasters, a planned dinner and late evening activities limited us to choosing just two at this session. I am very much looking forward to getting to the next two in the group very soon.

The Holiday Collection is available only in Maryland, and for a limited time. The Otterbein's cookies are available only in the MD/DC/VA region and online. If you enjoy tasty sweets and good beer, and are living or visiting in Maryland, you should put together these pairings and try them for yourself.

I'll report back when we try the other two pairings.

The beer, and cookies, reviewed here were promotional samples from the brewery. My impressions are provided of my own free will.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cheap Wines Reviewed By An Irish Brewer

This is quite funny.

If you must drink wine, stick with the good stuff.

H/T to Weer'd World for the link.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Repurposing the Back Yard

Time passes. Kids grow up.

Around thirteen years ago, we put up this great swing set in the back yard. Our son and his friends spent many joyful days swinging and having adventures in the towers. What boy doesn't enjoy a pirate ship tower complete with ship's wheel and spyglass? Even the dog made many trips up the tower and down the slide. I'll admit to enjoying many relaxing swings myself.

However, other interests attract a growing teenager. (And his 6 foot 2 frame doesn't easily fit up the tower these days.) The swings sat unused for many years, even the dog is too old to climb up the slide tower now. So a few months ago the play set was dismantled and hauled away for use by a younger family. This weekend, that empty space was filled with a fire pit.

Soon the sounds of squeaky swings will be replaced by the sounds of a crackling fire. I am sure many a good craft beer will be enjoyed, by the adults, during the upcoming cool winter evenings.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Randall Night at Adventure Brewing

Last Friday, Adventure Brewing loaded the Randall with orange peel, lavender and vanilla beans, and was pouring their Pale Ale through it. Colleen and I made the short drive up I-95 to try it out. Before we go to the evening's special, though I ordered a glass of Pumpkin Patch Adams. Adventure's seasonal pumpkin ale has a very nice pumpkin flavor to it. The pumpkin pie spice component completed the picture with hints of ginger and allspice. It's one you'll want to try before it's gone.

Next we ordered glasses of the enhanced Pale Ale. The orange peel contributed significantly to the aroma. Almost to the point of making me wary of taking that first sip. However, I needn't have worried. The orange flavor was more balanced in the flavor, with the vanilla softening the citrus. The lavender provided just a touch of floral the profile. The mouthfeel was almost creamy with low carbonation. The beer reminded me very much of the Orange Creamsicle pops I enjoyed as a kid.

STEVE-O's BBQ, Burgers & BACON was also on hand to keep us fed. We opted for Steve's burgers, accompanied by his popular tator tots. Steve was introducing a new variation this evening, bacon wrapped tator tots. Of course we had to try them — because, bacon. The tots were topped with a bit of BBQ sauce creating quite a tasty side dish. After some discussion, it was our opinion that the sauce was superfluous, so later in the evening I ordered another serving, and asked Steve to skip the BBQ sauce and just use his regular tot seasoning. To my palate, this was the ticket. The bacon wrapped tator tots were quite popular, no matter how you preferred them.

I capped off the evening with a pint of Bookworm Brown Ale, to go along with that second tot order. The nutty Brown Ale finishes with a hint of brown sugar sweetness. As usual, we had a great time enjoying good beer, good food, and good conversation at a fun "neighborhood" brewery.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Mental Health Day

Sometimes you just need to do it. I was reviewing my leave status on Wednesday and realized I had a whole bunch of leave banked up. And some of that was in the "use or lose" column, so I decided I was going to partake in some "ballistic therapy" on Thursday, as well as get some chores done around the house.

I got up at my normal time Thursday and after breakfast did a bit of office work that needed handling. After that, I did nothing work related — though I did see that my inbox was filling — and cheerfully ignored it. I spent the morning drinking coffee and doing some cleaning and straightening of my "personal space" in the house.

Checkered Flag showed up at the house late morning, as his day off is Thursday — though he too has to work a bit before the "day off" actually starts. We prepped the car for a trip to the range, loading lots of targets, ammo and guns. The ranges were all unoccupied when we arrived, and we broke from tradition and started on the pistol range. It was a leisurely couple of hours, just plinking. We spent a lot of time trying precision shooting at tiny targets. It was an interesting exercise when even from close range the target is smaller than the sites. (And remind me not to challenge Colleen to a strong hand only shot at a paster square at 7 yards.)

After couple hundred rounds each, and some 600 pieces of brass to police, we headed over to the long gun side of the park. The rifle range was now being used so we set up the clay target stands on the shotgun field. We each only took a couple of turns since were all getting very hungry, and Colleen had already mentioned the panini she was preparing for lunch. Our timing was spot on as it started raining right after we had arrived home and unloaded the car.

As promised, the panini grill was warmed up and a delicious lunch was enjoyed. Since it was a fun day, I grabbed some adult beverages from the beer fridge as well. By the time we finished eating, the rain had about stopped. It seemed timing was working out just right on this day.

Last week we had stone block delivered for a fire pit we're building, so after lunch Checkered Flag and I went to work moving the block and digging the foundation trench. There's no free lunch around here! (Seriously though, I appreciated the help!) It was getting dark as we finished up, but the project is ready for the gravel and block placement this weekend.

Food being one of the major themes of the day, I soon had the grilled fired up and loaded with lamb chops. While I watched the grill, Colleen fried up some falafel and we soon had a fitting feast to enjoy. We enjoyed the rest of the evening just being lazy, while bemoaning our aching muscles. I went to bed with memories of a fun day, and also having gotten some much-needed chores done. I congratulated myself on having actually ignored my work email for the day too!

Another nice thing about taking a day off on Thursday is as I drove to work this morning, I realized IT'S FRIDAY! I think I'll take a few more of these days. In fact, according to the company leave policy, I'm required to.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Smuttynose Steal the Glass Night

We went down to Capital Ale House Tuesday evening for dinner and the Smuttynose Brewing "Steal the Glass" event. They were featuring four beers this evening, Finestkind IPA, Big A IPA, Cluster's Last Stand IPA, and Tripel. Note, that's two American IPAs and a Double IPA in that list — I was in for some tough decisions.

Cluster's Last Stand is the result of a collaboration with Stone Brewing Company. The beer is described as a "post-Prohibition" IPA recreated from the Ballantine IPA recipe of the 1930's. That piqued my interest so my decision was made. Colleen opted for the Tripel.

Cluster's Last Stand & Tripel

Cluster's Last Stand has a nice malty aroma backed with floral and citrus hops. The flavor is well-balanced with an earthy,  slightly sweet malt base with pine and citrus hops in the forefront. There's a bit of bitterness that lingers in the finish, but overall it's clean with little hint of the 8.8% ABV. Simply put, I enjoyed this beer. A lot. It was also a fine accompaniment to the Gyro Burger with lamb, red onions, tomatoes, baby spinach, feta cheese and tzatziki on grilled flat bread. Once I finished my meal and drink, I was torn between enjoying another glass of the same, or trying another Smuttynose beer.

I eventually ordered a glass of the Finestkind IPA. The difference between the two beers couldn't have been more distinct. Finestkind IPA is focused on the bitter end of the spectrum. There is plenty of grapefruit zest and grassy bitterness in the flavors. The finish was dry with a lingering bitterness.

It was actually quite interesting to drink the two IPAs back to back to see the differences between two beers of technically the same "style." I am an admitted fan of the bitter, and Finestkind was a beer I've had in the past, so I had no complaints. That said, I did tell Colleen I'd like to get back for another glass of Cluster's Last Stand before that keg is kicked.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fredericksburg Monster Match

The monthly USPSA match held by Fredericksburg Practical Shooters was a "Monster Match." Not only were there fitting stage themes for the Halloween season, the stages were "monster" in size. Six stages, averaging around 50 rounds each, made for a fun and tiring day of shooting.

The match directors put together some interesting stages for this special match. This wasn't a matter of standing and hitting a bunch of targets from a single spot, the stages were just like normal USPSA field courses, but bigger. A lot bigger. The course of fire were a combination of paper targets and falling steel. I believe the smallest number of targets on a stage was 17, but each target on that stage required 3 hits per target.

Stage 5 - The Mummy

Stage planning was very important in this match. That went especially for folks shooting in limited capacity divisions like Production and Single Stack. The stages had a barrel or two placed on the course of fire for staging extra mags, which could be retrieved either from the belt or the barrels. I admittedly went into a couple stages with a not quite firm plan in my head for the final targets in the course. That really only burned me once when I skipped a target and earned Failure to Engage (FTE) and miss penalties. (I couldn't convince the RO to give me credit for engaging another target twice.) I heard from other shooters who also ran past targets without engaging them.

While I've shot more than this number of rounds in a day of training on more than one occasion, shooting 50 rounds in a single string lasting under a minute was a new experience. I found that I had to concentrate even more on my grip as the day wore on. I also found myself going a bit too fast at times, perhaps subconsciously trying to speed through the already long course.

Stage 6 - Nightmare On Elm Street

The weather was certainly a factor in the match and a topic of discussion all day. It was a classic cold and windy fall day. The sun came out only for brief moments, though cloud cover was the order of the day. It wasn't unusual for a shooter, about to start his run, to be delayed by a sudden gust of wind that would knock over the steel targets, and often more than once before the starting beep. As someone remarked, "All the targets are moving targets today."

This match format proved to be very popular as many shooters travelled from out of the area to participate. I followed a truck with Delaware tags into the range, and was told that someone had come from all the way from Tennessee for the fun. Everyone I shot with or talked to afterwards seemed to have a great time.

Stage 3 - Casper The Friendly Ghost

I was moderately pleased with my own shooting, though I certainly wasn't shooting my best. Besides the aforementioned FTE, I earned a few misses by putting my shot through the edge of a wall before it hit the target. In a defensive situation, shots through a wall might count, but in this game they do not. Despite the final scores, it was an exceptionally fun match. It was surprising just how much the challenge changes by doubling or even tripling the number of shots in a stage, compared to what is typically seen at a "normal" match.

The match ran smoothly, at least from the competitors' point of view. It was a long day on the range, but still a much shorter day than I had feared it might turn out to be. Shooting started about 8:00AM and we finished a little after 2:00PM. With most folks staying to pitch in, the stages were broken down and everything put into the storage containers before 3:00.

The match directors are to be congratulated for putting together a challenging and exceptionally fun match. It was clear to me that a lot of thought was put into designing the match and providing the shooters more than just an excuse to throw a lot of lead downrange. Of course, thanks also to all the folks who worked to put it on the ground too. I certainly wouldn't want to shoot a "monster match" every month, but I look forward to doing it again. I was tired and more than a bit sore by the time I got home. Even so, I hope this turns into an annual event.

Note: Click the pics to see them full size. The panoramic format doesn't preview well. Also, one of guys on the squad posted a compilation video of some of us shooting the match that you can watch here.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Halloween and Beer

We loaded the candy bowl, poured a couple glasses of Southern Tier Pumking, and waited. Since Halloween fell on a Friday this year, we assumed there would be larger than usual crowds, and the Trick or Treating would go on later in the evening. Not long after I poured the beer, the doorbell rang and it began.

Pumking pours a bright orange color with a thin head. The aroma of pumpkin pie and sweet malt is apparent immediately. The expected pumpkin pie spices are present, but to my delight, the aroma of pumpkin flesh is there as well. The flavor is that of real pumpkin pie — the bready crust, the sweet pumpkin flavor, and just enough cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla to complete the picture. There's a moderate amount of carbonation to liven things up. The 8.6% ABV is well-masked but gives just a welcome hint of warmth in the finish.

For the first part of my glass I was up and down answering the door. But as quickly as it started, the candy-hunting visitors stopped. There were but a few busy moments, everyone coming in groups. Apparently the latest thing is to decorate your car with Christmas lights and drive from house to house with a carload of kids. Even for driveways twenty yards apart the cars were reloaded to drive to the next stop. At one point our cul-de-sac was so backed up with cars that some had to back out of the street. It seems to me that walking, as we used to do, for Halloween would be a dangerous prospect due to the vehicle heavy traffic.

The beer glasses empty and the candy bowl still half full, the festivities ended earlier than expected. And there's a lot of candy left to tempt us in the coming days.