Thursday, December 31, 2020

A Quick Range Trip

I haven't used my outdoor range membership all year. Since we recently paid the annual membership fee, I figured I'd go see if it's actually still there. I decided to take the Compact SIG P320. I had only shot that gun once this year, and that was for a pathetic attempt at the IDPA classifier in the summer. Between the cold weather and ammo shortage, I had the place to myself.

As a quick warmup, I shot 10 rounds at the head of an IDPA target at 7 yards, then moved back to 10 yards for the next 40 shots. Those shots were random combos of body shots, head shots, from low ready or the holster. The rules at this club state that no more than two shots may be fired in a string, and there must be a break between two shot strings. The length of the pause is undefined and varies on the mood of the club officials and their friendship with the shooter, so I was overly cautious.

I soon regretted only bringing along 100 rounds of ammunition. For the second box, I put out a target consisting of various sized shapes and shot from 10 yards. The rest of my shooting was mostly single shots, focusing on sight alignment and trigger press. I even devoted some time to SHO and WHO shooting.

Overall, I was pleased with how I shot the compact gun. I especially enjoyed to chance to just relax and do some shooting, even if only for a short time. While any benefit of "practice" may have been limited, the pleasurable diversion was welcome. I did not see or hear, any other shooters during my time at the range. I did wave to the camera in the tree, knowing I wasn't truly alone. If I find time in the new year to return, perhaps I'll bring a little more ammo.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Christmas Snow and Smoke

We don't get too many white Christmases in these parts. When we do, it's an exception, and then usually a blizzard. What a treat it was to walk out of church Christmas morning and see snowflakes falling from the sky. As we celebrated the day, I kept watching the temperature outside. By mid-afternoon, my phone was showing this:

That would be as good as it gets. So I bundled up, made a large cup of coffee, and set up the portable propane heaters on each side of my chair on the screened porch. I grabbed the Rocky Patel A.L.R. Second Edition I've been looking forward to, and had been saving especially for Christmas. 

The 5½ x 52 box-pressed Robusto has a Mexican San Andrés wrapper with a Honduran binder, and filler tobaccos from Honduras and Nicaragua. It sports a shiny embossed gold band. There was also a large band with marketing covering almost the entire cigar. With large band removed, the cigar has a classy, holiday-worthy appearance.

The A.L.R. Second Edition starts out with a bold pepper kick, but the spice mellows quickly. Full notes of espresso and cocoa follow. There's a touch of sweetness that lingers on the tongue. I've smoked a few of these before and it's always a consistent performer. Even with the box-press shape, and occasional cold breeze whipping through the screen, the burn was even, needing not a single touch up.

The cigar, which I held onto until it began to burn fingers and lips, lasted just over an hour. That was exactly the right amount of time given the weather. Though cold, the scenery was delightful to look at. And there wasn't enough snow to require any shoveling! I was thankful for the invention of the portable propane heater, but in the open space, there's only so much it can do. Looking ahead, it seems I took advantage of some of the "warmest" weather expected over the next few days.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas To All

As we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord, I wish everyone a most joyful and blessed Christmas season. May the blessings of God be upon you throughout the season and the whole year.

The Church at Shepherd's Field, Bethlehem
Photo by Colleen, August 2010 

When the angels went away from them to heaven,
the shepherds said to one another,
“Let us go, then, to Bethlehem
to see this thing that has taken place,
which the Lord has made known to us.”
So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.
-- Luke 2: 15-20


Birthplace of Jesus, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Photo by Colleen, August 2010

Surprisingly few realize that the season of Christmas only begins today, December 25, and that this joyous celebration actually continues until the Feast of Epiphany on January 6. It is disappointing to see the lights and decorations disappear the day after Christmas. Surely as Christians we believe the birth of Our Savior is an event worthy of more than a single day of rejoicing. During the troubling times we find ourselves enduring, there seems to be all the more reason to celebrate the joy of the season in its entirety.

However you mark the occasion, may it be spent with family, friends, and good cheer.

Today is born our Savior Christ the Lord.
-- Psalm 96

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Taking Advantage of a Warm Winter Day

It seems the longest vacation I take each year falls in the winter. It's always a "stay-cation" but still the short wet, cold days can limit fun activities. That's why when the temperature crept up to 50° on the eve of Christmas Eve, I took advantage of it. 

Perhaps it was apropos that both the cigar and beer selected were reminiscent of vacations at the beach. The Tabernacle is a smoke that has accompanied me to the beach often. Likewise, the Lost Colony Hatteras Red is a favorite of Outer Banks vacations

There was an intermittent cool breeze and the sun was fleeting, so despite the warmer temperature, I did decide to activate the propane heater. Nonetheless, it was an exceptionally enjoyable passage of time. Adding to the pleasure was the noticeable lack of power equipment running in the distance. Perhaps the neighbors were too busy with last minute holiday preparations to do any yard work.

While the beer lasted only a short time, I smoked the cigar down to the very end. The days to follow are expected to bring a return to more typical winter weather. There's little doubt there will still be tasty beverages and smokes to be enjoyed, it will just require more bundling up for the outdoor portion.

Monday, December 21, 2020

And Saturday…

It was so nice to enjoy a bit of warmth while I smoked on Friday evening, I decided to return to the lounge on Saturday. The morning was spent on chores around the house until mid-afternoon. I briefly considered heading to the back deck to relax but then remembered that the lounge would have a warm wood stove going. Truthfully, I did have an ulterior motive as well. I recalled from the previous evening that the shop had the newly released Black Label Trading Company Morphine 2020 Vintage on hand. That was a smoke I was wanting to try out.

The 2020 version of Morphine features unusual dual Mexican San Andrés and Ecuador Maduro wrappers. The San Andrés wrapper alone was enough to tempt me, but the combination was especially intriguing. Interestingly, the BLTC Bishops Blend, which ranks as one of my top cigars of 2020, features an Ecuadoran Maduro wrapper. 

I selected a 4½ x 50 Robusto to enjoy. The humidor also held some lancero versions of the stick. I opted to make a switch from my usual beer preferences, and order a 1781 Appalach Farmhouse Lager. This is a very popular beer from the brewery, though I don't recall that I've had it previously.

The beer had a grassy aroma and a pleasing, crisp grain flavor. It made for a refreshing afternoon libation. The Morphine sports an oily, dark wrapper. The stick had a dense feel to it when I cut it, but the draw was fine. One of the first things I noticed was the copious volume of smoke being put off. The flavor was full bodied and had notes of raisons, chocolate and coffee. There was a deep, but not overpowering spiciness that lingered in the finish. After just a few puffs, I started wishing the stick was a bit bigger. 

The milder flavored beer and the bold cigar paired amazingly well together. If there was a downside, it was that I only had time for the small cigar and a single beer. After 45 minutes by the wood stove, both were finished and I headed home. I did grab a Morphine in Lancero on the way out for future enjoyment.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

And then it was Friday…

After another seemingly endless week, Friday finally arrived. I'd been looking forward to a cigar in a warm setting for a couple weeks. While I've enjoyed some smokes on the deck, at some point the propane and electric heaters just don't keep up. So after dinner Friday, I headed over to the Olde Towne Tobacconist lounge located at 1781 Brewing

As usual, I stopped first in the brewery to fill my mug. This evening I selected Irish Hen Red Ale. This imperial red ale checks in at a moderate 8% ABV. It has a deep red color and appears nearly black in the opaque mug. The ale has a sweet roasted malt backbone with a hint of bitterness in the finish. I sipped as I perused the lounge's humidor for a fitting cigar.

After selecting a La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Maduro DL-700, I took a comfortable seat in the enclosed "front porch" of the lounge. This is a cigar I've enjoyed a number of times at the lounge and is popular with many of the shop's patrons. The big 6½ x 60 stick offers about two hours of pleasurable smoking. The good looking cigar features an Ecuadoran wrapper with Dominican binder and fillers. The DL-700 is a full bodied, bold smoke. Rich notes of dark coffee and chocolate are predominate. A hint of pepper persists throughout the smoke. Despite the large ring gauge, the burn was even until the very end. 

The only inconvenience of the fun evening was the cold walk across the yard to the brewery when it was time for a beverage refill. A warming stop next to the wood stove quickly removed the affects of that brief outing.

The clear vinyl enclosed space was a little cool. Nonetheless, it was still much warmer than my back porch. As the evening progressed, and more folks arrived, the fun conversations, flavorful beer, and good cigars helped to move the chill from the mind. 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

A Cigar for a Feast Day

Saturday, December 12 was the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The day honors the appearance of Mary to St. Juan Diego in present day Mexico City on December 9, 1531. Also, referred to as The Virgin of Guadalupe, she is the Patron Saint of the Americas. Among the traditions of the Feast, is a focus on the image of the Lady left on Juan Diego's tilma during the appearance. In honor of that, I selected an appropriately decorated cigar to enjoy that day.

Guadalupe 25th Anniversary Limited Release Miami Edition Blend is a new release from Regina Cigars. The Miami cigar company donates a portion of its sales to support persecuted & displaced Christians, especially those in the Middle East. This blend celebrates the founder's 25th anniversary in the cigar industry and the significance of the December 12 date in his family. 

The 6 x 50 stick has a San Andres Maduro wrapper and an Esteli Criollo binder, hiding a Corojo/Criollo Jalapa filler. The large band features a beautiful image of the Virgin Mary. The smoke is medium to full bodied. It has dark chocolate espresso notes, along with a mild cooling citrus note. Unfortunately both samples I've smoked so far had some damage under the decorative ribbon foot band causing the wrapper to unravel. A touch up with PerfecRepair allowed me to smoke through the damaged section without too much disruption.

As an accompaniment, I selected a seasonally appropriate Hardywood Park Gingerbread Stout. This Imperial Milk Stout is part of a selection of "Christmas beers" released each year by the Richmond, VA brewery. The 9.2% ABV ale is brewed with locally sourced baby ginger and wildflower honey. The dark beer has a thin beige head and gives off but a faint sweet aroma. The flavor is predominately roasted malt and milk chocolate. The underlying spice kick of ginger and honey sweetness is mild. Mouthfeel is creamy and smooth. The flavor combination with the dark espresso notes of the cigar was a flavorful match.

The beer and the cigar made for a satisfying afternoon of relaxation on the deck. The mid-sixties temperature and bright sun was a welcome break from the doldrums of the cool, gray weather of the previous week.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Feast of St. Nicholas

December 6 is the Feast day of St. Nicholas, one of several Patron Saints of Brewing. St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, was a wealthy and generous man. His generosity towards others led to him being the inspiration for the tradition of Santa Claus and gift giving.

It's not entirely clear why Nicholas was chosen as a Patron Saint of brewing. Tradition states that Nicholas was having a beer at an inn where the inn keeper had murdered three boys and packed their bodies in a barrel of brine. Nicholas was offered some salted meat with his beer. Due to a local shortage of food, Nicholas became suspicious, found the bodies, and brought the boys back to life.

The Saint was also an ardent defender of the Faith. Nicholas was in attendance at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325. One of the orders of business for the Council was to refute the Arian heresy. It is said that one point the debate became so heated, an enraged Nicholas punched Arius in the face. While it may have been shocking at the time, one can't help but think he got the point across. I often think we could use a few more Bishops with the backbone of St. Nicholas today.

St. Nicholas died on December 6, in either 345 A.D. or 352 A.D. Inspired by this feast day, is Samichlaus Bier. Samichlaus is an 14% ABV doppelbock that at one time was billed as the world's strongest beer. The name means "Santa Claus" in the Swiss-German dialect of Zürich. Brewed only on December 6 of each year, the beer is aged for almost a year and released in time for the following year's feast day. Samichlaus was originally brewed by Brauerei Hürlimann, and later by Feldschlösschen Brewery. It is currently produced by Schloss Eggenberg of Switzerland.

We have some vintage Samichlaus in the cellar. Tonight will be an apt time to open a couple bottles and raise a toast to Saint Nicholas.

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Friday, December 4, 2020

Starr Hill Snow Blind - A Winter Favorite

One of the few things I look forward to with the advent of cold weather are the winter releases of some of my favorite seasonal beers. Starr Hill Snow Blind Doppelbock is one such delight. Snow Blind was first released in 2013, and I've not missed a winter without picking up at least a couple of six packs.

Snow Blind pours a deep brown color and sports a thin, short lived, beige head. Sunlight peaking through the glass gives the beverage a reddish tint. A rich caramel aroma with a hint of dark fruit greats the nose. The flavor is a bend of toasted malt, caramel and a touch of sweetness. There's a lingering malty sweetness that sticks to the palate for a pleasing finish. A moderate 7.7% ABV makes the flavorful beer easily drinkable.

My first glass of Snow Blind this season was paired with a Las Calaveras Edicion Limitada 2020. I've enjoyed several of the 2020 edition of this annual release. This one was the 5 x 52 Robusto which gives about a 45 minute smoke, easily time for a second pint. The full bodied smoke features sweet, earthy notes and a moderate amount of pepper and spice. It made for a flavorful pairing.

Though that was the last Las Calaveras in my humidor, there will definitely be more glasses of Starr Hill Snow Blind poured this winter.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Relaxing On A Sunny Afternoon

Not being a cold weather fan, I immensely enjoyed the warm, sunny afternoons we were treated to over the long holiday break. The day after Thanksgiving was no exception. Mid-afternoon I once again found myself on the deck, enjoying the sunlight coming through the trees and the sounds of happy birds in the woods. 

My cigar choice was the COA Pilón. I decided to start off with a little "pep up" in the form of a Chai Tea. I felt the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg flavors of the latte would make a good compliment to the cigar. The creamy cocoa, nuts, and honey notes of the smoke indeed made for a pleasing combination.

Of course, the warm beverage was short lived, lasting only an inch or so into the smoke. Perusing the beer fridge, I spied a Sam Adams Octoberfest. The sweet, malty goodness of the ale was also a pleasurable match for the cigar. 

The glass of beer lasted slightly longer than the tea, but was also empty before the cigar reached its conclusion. Knowing the evening held the possibility of another cigar, and perhaps a little bourbon, I finished the CAO Pilón without an additional beverage. The sun reflecting off the remnants of the fall foliage made for sufficient accompaniment.

No a bad day in the neighborhood. Even the sounds of leaf blowers in the distance were easy to ignore.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Finally Got in Some Shooting

Two months. That's how long my range bag has been sitting untouched. Between family commitments, weather, and socialistic restrictions on freedom, opportunities to hit the range have been limited. In addition, I've been somewhat reluctant to dig into my ammo stash, given I don't expect the availability (and cost) to return to "normal" levels for at least two years. That said, I was excited to be heading to the Cavalier Rod and Gun Club for the monthly IDPA match on Saturday morning.

After a night of fitful sleep, due to excitement and some nervousness, I arrived at the range to greet friends and marvel at the sunny, warm morning. I also soon lamented dressing for slightly cooler weather. But it was time to shoot!

The first stage our squad shot had us staging the unloaded gun on a table, and all the magazines on another nearby table. After retrieving and loading the gun, there were three targets to be engaged around a wall and two more from either side of the stage after moving up range. This was my "shake off the dust"stage as I finished 5 points down.

The next stage was an unusual "open field" course with an odd start. Our gun was left on a table, loaded with just one round. Magazines were also on the table. There was a target directly in front of us, another off to the right that required a step or two backwards to engage, and as we continued backing up, two more targets appeared behind barriers. All targets required 2 hits each, except the last, which was a head shot only target requiring a single hit. Yep, start with one round, but it was the last target that required only one shot minimum. 

I shot the first three targets on the move while retreating. My path drifted to the left a bit causing me to take some extra steps to get to the fourth target, though I did shoot the course -0. 

Following that we moved to our first "normal," draw from the holster stage. The course of fire began with a close target that was shot from retention. Turning, we engaged two distant targets from cover before beginning down a winding path to finish the course. The remaining targets were generally shot while leaning around tight cover. Again, a -0 zero stage for me.

As we rounded the bend to the next bay, the first thing I noticed was a double swinger with two non-threat targets. It was soon realized that the swinger was immobile, but that didn't make it any less "in the way." The whole stage was shot from the box and started with us leaning leftward to hold the shovel handle. The target hidden behind the non-threat mass could be engaged low and from the right. Three open targets were then shot in priority. All targets required three hits minimum. 

My shooting on this stage felt really good. Transitions snapped to the targets and the sights were set quickly. The stage also went by in a blur. When it was all done, I was -0 on what was to be my best stage of the day, coming in 2nd in SSP and 7th Overall for the stage. 

The final stage of the morning continued the uniqueness of the stages shot thus far. We began seated at a table, the unloaded gun in a box, and magazines placed about the table per the shooter's preference. Shooting did not have to be done while seated. Directly to the front were three partial targets. To either side, obscured by barrels, were targets that only became visible when moving to the opposite sides of the table. Additional targets were found be retreating up range and shooting around walls on either side.

There were numerous paths that shooters took around the stage to engage all targets. My path started by stepping to the left, grabbing a magazine left on that side of the table, and engaging the three center and far right targets. Moving to the right end of the table, I engaged the far left target, then grabbing a magazine from that end of the table, reloading, and backing down the wall to get the outside target, finishing at the opposite wall and last target. Other shooters opted to circle the course, starting and ending at opposite ends of the table. Stages that offer many options are always fun to shoot and observe. Alas, I was -3 for the stage.

The Cavalier match on this warm November morning offered a welcome chance to visit with friends, and to get in a little range time. Though the round count was relatively low, the unique and interesting stages were a blast. It also shows that fun shooting doesn't rely on high round count. I felt really good about my shooting, although my placement of 21st of 31 Overall, and 12th of 23 in SSP would make one think otherwise. That finish, combined with a total of just 8 points down for the match, likely indicates to a general slowness of movement and shooting. Something I could probably improve on with a return to regular dry fire practice

Nonetheless, it was a beautiful morning, an extremely fun match, and a treat to see friends. And for that I couldn't be more thankful.